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'Encouraging': What the latest Hillsong scandal says about the #ChurchToo movement

When Emily Joy Allison sat down at her computer in late 2017 to share her story of being groomed and manipulated, she had no intention to launch a movement of her own.

Inspired by the #MeToo movement, Allison penned a Twitter thread detailing her experience with a youth leader in the Northwoods Community Church, an evangelical megachurch in Peoria, Illinois.

“It started when I was 15 and he styled himself as a ‘friend’ and a ‘mentor.’ He taught me some photoshop things I was interested in and roped me in helping with the youth group newsletter. But it became more than that,” Allison wrote. She went on to describe how the relationship developed into the youth leader giving her dating advice that included convincing her to break up with a boy she was seeing.

Allison said the youth leader – a man in his 30s – eventually pursued a romantic relationship with her, encouraged Allison to keep her silence and talked about wanting to marry her.

Read more.

North Nashville Community Garden brings together two congregations and cultivates space for healing and blessings

Artist rendering of garden 

An idea borne out of the destruction from the 2020 tornado that hit middle Tennessee, the North Nashville Community Garden blossomed into a place for church congregants and gardening hobbyists alike to commune and heal. It will be featured on Nashville Public Television's “Volunteer Gardener” program on Thursday, September 23, at 7:30pm, and again on Sunday, September 26, at 9:30am.

The Vanderbilt Divinity School’s Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative, led by Associate Director Dr. Teresa Smallwood, was instrumental in bringing together two congregations in north Nashville – St. John AME Church and New Covenant Christian Church – to rebuild St. John AME’s physical church as well as their community. Using design thinking curriculum as taught by American Baptist College (ABC), the North Nashville Community Garden was developed in April 2020 and completed on March 13, 2021 – almost a year to the day the tornado hit.

“This garden is a place of sacrality and serene, not just for the mind and spirit, but also for the body. With this garden, people have the opportunity to participate in caring for themselves and their own community – nourishing themselves, growing their own food, and reaping what they sow, literally,” Smallwood says. “We didn’t just rebuild the churches and build this garden after the tornado. This entire project, with the inclusive input of all the congregants, is a statement of resistance against the gentrification of this area and the food insecurity that ravages this community.”

Garden, artist rendering

The garden was funded by a Lilly Endowment “Called to Lives of Meaning and Purpose” grant, which also supported outreach work. With funds from an ABC sub-grant, Excel Builders, led by Elder Dwayne Bell, brought the garden to scale. The Garden layout was conceived and illustrated by local artist, Tricia Townes, sister of Vanderbilt Divinity School’s Dean Emilie. M. Townes.


'You can't think yourself out of racism' Black religion scholars call for conversion

August 26, 2021—Recently an assistant professor of African studies at a Catholic university was preparing to oversee a doctoral student's oral examination when she heard from the theology department, in which she serves as a student adviser and teaches cross-listed courses. The professor was told, two weeks before the exam, that a comparative theologian would sit in on the examination with her. The exam did not go smoothly because of the clearly differing expectations of the two examiners. The episode disturbed the professor, who is Black: "There was a reluctance to see me as a peer," she said, "and a hesitation about my qualifications as a scholar of religion."

Friendly City Books Releases Mississippi Native Thomas Richardson’s Debut Full-Length Poetry Collection How to Read

May 4, 2021—Poet Thomas Richardson’s first full-length collection How to Read was released by independent press Friendly City Books today. The book received praise from poets C. T. Salazar, the winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters’ 2020 Poetry Award, and Jacqueline Allen Trimble, the winner of the 2017 Balcones Poetry Prize, among others. Friendly City Books is hosting two launch events with the author for How to Read. On Thursday, May 6, Richardson will appear for a book reading and signing at Munson and Brothers Trading Post in Columbus at 5:30 p.m. This event will be held outdoors and masks are encouraged. A virtual event with Richardson is scheduled for Tuesday, May 11, at 5:30 p.m. Central Time on Zoom. The author will be available for virtual events, as well as in-person readings and signings in the Southeast region, during Summer 2021.

The Bible With and Without Jesus | Podcast

March 29, 2021—In this episode, we discuss the book The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently with co-authors Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler.

Rev. James Lawson joins fellow scholars, historians and activists for Vanderbilt symposium on racial equity

March 29, 2021—Prominent scholars, journalists, historians and activists gathered virtually for a daylong symposium discussing the fight for equity. “Racial Justice, Freedom and Activism in Nashville and Beyond: Then and Now” was hosted by Vanderbilt University on March 26.

Vanderbilt professor’s book explores Jews’ and Christians’ differing interpretations of the same biblical texts

March 26, 2021—People of different religious traditions interpret the Bible differently, but what did those passages originally mean? In her latest book, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Amy-Jill Levine explores this and how those different traditions sometimes weaponized Scripture against each other.

Being Asian American means living in a country that treats you as a perpetual foreigner. That has to change

March 26, 2021—We know this is who this country is, and who we are to it: the perpetual foreigner. And we will not be able to heal until we begin to acknowledge American civilization is made up of shredded pieces of the lives of vulnerable people.

Vanderbilt Divinity School awarded LEED certification following renovation and addition

March 26, 2021—Vanderbilt Divinity School has received a LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its renovation and addition project that was completed in 2020. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used green building rating system in the world, offering a framework for healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings.

Poet Thomas Richardson’s first full-length collection How to Read will be released by independent press Friendly City Books on May 4

March 26, 2021—How To Read the ambitious testament Mississippi needs.”—C.T. Salazar, Headless John the Baptist Hitchhiking

Pastor Dawn Bennett speaks out against the Tennessee bill to ban transgender athletes

March 26, 2021—Pastor Dawn Bennetts receives hate mail and threats after speaking out against the Tennessee bill to ban transgender athletes.

Cornel West, Victor Anderson to discuss ‘Race, Faith and American Democracy’ Feb. 5

February 3, 2021—Prominent scholars Cornel West and Victor Anderson will participate in a virtual event, “Race, Faith and American Democracy: A Conversation,” on Friday, Feb. 5, from noon to 1 p.m. CT as part of Vanderbilt University’s celebration of Black History Month.

Ash Wednesday: Different look, same message

February 3, 2021—Ash Wednesday, as with many other things right now, will have a different look at many Catholic parishes across the United States this year.

A Holy Baptism of Fire & Blood’ Review: The Civil War’s Biblical Violence

February 3, 2021—What prompted so many ordinary Americans to march to war? A belief in a sacred cause. Review in Wall Street Journal of Prof. James Byrd's most recent publication.

Marc Brettler & Amy-Jill Levine - The Bible With and Without Jesus

November 4, 2020—Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, President & Dean of Valley Beit Midrash, interviews Professor Marc Zvi Brettler, Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor in Judaic Studies at Duke University, and Professor Amy-Jill Levine, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, on the topic of "The Bible With and Without Jesus."

Michael Eric Dyson, distinguished scholar of race and religion, to join Vanderbilt faculty next year

September 28, 2020—Michael Eric Dyson, a globally renowned scholar of race, religion and contemporary culture, will join Vanderbilt as Centennial Chair and University Distinguished Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies in the College of Arts and Science and University Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Society in the Divinity School on Jan. 1, 2021.

Lawson, Young and others join symposium honoring legacy of Kelly Miller Smith

October 23, 2020—An upcoming virtual symposium featuring noted speakers and artists will reflect on the civil rights accomplishments of Kelly Miller Smith Sr., Vanderbilt University’s first African American administrator, and explore ways to chart a path forward for social justice.

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