Attentiveness: History and Black History
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist
History is very important.
History creates identity. We are what we remember (or what we have been told) about our history. This is why the loss of memory is so tragic; we actually forget who we are. Black History Month is profound because it reaches to the root of an American problem: historical amnesia.
As a historian, I have been part of both the partial telling of history, and the recovery of memory in much historical writing in the past decades. We begin by looking for something, by asking questions: “Why did it take so long for Christians to reject slavery in the South?” “Why were so few good Christian leaders willing to speak out for abolition?” “Who were the Black Christian leaders who gave hope and courage to the enslaved people and to those who were freed?”
These questions then guide our research. Unfortunately, many historians did not ask these questions in the past.
Gordon-Conwell, like many other Christian institutions, has an uneven history supporting Black leadership and telling a Christian history that recognizes the contributions of Black leaders. We admit our inconsistent past and now begin rectifying this with a new initiative.
This month, we are announcing a new center focused on Black leadership in four key dimensions: liturgy, outreach, theology, and advocacy. It is a small initiative in light of the work still to be done. However, it is appropriately rooted in history, or more accurately in the life of one man: Rev. Dr. Michael E. Haynes.
Dr. Haynes’s life was rich in providing leadership in all the above dimensions, including in the city of Boston and as a board member of Gordon-Conwell. Carrying on his legacy and his concerns, the Michael E. Haynes Center for Black Christian Leadership is established to provide theological education and equip Black Christian leaders for the ministry, the workplace, and the academy Church and for society.
We are now recruiting our first Haynes scholars who will be mentored by members of the steering committee.
Special thanks go to the Board of Trustees of Gordon-Conwell, especially the Chairman, Bishop Claude Alexander, for their leadership in this area.
Scott W. Sunquist, the President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Tuesday on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.