Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tropical Storm Noel Entering the Bahamas

We've been getting heavy wind and rain off and on since yesterday morning but it now appears that within the next several hours or so that Tropical Storm Noel will begin entering the Bahamas in full force. Winds are currently at 50mph and may increase as Noel gets closer. Based on past experience, I don't think wind damage is going to be much of an issue here. Much more problematic will be the torrential rains that are accompanying Noel. Given that the Bahama islands are relatively flat, we will not experience the mud slides and such as was the case in the D.R., Haiti, and Cuba. But since water does not easily drain off of flat surfaces, we are expecting flooding in low lying areas. Of course, there is a good possibility that electrical power, phone service, and internet access will go down before this is all over so my blogging activity may well be interupted. Further storm updates, of course, will be contingent upon my ability to access the internet. If you don't hear anything, don't worry about us. We're safely waiting out the storm in our hilltop apartment building. No news, at least in this case, probably doesn't mean bad news, just no internet connection.


Theological Education in the Bahamas, Part IV

This is the fourth of a five part series that previously appeared in News from Daniel and Estela Schweissing between February and August 2006. A more in-depth theological treatment of this topic can be found in the upcoming edition of the American Baptist Quarterly.


We’ve all heard the old Chinese proverb, “Give people a fish, and they’ll eat for a day; teach people to fish, and they’ll eat for a lifetime.” For decades, missionaries and international development workers alike have used this proverb to explain community development strategies that move beyond charity to empower the poor with the skills and education needed to improve their standard of living. But increasingly, we are beginning to understand that training and education are of limited value when employment opportunities are scarce or the few jobs that are available don’t pay a living wage. At the international level, we have frequently ignored the complex social and economic structures through which wealthy nations often prosper at the expense of poor nations. But simply placing the blame on wealthy nations does not fully explain the problem of global poverty. Within poor countries themselves, growing economic disparities between the wealthy ruling class and the impoverished masses can be attributed to government corruption, misuse of international aid, illiteracy, soil erosion, overpopulation, civil war, and a myriad of other factors. Even on the local level, well-intentioned development projects are often appropriated by pastors or other community leaders, enabling them to broaden their power base at the expense of those whom a given project was originally intended to help. With these things in mind, we are now recognizing that it is not enough to simply “teach people to fish.” We also need to consider the question, “Who owns the pond?”

Western missionaries have been slow to ask this question, in part, because our theology fails to explicitly address the root causes of poverty. In contrast, the religious faith of black Bahamians and other Afro-Caribbean peoples has long played a significant role in challenging the injustices of five-hundred years of slavery and colonialism. From the earliest days of slavery, religion often inspired slave uprisings and revolts against white plantation owners. Most slave resistance, though, tended to be more subtle—stealing food, procrastination on the job, refusal to give up African beliefs and customs, individual escapes, and formation of fugitive slave communities in the mountains. By the late eighteenth century, mass conversion of Caribbean slaves and freed blacks to Protestant Christianity provided new avenues of resistance to slavery and racial discrimination. Much to the consternation of British colonial officials, non-conformist churches—especially the Baptists—often provided sanctuary for runaway slaves as well as allowing slaves and freed blacks alike to become full-members, hold church offices, and even become preachers. Eventually, Baptist led slave resistance in Jamaica became so violent that it significantly hastened the legal decision to end slavery in all of the British colonies. Following emancipation, religion continued to fuel struggles for racial equality and, later, independence from British colonial rule. This tradition of religious resistance—referred to by some scholars as black radicalism—reached its climax in the Bahamas with the achievement of black majority rule (1967) and Bahamian independence (1973).

The Bahamas’ journey to black majority rule and independence began in 1935, when the National Baptist Convention in the United States began to provide scholarships for Bahamian Baptists to prepare for the ministry at the historically black American Baptist Seminary in Nashville. Having experienced southern racism and observed the early precursors to the U.S. civil rights movement during their studies, Bahamian graduates such as H.W. Brown and R.E. Cooper, Sr. returned to the Bahamas determined to right the injustices faced by the black majority in their own country. These Baptist pastors were amongst the first supporters of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), which was formed in 1953 to challenge the political and economic power of the white Nassau merchant class known as the Bay Street Boys. Borrowing from the rhetoric and tactics of leaders in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement as well as nationalist movements against British colonial rule in Africa and the Caribbean, the PLP and its Baptist allies gradually gained the support of the black Bahamian populace they claimed to represent. Using the scriptures to show how God helps the weak to triumph over the mighty, fiery Baptist preachers encouraged unity and solidarity amongst black Bahamians while the leadership of Baptist women doubled the size of the black electorate through their efforts to achieve women’s suffrage.

By late 1966, the United Bahamian Party (UBP)—representing the interests of the Bay Street Boys—caved into growing pressure from the PLP and called for new parliamentary elections to be held on January 10, 1967. They hoped that by scheduling the elections shortly after the Christmas holidays the black electorate would be too distracted with celebrations to adequately prepare. Instead, the religiously zealous PLP leadership quickly pointed out that election day coincided with the day of Passover, the “tenth day of the first month,” when Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to be released from slavery in Egypt (Ex 12:1-3, 31). Such biblical imagery coupled with the theme song from the recently released movie Exodus and the U.S. civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” enabled the PLP’s campaign to build enough momentum to achieve an election night tie with the UBP. During the night, the PLP brokered a deal with the largely black Labour Party to form a coalition government, thus ushering in a new era of black majority rule. Years later, Baptist leader and PLP stalwart Doris Johnson recalled: “Thus it was that on ‘the tenth day of the first month,’ black Bahamians emerged from the centuries-old domination of a white power group and crossed over to the promised land of ‘milk and honey,’ on which they could grow more and more able to shape their destiny. They could walk tall and proud in their own land as never before, and humble too, as their deeply religious sense attributed their Glory (sic) in victory, to the mysterious ways of their God.” Once in power, the PLP and its Baptist allies continued their struggle for the equality of black Bahamians, culminating in independence from Great Britain on July 10, 1973.

