On the Rewards of a Sider Scholarship
by Stefanie Israel
It's hard to believe it has already been 5 years since I graduated from Palmer Seminary with my Masters in Theological Studies. Even though I am now on the PhD track in sociology and may never actually use my MTS for professional purposes, I wouldn't trade my experience at Palmer for anything. It played an essential role in my formation as a person. I went there to work with Ron Sider, inspired by his example as a scholar-writer-activist and prophetic voice within the evangelical church from Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and beyond. Working with him was everything I hoped for and more, but I think what impacted me the most were my fellow students and the very honest (and sometimes hard) conversations we had.
Somehow in the rush of applying to seminary at the last minute I had missed that Palmer was the most diverse seminary in the country. I quickly became confronted by the fact that I was raised in a very racially segregated city (Portland, OR), with about three black students in my public high school of 1,700, a fact that allowed me to easily maintain my progressive ideas of not being racist without having any contact with African Americans or their reality. Palmer quickly changed that. Where else can you study systematic theology and have a conversation about how all theology is contextual, in a room filled with students ages 22-65+, black, white, and Latino, male and female? Where else can you discuss different strands of liberation theology, Gutierrez and Cone, in a reading group with someone who actually participated in the Civil Rights Movement? Where else can you talk about the church in holistic perspective together with inner-city pastors? And where else do you find a group of people so committed to love, social justice, and the kingdom of God as something ushered in by Jesus in his ministry, the already that we are called to live out and the not yet that we await?
I miss all of the conversations in the classroom, the hallway, the kitchen. I miss the community. It was a special and important time in my life and I'm thankful for everyone who was a part of it.