The celebration of the inauguration of the Carpenter Foundation Gender, Sexuality, and Justice Initiative took place at Brite on October 4 during the morning chapel service with discussion following in the community conversation. The Carpenter Initiative, which begins in this 2011-2012 academic year, is the result of a $250,000 grant to Brite from the Carpenter Foundation. The money will cover the costs of faculty director, support courses at Brite that address these issues, fund programmatic initiatives each year in the wider community to promote attention to these issues in church and culture, and encourage a wider network of supporters to help sustain the continuation of these concerns. Dr. Joretta Marshall, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Care at Brite, will serve as the director.
Brite President, Rev. Dr. D. Newell Williams spoke on the history and significance of this gift from the Carpenter Foundation for the initiative in Gender, Sexuality, and Justice. Williams noted that it began with a conversation with former Brite Trustee, Dr. Jack Fortsman, who told him that Brite and the Carpenter Foundation should become better acquainted because they share so many values. A subsequent meeting with Ann Day of the Carpenter Foundation proved that the two are a good fit, and Williams commented, “The Carpenter Foundation is a name I want to be associated with Brite Divinity School.”
Rev. Dr. Joretta Marshall delivered the sermon for the chapel service. Her message, “Disruptions and Beyond,” highlighted the work of disruptive theology and its importance in the work done at Brite. The call out of which the Carpenter Initiative is born comes from the recognition that God loves all people, and there is a need for the work of theological institutions to take this idea and the lives of people seriously. In a reflection on a passage from Exodus 32:1-14, Marshall spoke on the issue of fear and the institutional call to challenge the fear that takes over and redirects focus from the gospel message. Like Moses who challenged God to change God’s mind, people must also challenge the fear that creates injustice in the world. Being disruptive agents on behalf of justice requires support, both individual and collective, and the Carpenter Foundation and Brite are reminders that institutions can shape change.
Marshall referred to the work already done by others with the Shower of Stoles Project represented in the chapel service. This project is a collection of over a thousand liturgical stoles representing the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people of faith. Each stole contains the story of a GLBT person who is active in the life and leadership of their faith community. Twenty-five of these stoles came to Brite for display. According to Marshall, “They serve as a reminder of visible lives who have disrupted the church.”
Marshall also called upon Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Field Education and Supervised Ministry at Brite, to speak on his work documenting the physical and theological violence done to LGBT persons based on irrational hatred. He joined in the celebration of the Carpenter Initiative, stressing the claim to “sensitize strong rich Christianity that can stand up for justice.” Marshall concluded her sermon with a challenge to be open to being disruptive by the call of justice and a vision for justice that is the foundation of the work of the Carpenter Initiative.
A panel sharing their visions, hopes, and ideas for the Carpenter Initiative led the community conversation that followed the chapel service. The panel included Dr. Joretta Marshall; Dr. Nancy Ramsey, Executive Vice-President and Dean and Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Counseling; Sam Castleberry, Master of Theological Studies student and chair of the Brite Student Association; Cody Sanders, PhD student in Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Counseling; Laura Whitley, alumni, pastor, and current Doctor of Ministry student; and Dr. Tim Hessel-Robinson, Assistant Professor of Spiritual Disciplines and Resources. Members of the Brite community also shared visions, hopes, and ideas for the future work of the Carpenter Initiative.