These events are but one of many instances in which black radicalism has drawn on the story of God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt to inspire liberation from oppressive social conditions. As a force for social change, radical black religion has always been an important alternative to the missionary theology utilized by the white ruling class as a means of social control. During the slave era, white missionaries justified their ministries amongst black slaves by arguing that the conversion of slaves to Christianity would make them more obedient to their masters (Eph 6:5, Col 3:22) and, thus, better slaves. By focusing exclusively on saving souls, the missionaries gave slaves something to look forward to in the next life (Eph 6:7-8, Col 3:23-24) but forbid them from using their newfound freedom in Christ to seek freedom from their physical bondage here on earth. Following emancipation, such otherworldly theologies continued to insure that former slaves and their descendents remained socially and economically subordinate to the white ruling class. Today, this otherworldly theology of the slave era has largely been replaced by the this-worldly focus of prosperity theology. Having watched their country’s meteoric rise from a backwater colony to a thriving nation in just a single generation, many Bahamians have understandably exchanged admonitions to “obey your master” for alluring promises of limitless wealth. But by emphasizing that poverty is the result of one’s lack of faith in God while ignoring unjust social and economic structures, prosperity theology—like its otherworldly predecessors—still serves the purpose of upholding the privileges of the economic elite at the expense of poor.

The real reasons for Bahamian poverty are much more complicated than what proponents of prosperity theology would have us believe. Just a little over three decades after independence from British colonialism, the Bahamas now faces the economic challenges of neocolonialism. Concealed behind the glitz and glitter of the Bahamas’ multimillion dollar tourist industry, for example, is the hard reality that most profits go directly into the pockets of foreign investors, with only eight cents out of every dollar actually remaining in the country. Nearly forty-years after the achievement of black majority rule, the Bay Street Boys are no longer publicly visible in Bahamian politics. Yet the white minority they represent—just a mere 15% of the population—still controls 85% of the nation’s wealth. Boasting the third-highest per capita income in the western hemisphere, the Bahamas is home to a sizeable black middle class that lives in relative prosperity compared to its Caribbean neighbors. But beneath this veneer of wealth is an even larger black underclass that enjoys few, if any, of the benefits of the modern Bahamian economy while being displaced from unskilled jobs by a growing influx of poverty-stricken immigrants from Haiti, Jamaica, and Latin America.

While the white Nassau merchant class and its foreign investment partners have been the primary beneficiaries of the Bahamas’ astounding economic growth, enough black Bahamians have dramatically increased their standard of living in the past few decades to make the fantastic promises of prosperity theology believable to the majority of the populace still living in poverty. In this environment, it is easy to see how entrepreneurial pastors and church leaders have used the teachings of prosperity theology to become wealthy at the expense of their own congregations. More importantly, it is easy to see how the voices of radical black religion that once challenged the otherworldly theologies of colonialism have remained silent against this onslaught of neocolonialism and prosperity theology. With these things in mind, one of our priorities at Atlantic College is to equip our students to recover the tradition of black radicalism in Bahamian religion. By doing so, we hope to provide them with a viable alternative to the “business as usual” doctrines of prosperity theology that fail to challenge the social and economic structures that keep many Bahamians impoverished. To that end, much of the historical, political, and theological analysis described above has formed the basis for reading assignments, lectures, and discussion in my theology classes.

Even though only a handful of my students actually voted in the historic election that brought about black majority rule, most are old enough to remember when their parents voted for it. Or if not, they at least remember their own participation in the Bahamas’ independence celebrations. Most of these same students—typically representing the new black middle class—can also recount childhood stories of growing up in conditions of poverty and attending school when British history rather than Bahamian history was the mainstay of the curriculum. A small number of younger students, though, have no significant memories of either the black radical movement of the 1960s and early 70s or the social conditions that characterized that era. So while older students readily understand the nature of black radicalism and, to a certain extent, its significance for today, younger students generally experience some initial difficulty when it comes to making those connections. And when it comes to understanding the more distant legacy of radical black religion during the slave era, nearly all of our students have trouble recognizing the continuity of that tradition with its more recent manifestations during their own lifetimes. Given that most of my students are either still in school or have only recently graduated, it remains to be seen whether or not they will ultimately make those connections. But if they do, then we hope that their future ministries will find them moving beyond “teaching people to fish” to helping them acquire their fair share of the pond.

COMING NEXT: This newsletter has examined how theological education can facilitate social change in the Bahamas by helping students to recover the tradition of radical black religion. But ultimately, we hope that black radicalism does more than just inform the present ministries of our students. We’d also like to see it inspire them to develop their own theologies. Next, the fifth and final article in this series will show how we are doing this in “Towards an Indigenous Bahamian Theology.”

