What Do Theologians Have to Say To The Church Today?

August Speaker Series:

This August join us on Sunday mornings during the Open Bible Study hour as we are joined each week by a different theologian from our neighbor Union Theological Seminary. Each Sunday’s theologian will present a topic or text from their work and then open up for a time of discussion. Invite friends to join us for this exciting summer study.

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Union Theological Seminary Theologians:

August 1: Rev. Dr. Timothy Adkins-Jones

August 8: Rev. Dr. Aliou Niang

August 15: Rev. Dr. Sam Cruz

August 22: Dr. Su Pak

August 29: Dr. Dean Kelly Brown Douglas

August 1

Rev. Dr. Timothy Adkins-Jones – Assistant Professor of Homiletics

Union Theological Seminary

Rev. Timothy Levi Adkins-Jones is the Pastor of the historic Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey.  A son of the church, Rev. Adkins-Jones was led to faith in Christ at the early by his grandfather the Rev. Leroy Jones at Pilgrim Journey Baptist Church in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. Before being called to Bethany, Rev. Adkins-Jones faithfully led congregations in Massachusetts and Connecticut, building a young legacy of community activism and Christian service. He gladly serves as part of the leadership team for the New Jersey Black Multi-Faith Alliance and the Clergy Caucus for Faith in New Jersey, a non-partisan, multi-faith organization seeking social and economic change through policy and relationships.

Embodying the best of the Black preacher-scholar tradition, Rev. Adkins-Jones is a Ph.D. candidate in Practical Theology with a Homiletics concentration at Boston University. He also holds a BA in Psychology from Amherst College, and an MDiv from the Boston University School of Theology. A sought-out lecturer and speaker across the nation, Rev. Adkins-Jones is currently an adjunct professor at Union Theological Seminary after previously teaching courses in homiletics and polity at Yale Divinity School. He was featured on the “For Your Soul Sunday” Broadcast on SiriusXM UrbanView and continues to serve his alma mater Amherst College as the Graduate Fellow for the Hermenia T. Gardner Christian Worship Series, a bi-semester worship celebration of the Black Church tradition.

Rev. Adkins-Jones is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. He is also the proud husband of Dr. Amey Victoria Adkins-Jones and the father of four loving and amusing souls, Sofia, Ezekiel, Isabella, and Judah Nwà who keep him young and busy.

August 8

Rev. Dr. Aliou Niang  – Associate Professor of New Testament

Professor Aliou Cissé Niang earned his B.A. in Religious Studies with a minor in history (Cum Laude) at Williams Baptist College in 1994 in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas.  He received an M.A. Th.  (Graduate Dean’s Award of Excellency) at Logsdon School of Theology (HSU) in 1997 in Abilene, TX, and a Ph.D. in Biblical Interpretation–New Testament (with Distinction) at Brite Divinity School (TCU) in Fort Worth, TX in 2007.  While at Brite Divinity School, he served as Graduate Assistant and Lecturer in New Testament Survey classes and co-taught a course on Postcolonial Biblical Interpretation with Dr. Leo G. Perdue. He was also an instructor at the Department of Religion at TCU where he taught Understanding Religion: The Bible from 2002-2003 and was a guest lecturer on the “African and the African Diaspora: History, Religion, and Culture” (RELI – 20503) (Honors).  He was engaged in inter-religious dialogue on “Christian Perspectives on the Jesus of the Gospels” with Dr. Yushau Sodiq (Professor at the Department of Religion–TCU) at the Moslem Academy in Arlington, TX. Before joining Union in August 2011, he served as assistant and associate professor of New Testament at Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN, where he was named The Rev. Dr. James L. Netters Associate Professor of New Testament (2008) and received The Paul R. Brown Distinguished Teaching Award in 2010. While in Memphis, he served as Biblical Theologian in Residence at the First Baptist Church of Memphis, TN, and spoke at many churches and the Church Health Center providing workshops on Understanding the Bible and seminars on various biblical topics.  He continues to speak in local churches and lectures in both academic and ecumenical settings.

He is a member of the Commission on Baptist-Muslim Relations of the Baptist World Alliance and a member of the Editorial Board of the International Voices in Biblical Studies (IVBS)–Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) Peer-reviewed series.

