Ochs addresses religion-related violence

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Photo credit: Amanda Kathryn Hill

Peter W. Ochs, University of Virginia’s Edgar M. Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, addressed how to reduce religion-related violence at Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Dawe Lecture.

“Recent news headlines seem to give secularists more courage to say ‘We told you so!,’” Dr. Ochs said. “Is religion itself really dangerous to humankind? Or has it taken western diplomats too long to realize that religious groups do not necessarily act like other social groups; that there are religious resources for peace as well as conflict, that it takes special knowledge to understand religions, and that new coalitions of government and religious and civil society leaders are needed to engage religious groups in times of peace as well as conflict?”

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Dr. Ochs’ talk introduced the work of the “Global Covenant of Religions, Inc.,” a new NGO dedicated to drawing on religious as well as governmental and civil society resources.

He is the co-founder of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning, which promotes interfaith dialog among Christians, Jews, and Muslims through scriptural study groups. He is also a co-founder of the Children of Abraham Institute, which promotes interfaith study and dialog among members of the Abrahamic religions.

The annual lecture series pays tribute to the late Professor Donald G. Dawe and Mrs. Nancy Dawe, and promotes ethical and religious understanding. Because of Dr. Dawe’s long-standing interest and commitments in the area of multi-religious and multicultural understanding and interfaith dialogue, the lecture series seeks to contribute to deepened awareness and insight in these areas of intellectual and especially practical religious concern.

Watch the lecture

Sprunt Lectures highlight modern urgency of Paul’s ancient letter to Romans

The Letter to the Romans gives voice to the apostle Paul’s conviction that “something has happened”—God has done something that changes things, freeing all humankind and the whole universe from potent anti-God forces and welcoming all people into God’s family. Beverly Roberts Gaventa, the 2016 Sprunt Lecturer, accented the timeliness of Paul’s message for our day in three lectures delivered to an enthusiastic audience of several hundred people gathered on the Richmond campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary May 9–11. Dr. Gaventa, Distinguished Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Baylor University and former Professor at Columbia Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary, is a prolific author and serves this year as president of the Society of Biblical Literature.

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Dr. Gaventa, Distinguished Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Baylor University, spoke on Paul’s letter to the Romans.

In her first lecture, Gaventa presented a challenge to read Romans with a sense of urgency, alert for the twists and turns in his argument, attentive to the way he leads his listeners to reconsider basic assumptions. We need to be confronted and challenged by the message of Romans.

A provocative second lecture claimed that “faith is not the answer,” because the problem is far larger than belief can “fix.” For Paul, sin and death are powerful “toxic twins” that enslave humanity. Inviting us to hear Romans alongside a first-century slave woman (such as Tryphena, perhaps), Gaventa suggested that she would “get” Paul’s emphasis on powers that dominate and enslave, from which God has freed us. And this is the audacious claim of the letter: God has acted in Christ to reclaim the world, setting humankind free from its enslavement (to sin and death) and giving us new identity as members of God’s family. This gift does not come to those who are worthy, or to persons with intellectual capacity, but to all. It is not about us or what we can do, but about God.

The concluding lecture named a persistent problem in human relations: we are prone to “other” people, depriving them of the dignity and worth we ascribe to “us.” Attention to Paul’s use of pronouns in Romans, however, prods readers to move from “them” to “us,” to embrace a unity-in-Christ that accepts difference—difference, though, that does not divide us from one another. With Paul’s help, we realize that we are “other” to God because of sin, yet God has restored us as members of God’s own beloved family. So we may take our place in a community that includes all. For all of us have been welcomed by divine grace: a message, indeed, that urgently needs attentive listeners in our day!

In keeping with Gaventa’s focus on the apostle Paul’s writing, the three-day series also included worship services with sermons on Paul’s letter to the Romans by Union Alumnus Gary W. Charles (D.Min.’80), pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Union Alumnus Gary W. Charles (D.Min.’80), pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, led worship throughout the lecture series.

A portrait of the late Professor Samuel K. Roberts was unveiled in a special ceremony in the William Smith Morton Library atrium.

And Visiting Assistant Professor of Church History Bill Sweetser (M.Div.‘89; Th.M.‘90; Ph.D.‘00) delivered a talk on his new book “A Copious Foundation,” which chronicles the 200-year history of the seminary.

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Watch the lectures and book talk.

John Carroll is the Harriet Robertson Fitts Memorial Professor of New Testament.