Part I: Why is Bahamian theological education important?
Part II: Bahamianization of the Theological Curriculum
Part III: Finding Alternatives to Business as Usual in the Church

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Quote of the Week

It is here in the Caribbean, not in Europe, that you are likely to find the classic and pristine expressions of European denominationalism. It is in the Caribbean that you will hear Moravians talking about Jan Hus as though he was burnt at the stake last night. It is in the Caribbean that you will hear Methodists talking about the conversion of John Wesley as though Aldersgate Street is around the corner and they were there that night, that you will see Anglicans celebrating as though Newman, Keble and Pusey had them specially in mind when they inaugurated the Anglo-Catholic Revival, that you will hear Catholics speaking as though Pius IX took care to canvass their opinion specifically before he enunciated the Dogma of Papal Infallibility.
William Watty, former president of the United Theological College of the West Indies, in From Shore to Shore: Soundings in Caribbean Theology.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

No, these are not our kids!

We just borrowed them for awhile.

This is Daniela Ester Cordero Luisima, Estela's first grandniece at age 3. (She's now going on 4).

This is Dan's first and (so far) only niece, Lauren Christina Schweissing, age 2 1/2.

For more of our nieces and nephews (well, mostly Estela's), click here.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Theological Education in the Bahamas, Part III

This is the third of a five part series that previously appeared in News from Daniel and Estela Schweissing between February and August 2006. A more in-depth theological treatment of this topic can be found in the upcoming edition of the American Baptist Quarterly.


Most of our students who come to study with us at Atlantic College are tired of business as usual in the church. Or more precisely, they’re tired of the church as business. Saturated by the “name it and claim it” teachings of prosperity theology from the United States, many Bahamian churches have become platforms for self-seeking pastors and church leaders to get rich at the expense of their congregations while ignoring the rampant poverty, social ills, and spiritual decay of the communities they serve. Patrick Johnstone reports in Operation World that “Materialism stimulated by tourism and drug money has deeply affected every level of society. Nearly all Bahamians claim to be Christian, but nominalism is widespread. A 55% illegitimacy rate, widespread drug addiction and family breakdown are symptoms of spiritual need.” To this, we might add that the Bahamas has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. And in spite of significant economic advances during the latter half of the twentieth century, a large underclass of black Bahamians continues to face grinding poverty. At the same time, a seemingly endless flow of Haitian immigrants are joining poor Bahamians in the urban slums as well as constructing shantytowns on the outskirts of major towns and cities.

Even when churches have not succumbed to the teachings of prosperity theology, they are frequently characterized by their indifference to the social and spiritual needs of the communities where they are located. By the time of Bahamian independence from Britain in 1973, the results of economic development from the post-World War II tourist boom coupled with the new opportunities available to black Bahamians in politics, civil service, and commerce resulted in the creation of a sizeable black middle class that lives in relative prosperity compared to its Caribbean neighbors. As middle class families began migrating from Nassau’s ghettos to newly constructed suburban neighborhoods, historic inner-city churches gradually became middle class outposts whose members and pastoral leadership commute from the suburbs several times a week for worship and fellowship. While some churches have developed a handful of ministries to meet the needs of their poverty stricken neighbors, such efforts are often peripheral to the main priority of serving their middle class members. When a heavy emphasis on prosperity theology is added to the equation, it becomes easy to see why so many Bahamians are dissatisfied with business as usual in the church.

While most Bahamians consider themselves to be Christians, an increasingly large number are no longer regular church goers. Many who were once attracted to the church in hopes of bettering their economic situation have given up on God when it became apparent that he was not delivering on the “blessings” that the pastor promised that they would get. Others have become disillusioned by the hypocrisy of pastors and church leaders that seem to be more interested in their own personal economic advancement rather than the spiritual and physical welfare of their congregations. These same frustrations could easily have driven most of our students away from the church as well. Instead, their commitment to serving God has led them to seek answers through theological study at Atlantic College. Even though few of our students are able to articulate the precise nature of the problems in the church when they begin their studies, they intuitively understand that something is wrong with the prevailing model of ministry and their hope is that they will someday be able to provide a different kind of leadership. Put differently, our students are looking for alternatives to business as usual in the church.

One such student is Maria Bowe—now an Atlantic College alumna. Maria was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and received all of her formal education through Catholic schools. As a young adult, her involvement in her church’s soup kitchen ministry led her to discover her vocation for serving the poor. Though energized by her involvement in social outreach, she began to question many of the church doctrines and practices that she had grown up with. As Maria’s doubts about her faith increased, her participation in church activities gradually dwindled until one day—about nine years ago—she walked out of the church during mass and never returned. By this time, Maria was a housewife, the mother of two small children, and a psychology student at St. Benedict’s College in Nassau. Shortly after leaving the Catholic Church, she began attending a Pentecostal/Charismatic congregation and transferred to the theology program at Atlantic College.

Maria’s coursework at Atlantic College reinforced her commitment to serving the poor and also sparked a passion for evangelism, which eventually led her to pursue an internship in evangelism through one of Nassau’s inner-city churches. As one of our brightest students, Maria’s contributions to our classroom discussions of business as usual in the Bahamian church frequently illuminated me as well as her fellow students. This January—just a little over two years after graduating as her class salutatorian—Maria started her own ministry in a storefront on Bernard Road in Nassau, an inner-city neighborhood that has been largely neglected by both the church and social services. Named Zoar—after the village where Lot and his family took refuge when fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:23)—this ministry emphasizes evangelism, discipleship, mentoring at-risk youth, and counseling victims of sexual abuse.

