Alum Stories

From Lawyer to Seminarian to Antiracism Advocate

The Master of Theological Studies (MTS) offers six areas of specialization that allow students to pursue rigorous and critical theological study. Students will build a strong academic foundation for future graduate-level research, for professional enhancement, or for personal enrichment. It can also be combined with another professional degree, such as law, journalism, or social work, to provide a solid foundation for a career in religious leadership.

Meet one of our MTS graduates, LeAnn Pedersen Pope

LeAnn Pedersen Pope

LeAnn Pedersen Pope (G-ETS 2020)

Master of Theological Studies
Winnetka, Illinois

What has life after Garrett looked like for you? Tell us about your vocation/ministry/career and the good work you are doing.

After a long, successful legal career, I felt an unexplained desire to move on—to change my vocation game plan from success to significance—and enrolled at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in spring 2016. At that time, I was deeply saddened by the pronounced racial divide in our country after the events in Ferguson, Baltimore and other cities across the country in 2014, triggered by the killing of Black men by white police officers. I felt called to seminary to find solutions to the racial divide—I knew we needed God’s grace and the Spirit’s guidance to do this difficult work.

When I started at Garrett, I had a plan for executing my work toward racial healing within the Christian church, but that plan changed. Before I could be an agent for change, I discovered I needed to examine my own blindness to racism and my white privilege. Startled by my findings, I learned that my views on racism and privilege—held for decades—were untethered to the truth.

In May 2020, after four years of research, studying and writing at Garrett, I completed my thesis entitled “From Colorblind to Clearer Vision: A White Christian’s Journey Toward Redemption.” In my paper, I examine systemic racism and the power of whiteness through the lens of a white affluent Christian living on the North Shore of Chicago—my lens. I admit my mistakes, my misguided perceptions of race and racism, and critically examine why white folks today are so afraid to talk about racism. My paper was written for other white Christians who yearn for the beloved community, but who are either afraid to discuss racism openly or simply don’t know where to start.

Shortly after I completed my thesis and studies at Garrett in May 2020, demonstrations, peaceful protests and violence erupted in the summer of 2020, again in response to the killing of Black Americans by white police officers—this time triggered by George Floyd’s murder. As a country, we were faced, once again, with the reality of racial injustice that has permeated the fabric of our nation since its birth.

Since the summer of 2020, I’ve been using my paper to facilitate discussions of race and whiteness with white Christians. I share my journey with others during speaking engagements and guest preach at predominantly white churches on the North Shore of Chicago. I co-lead an Antiracism Ministry Team at my own church and work with other North Shore churches on their social justice ministry plans. But my personal work is not done—as a privileged white woman, my education on racism and whiteness will take a lifetime.

In addition to my antiracism work, I continue to meet with courageous young African American men on the South Side of Chicago who are making a real effort to leave the street life through CRED (Create Real Economic Destiny), a nonprofit dedicated to effecting transformational change in Chicago gun violence.

I’m also the Board Chair of Opportunity International, Inc., a global nonprofit which, for 50 years, has developed innovative programs that use financial services, training and support to address some of the greatest challenges facing those living in poverty around the world.

How did the MTS program best prepare you for your vocation/ministry/career?

The strength of MTS program is the professors at Garrett, who profoundly affected my thinking on God’s nature and God’s relationship with God’s people. They challenged, guided and encouraged deeper theological thought. From Dr. Reginald Blount’s enlightening class on Emancipatory Pedagogy, where I heard the term “whiteness” for the first time to Dr. Anne Joh’s class on Theological Anthropology, where we critically examined the imago Dei, I was exposed to academic thought and practice that opened up an entirely new world for me—a world that led to my current work with antiracism initiatives.

Dr. Nancy Bedford’s insightful work on the “The Problem of the Ghostly Jesus” was instrumental in my thinking about my own blindness to racism and whiteness growing up in a white Christian church. She is a most gifted theologian and scholar. Dr. Bedford and Dr. Blount were my thesis advisors and they each significantly influenced on my work. I will be forever grateful for these professors, as well as other dedicated Garrett faculty with whom I had the privilege to study.

What advice or suggestions would you have for someone just starting the MTS program at Garrett?

Get to know Dr. Julie Duncan, the director of the MTS program. In addition to being an accomplished, talented professor and scholar of the Old Testament (take her classes!), she sincerely cares about each MTS student and their experience in the program. Dr. Duncan’s guidance on classes and professors was critical to tailoring the MTS program to my particular interests.