February 6, 2018 | Written by Stephanie Zerweck

Howard University School of Divinity (HUSD) has been named a winner on The Center for Faith and Service’s “Seminaries that Change the World” Class of 2017-18 list.  The list contains 33 schools nationwide, from Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry to Yale Divinity School.

Seminaries that Change the World” is a list of institutions recognized for how well they respond aspirationally and actually on three core points:  the schools’ integration of faith and service; students’ engagement in meaningful justice and service work; and support of students financially, academically, and pastorally to connect their passions for changing the world with their exploration of faith and theology.

According to School of Divinity Dean Yolanda Pierce, Ph.D., HUSD has embodied “the doing” of theological work with a core of social justice since its inception.

“Because faith without works is dead, service and the work of justice is crucial to any theological education program,” said Pierce.  “The students of HUSD are constantly learning and incorporating the integration of faith and service, both within their own religious contexts and also in an interfaith and ecumenical environment.”

Reverend Harold Dean Trulear, Ph.D., is an HUSD associate professor of Applied Theology, the Healing Communities USA national director, and the 2017 Leading with Conviction Fellow.  Since 2005, he has taught an innovative theology course titled, The Minister and the Criminal Justice System, which was profiled for the “Seminaries that Change the World” HUSD selection.

According to Trulear, his course examines the ways in which faith communities intersect with the criminal justice system through: “(1) caring for those individuals and families impacted by crime and criminal justice; (2) studying mass incarceration as a social justice issue, and (3) developing strategies for advocacy on behalf of those impacted by unjust criminal justice policies.”

“Through this course, and the family of courses developed for the new Washington Theological Consortium Certificate in Criminal Justice and Reconciliation Studies, HUSD and HU students can investigate a number of points of intersection between ministry and criminal justice,” said Trulear. Course topics include prison ministry and chaplaincy, care for families of the incarcerated, religion and law enforcement, juvenile justice, prisoner reentry and criminal justice reform.

According to Trulear—in light of the Center for Faith and Service’s focuses on service and justice through the forward-facing scope of innovation— also of note is HUSD’s role in Howard University’s Inside Out program, which is the only program of its kind in an HBCU, with courses taught in the DC Jail with equal numbers of residents (inmates) and university students.

“Mass incarceration touches the lives of all African Americans through our disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system,” said Trulear. “Students should see ministry in this realm, both practical service and social justice advocacy, as a requirement, not an option, for ministerial service. There is not a Sunday service in a Black church where families and individuals impacted by mass incarceration are not in attendance.”

According to Trulear, students have had many takeaways from the “world-changing” coursework of HUSD.

“Several students have developed reentry ministries in their churches, one doctoral student developed a program to prevent those aging out of foster care from moving into incarceration, and another developed a not-for-profit that provides webinar discussions for churches on the topic of mass incarceration,” said Trulear. “Student field placements include advocacy work in juvenile justice for the Children’s Defense Fund, research associates and staff positions for the Healing Communities USA Prison Initiative, and volunteer instruction at the DC Jail.  One current student has strengthened the work of her not-for-profit, which provides mentoring and scholarship support for children of the incarcerated to continue post-secondary education. One alumnus pastored a church whose reentry ministry attracted the attention of CBS, who spotlighted their work in a TV special.”

HUSD Religious Studies candidate and Pittsburgh native Eric Jones (M.A. ’18) arrived at Howard University to receive a “categorically just” theological education that affirmed the identity and agency of marginalized populations. In spring 2017, he participated in Alternative Spring Break in Haiti and spent time at Mission of Grace, one of the projects recognized by the award a Christian organization that houses a home for the elderly, school, orphanage, and medical clinic. Jones was named a Public Health Ethics Fellow at the National Bioethics Center at Tuskegee University that same summer. During his time there, he completed a research paper highlighting the theological implications of the United States Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee.

“Our fearless dean, Dr. Yolanda Pierce, champions the model of theology in public and I agree with her sentiment,” said Jones. “We have faculty and students, who are doing phenomenal work both inside and outside of the church. Nevertheless, I consider the larger Howard community as the School of Divinity’s church body. In one of my conversations with President Frederick, he referred to the School of Divinity as ‘the moral center of the university.’”

As a coalition-discipline, according to Jones, theology traverses social, political and economic contexts, as well as peers’ work in the sciences and humanities.

“The Howard University School of Divinity embodies what is best about Howard University: its commitment to excellence in education, service to all humankind, and a legacy rooted and grounded in the experiences of people of the African Diaspora,” said Pierce. “As HUSD continues to move forward into the 21st century, we are most excited about providing leadership in terms of the critical social, political, and theological issues of the day.”

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