In the future, I hope to be more intentional about preparing students like Maria to experiment with new models of ministry. During my first term of service, much of my effort in the classroom was directed at helping students to critique the prevailing prosperity theology model of ministry. While that task was important, it failed to provide my students with alternative approaches to doing ministry. With no alternatives, I found that our critique of prosperity theology was insufficient to prevent students from reverting back to business as usual upon their graduation from our program. But what alternatives were available? Through a process of trial and error, I eventually stumbled across the writings of John Perkins.

Perkins, an African-American with a third-grade education, grew up in a sharecropping family in rural Mississippi during the Jim Crow era. Following the murder of his older brother, he escaped from the South by migrating to California where he married, started a family, and became a successful businessman. He also began searching for spiritual meaning in his life—a journey that eventually led him to Jesus Christ. After several years of active ministry as a lay leader, Perkins sensed God’s calling to pursue a new ministry in his hometown of Mendenhall, Mississippi. So during the turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement, Perkins relocated his family from the relative safety and economic security of California to the poverty-stricken and racially-charged atmosphere of the rural South. There, he ministered to the spiritual and physical needs of his former friends and neighbors, eventually developing a model for ministry that is now known as Christian community development (CCD). Today, Perkins’ model has been widely replicated in dozens of locations throughout the United States—primarily in impoverished inner-city neighborhoods.

So what is Christian community development? CCD is a holistic approach to ministry—emphasizing both evangelism and social action—that is rooted in the biblical principles of relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution. Because CCD is based on broad theological principles rather than a rigid methodology, it has been successfully replicated in both rural and urban settings as well as in a diversity of racial and ethnic communities.

RELOCATION – Jesus Christ did not commute back and forth from heaven to conduct his ministry here on earth. Rather, he chose to relocate to earth so he could live and minister amongst us for the duration of his ministry (Jn 1:14). Likewise, practitioners of CCD recognize that their ministries are most effective when they choose to reside in the poor communities they hope to reach instead of commuting from the suburbs. It is only by living side-by-side, in solidarity with the poor, that one can truly understand the problems faced by poor communities and, ultimately, the solutions that are needed.

RECONCILIATION – The essence of the gospel is summed up in two commandments: we are to love God and love our neighbor. While a person is reconciled to God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, scripture teaches that we cannot truly be reconciled to God until we are reconciled to our neighbors (I Jn 4:19-21). Most impoverished communities are fragmented by racial, ethnic, language, and class barriers. Hence, a major focus of CCD is demonstrating the love of Christ in ways that bring about genuine reconciliation between people of diverse backgrounds.

REDISTRIBUTION – Poor communities typically lack things such as economic resources, education, health care, and jobs that are needed to develop a healthy community. CCD seeks to redress these inequities through training of indigenous leadership and economic develop projects (2 Cor 8:13-14). More than just charity, it also attempts to apply biblical principles (e.g., Lev 25) to transform the social and economic structures that keep people impoverished.

During my last semester at Atlantic College, I introduced my students to CCD by requiring them to read Perkins’ autobiography. Not surprisingly, Perkins’ story resonated with the experience of my students and our lively class discussions seemed to suggest that CCD may very well be a viable ministry model for the Bahamian church. That being said, I have not forgotten about the dangers of utilizing imported U.S. ministry models that often prove to be irrelevant to the reality of Bahamian culture. Yet, there are sufficient continuities between the urban experience of African-Americans and black Bahamians to convince me that CCD can be successfully adapted to Nassau’s own unique urban culture. Likewise, CCD already has a proven track record of being replicated in a variety of racial and ethnic contexts. While that doesn’t guarantee that CCD will succeed in the Bahamas, it does provide me with a reasonable basis to begin providing students with more training in the theology and methods of CCD upon our return to Nassau. In a country that holds the dubious distinction of having both the highest per capita of drug addiction and the highest per capita of church buildings in the world, we are hopeful that CCD will provide our students with a practical alternative to business as usual in the church.

COMING NEXT: This newsletter has examined how CCD provides a model for pastoral response to the spiritual and social concerns faced by the residents of Nassau’s inner-city neighborhoods. But more than just a pastoral response is needed. A political response that challenges the social and economic structures that keep Bahamians impoverished is needed as well. Next, Part IV of our series will show how theological education addresses the political question in “Recovering the Tradition of Black Radicalism in Bahamian Religion.”

Part I: Why is Bahamian theological education important?
Part II: Bahamianization of the Theological Curriculum

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Theological Education in the Bahamas, Part II

This is the second of a five part series that previously appeared in News from Daniel and Estela Schweissing between February and August 2006. A more in-depth theological treatment of this topic can be found in the upcoming edition of the American Baptist Quarterly.


Bahamians have a saying that goes something like this, "When America sneezes, the Bahamas catches cold." Basically, what that means is that if we’re doing something here in the United States, the Bahamians are quick to jump on the bandwagon. And once they’re on the bandwagon, they’ll often outdo us at whatever we were trying to do in the first place. Consider how the books, movies, television programs, and personalities that are currently fashionable in popular American Evangelical culture have influenced Christianity in the Bahamas. Bahamian Christian book shops prominently display stacks of Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life, Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, and Bruce Wilkinson's Prayer of Jabez. Cable Bahamas pipes in religious programming from the major U.S. television networks, making household names of personalities like John Hagee, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, and Juanita Bynum. And two years ago, Bahamian movie theaters were packed out by church groups attending showings of Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ. Clearly, one of the biggest theological challenges facing the Bahamian church is that Bahamian Christianity has often been more greatly influenced by American Evangelical culture than it has by Bahamian culture.

