Student Voices: Excerpts from the Discussions


Student discussions are the force that animates ChurchNext classes — gives them the life and spirit that make the classes grow and ideas thrive. We would like to share with you some thought-provoking excerpts from student discussions in The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence.These are only a few excerpts. The conversation is riveting and ongoing. We hope that you will add your voice and ideas to the discussion.

In response to a question about the relationship between racism and gun violence:

I wonder if racism’s role in gun violence is a multi-level thing? By which I mean, there’s the issue of police more quickly resorting to guns or other violence when dealing with people of color. Then there’s the white privilege of the “open carry” movement, brandishing weapons with impunity in ways that encourage gun violence in the name of “protection,” and in a manner that our culture would not tolerate from Black, Hispanic, or Native peoples. In both cases violence is fed by fear, and some of the fear has a racial component, but it comes from different directions.


When people live in fear of those who are different from them, it’s too easy to move to violence as a form of protection. Also, those who are treated with injustice and contempt because of racism may feel that they have no other way to get their needs met. They may also feel that they might as well be violent since that’s what others expect from them.

In response to a question about the relationship between American culture and gun violence:

In the 50s we grew up playing “cowboys and Indians,” and various other games based on the notion of the “good guy with the gun” defeating the bad guy with the gun. Television, and now video and computer games, and the internet, have all taken these games to a hyper-realistic and adrenaline-pumping level; this stuff excites us, and in a complicated world, give us–and our children–the satisfaction of a very simple solution: Blow the bad guys away. The myth of redemptive violence seems to be a particularly American myth; perhaps our glorification of the individual contributes to this.

In response to a question about how people can make themselves able to hear God’s voice:

I remember after 9/11, hearing Osama Bin Laden in a video boast that his success was proof that God approved of what he did. I asked our pastor then, if anyone can claim his action is sanctioned by God, how does one really know? His reply was that he didn’t know but that he was sure it had something to do with humility and that Osama Bin Laden showed no humility. Micah 6:8 — “What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly.”

To which statement another person responded:

That passage from Micah makes the Bible worthwhile, for me. I can’t think of a better code for living than that. And it’s perfectly accessible: we can all do that in our workplaces, personal relationships, interactions with strangers, and care for the environment and all living things.

In response to a student-initiated question about poverty as a sin:

Poverty amidst plenty is a sin that our society bears.


There are sins of a whole culture. One of our biggest sins is greed and consumerism. The result of our participation in this culture is poverty.

In response to a question about violent incidents in the Bible:

Over and over in the Old Testament we read stories of violence against women–Hagar and her son cast out into the wilderness, rape after rape. Last spring a study group at our church discussed selections from Lindsay Hardin Freeman’s book Bible Women, and were in awe of women like Deborah and Naomi, who managed to hear and respond to God’s voice despite a culture that routinely discounted, abused, and frequently killed girls and women. It was even more heartening to consider New Testament women, like Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Mary Magdalene (you can tell I am partial to all those Marys)–the the Syrophoenecian woman who dared to talk back to Jesus. Jesus’ message of complete inclusion in God’s Kingdom refutes the patriarchal beliefs that sanctioned violence against women as an acceptable part of the culture.

THANK YOU to all of you who have added your voices to these discussions. Please keep your ideas coming!

Instructor Profile: Bishop Ian Douglas

 Ian Douglas

Tomorrow, we launch the Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence with Bishop Eugene Sutton and Bishop Ian Douglas. Last week, we profiled Bishop Eugene Sutton to give you a better sense of who he is and what he brings to the conversation about gun violence. Today, we offer a similar profile of Bishop Ian Douglas.

Ian Douglas grew up in Massachusetts. He earned his M.Div at Harvard Divinity School in 1983. In the same year, he served as a chaplain intern at Massachusetts General Hospital, after which he volunteered as a missionary for the Episcopal Church in Port-a-Prince, Haiti for two years. He then served as Associate for Overseas Leadership Development in New York City for two years. He was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1989, serving as Priest Associate at St. James Episcopal Church in Cambridge, MA from 1989-2010. In 1993, he earned his Ph.D. in religious studies at Boston University, focusing his dissertation on the foreign mission of the Episcopal church. He served as Angus Dun Professor of Mission and World Christianity from 1991 to 2010 at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge. In 2010, Ian Douglas was ordained bishop, and since then, he has served as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.

As his title at the Episcopal Divinity School makes clear, Bishop Douglas’ ministry has focused on global Christianity and the mission of the church across the globe. He has focused particularly on Haiti. He lived in Haiti for two years, wrote his master’s thesis on the history and religion of Haiti, speaks fluent Haitian, and has worked on various committees to promote a strong relationship between the Episcopal Church in Haiti and the Episcopal Church in the United States. The global mission of the church across the world has been the primary focus on Bishop Douglas’ career. He has served on numerous committees related to the global mission of the church, has published many articles on the subject, and has written two books and edited one about the global church and mission work.

Bishop Douglas also has focused much energy on the subject of reconciliation. He co-wrote his most recent book, Understanding the Windsor Report: Two Leaders in the American Church Speak Across the Divide, with the Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl, who disagrees with Bishop Douglas about ordaining gay clergy. Their goal in the book is to reach out and try to help reconcile a church divided on the issue of homosexuality. One of Douglas’ earlier books, Waging Reconciliation: God’s Mission in a Time of Globalization and Crisis, also takes reconciliation as a theme. Reaching out across barriers and reconciling differences has been an important theme throughout Bishop Douglas’ career.