Professor Niang’s first book (Faith and Freedom in Galatia and Senegal: The Apostle Paul, Colonists and Sending Gods, Brill, 2009) compares the colonial objectification of his people by French colonists to the Graeco-Roman Colonial objectification of the ancient Celts/Gauls/Galatians and explores Paul’s role in bringing about a different portrayal. He is working on his third book on Illness and Health.  His teaching and research explore themes and issues in Biblical and Postcolonial Theologies. Niang believes it takes a village to create a leader and turns his classroom into a micro village–a learning community where brothers, sisters, and non-binary friends learn to appreciate their diverse and yet unified experiences of God.  His teaching pedagogy reflects his exercise of the wisdom of his West African Diola elders as he seeks to create and foster a learning environment where students would freely yet responsibly engage in the ongoing critical quest for healthy ways to shape the social and spiritual dimensions of their journeys of faith.  He is passionate about translating academic work to the Church.

August 15

Rev. Dr. Sam Cruz – Associate Professor of Religion & Society

Rev. Samuel Cruz, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Religion and Society at Union Theological Seminary. He completed his Ph.D. at Drew University (Madison, NJ) in 2002 under the directorship of an internationally renowned Philosopher and Sociologist of Religion, Dr. Otto Maduro. Dr. Cruz also received his M.Phil. degree from Drew University in 1999 and M.A. degree, Magna Cum Laude, from New Brunswick Theological Seminary. Cruz is a 1987 graduate of the College of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, N.Y.. Prior to Union, Cruz was a lecturer in the Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies Department at Rutgers University. He has also been a professor at Drew University and New Brunswick Theological Seminary.

Dr. Cruz’s publications include two books: Masked Africanisms: Puerto Rican Pentecostalism (Kendall Hunt Publishing, 2005) and Christianity and Culture in the City: A Post Colonial Approach (Lexington Books, 2013). He has an extensive background in the field of Sociology of Religion publishing and presenting ethnographic research on Afro-Latinx spiritualities, most specifically on Pentecostalism and African spiritualities of the Caribbean. Dr. Cruz’s interests have led him to study major social theorists of religion, such as Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Patricia Hill Collins, W.E.B. Dubois, Nancy Ammerman, Mary Jo Neitz, and Juan Luis Segundo. He has lectured throughout Central America, the Caribbean, and the United States. He is currently a guest editor for the Religions Journal’s Special Edition on Global Latinx Pentecostalism and he is working on the publication of his edited volume about African spiritualities in the Americas. Dr. Cruz’s research has remained committed to the intersection of religion and social processes, especially regarding the potential liberation spiritualities/theologies offer those who are oppressed.

With various experiences serving as a pastor in several churches in the Greater New York City region, Dr. Cruz now serves as the Senior Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in the predominantly Latinx community of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. His progressive sermons are known to follow in the legacy of Latin America’s ecclesial base communities and liberation theologians which assist his congregation in being social activists within their community. Pastor Cruz is known in New York City and Puerto Rico for advocating for Afro-Latinx rights regarding sexuality, gender, race, immigration policies, the prison industrial complex/police brutality, environmentalism, fair housing/gentrification, the release of political prisoners, and the independence of Puerto Rico. Dr. Cruz has been featured in the Stop and Frisk docu-series: “The Pastor”; he is a frequent guest on MSNBC, the Melissa Harris-Perry Show, and a guest host to WBAI-FM.

Rev. Dr. Samuel Cruz is a Brooklyn native and Afro-Boricua. He is married to Tania Stanchich and has three daughters: Amber, Jovana, and Naome.

August 22

Dr. Su Yon Pak – Senior Director and Associate Professor of Integrative and Field-based Education at Union Theological Seminary.

In this hybrid faculty-administrator position, she envisions, creates, and oversees the curricular and co-curricular work of the Office of Integrative Education including field education, clinical pastoral education, life-long learning, ministerial formation, and combined courses inside Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Prior to her current position, she was the Vice President for Institutional Advancement; and the Associate Dean for Student Life/ Director of Recruitment at Union.