From the earliest days of the modern missions movement, missionaries have understood the importance of translating the gospel message from their language (or, more precisely, the Greek and Hebrew languages of scripture) to the language of the people they hoped to reach. Pioneer Baptist missionaries William Carey and Adoniram Judson placed a high priority on mastering the indigenous languages of India and Burma, writing dictionaries, and translating the scriptures so that they could communicate the gospel effectively. In the past couple of generations, missionaries have begun to understand that in the same way that the gospel is communicated most effectively by using the language of the people they want to reach, it is also best communicated through their culture. In other words, just as it has always been a priority to translate the gospel from one language to another, it is now a priority to translate the gospel from our culture (or, again, the Greek and Hebrew cultures of the Bible) to the culture of the people to whom we minister. Consequently, one of the most important challenges that we face in Bahamian theological education is helping our students to understand what the gospel means from a Bahamian perspective rather than an American perspective.

Such an understanding is already evident in the way that a small number of Bahamian churches are responding to the highly polemical debate in the American church over the use of contemporary versus traditional forms of worship. American churches that do a good job of attracting teenagers and young adults typically emphasize contemporary worship styles in which praise songs are accompanied by a band playing electronic keyboards, electric guitars, and drums. In such churches, the words to songs (and even readings from scriptures) are projected on a screen behind the pulpit, eliminating the need for congregants to use hymnals or Bibles. This is in contrast to more traditional styles of worship—typically attended by senior adults—where the singing of hymns is accompanied by piano and organ music, the use of hymnals allows worshipers to follow the melody as well as the words, and nearly every church member can be seen carrying a Bible to and from services. Needless to say, this debate over which worship style to use has been imported to the Bahamas where most churches are ardent proponents of one style or the other. But many Bahamian churches have rejected these American approaches to worship, opting instead to worship in ways that embrace their own music and culture. They have realized that using their own native instruments—goat skin drums, cow bells, and bicycle horns—in a Junkanoo style worship service allows them to reach their people more effectively than is possible with imported worship styles that cater to specific subcultures of the American church.

While matters of liturgy and worship are actually just a small part of what we focus on in Bahamian theological education, this process of Bahamianization of worship in the Bahamian church aptly illustrates what we hope to accomplish in our teaching. When I first came to Atlantic College five years ago, I found that the theology program was based on a classic Western style theological curriculum that had been borrowed from a U.S. based school. While such a curriculum might effectively prepare pastors to minister successfully in the United States, particularly in a white middle class suburban setting, it is inadequate to prepare Bahamian students for the realities of ministry in the Bahamian church. Consequently, one of my biggest concerns in teaching is to help my students avoid getting trapped into thinking that American forms of theology—that is, Christian faith and practice—should be normative for the Bahamian church. Rather, I challenge them to identify and embrace a theological perspective that is both AUTHENTICALLY CHRISTIAN—meaning consistent with the teachings of scripture—and AUTHENTICALLY BAHAMIAN—meaning consistent with the reality of their own culture. Regardless of what subject we might be teaching—whether it be Old Testament, New Testament, systematic theology, church history, biblical interpretation, or preaching—our goal is to help our students understand each and every area of the theological curriculum from a distinctly Bahamian perspective rather than an imported U.S. perspective.

When I studied church history as a seminary student, we learned about all the great movers and shakers in the church—or so we thought—from the time of the apostles down to the present and they all had one thing in common. With few exceptions, they were white men of European and North American descent. At Atlantic College, my approach to church history has been different. My classes don’t just cover the European and American roots of Christianity; they also look at its African and Caribbean roots. Probably very few of us are aware that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the second oldest organized church in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church. Yet when we teach our students—all of whom are of African descent—about the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, this is significant for them because it affirms that God was already working in the lives of black Africans for over one-thousand years before the first white missionaries arrived on the continent. When we study Baptist history, we don’t just learn about the heroes of the faith that many of us learned about in Sunday school—Roger Williams, John Smyth, William Carey, and Adoniram Judson. We also study the lives of heroes like George Liele, Prince Williams, and Sharper Morris—former American slaves who brought the Baptist faith to Jamaica and the Bahamas. In other words, our students learn that the first Baptist missionaries in the Caribbean were entrepreneurial Afro-American preachers without the benefit of support from an organized mission sending agency, that these preachers began working in the Caribbean during the decade before William Carey—the so-called father of modern missions—set sail for India, and that they labored in the Bahamas for over fifty years before the first white British Baptist missionaries ever showed up. Again, this affirms for our students that God has been working through their own people and their own culture, independently of the influence of the Western church.

If our priority in theological education is to help our students understand theology from a Bahamian perspective, then how does this approach to teaching church history help to achieve that goal? As a cultural outsider to the Bahamas, I cannot expect to ever fully understand all of the nuances of Bahamian culture, let alone be able to fully understand theology from a distinctly Bahamian perspective myself. And in the absence of a significant body of theological writings authored by Bahamian theologians, I cannot readily introduce my students to an already existing Bahamian theology. The best that I can hope for is to equip my students with the tools to analyze their own culture and develop their own understanding of theology within their cultural context. In a country where centuries of colonialism and slavery have indoctrinated its people with the notion that “foreign is better,” perhaps the most important tool that I can provide my students with is an understanding and appreciation of their own religious and cultural heritage. Not only does such an understanding and appreciation affirm for our students that God values their culture and that he chooses to work through that culture; it also gives them permission to begin thinking theologically from their own unique cultural perspective. Thus, my job is not simply to teach theology but to find ways of teaching it that are culturally relevant for my students. If this effort is successful, then I hope to insure that, when America sneezes, our students and their churches do not catch cold.

