Cross-Cultural, Urban, Reformed, Ecumenical

Commencement Speaker for 2021

04-01-2021

As we prepare to honor and celebrate the graduating class of 2021, it is President David Crawford's great joy to share with you the news that Rev. Dr. Allan Aubrey Boesak has graciously and enthusiastically accepted our invitation to present this year's Commencement address. We are grateful beyond words to Dr. Boesak and look forward to welcoming him back, albeit virtually, to McCormick.

Liberation theologian, teacher, preacher, activist, advocate, and tireless champion of the oppressed and marginalized, Dr. Boesak's prophetic voice has stirred and stung, lifted up and called out, and forced nations and the church to confront the heresy of apartheid, white supremacy, and racism. I can think of very few people on the world stage today whose life and work better embodies the struggle for justice and true freedom than Dr. Allan Boesak.

It is nearly impossible to capture the breadth and depth of Dr. Boesak's life in this limited space, but with credit to Next Church, Yale Divinity School, the James Cone Symposium, Charter for Compassion and others who have attempted to give a glimpse into Dr. Boesak's life and work, let me share with you the following:

Allan Aubrey Boesak was born in Kakamas, Northern Cape, in 1946. He studied Theology at the Theological Seminary of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church and was ordained in Immanuel DRCM in Paarl in 1968. In 1970, he started advanced studies at the Theological University at Kampen in the Netherlands, and was awarded the Doctor’s degree in Theology in 1976. Dr. Boesak first became known as a liberation theologian with the 1976 publication of his doctoral dissertation, “Farewell to Innocence.” That same year witnessed the Soweto Uprisings and Dr. Boesak’s entry into public life in South Africa. Dr. Boesak has served the church and the ecumenical movement in various senior capacities since 1978, including as President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches – the first person from the global South and youngest ever to be elected to that position. Under his leadership this world body adopted the “apartheid is a heresy” declaration and suspended the two Dutch Reformed churches from membership for their theological and moral support for and justification of the apartheid system. In 1983, Dr. Boesak called for the formation of the United Democratic Front, which became the largest organized, non-racial, nonviolent anti-apartheid movement in the history of the country. He worked closely with President Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev. Frank Chikane and a whole array of leaders around the world to end apartheid.

In 2008, while serving as the Moderator of the Cape Synod of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, Dr. Boesak announced that he would resign all of his positions within the church because of the church's discriminatory position on homosexuality and gay and lesbian persons. Boesak invoked the anti-apartheid 1986 Belhar Declaration, which lambasts all forms of discrimination, to say that the church should welcome gays and lesbians and begin to perform gay marriage ceremonies and appoint gay clergy. Dr. Boesak had declared his support for same-sex marriage in 2004, a year before South Africa's Constitutional Court ruled that the denial of marriage rights to gay people was discriminatory and violated the country's constitution. In the years since, he has continued to write and teach here and in South Africa. Dr. Boesak remains deeply and passionately involved in global struggles for human rights, social, economic and ecological justice, gender and sexual justice across the world.

Dr. Boesak is the award-winning author of 22 books and the co-author and editor of at least five others. Dr. Boesak’s 2005 Afrikaans work, Die Vlug van Gods Verbeelding, Bybelverhale van die Onderkant, (The Flight of God’s Imagination: Biblical Narratives from the Underside), received the Andrew Murray/Desmond Tutu Prize, South Africa’s highest award for theological publications. His most recent books include Pharaohs on Both Sides of the Blood-red Waters, Prophetic Critique on Empire – Resistance, Justice and the Power of the Hopeful Sizwe published in 2017 and Children of the Waters of Meribah – Black Liberation Theology, the Miriamic Tradition, and the Challenges of 21st Century Empire, published in 2019. Dr. Boesak is the recipient of numerous awards including the Robert Kennedy Human Rights Award, the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Award, and the King Hintsa Bravery Award from the Royal Xhosa House. He is also the recipient of fourteen honorary degrees from such institutions as Yale University, Morehouse College and the University of Geneva.

Dr. Boesak asked in the title of one of his books: dare we speak of hope? The good news is we do dare. Indeed, as he wrote in Dare We Speak of Hope? Searching for a Language of Life in Faith and Politics:

  • Hope is the womb in which all these struggles are conceived and nurtured, and out of which they are all born into the world for the healing of the world.

And quoting one of his own earlier co-authored works (with a nod to Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.), Dr. Boesak reminds us:

  • Every new struggle for justice renews that hope; every struggle for justice is renewed by that hope. Every stride toward freedom renews that hope, and every step in dignity is renewed by the audacity to hope.

Beloved Community, we are blessed, and we are grateful. Dr. Boesak renews in us the power of hope and reminds us of its source.