Meet LeAnn Pedersen Pope
LeAnn Pedersen Pope
Why are you pursuing a Master of Theological Studies?
After a 32-year career as a litigation lawyer, I needed a change. I needed to explore the uncomfortable, to change my vocation game plan from success to significance. Pursuing a MTS degree at Garrett-Evangelical has taken me out of my comfort zone of the boardroom and the court room, and most importantly, has placed me on the unexpected path of public ministry.
Why did you choose Garrett-Evangelical?
I’ve known Dr. Cynthia Wilson (2013 PhD alumna and former Dean of Students at Garrett-Evangelical) for many years and she was instrumental in my discernment process to attend seminary. Garrett-Evangelical also has an excellent reputation nationally and is conveniently located a short distance from my home.
What particular research areas are you interested in and why?
My proposed topic of research centers on the study of whiteness within the context of critical race theory. Specifically, my research will focus on the necessity for white Christians to understand racism in this country and the role white privilege continues to play in systemic racism. While there is a wealth of existing scholarship exploring the role of white privilege in sustaining racism in our country, many white Christians of my generation and social demographic are uninformed on these issues. In fact, the topic of white privilege is largely avoided.
Because of my exposure to truly enlightening professors at Garrett-Evangelical, and my exposure to scholarly books and articles about racism as a construct, I have profoundly changed my views on racism in this country – including my long held and misguided assumptions regarding the mass incarceration of African American youth and men. If we truly believe in the equality of all God's children, white Christians must critically examine the true causes of racism. We must shatter decades of lies and half-truths about white privilege. My position is that a pedagogy of whiteness for white Christians is necessary for those white Christians who are dedicated to kingdom building. Until white Christians critically examine our role in systemic racism, we cannot sincerely work toward setting all people free to be the children of God they were born to be.
How do you hope to use your degree?
I’m already doing the work I intend to do after I graduate. I am currently working with a nonprofit on Chicago’s South Side whose mission is to effect transformational changes in the culture of gun violence in Chicago.
What has surprised you the most about theological education?
I have been most surprised by how my faith has been rocked to its core. Seminary has a strange way of breaking down everything you learned (or thought you knew) about God’s relationship with God’s people. That faith then rises up to a deeper and far richer faith in God.
How do you stay spiritually fulfilled/encouraged during your academic studies?
I am very active in my home church, which continues to be a very important part of my faith life with my husband. Also, while this may sound strange, my studies have become an integral part of my faith journey and spiritual fulfillment. I take classes because I desire knowledge. I’m not doing this to get a degree so I can get a job—I’ve already done that. When the goal of taking classes is the educational process of learning and critical thinking, rather than receiving another degree, the Spirit’s presence during the educational process is palpable.
Why should potential students choose the MTS program at Garrett-Evangelical?
It is important to realize that the MTS program is not just for younger folks who hope to pursue an academic career. This program is also perfect for older professionals who may be looking to make a significant change in their lives. I have talked with many of my professional contemporaries who can’t believe I went back to school. A lawyer to a minister? Who does that? I tell them it is much easier than they think. I also tell them that the wishful thinking of “someday” perhaps needs to be today. The MTS program fits perfectly with someone who wants a graduate theological education, but does not want the field placement work required for the Masters of Divinity program. The professors at Garrett-Evangelical will stretch your mind and the Garrett-Evangelical students will welcome the extra years of life experience in the classroom.