COMING NEXT: Now that we've shown why helping students understand theology from the perspective of their own culture is important, how does this change in perspective impact the way that they do ministry? Find out in a few days as Part III of our series addresses this question in “Finding Alternatives to Business as Usual in the Church.”

Part I: Why is Bahamian theological education important?

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Slow Progress, Enduring Hope

BPFNA Friendship Tour to New Orleans
November 10-15, 2007

Come to New Orleans and meet with pastors, city officials, education leaders, students, and many ordinary storm survivors to hear what challenges remain for them and what gives them hope. Take a revealing tour of the city to see which neighborhoods are coming back, which are not, and why. Add your efforts to the courageous work to reclaim the Lower Ninth Ward. Spend free time in a lovely, vibrant city -- hear great music, eat wonderful food, enjoy the rich environment created by generations of the intermingling of cultures. Become friends with the city and the people of New Orleans -- you'll be touched forever by who you meet and what you see.

Your costs:
-$100 registration
-transportation to and from New Orleans
-shuttle between hotel and airport, if flying ($13 each way)
-hotel in New Orleans
(we get an excellent rate and can also share rooms)
-meals (breakfast is provided at the hotel each day)

To register, please e-mail the Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski or call her at (704) 521-6051 for more information.

Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
4800 Wedgewood Drive
Charlotte, NC 28210
(704) 521-6051

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Paul Raushenbush on the Social Gospel

Thanks to Michael Westmoreland-White for pointing out this informative article by Paul Raushenbush on "My Great-Grandfather and the Social Gospel."

I recently sent Brian McLaren an e-mail introducing myself as the great-grandson of Walter Rauschenbusch. Brian is a pastor, the bestselling author of, among other books, "A New Kind of Christian," and a leader in the Emergent Church, one of today’s most vibrant Christian movements.

I had just edited the 100th anniversary edition of Rauschenbusch’s first book, "Christianity and the Social Crisis" (with the updated title, "Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century"), and I was curious to see what Brian thought of Rauschenbusch. I knew that the Emergent Church shared some of my great-grandfather’s concerns, blending evangelical devotion to Jesus while preaching an active response to social questions of the day. But the intensity of Brian’s response caught me off guard.

"Like a lot of people from Evangelical backgrounds," Brian wrote, "in my childhood and youth I was taught that the "social gospel" was nothing but evil. I heard it a thousand times in sermons...Now, of course, I think this kind of anti-justice, privatized-gospel propaganda is evil!"


What strikes me about Brian’s faith journey is how it mirrors mine in reverse.
Click here to read the rest of the article.

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Mental Slavery

Ward Minnis, a Bahamian graduate student in history at Carlton University in Ottawa, has recently launched a new blog called Mental Slavery: Thoughts from a Closed Mind. His first several posts have been on the topic of racism. Definitely worth the read. Check it out.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Quote of the Week

"The missionaries who introduced the gospel to Africa in the past two hundred years did not bring God to our continent. Instead, God brought them."

John Mbiti, Professor Emeritus at the University of Bern

See Mbiti's article on "The Encounter of Christian Faith and African Religion."

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Rita Nakashima Brock to Speak in Nassau

UPDATE: Please note that I have updated or corrected some of the times and venues below.

One of America's foremost feminist theologians, Rita Nakashima Brock, will be coming to Nassau next week.

The Rev. Dr. Brock is a Founding Co-Director of Faith Voices for the Common Good, an interfaith organization dedicated to educating the public about the values and concerns of religious people. She is also Senior Editor in Religion for The New Press in New York and a Visiting Scholar at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA. During 2001-2002, she was a Fellow at the Harvard Divinity School Center for Values in Public Life. From 1997-2001, Dr. Brock directed the Radcliffe Fellowship Program in advanced research at Harvard University, formerly called the Bunting Institute. From 1990-1997, Dr. Brock held the Endowed Chair in the Humanities at Hamline University, St. Paul, MN.

A licensed minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Dr. Brock is author of several award-winning, critically acclaimed books, Journeys By Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power, Casting Stones: Prostitution and Liberation in Asia and the United States, co-authored with Susan Thistlethwaite, and Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us, co-authored with Rebecca Parker. She has also edited and contributed to a number of books and journals and was a founding board member of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. She writes a regular column on ethics for the magazine Campaign Elections and essays on the lectionary for Disciples World. For more information about Dr. Brock, click here.

During her visit to Nassau, Dr. Brock will be speaking at the following venues:

Thurs-Sat Oct 25-27 Soularize at New Providence Community Church on Blake Road and JFK, click here for call 327-1660 for details.

Sun Oct 28 at 11:00am Canaan Baptist Church, preaching at morning worship. Canaan Baptist is on Charles Saunders Highway, just east of Sadie Curtis Primary School.

Tues Oct 30 at 6:30pm College of the Bahamas, School of Social Sciences. Lecture to be held at the UWI Dining Room on Thompson Boulevard.