A native of South Korea, Dr. Pak immigrated to NYC at the age of 10. She has since lived in Scotland where she worked at Shakti Women’s Aid in Edinburgh, a women’s shelter and center for women of color. In 1993, Dr. Pak made her home in NYC and received her doctorate from the joint Teachers College – Union Theological Seminary program in Religion and Education. She has taught at Teachers College Columbia University, Mercy College, and Auburn Theological Seminary.

Her life and research passion include criminal justice, the elderly and spirituality, chaplaincy, women’s leadership, and integrative and critical pedagogies.  Dr. Pak’s recent publications include Sisters in Mourning: Daughters Reflecting on Care, Loss, and Meaning (Co-edited with Rabbi Mychal Springer, Cascade Press, 2021); “Cultivating Moral Imagination in Theological Field Education” in Asian and Asian American Women in Theology and Religion: Embodying Knowledge (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020);  Leading Wisdom: Asian, North American Asian Women Leaders, (Westminster John Knox Press, 2017); “Coming Home/Coming Out: Reflections of a Queer Family and the Challenge of Eldercare in The Diaspora” in The Journal of Theology And Sexuality. Dr. Pak co-authored, Singing the Lord’s Song in a New Land: Korean American Practices of Faith

Dr. Pak is the recipient of numerous fellowships, grants, and awards including the Pastoral Care Leadership Award from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Louisville Institute Project Grant for Researchers, Cross Currents’ Coolidge Fellowship, Lilly Theological Research Grant, Valparaiso Project Grant on Faith Practices, and Robert Wood Lynn Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Dr. Pak is on the board of Pacific Asian North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM) and on the board of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia. She is a Steering Committee member of AANATE (Association for Asian North American Theological Educators).  Dr. Pak served as the chair of the Professional Conduct Task Force and the chair of the Status of Women in the Profession Committee of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). She has served as the co-chair of the Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society program unit and as a steering committee member of the Women and Religion Section of the AAR. She is a Ruling Elder of the First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York and in that role, was on the Pastor Nominating Committee (2019-2020), and chaired the 300th Anniversary Committee from 2013-2016.

August 29

Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas – Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union

The Very Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas was named Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Theology at Union in September 2017.  She was named the Bill and Judith Moyers Chair in Theology in November 2019.  She also serves as the Canon Theologian at the Washington National Cathedral and Theologian in Residence at Trinity Church Wall Street.

Prior to Union, Dean Douglas served as Professor of Religion at Goucher College where she held the Susan D. Morgan Professorship of Religion and is now Professor Emeritus.  Before Goucher, she was Associate Professor of Theology at Howard University School of Divinity (1987-2001) and Assistant Professor of Religion at Edward Waters College (1986-1987).

Dean Douglas is widely published in national and international journals and other publications.  Her groundbreaking and widely taught book Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective (1999) was the first to address the issue of homophobia within the black church community.  Her latest book, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (2015), examines the challenges of a “Stand Your Ground” culture for the black church.

Douglas’ other books include The Black Christ(1994, 25th Anniversary edition 2019), What’s Faith Got to Do with It?: Black Bodies/Christian Souls (2005) and Black Bodies and the Black Church: A Blues Slant(2012), which seeks to move the black church beyond its oppressive views toward LGBTQ bodies and sexuality in general.

In addition, Dean Douglas is the co-editor of Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection(2010). She has been a pioneering and highly sought-after voice in regard to addressing sexual issues in relation to the black religious community.  She has been very active in advocating equal rights for LGBTQ persons.

Dean Douglas is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Denison University where she earned a bachelor of science summa cum laude in psychology.  She went on to earn a master of divinity and a doctoral degree in systematic theology from Union Theological Seminary under James Cone, Ph.D., the premier black theologian. While at Union, she received The Hudnut Award for demonstrated preaching excellence and the Julius Hanson Award as an outstanding theological student.

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Dean Douglas was ordained at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in 1983 — the first black woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest in the Southern Ohio Diocese, and one of only five nationwide at the time. She also was the first to receive the Anna Julia Cooper Award by the Union of Black Episcopalians (July 2012) for “her literary boldness and leadership in the development of a womanist theology and discussing the complexities of Christian faith in African-American contexts.”

Dean Douglas was an Associate Priest at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. for over 20 years.

She is a member of the American Academy of Religion, The Society for the Study of Black Religion, The Ecumenical Association for Third World Theologians, and on The Board of Scholars for Ms. Magazine.