Divinity School conference to examine intersection of politics, religion

The University of Chicago Divinity School will bring together students, faculty, clergy and community members to examine the impact of political polarization on religious communities.

The seventh annual Divinity School Ministry Conference, “Ministry: Left, Right and In-Between,” will be held Friday, April 15 in Swift Hall.

“When we started envisioning the conference, we were gearing up for the November elections, and we saw the way religion was playing into the [political] conversation,” said M.Div student James Hoke, who co-chaired the conference’s organization. “We realized we wanted the conference to organize around this question of how to do authentic ministry in a time when it feels like you have to pick a side or choose an identity.”

Rev. Sandhya Jha, M.Div’05, MPP’05, will open the conference with a keynote address. Jha is pastor of the First Christian Church of Oakland, Calif., and author of Room at the Table: The Struggle for Dignity and Unity in Disciples History.

Hoke said Jha’s experience in the ethnically and socioeconomically diverse community of Oakland, and her national work with racial reconciliation in the Disciples of Christ denomination, gives her a unique perspective on the intersection of ministry and politics.

“She’s in a fairly politically conservative area, but welcomes anyone, particularly LGBTQ persons. She was pastor during the Prop 8 vote, and had members on both sides of that debate,” Hoke said. “She’s able to speak both from her experience, and from her education in ministry and public policy.”

The conference will feature two panels: Queering Religious Politics: Political Issues and LGBTQ Spiritual Lives,” which will explore issues surrounding religious inclusion of the LGBTQ community; and “Preachers as Precinct Captains: Chicago Politics in Chicago Pulpits,” a discussion focusing on the role of congregations in local political issues.

Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniel of the First Congregational Church of Glen Ellynand Pastor Julian Deshazier of University Church will lead a morning worship service. Clark Gilpin, the Margaret E. Burton Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School and the College, and the Rev. Kevin Boyd, director of field education and church relations at the Divinity School, will deliver closing remarks.

“Ministry: Left, Right, and In-Between” will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Swift Hall, 1025 E. 58th St.. Advance registration is not required. For more information, please visit http://divinity.uchicago.edu/martycenter/conferences/ministry/ministry2011.shtml.