Lecture Topic: "The Expulsion of Paradise, Columbus, and Colonization"

For Christianity's first millennium, salvation as baptism into paradise in this world was its primary understanding of Genesis 1-2. With the Crusades and invention of holy war, the church jettisoned paradise into the afterlife as a reward for killing and being killed. So why then, were the colonizers from Europe looking for paradise in the New World? This lecture will discuss the colonizing impulse, its relationship to the explusion of paradise from this life, and how it might be reclaimed.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Theological Education in the Bahamas, Part I

This is the first of a five part series that previously appeared in News from Daniel and Estela Schweissing between February and August 2006. A more in-depth theological treatment of this topic can be found in the upcoming edition of the American Baptist Quarterly.


Of the many tasks that missionaries are called overseas to perform—evangelism, discipleship, church planting, medicine, or agricultural work—theological education is perhaps the least understood. Once just a small part of the missionary task, theological education in recent decades has become one of the central foci of American Baptist missions work overseas. By learning more about the importance of theological education in the Bahamas, you will not only have the opportunity to develop a better understanding of my ministry as a theological educator; you will also gain insight into the work of many of my missionary colleagues around the world who also labor in the field of theological education.

Theological education is simply the task of training—formally or informally—leadership for the Christian church. Pastors, administrators, teachers, counselors, and sometimes even lay people are amongst those who require theological training in order to do their jobs. In the past—during the great pioneering era of nineteenth century missions and even well into the twentieth century—American and European missionaries focused their primary efforts on winning converts for the church. While some attempts were occasionally made to train indigenous leadership for newly-founded Christian churches, it was generally assumed that missionaries would always be available to take care of the day to day tasks of church leadership. During the twentieth century—especially following World War II—this situation began to change. First, missiologists began to realize that indigenous churches would be stronger if they developed their own leadership and became less dependent on missionary churches in the West. Second, most mission agencies no longer had the financial resources they once had to support large contingents of overseas missionaries. Third, many indigenous leaders became resentful of the paternalism of foreign missionaries and were anxious to take over leadership of their own churches. Consequently, mission sending agencies like American Baptist International Ministries have shifted their strategy to place greater emphasis on theological education for the purpose of training indigenous church leadership.

At Atlantic College in the Bahamas, our theology students are generally what we might refer to in the States as second-career or non-traditional students. Most range in age from their mid-thirties to mid-fifties, though we occasionally have a few students who are younger or older than that. Over ninety-percent are women, reflecting a trend that characterizes contemporary Bahamian higher-education. Most of our students also work full-time jobs, have school-age children and, consequently, a full slate of family obligations. Nearly all are active in some area of leadership in their churches.

Except for the fact that he is one of the only men enrolled in the theology program, Anthony Williamson is typical of many of our students who come to Atlantic College in pursuit of theological education. Raised in the Baptist church, Anthony gave his life to Christ as a young adult. Following his conversion, Anthony’s involvement in church ministry led him to discover his giftedness in singing and preaching. As he began to find his niche in lay ministry, the leaders in Anthony’s church pressured him to get married, counseling him that “a man of God should not be single.” Predictably, the marriage was short-lived and Anthony is now faced with the challenge of raising his son as a divorced parent.

Like many young people of his generation, Anthony eventually left his roots in the Baptist church and now attends one of the many Pentecostal/Charismatic congregations that have proliferated throughout the Bahamas during the past few decades. In addition to directing the music ministry at his church, Anthony is regularly invited to sing at weddings and funerals. He is also a popular preacher at numerous local evangelistic events. Five years ago, Anthony sensed a calling to further his studies in order to prepare for full-time ministry. Now in his mid-forties, Anthony has completed the coursework for his theology degree on evenings and weekends while working by day as a mid-level manager at an auto-parts warehouse. Following his upcoming graduation this spring, Anthony plans to pursue a full-time ministry in teaching or pastoral ministry.

In the not so distant past, there were only three or four options for aspiring church leaders like Anthony who wished to obtain an education in theology: First, young single students without families might qualify for one of the handful of scholarships available to pursue their education at an overseas college or seminary. Second, the past several decades have seen a proliferation of unaccredited Bible institutes in the Bahamas, most of which are little better than advanced Sunday school. Third, there has been an exponential increase in recent years in the availability of theological degrees by correspondence from fly-by-night Bible colleges and seminaries based in the United States. Finally, the prevailing attitude amongst many Bahamian church leaders is captured in the oft repeated phrase, “I don’t need to study; the Holy Spirit will teach me everything I need to know.”

Obviously, none of these options have been successful in training effective leadership for the Bahamian national church. Since its beginnings in 1995, Atlantic College—a private interdenominational school—has provided a viable alternative to these choices by giving students the opportunity to pursue academically rigorous theological studies at an affordable price without making the sacrifice of leaving their jobs and families to study overseas. Currently, Atlantic College offers Bachelor of Ministry degrees in theology, Christian counseling, and Christian education, all of which are fully recognized by the Bahamian Ministry of Education. The program is small, typically averaging around twenty to twenty-five students during any given semester. In order to accommodate working students, classes are offered on evenings and weekends.

Recently, the College of the Bahamas (COB)—the country’s flagship public university—has joined Atlantic College in the endeavor of theological education. Beginning with the fall semester of 2004, COB has been offering coursework leading to the Bachelor of Arts degree in theological studies. Unlike our degrees at Atlantic College, COB’s program primarily serves traditional-age students by offering weekday classes. While it is still too early to judge the success of COB’s new theology program, we are hopeful that it will be a positive compliment to the work in theological education already carried out by Atlantic College.

