I learned any number of things when I attended graduate school back in the day... In fact, I was in seminary, which is graduate school for people who hope to be priests, ministers, & / or theologians, having attended Pacific School of Religion (PSR), a member school of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), a consortium of 9 graduate seminaries, in Berkeley, CA, for more than a few years. I began my Master's of Divinity degree in 1979; transferred to the PhD program in 1981; withdrew from the PhD program in 1985; and received my Master's degree in 1986. I loved it. I loved studying Sacred Scripture, religious history, and liturgy. I especially loved studying the centuries' long changing understanding of G-D and the ways in which G-D and G-D's people continue to be in relation with one another. I had wonderful teachers (for the most part), and met people who have become life-long friends.
One of the most important things I learned during those years came as a gift from another doctoral student, Thee Smith. Thee had been the Teaching Assistant in my first course in basic theology, formally termed Systematic Theology. A handsome, soft-spoken, bearded African-American man, Thee helped to take some of the burden off the senior faculty member teaching the course. Since that senior faculty member was the Rev. Dr. Robert McAfee Brown, one of the most well-known progressive theologians of his era, over 100 students had enrolled in the first quarter of the Systematics class. Since no classroom could hold that many people, we met in the chapel. Thee read and commented on student papers, held office hours, and, once per quarter, presented a lecture.
One afternoon during my 2nd year of doctoral studies, I decided to attend one of the occasional free lectures offered by the GTU. This particular lecture was in fact a panel discussion by 4 members of the Systematic Theology faculty on the emerging field of Liberation Theology.
Briefly, Liberation Theology is theology done "from below" -- the interpretation and understanding of G-D and the relationship of G-D and G-D's people by those who have been disenfranchised and who have previously had little, if any, role in interpreting G-D and their relationship with G-D. It is more accurate, really to refer to Liberation Theologies in the plural, since these new fields have been taken on by the poor of Latin America, African-Americans in the US of North America; by peoples in Africa and Asia; by women, both US North American caucasian women and by African-American and Latina women; by lesbian and gay people. Begun by poor people in Latin America, Liberation Theologies have been engaged in by Catholics, Protestants and, to a lesser extent, Jews over the past 30-35 years.
For this particular panel discussion on Liberation Theology, the folks putting it together had failed to move beyond their own academic ghetto and had chosen three white men and one white woman as panelists. From my recollection, the topic that the white woman planned to discuss had nothing at all to do with Feminist Theology. Rather, she intended to talk about concerns with land reform in Scripture.
As I sat in the auditorium, somewhat aghast at the speakers' list, I saw Thee Smith toward the front of the auditorium. The moderator called the gathering to attention, and then he introduced Thee, noting that Thee wasn't on the list of speakers. Thee, however, had asked to speak.
What Thee said that afternoon has remained with me for over 25 years. He spoke of his anger over the choice of speakers; his anger that it was left to him to point out the irony and outrage that a discussion on Liberation Theology had a panel made up of four theologians who could hardly be considered Liberation Theologians. He then discussed the way in which this process served as a situation of what he termed "Double Oppression." Not only was he, as an African-American Liberation Theologian, once again ignored, disregarded, and marginalized by being overlooked as a speaker on the panel; he in fact experienced the Double Oppression of having taken on the task, the moral responsibility, of going to the people who put the program together to point out to them their continued racism and oppression of him as an individual African-American and of African-Americans collectively.
Thee then called for a logical and compassionate approach to Double Oppression, a way to insure that it does not happen. He called upon whites to be the first to raise their (our) voices in opposition to racism, rather than wait for our Sisters and Brothers of Color to object to it; he called for men to protest sexism and misogyny and not wait for women to object to it once again. He called upon Christians to be the first to speak out loudly and clearly against Anti-Semitism, rather than wait for Jews once again to object; he called upon heterosexual people to speak up when they hear and / or see homophobia and / or heterosexism, rather than remain silent while their lesbian sisters and gay brothers protest such oppression.
I have never forgotten Thee Smith's talk, and I have tried to follow that which he called upon us to do. I also believe that he would not object if I added to that which he called upon us to do. In relation to the recent wave of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam actions and speech, and in relation to what one group has promised to do -- burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the attacks of 11 September -- I call upon Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths to raise our voices clearly, loudly, unequivocally and uncompromisingly against such actions and speech that threatens and oppresses our Muslim Sisters and Brothers. And I'm glad to be able to say that something I learned in graduate school in theology actually stuck.