Interview: Walter Strickland on Charles Octavius Boothe and Respecting Black Theologians

You sit on the advisory council of the MLK50 Conference, a Christian gathering scheduled for April 2018 in Memphis, Tennessee. We see a lot of these kinds of conferences, where there’s group dialogue, instruction and so forth. Will there be a lot of repenting?

I think that that’s important. I think the significance of repentance, especially being programmed into something that’s of this magnitude, would speak very loudly and boldly about how we still participate in some of the structural realities that privilege one group over another and then even are comfortable to remain that way. Even for privileged Black Evangelicals or privileged Blacks who have somehow found a way to leverage some of the changes that were meant for the entirety of Black people and just keep them to themselves. That’s a whole other conversation. But what I’m saying is there is repentance that needs to happen on a broad scale. … Currently, it’s not structured into what’s going on to my knowledge, but I think that could be a very profound moment for those who are participating and even those who even watch from a distance to see what’s going on. But as far as what’s going on right now, it’s gonna be a lot of folks there from all different backgrounds. People who are from Memphis, but also beyond. One of the first big critiques that the event got was that who in Memphis is going to be involved. Since then, there’s been a lot of Progressive National Baptist pastors included. In fact, (representatives) from all the seven historically Black denominations are going to be involved, as well as those who are going to come in from all over the country. I can’t reveal some of the things that are going to happen specifically, but there are going to be those who are there for the event who are working now to figure out how we can leverage what we are able to for the sake of the Memphis community. There will be tangible steps and evidences of repentance given to the community that we are going to be inhabiting for those days, but I can’t really jump into the specifics of those. But there will be some restorative acts done that are of a scale that I’m excited about.

On another note, you’ve been nominated as the first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination. How do you feel about that?

It’s humbling. I’m 33, and to have a young man being put up for a role like that that’s of a denomination of this size is rare. But really, I’m seeing this as an evidence of something happening within the life of the convention to have a young, Black male—especially in the times that we’re living in in the running for the vice presidency. We’re still grappling with the rumblings of Trayvon [Martin], Mike Brown and the list goes on of these incidents that are of high profile with young, Black men. I think that the convention is saying something with my nomination. … [It] seems like a very pleasant and happy glimmer when you have a person who is young, who’s Black and male in the running for this office because those three things together have a stigma in our society. In the broader Southern Baptist landscape, some might consider me more as an intellectual because of my role at the [Southeastern Baptist Theological] seminary as a professor. Then also not to mention the work that I do at Southeastern Seminary as far as with diversity, as far as racial justice, as far as shaping, re-shaping the historical systemic injustices of our institution (and) re- situating those so that they sustain a more holistic vision and picture of the Kingdom as it relates to both race and gender on our campus. It seems very exciting that the convention as a whole would be so excited about me running for this. Hopefully, it’s a sign towards a desire for unity. Hopefully, a sign that our disposition towards minority Evangelicals is developing, and not just saying, “Hey, come and preach at our things and then go home” but actually come and sit at the table and structure these things, or restructure these things to help develop a more equitable structure, denominationally speaking, so that more types of churches can flourish. I think those are all things that excite me about it.

Are there any other projects, besides the books, that you’re working on?

The “Kingdom Diversity” podcast is going to be switching gears a little bit this coming fall. We’re taking the summer off, in line with the academic calendar. It’s going to be called “From the Lectern” and what we’re going to be trying to do is equip the church to be agents of restoration. That’s in a broad sense — spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially, politically. What we’ll be doing is really instructing, teaching, imparting doctrine to critical race theory through a Christian lens, to thinking about very important issues like immigration, talking about a swath of things. It’s really going to be geared at equipping people, being a resource and directing them to resources that could help them in that development. … It really fits in with what we’re after as a school, as an educational institution. It will be primarily myself and then we hired a Director of Hispanic Leadership Development, and Dr. Miguel Echevarria is fantastic. He’s a Ph.D. in Greek and New Testament. He’s teaching here on our faculty, also directing our efforts both on campus and abroad, as we have partners in Cuba. … We’re doing a lot of work down there but he’s also doing a lot of work on campus here, too. So it will be he and I who are doing the majority of that, but we’ll have other folks on as well to help us.


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    Written by Nicola A. Menzie

    Nicola A. Menzie is Editorial Director of Faithfully Magazine. Nicola is a religion reporter in NYC whose bylines have appeared on the websites of the Religion News Service, The Christian Post, CBS News and Vibe magazine. You can find her on Twitter @namenzie. Email: nicola.menzie (at) faithfullymagazine.com

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