As American Baptists, we can be proud of our efforts to support Atlantic College and similar theological training centers around the world. Providing opportunities for indigenous church leaders to obtain a quality theological education in their country of residence, however, is only a first step. In developing theological training programs for national leaders, many mistakes have been made and many challenges still need to be overcome. In our next newsletter, we will look at some of these issues in greater depth.

Coming Next: Bahamianization of the Theological Curriculum


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Haitian Migrants in the Bahamas

I just obtained a copy of "Haitian Migrants in the Bahamas 2005," which was produced by the College/University of the Bahamas as a report for the International Organisation for Migration. I haven't yet had a chance to read through it, but it comes highly recommended from a colleague in the Bahamas Human Rights Network. Perhaps after reading it, if I feel so compelled, I will comment further.


Baptist Witness in the Bahamas

As I mentioned yesterday, one of the big projects that I've been working on intensively for the past couple of months is an upcoming issue of the American Baptist Quarterly that will focus on the history of the Bahamian Baptists. Slated for publication at the end of this year, this issue will contain a number of articles by Bahamians and Bahamianists alike that should help to illuminate our understanding of this heretofore largely ignored aspect of Baptist history. Given that Baptists make up approximately 33% of the Bahamian population, making them the largest religious group in the Bahamas, one simply cannot overlook their contributions to the Bahamas. Once released, I hope that this issue will not only be well received by the ABQ's regular readers but also by Bahamian scholars and clergy who would find this topic to be of interest.

Once we have determined how and where this issue of the ABQ will be made available in the Bahamas, I will make that information available on this blog. For those interested in obtaining a copy of this edition directly from the American Baptist Historical Society, the organization that publishes the ABQ, click here. In the meantime, here's a copy of the table of contents along with the author bios to whet your appetite.

“The Bahamas: Baptist Witness amidst Slavery, Colonialism, and Globalization”
American Baptist Quarterly 26 (W 2007)
Edited by Robert E. Johnson and Daniel M. Schweissing

1. “Introduction: Baptist Witness in the Bahamas”
By Daniel M. Schweissing

2. “The Great Awakening and Baptist Beginnings in Colonial Georgia, the Bahama Islands, and Jamaica, 1739-1833”
By Alfred L. Pugh

3. “Shadrach Kerr: Priest and Missionary”
By Jim Lawlor

4. “A History of the Baptists’ Contribution to Education in the Bahamas”
By Christopher Curry

5. “The Role of the Afro-Bahamian Pastor as a Catalyst for Majority Rule”
By R.E. Cooper, Jr.

6. “Rev. Julio Laporte: Pioneer Haitian Baptist Pastor in the Bahamas”
By Charles Chapman and Daniel M. Schweissing

7. “Decolonizing Theology: The Role of Theological Education in Bahamian Nation Building”
By Daniel M. Schweissing

8. “An Annotated Bibliography of Resources on the Bahamian Baptists”
By Daniel M. Schweissing


Charles Chapman, a retired American Baptist pastor and missionary, has served overseas in Congo (formerly Zaire), Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. He is currently an interim pastor in the Philadelphia area.

R.E. Cooper, Jr. is the president of Atlantic College and Theological Seminary in Nassau, the senior pastor of the historic Mission Baptist Church in Grant’s Town, and the general superintendent of the Mission Baptist Consortium of Churches.

Christopher Curry, a lecturer at the College of the Bahamas in Nassau, is currently pursuing Ph.D. studies in Latin American and Caribbean history at the University of Connecticut. He is a specialist in the African diaspora of the Anglophone Caribbean.

Robert E. Johnson, editor of the American Baptist Quarterly, is an associate professor of church history and missiology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

Jim Lawlor, a retired educator, currently divides his time between substitute teaching and historical research and writing. He has researched for Paul Albury, Arthur Hailey and Sir Orville Turnquest on various aspects of Bahamian History. Together with his wife Anne, Jim has written The Harbour Island Story, updated The Paradise Island Story written by Anne's father, Paul Albury, and presented lectures and written numerous articles in journals and magazines on Bahamian History. Jim has recently authored a biography of the late Paul Albury.

Alfred L. Pugh is a retired American Baptist pastor. From 1970 to 1987, he was an assistant professor in the Black Studies Department at the University of Pittsburgh and an adjunct professor of church history and homiletics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He has recently authored Pioneer Preachers in Paradise.

Daniel M. Schweissing is an American Baptist missionary in Nassau where he serves as a theology instructor at Atlantic College and Theological Seminary and conducts leadership training workshops through the Mission Baptist Consortium of Churches. He is also the guest editor for this edition of the American Baptist Quarterly.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Coming Up for Air

After nearly a three month break from blogging, I have FINALLY completed (well, almost) a major project that has been hanging over my head for quite some time. A week ago today I sent off a complete set of edited articles to Robert Johnson, editor of the American Baptist Quarterly, where they will appear in the upcoming Winter 2007 edition highlighting Bahamian Baptist history. Then, I spent last week at the Christian Community Development Association's annual conference in St. Louis, which was a very productive time of learning and networking. I hope to write more about both of these things in future blog posts. In the meantime, give me a few days to catch my breath and then, hopefully, I will be able to generate enough momentum to crank out a blog post or two each week for the remainder of the semester.