Seeking Truth Through Research and Repair
October 31, 2022
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary launches
Indigenous Study Committee
In keeping with its mission to cultivate communities of transformation and hope for the healing of the world, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary has formed a study committee to provide a historical account of the seminary’s relationship to the Native peoples of the Midwest region where the campus is located and to recommend a set of actions to pursue for the sake of justice and repair.
Alongside theological defenses of slavery rooted in white supremacy and the exploitation of people and the land, the participation of Christians in the colonization and genocide of Indigenous peoples is an original and enduring sin of the Church in the United States. Recognizing this painful reality, Garrett-Evangelical President Javier A. Viera has commissioned an Indigenous Study Committee, supported by the seminary’s Center for Ecological Regeneration, to investigate the legacy of colonialism, learn from Native peoples and Indigenous theological perspectives, and explore possible institutional partnerships to chart a more life-sustaining and just future.
In doing so, Garrett-Evangelical seeks to recognize its historic ties to the religious, ideological, and institutional systems that carried out the displacement of the first peoples of this land, broke treaty promises, justified theft, murder, cultural genocide, and more through the distorted logics of European, Christian, race-based, and related supremacies. The seminary is located on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, which sits on the traditional homelands of the people of the Council of Three Fires, the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa, as well as the Menominee, Miami, and Ho-Chunk nations.
In his charge to the committee, which began its work over the summer, Viera directed members to research Garrett-Evangelical’s impact on and relationship with the Native peoples of the Midwest bioregion. By consulting with appropriate tribal, denominational, and institutional leaders, he asked the committee to provide a truthful account of the historical record, while deepening Garrett-Evangelical’s immersion in decolonial Indigenous theological perspectives and practices. Ultimately, the group will explore potential partnerships with Indigenous-led organizations and initiatives, proposing concrete recommendations to the seminary for reparative actions.
The committee is co-chaired by Reverend Dr. Stephanie Perdew—a member of the Cherokee Nation and an associate conference minister of the Illinois Conference United Church of Christ—and Reverend Dr. Timothy Eberhart, the Robert and Marilyn Degler McClean associate professor of ecological theology and practice at Garrett-Evangelical. A list of the full committee, with member bios, can be accessed on the committee webpage.
“We’ve begun this work as a seminary in a spirit of humility, knowing how much we have yet to learn, while recognizing that the relationship of the Church and its educational institutions to Indigenous peoples has all too often been marked by arrogance, ignorance, and harm,” says Eberhart. “Our hope is that the resources of this committee and the important networks represented on it will in time help amplify Indigenous perspectives, contribute to Native struggles for justice, and lead to reparative changes at Garrett, within our churches, and across broader society.”
“It is an honor to serve as co-chair of the Garrett-Evangelical Indigenous Study Committee,” says Perdew. “This work is being undertaken in a spirit of Christian accountability and of reverence for the earth and those who know ancient ways of caretaking it. And it is work that very few seminaries are undertaking—as far as we know, Garrett-Evangelical is fairly unique in that respect. It is a privilege to be groundbreaking, and hopefully other institutions will be inspired by our work.”
The committee meets monthly and is sponsoring a series of educational events. The first online webinar, “Decolonial Theology from an Indigenous Perspective,” will take place on November 9, 2022, and features Reverend Dr. Randy S. Woodley, a member of the Cherokee Nation who serves as distinguished professor of faith and culture at George Fox University/Portland Seminary. Woodley and his wife Edith, an Eastern Shoshone tribal member, are co-creators and co-sustainers of Eloheh Indigenous Center for Earth Justice and Eloheh Farm & Seeds. Through an Eloheh experience, they invite people to a deeper spirituality and new relationship with creation while modeling regenerative Earth-tending practices and Earth justice.
About Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary forms courageous leaders in the way of Jesus to cultivate communities of justice, compassion, and hope for the thriving of the church and the healing of the world. Garrett realizes this mission through educational programming and strategic partnerships that address the most critical religious and social issues that the church and the human family must confront with courage, innovation, and collaboration.