Garrett-Evangelical News

Smith Installed As Director Of Center for the Church and the Black Experience

EVANSTON, Ill., October 2009 - Dr. R. Drew Smith was installed as the new director of the Center for the Church and the Black Experience, a 39-year-old organization that has helped lead Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary to take strong stands for racial justice and understanding.

drew-welcome"Given our context today, characterized as it is by growing economic disparities, deepening militarism, and intensifying social polarities and stridencies, we still need theological and ecclesiastical leadership that understands social struggle and knows how to retrieve hope and humaneness from our current conflicts, callousness and incivilities," Smith said during the seminary's welcoming service on Oct. 14. "Black churches have a strategic role to play in this, and CBE can provide essential leadership toward this task."

Smith challenged seminary students and church leaders to consider serious dilemmas posed by the potential for passivity in the wake of Barack Obama's election as the nation's first African American president, who, Smith said, "is accountable and beholden to forces that may run counter to convictions held by many in this room here today. ...

"Black church leaders have a strategic role to play in maintaining the independence and the incisiveness of the church's theological critique of society - especially when that critique runs counter to the positioning of a president admired so greatly by those of us who are social progressives. CBE, and Garrett, are theologically, and even geographically, positioned to provide leadership on these important issues, and I look forward to playing a part in this."

Smith will split his time between Garrett-Evangelical's CBE and his work as scholar in residence at Morehouse College's Leadership Center in Atlanta. During his 11 years at the Leadership Center, he has initiated and directed a number of projects related to religion and public life, including the Public Influences of African-American Churches Project and the Faith Communities and Urban Families Project.

Smith plans to bring similar projects to CBE, which has a rich tradition at Garrett-Evangelical and has had a major impact on churches and church leaders across America. Established in 1970, CBE focuses on the African American experience and ministry. It also models the inclusive church as it seeks to prepare students for bold leadership.

"Part of my task is to look for ways to build on that tradition," he said. "That requires becoming more familiar with what has been done over the past 39 years and listening to faculty, staff, students, alums and other stakeholders who have led CBE to where it is today. I will clearly bring my own emphases: 1) the black church and public life; 2) churches and urban poverty; and 3) immersion in the developing world, especially Africa. And I'll be look for ways to include scholarly dialogue through seminars and conferences here at Garrett and Northwestern."

Smith is an ordained minister and political scientist who has taught at Indiana University, Butler University, Case Western Reserve University and New York Theological Seminary. He has been actively involved in international community development and youth leadership development, initially with Operation Crossroads Africa in the 1980s. He has traveled widely in Africa and Latin America. He servedin 2005 as a Fulbright Professor at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and in 2009 as a Fulbright Senior Specialist at Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Cameroon.

He earned his bachelor of science degree in education from Indiana University, a master of divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a master of arts and doctor of philosophy in political science from Yale University. He has published widely about the crucial intersection of religion and public life and is completing a book about black clergy and contemporary moral authority.

He is married to Angelique Walker-Smith, an ordained minister in the National Baptist Convention USA, the nation's largest African American denomination. They have a daughter, Asha, 13.

Garrett-Evangelical is a graduate school of theology of The United Methodist Church founded in 1853. Located on the campus of Northwestern University, the seminary serves more than 500 students from many denominations and various cultural backgrounds, fostering an atmosphere of ecumenical interaction. Garrett-Evangelical creates bold leaders through master of divinity, master of arts, master of theological studies, doctor of philosophy and doctor of ministry degrees. Its 4,500 living alumni serve church and society around the world.

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The United Methodist Church, welcomes
students from a wide range of faith traditions.