September 8, 2003

Franklin, Wagner highlight Convocation

Eric Rangus

Song, prayer, words of inspiration and the first formal appearance of Emory’s new president on his first day at the University’s helm were the components of the Candler School of Theology’s fall Convocation, Sept. 2 in Cannon Chapel.

Robert Franklin, Presidential Distinguished Professor of Social Ethics, delivered a stirring keynote address in which he made a call for new theological leaders to address the ills not only of society, but of organized religion itself.

“Western Christianity, especially its American version, has a global public relations problem,” said Franklin. “But we can be part of the solution.”

The noted theologian has served on the faculties of the University of Chicago and Harvard divinity schools and was director of Black Church Studies (1988–91) and associate professor (1991–94) at Candler.

Franklin criticized some church leaders who he said have suggested that American Christianity is morally superior to Islam, thus using theology to support foreign policy. “This is a lethal calculation for the church as well as the nation,” he said. “This comes very close to an ideological use of the gospel to support a particular and fallible analysis of world events. Political boosterism and product placement may be legitimate tasks of the state and the market—but not the church.”

Instead, Franklin made a call for leaders to be “public theologians,” men and women who could build bridges of interreligious understanding and dialogue and profess the idea that “love is the greatest force available to humanity for solving its ills.

“Our world needs public theologians who will call the church forward to its unrealized identity,” Franklin said. “Every congregation in America should be a community of prayer and worship, to be sure. But they must grow into communities of cultural discernment, moral deliberation and courageous action. They cannot do it on their own. They need leaders. And so you are here.”

Franklin, in addition to his other faculty positions, was director of the Interdenomina-tional Theological Center (ITC) from 1997–2002. The Atlanta-based center, according to its website, is dedicated to educating and nurturing leaders to transform the church and the world for the common good.

“It’s good to be a prodigal professor,” Franklin said, referring to his time on the Candler faculty. “But it is even better to come home where the lights are on and the music continues
to play.”

Franklin was not the event’s only notable speaker; President Jim Wagner attended and shared some of his thoughts as Candler embarks on a new year.

“Today we celebrate new starts and new beginnings,” Wagner said. “No one is making a newer start than I am, and I can’t think of a better place to be than one where scholars, students and staff are celebrating in a place of faith and optimism.”

Faith, of course, played an important role in the proceedings. Barbara Day Miller, assistant dean of worship, made the call to worship and delivered the opening prayer. Gail O’Day, associate dean of academic affairs, also said a prayer, and Candler Dean Russell Richey gave the blessing.

Music was provided by the convocation choir, led by Eric Nelson, University Director of Choral Studies, and accompanied by University organist Timothy Albrecht and assistant organist Don Grice.

Just prior to Franklin’s address, he was formally installed as Presidential Distinguished Professor by Wagner, Richey and Steve Tipton, professor of sociology of religion.

Each man made a brief statement, and Wagner wrapped it up. “It is therefore my privilege as president of this University,” Wagner said, then paused. Several audience members applauded. He acknowledged them with a smile before continuing. “To install you as presidential distinguished professor,” Wagner concluded.