In partnership with the General Commission on Religion and Race
Gammon Theological Seminary (in conjunction with the Interdenominational Theological Center) has long been considered this nation’s premier resource for black church scholarship and faith-based solutions to the spiritual and socio-economic challenges confronting the African American community and the world. Gammon’s historic commitment to producing public theologians — men and women who are spiritually astute, intellectually keen, politically sophisticated, and culturally sensitive — is advanced with the establishment of the Gammon Center for the Study of Religion and Race. With assistance from the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church, it is our desire to continue the great work of ad- dressing issues of cultural competency, advocacy and education in areas that further racial justice and equity. The Center will enable Gam- mon to educate and mobilize seminarians and others to challenge racism throughout the church and around the world. Additionally, the Center will engage white leaders who desire to work as partners in dismantling racism. Finally, it is our hope to continue the work of developing inclusive, multicultural leadership for the church that is representative of an increasingly global and urbanized society.
The Center has at its core three major structural components:
- 1) Damascus Road Experience (academic year program open to seminarians, clergy, and lay persons;
- 2) Encounters (retreat style settings called Set Free and Fire and Clay); and
- 3) the Racial Justice Institute (a summer residential experience).
Damascus Road Experience
The first component of the Gammon Center for the Study of Religion and Race is an academic year credit-based program called the Damascus Road Experience, a program with origins in the Anabaptist peace tradition. Gammon will work cooperatively with the Mennonite Central Committee (U.S.) in tweaking a program that meets the unique needs of our Wesleyan tradition.
The name Damascus Road refers to the process of transformation Saul experienced on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1- 31). Although this component of the Center’s offering is designed to provide space for individual transformation, it is our hope that this individual transformation will ultimately lead to long-term transformation of institutions, both inside and outside the church.
Damascus Road will be open to up to 50 students and up to 50 clergy and laypersons from the metro-Atlanta area. Conducted in the form of workshops and training events, Damascus Road will meet 4 times during the Spring 2012 and 4 times during the Fall 2012 semesters. Students will be able to receive up to 3 credit hours towards their designated degree program, and clergy/lay participants can receive continuing education units and a certificate of completion.
Goals of the Damascus Road Experience include:
- 1) Deepening the biblical foundations for antiracism work;
- 2) Exposing ourselves to an analysis of racism and building a common understanding of racism; and
- 3) Learning basic concepts and skills of organizing and vision development for the process of dismantling racism.
Participants who successfully complete the Damascus Road Experience will have the opportunity to engage in Encounters, a unique retreat style summit. There will be two variations of Encounters (Set Free and Fire and Clay), each with a specific purpose.
Set Free is designed for persons of color who have completed the Damascus Road Experience. Set Free is a journey toward wholeness for people of color, and is designed to offer liberation from internalized racist oppression. African American historian Carter G. Woodson wrote: “If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions… If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told…” Internalized racial oppression is a deeply held belief in the myth of racial inferiority. This belief is encouraged and grown through socialization of people of color in the context of racist individuals, institutions, and systems in both the church and society. The Set Free experience will enable attendees to look into their present conditions of life and determine how these may have been shaped by racist oppression, internal and external.
Fire and Clay is designed for White antiracists who have completed the Damascus Road Experience. The purpose of Fire and Clay is to afford participants an opportunity to seek a deeper understanding of their role as White people within racist institutions and a racist society. The retreat will cover specific issues, including: internalized racist superiority; White privilege; and accountability to people of color.
Racial Justice Institute
The third component of the Gammon Center for the Study of Religion and Race is the Racial Justice Institute. This summer training immersion experience will be open to both seminarians and lay persons. The Institute is designed to accommodate up to 100 persons for a week-long intensive training on the Gammon campus. This interactive training experience will provide new and seasoned racial justice activists with practical tools to sharpen their skills and strategies for addressing structural racism. The trainings will focus on ways to understand and challenge different levels of racism, how to address racism constructively and proactively, and how to advance racial justice in community organizing and policy advocacy. Participants in the Racial Justice Institute will be required to live in community togeth- er on the Gammon campus, and will be afforded opportunities to casually engage persons of different racial/ethnic back- grounds in a unique communal setting. Those who complete the training will be designated Racial Justice Advocates, and will be available to lead similar training experiences throughout the church.