The Rev. Dr. Carolyn Davis Appointed Deputy Director, Center for Public Theology
The Rev. Dr. Carolyn Davis has been appointed Deputy Director for the Center for Public Theology, effective June 6. She comes to Wesley after serving as senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.
“I am thrilled to be joining the Wesley community,” said Davis, on the announcement of her appointment. “I’m eager to contribute to the success of the Center for Public Theology as it fulfills its urgent mission to engage leaders and restore the place of critical theological discourse in the public sphere.”
Davis is a graduate of Southern Methodist University and holds a Master of Divinity degree from Emory University and a Ph.D. in religion from Vanderbilt University. She is an ordained Deacon in The United Methodist Church (Texas Conference) and served Union United Methodist Church in Boston while teaching at Andover Newton Theological Seminary as a Lilly Faculty Fellow.
The Center for Public Theology is part of the Institute for Community Engagement at Wesley Downtown, Wesley Theological Seminary’s presence in downtown Washington, D.C. The mission of the Institute is “to equip leaders who are theologically grounded, contextually nimble and prophetically engaged in the public square.” In addition to events and other activities, the Center for Public Theology will offer graduate level courses towards a non-degree Certificate in Faith and Public Life and Specialization in Public Theology, soon available to Wesley students pursuing all three Master-level degrees.
“Carolyn will be an indispensable part of growing and expanding Wesley Seminary’s impact on the discipline of public theology,” said Mike McCurry, Director of the Center for Public Theology. “Now more than ever we need a strong voice from the church and its leaders in the turbulent atmosphere of the nation’s public discourse.”
“Dr. Davis brings an exciting and nearly unique combination of skills that will help to ensure the successful development of our new Center,” said. David McAllister-Wilson, President of Wesley Theological Seminary. “She knows her way around Washington, she wants to see the church find its voice and its place in the public square, and she has impressive academic credentials.”
In a recent interview, Davis said that the church has always seen having a voice in the public discussion as part of its role. “What we’re trying to do at the Center for Public Theology is help churches once again find that place in public life,” she said.
The Center will seek to reach out to people who are working in the public service sector, Davis said, to help them find spaces where they can reflect on where their faith and values meet, inform and sustain the work that they do.
“We also hope that they find new ways to ask critical questions,” Davis said, “about faith and values and the nature of service.”
In her experience working with public officials over the years, Davis said that she has seen many people start out motivated by their faith and values, but lose that compass as they become more and more focused on balancing the demands of their work and the desires of their constituencies. “My hope is that the Center becomes a place where folks become reconnected to that vocabulary,” Davis said.
At the same time, Davis said that she looks at the Center for Public Theology as a place that invites Wesley students into a time of reflecting on the role of their faith communities in public life and how their gifts and passions can “address the wounds of the world.” The Center will be a place to help students articulate their calling, theologically, in filling the needs of their community.
“When theology functions at its best,” Davis said, “we are being cultivated and formed to new ways of thinking and speaking. We become more attuned to the places where we see injustice, the spaces where we see the folks that aren’t at the table, and we become better at inviting them in. I would really love to create the space at the Center where that cultivation and formation takes place.”
Davis defines “public theology” as a spiritual discipline that requires education, accountability and practice over time. “Those particular attributes, I hope the Center will be able to provide,” she said.
Davis notes that, for her, the Christian church in the 21st century needs to atone for the way the language of faith and values have been drained of “any real meaning.” In addition, she said, the language has often been used as a “weapon” or molded to appeal to a certain base of people without any accountability for what the Gospel calls us to.
“The Gospel calls us to address injustice and to love one another,” Davis said. “We are to bring people together so that they can live lives that flourish. We have work to do in reclaiming or finding new language for what that looks like.”
As she begins her work at the Center, she feels it will be key to spend time listening to leaders and policy makers, listening for what’s missing in public discourse. From there, she said, “we step out front only as we step along side students, clergy and leaders.”
Issues of affordable health care, racism, sexism, and LGBTQ inclusion are all areas of interest for Davis. “I remain open to having conversations with people with different ideas about how we move forward as people of faith when it comes to these urgent issues,” Davis said. “I’ll be interested particularly in ensuring that these conversations continue to center around marginalized people.”
Davis is keenly aware that the first year of the Center coincides with the ending of an election year.
“We are going to have to come to terms with what we have done to ourselves in this country,” Davis said, “in terms of who we have left on the side of the road on both sides of the aisle. We’re going to be needing, I think, to have a very solid conversation around how we talk about what it means to be an American citizen, a resident of this country, a woman, an immigrant. We’re going to have some real work to do around public discourse.”