On July 1, Dr. Alton Pollard takes the helm as Dean of the historic Howard University School of Divinity. The press release can be found here. Pollard is formerly the director of the Program on Black Church Studies and associate professor of Religion and Culture at the Candler School of Theology and chair of the American Religious Cultures Program in the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He previously served on the faculty of the Department of Religion at Wake Forest University. Holding a PhD from Duke University, Pollard is a Baptist minister who has served as a pastor in Baptist and A.M.E. churches. He is also an accomplished author.
HUSD is known as the school of Benjamin Elijah Mays and Howard Thurman. It also is the home of Dr. Cheryl Sanders and Dr. Cain Hope Felder, accomplished scholars in the Black Liberation tradition. I have asked Dr. Pollard for a mini-interview so that a larger world outside of Emory and HUSD might be introduced to him. He has agreed to answer the questions below. I have offered to take him to Starbucks for some Iced-Lemon Pound cake once he gets settled into his new office.
1. HUSD is a school of “Liberation Theology.” What role do you see Liberation Theology playing in the African American church of the 21st Century?
First, let me say thank you Rev. Redmond for this opportunity. I am honored to be the new dean of Howard University School of Divinity. Some of the nation’s leading black clergy, church officials, public intellectuals, and civic leaders have graduated from this storied institution. At the same time, the need for a more learned and engaged clergy in the African American community only continues to grow. Certainly, a key task of theological education is the transformation of competent, conscientized, and compassionate persons committed to excellence in leadership and ministry in the church, community, and world. Liberation theology is one of the primary ways black churches have endeavored to appropriately contextualize ministerial and lay preparation for the needs of the black community. It has also helped to expand our theological purview of God, self, and the world.
2. What do you think when you hear the term “Evangelical?” Is there a place for an Evangelical African American who holds to biblical inerrancy, the uniqueness of Christ (i.e., exclusivism), and election (a.k.a. “predestination” in popular terms) behind the lecterns at HUSD? Explain.
The School of Divinity is one of twelve schools and colleges of Howard University. We are a constituent part of a broad constellation of academic inquiry and freedom. In the university the quest for knowledge is expansive. In graduate theological education, our mission and mandate is no less the same. The School of Divinity is a hospitable place for those who constitute the evangelical faithful to reflect on the “Good News.” There are many of the nation’s disillusioned who by heritage and tradition ought to be in the church but who have finally despaired of finding spiritual and moral fulfillment in the institutional church as they understand it. Are the sons and daughters of African America and the nation at large reclaimable? Can they be reached by a courageous word which strives with sin and evil in the social order as well as in one’s personal life? These are questions all of us need to ponder with soul-searching prayer and commitment.
3. In your opinion, what role should the African American Church play in the greater African and Pan-African world?
Historically, Howard University School of Divinity has been known for its embrace of students of African descent the world over. The black seminary and the African American Church today can afford to do no less. In the tradition of African and African Diasporic peoples to be communal is to be human. Children, women and men alike find meaning in life through the culture of their origins, in the family, by their faith, and through the body collective. Ours is the magnificent responsibility to bear witness to this fact. The Venda saying, “A person is born for the other”; Martin Luther King Jr.’s saying, “all people are interdependent”; and the folk saying, “the blood that unites us is thicker than the waters that divide us” each reflect notions of ubuntu, community, “kindom,” relatedness – sacred accountability – as key to maintaining our integrity as African peoples in the midst of unjust social, political, and economic systems. We belong to each other.