Union News

Reflecting on the Practice of Faith and Social Justice at Union

Categories: Union News

Union Assistant Professor of Homiletics, The Rev. Dr. Timothy Adkins-Jones, the son, grandson and great-grandson of preachers has had a lifelong love for church and God that ultimately brought him to Union. At Union, he is the coordinator of the Religion and the Black Experience program which builds upon the groundbreaking work of scholars like Dr. James Cone, to center Black theology, the Black social gospel, liberation and womanist theology in the classroom. 

Reflecting on how Black liberation theology has influenced him, Adkins-Jones shared, “Once I attended seminary, I was formally introduced to Black liberation theology and it really did transform the way I thought about ministry. The idea of prophetic teaching and the core call of gospel to social justice really resonated with me and so Black liberation theology became inseparable from my ideas of what church and ministry should be.”

Adkins-Jones is the Pastor of the historic Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey where they are celebrating their 150 year legacy of social justice, service and voice in the community. “At Bethany, we use the influence the church has to fight for justice in the local community and beyond. We lobby, host information sessions on things like the legalization of marijuana, voting rights, and redistricting among other social justice issues that impact our community. We leverage the voice of our platform and our “people power” to raise awareness and build public pressure for change. A recent example of this is when we recently joined with many of our faith-based partners to raise awareness that the Fair Chance Housing act, which was designed to prevent discrimination against returning citizens, was not being enforced.  We helped to bring attention to this deficit and hope that this will lead to a change in its implementation. Our role is to be the town crier and to point out where certain oppressions lie and continue to see that those oppressions are brought to an end.”

Adkins-Jones also serves on the board of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ), an organization that engages in racial and social justice advocacy that seeks to empower people of color by building reparative systems that create wealth, transform justice and harness democratic power—from the ground up—in New Jersey.  “It is a great honor to serve alongside such phenomenal leaders across New Jersey to shape an agenda that fights for justice,” shared Adkins-Jones. “NJISJ has the infrastructure to lead and guide campaigns which allows us to plug into tangible actions. NJISJ is presently leading a campaign on reparations and it is an organization that gets results. In my church, there is a strong desire for social justice and NJISJ allows for a clear pathway to do tangible ministry work which is very empowering for my congregation.”

Speaking of his responsibilities as a professor of Homiletics at Union, Adkins-Jones stated, “I feel it is my responsibility to help every member of the community who wants to grow in their ability to proclaim. At Union, I work with students who are coming from very different backgrounds and so my goal is not to make anyone preach like me. I help students find their own voice fueled by their own convictions. I help students think through their challenges and prepare them for the grind of preaching weekly while thinking about different circumstances and occasions for preaching. I also make myself available for anyone as a sounding board or to help in any way.”

Union has a significant focus on interreligious engagement and this can be challenging for some. Reflecting on Union’s focus on interreligious engagement, Adkins-Jones shared, “To connect with students from diverse backgrounds, I try to be authentic to me. I work hard to be familiar with the faith traditions of my students to understand where they are coming from. I teach contextually as fluidity is necessary to create the kind of learning environment that students from different traditions can benefit from. I also lean into Black preaching, Black church history, and my own experiences and students are able to find things there that resonate with them.”

 

“I came to Union because of Union’s strong commitment to social justice. This is definitely a place where you will not only learn about social justice but you will also develop your ability to advocate for social justice,” said Adkins-Jones. “Related to that, I love the fact that Union is also a self-reflective place. We are engaged in the work of recognizing our own faults and challenges and trying to be better. Because of our commitment to live out the call for social justice not only outwardly but inwardly as well, Union gets better and stronger every year.”

“At Union, one will find top-notch faculty, the greatest scholars in our fields, as well as a student body rich with their own wisdom and training. The Union experience is one that is unique, challenging, loving, diverse, and progressive. The fact that we have a community that is diverse in faith backgrounds, creates a very unique space. We also have so many distinguished alums, who remain part of our community and remain very active,” reflected Adkins-Jones. “And of course, we have the gift of location, we are in the heart of New York City where you can find anything you want. Our students have so many rich interactions with the Jewish Theological Seminary, Columbia University, and New York Theological Seminary. This is an area rich with learning, community, and people. One can find churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and you can be part of any community you want to. You can also be creative in terms of what you study as Union creates space for differences. In short, this is a great place to be.”

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