Many things have been written concerning the effective place that Paul’s letter to the Romans has in Christian theology; as well as the role that this book has had in shaping the Church’s doctrine and liturgy.
As a woman, called to preach The Gospel of Jesus Christ, The initial study, the first year in Seminary, placed my ‘first mind’ into The Gospels and their telling of Biblical History. Coupled with landing at Central Church under the mentoring of Dr. Joseph Lowery, I grew into a very strong understanding of how God could and would use me in the preaching and pastoral ministry of the Church. Unlike many of the other women who I saw struggling with their calling against a male-dominated Church tradition that would perpetuate the Pauline notion of their ‘silence’ in the Church, I had no time or energy to debate the issue, but rather, spent all time and energy understanding the very differences between Who and What Jesus is over against Who and What Paul is.
It was also first year in Seminary that I was chosen to represent ITC among ten seminarians that Dr. Howard Thurman chose for his first Educational Trust Seminar. He spoke of how when he was a child, his grandmother who was born a slave would have him read to her from the Bible— always from The Gospels, NEVER FROM PAUL’S LETTERS. When he finally asked her why, she said that the slave master’s preachers only preached Paul’s notion that slaves should obey their masters.
Out of all the many and numerous occasions that I experienced this oppressive assault, I quickly identify one. I had taken the Belles of Harmony (my Campus Ministry Gospel Choir at Bennett) to sing at a local Baptist Church in fulfillment of a request for them to sing. During the call to discipleship, all Ministers were asked to come forward to join in corporate prayer for those who were responding. Next to me stood a very young man, who, while I was assuming the posture of prayer in order to effectively venerate the power of the Holy Spirit upon some lives that were already prostrate and crying out to the Lord for help; this young minister leaned over and whispered to me that ‘Satan has placed my ministry under attack in this place and that he could feel it.’ I took him by the hand and said, ‘come out of him, you deaf and dumb spirit’. It IS What Jesus Would Do!
While I had chosen to study The Gospels as my area of New Testament in The Biblical Studies PhD program at Drew University, I came into a Department known for it’s work in Pauline Theology. Both my advisors, Dr. Darrell J. Doughty and Dr. Neil Q. Hamilton are published Pauline Theologians.
Through some very difficult days in their classrooms, I did not get what they expected me to get, but I did walk away from their all white male classrooms with a very deep understanding of what Paul’s REAL contribution to Christendom is— certainly NOT these mundane things that the Church has used to oppresses women and sanction slavery throughout the history of Christianity. Having studied Romans with an emphasis upon Paul and The Law with Dr. Doughty, I so look forward now to examining ‘pistis/faith’ in Romans.
Key, then, to interpreting and understanding this Letter is a single fact: Paul is writing to a church that is not of his establishing. A group of Christians whom he has not visited nor know personally. I am reminded of how easy it is to talk to strangers while those closest to us we talk to them, sometimes, to the point of abuse. Perhaps like how short Paul got in talking to the Corinthian church… so very personal.
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