Happy Wednesday McReaders!
This week, I’d like to introduce you to McCormick’s newest professor – Reggie Williams.
Reggie has been with us only a few short weeks, but he has quickly found his place in our community. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions:
Wes: Tell us your name and what you do.
Reggie: My name is Reggie Williams, and I am an assistant professor of Christian Ethics. My wife Stacy and I celebrated 17 years of marriage this summer, on August 26th, and we have two children, Darion (13) and Simone (11). They are both in the 7th grade.
W: How is it you came to McCormick?
R: I was appointed to the faculty of the Religion department at Baylor University in the Spring of 2010. I completed my dissertation that summer, and joined their faculty in the summer of that year. That meant moving my family from Pasadena, California, the place my children will never stop referring to as their real home. We lived in Pasadena for 6 years, which isn’t very long, but it was for them, a significant part of their childhood. Fuller Theological Seminary is there, and that’s were I completed my master’s and Ph.D. degrees. I did not expect to leave Baylor, at least not any time soon. But early in my first semester there, I came across the job description for this position. I had visited Chicago on a number of occasions for scholarly conferences, and already loved the place. I’d heard of McCormick Theological Seminary, and a number of dear friends told me that it would be a great fit. And although Baylor University is a very good school, with a fantastic athletics program (I played basketball in college, and professionally), I really wanted to teach in a seminary. McCormick is a perfect fit. I was thrilled to be offered this position. That’s the extremely abridged version of my journey to McCormick.
W: How has your family adjusted to the big move?
R: My children have had to move to two different towns, and schools to start all over again making friends, twice within one year. That has been very difficult on them. But for now, they seem to be adjusting well. They seem to enjoy their new school. They tell me that they wish they could pick this school up, and plant it in Pasadena, where they could feel at home in a school that they really like. But if they did that, they wouldn’t have the museums that they’ve come to love, or the SkyDeck at the Willis Tower
which my daughter loves, or Navy Pier which we all love, or the lake views with the city skyline, or our house which we’ve recently purchased. I could go on. Stacy and I love it here. She was ready to walk here from Waco, Texas, if we had to. There has been no need to adjustment for us, only a need to reorient ourselves to a different geography. We miss friends in Waco, but we like Chicago, and McCormick, very much.
W: What are your hopes for your first year as a faculty member at McCormick?
R: I hope to learn a lot from students and colleagues here. I am very excited about McCormick’s emphasis on justice and ecumenism. In this first year, I hope to learn how my voice can contribute to the conversation about church and society, going on here. From what I see so far, this institution is one of the most important Christian institutions of higher learning in the country. That can be deceiving because we are so small, but so was Gideon’s army. And in this small, and important institution, I plan to learn at least as much as I teach this year, so that by the end of the year, I have a greater understanding of the expectations of McCormick students, and how my research and teaching corresponds with the call of God on their lives that brings them into my classroom.
W: I had the pleasure in sitting in on a lecture you gave while you were in the interview process and really enjoyed hearing from you. How is it that you became interested in Ethics?
R: I began my studies at a small Christian Liberal Arts school in Santa Barbara California – Westmont College. I was a French major at first. But after my first semester there, I changed my major to theology and church history. I wanted to “see the gospel at work” in society. I led a ministry to the local juvenile hall, in the summers, I lived in a group home for convicted teens who had drug addictions. When I graduated, I married my college sweetheart, and my first job was as a counselor at a juvenile hall. All of this was motivated by my pursuit of living the gospel. Years later, when I was near the end of my masters degree, the only African American professor of religion that I ever had strongly urged me to enter a Ph.D. program “if you don’t, it would be a mistake.” Those words from Pasor J. Alfred Smith of Allen Temple Baptist church in Oakland, Ca. were the push that I needed to go in the direction of a Ph.D., and the desire was still there to “see the gospel at work” rather than accumulating theological knowledge. I saw both endeavors as important, but without the ability to do theology, I didn’t see the value of learning about it.
Near the end of my first year in a Ph.D. program, something brought to mind an encounter that I’d had when I was in the 3rd grade. It’s funny to say, that when I was in the third grade, I was taking my faith very seriously. And that year, I faced violent racism from three classmates. In that encounter, I struggled to know what Jesus wanted me to do in the face of their unmerited anger at me. So, at the end of my first year as a Ph.D.
student, I saw that I’d been on the journey of “how does one live what we believe” for many years.
W: You’re teaching a course on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr. this semester. Why these two individuals? What do they have to offer seminary students?
R: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr. offer us some insight into what it took for them to be prophetic Christians in a social environment, and cultural/historical context that saw Christians taking sides against what they saw as true Christian witness. Hindsight is 20/20, and today we agree with them, that Christians should have agreed with how they described faithfulness to Jesus, in support of the oppressed and marginalized. But many Christians saw themselves as faithfully following Jesus, in opposition to them. Today we call their opponents wrong, and Bonhoeffer and King
are seen as prophetic Christians, even martyrs by some. What are we opposing today? What are we ignoring? What do we advocate? What does our faith give us to guide our advocacy? King and Bonhoeffer can help us faithfully follow Christ today.
W: What else do you hope to bring to McCormick in terms of classes or
R: My academic project is to recalibrate what it means to be human, since modernity. That involves the critical analysis of race, and the mingling of race and religion in modernity. One particularly crucial moment when critical analysis of race and religion occurred is called the Harlem Renaissance. I study the Harlem Renaissance, and the critical analysis of race and religion occurring within it by folks like Du Bois, Zora Neil Hurston, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and a whole host of black intellectuals.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was not in Harlem at that time, but the time period corresponds with her social justice advocacy, and her work is a part of the womanist cannon of theological ethics that I pay attention to, as well. The project of “recalibration” has in its scope, ecological ethics, biological ethics, as well as social ethics, since the modern construction of humanity sees only some folks as human, and domination as the right relationship between the humans and the “others.” With that in mind, one of the
next classes I hope to teach is a study of the literature and theology of the Harlem Renaissance, or perhaps a detailed exploration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s experience in the Harlem Renaissance. Those two are the first courses that come to mind for my immediate new course offerings.
W: We’ve heard about some of your academic background. What about Reggie the person? What is it you like to spend your time doing when you’re not at McCormick?
R: I am still somewhat of a jock. I played college and professional basketball, and being in the gym is somewhat like therapy for me. But I’m an old guy now. So I’m looking for a basketball league here in town to play on, that is ok for old has beens. I also really like fishing, camping, hiking, and gardening; but not in that order. In my family, we are outdoors folks, but we haven’t had the opportunity to get out and explore as much, recently. Hopefully now that we’re settling in to our new home town, we will!
W: Food is a big part of life at McCormick – What’s your favorite food, why?
R: I love seafood and Chinese food. I also love to eat breakfast, any time of the day. Those are my food weaknesses! And, after I eat any meal, I’ve gotta have a dessert. I’ve got a very active sweet tooth.
A big thank you to Reggie for taking the time to introduce himself to all the CURE readers! See you on Friday!