Bishop Douglas’ interest in preventing gun violence fits in well with his interest in social justice and reconciliation. In 2013, Bishop Douglas convened Bishops United Against Gun Violence with Bishop Eugene Sutton and Bishop Mark Beckwith. He has spoken out and written articles in favor of safer gun laws, particularly in the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT, and has become a prominent voice in the fight against gun violence. We look forward to sharing his guidance on this important issue starting tomorrow.

Instructor Profile: Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton

Eugene Sutton

By now, you have probably heard that from Sept. 14-28, ChurchNext is offering a free class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence with Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and Bishop Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. But you might not know much about these two bishops or what they have to offer to a conversation about gun violence. Today, we would like to introduce you to The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton. (Look for a similar blog post about Bishop Ian Douglas in the coming week.)

Eugene Sutton was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and grew up attending Baptist churches. He graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan and earned his M.Div at Western Theological Seminary, after which he was ordained in the Reformed Church in America. He was a pastor at an RCA church in Michigan for five years, after which he returned to academic life as both a student and an instructor. He became an Episcopalian in 1992 and completed his Anglican Studies work at Sewanee in 1993. In the following years, he led four congregations in Trenton, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. He then served as canon pastor at Washington National Cathedral and director of its Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage.

Throughout his career, Bishop Sutton has focused special attention on contemplative Christianity and the discipline of centering prayer. In addition to leading conferences on this subject, in 1997, he founded Contemplative Outreach of Metropolitan Washington, which focuses on bringing centering prayer and a commitment to contemplative Christianity to churches in that area. He has published articles on contemplative prayer, and his contributions appear in The Diversity of Centering Prayer, a book published in 1999 containing ecumenical contributions on the method  and history of centering prayer.

In 2008, Eugene Sutton was consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland. He is the first African American bishop in a state with a large African American population, especially in Baltimore, its diocesan seat. The symbolic as well as literal importance of his election was not lost on Bishop Sutton, who noted at the time that the first Bishop of Maryland had been a slave owner, while Bishop Sutton himself is the descendant of slaves. In his role as Bishop, Eugene Sutton has been an outspoken advocate for oppressed people, speaking out out on controversial topics. He has made speeches and statements, for example, unequivocally supporting marriage equality and supporting the Maryland Dream Act (which offers undocumented immigrants in-state tuition at Maryland colleges.)

Bishop Sutton’s career choices have emphasized a deep, consistent commitment to reconciliation and to fighting social injustice. He spent much of his career at parishes in Washington, D.C. and Trenton, N.J., cities facing serious problems related to racial and economic injustice. As Bishop of Maryland, he has seen Baltimore through particularly violent and difficult times. With Bishop Ian Douglas and Bishop Mark Beckwith, he convened the group Bishops United Against Gun Violence, which explores options for reducing the rate of gun violence in the U.S. During the Baltimore riots in response to the death of Freddie Gray, who was injured in police custody and later died in April of 2015, Bishop Sutton wrote Weep and Pray for Baltimore, in which he mourns the violence that was occurring in Baltimore during that time and in which he examines and condemns the consistent racial and economic injustice that led to the riots.

Bishop Sutton has been a consistent voice in favor of social, racial, and economic justice and against the use of violence, particularly gun violence as a method of resolving conflicts. He is firm in his belief that “violence never works. Ever.” Later this month, we look forward to sharing with you his guidance on the Christian role in resisting gun violence in the United States.

Enjoy the Big Class in community with others!

Learn together blog

If you think your parish, or groups within your parish, might be interested in our upcoming Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence with Bishops Eugene Sutton and Ian Douglas, why not bring the class into your church community? Or perhaps you know a group of Christians and/or advocates for social justice who might be interested in the topic of gun violence. Bring the class to them!  You can take the class at any time that is convenient from Sept. 14-Sept. 28, and it’s designed not to take more than an hour. Make it an event! Come together as a group and learn in community with one another!

As you may know from previous experiences with our courses, a big part of each class experience is discussion. Each class offers four videos, each followed by several discussion questions. People who take the class on their own participate in the discussions with Christians worldwide online, and people who take it in groups discuss the material with one another. All you need in order to have a productive discussion with a group is the ability to project the computer image on a screen or offer it in some other form that will allow everybody to see and hear it. The class page called Continuing the Journey includes a sheet with all the discussion questions from the course. Just watch the videos and use the discussion questions to prompt conversation about them. That’s really all there is to it! (We also recommend the inclusion of tasty snacks to enhance the learning experience!)

For more information about how to publicize the Big Class in your parish and how to help get other people access to it either as individuals or in  groups, go to our Big Class page. There, you can find more information on the Big Class and a link to the registration page. You will also find posters and bulletin inserts — all you have to do is print them and hang/insert them. Lastly, you will find a booklet on The Big Class for Congregations that will tell you everything you need to know about making people aware of The Big Class, getting people access to it as groups or as individuals, and taking or leading the class in groups. (Or you could always return to this blog post, since it now has all the same links.)

Whether or not you think your parish would be interested in a group event, please help spread the word about this class in your parish and community! We hope that as many people as possible will take this opportunity to learn about this issue, in physical or virtual community with one another and with thousands of Christians across the world. Learn with each other, inspire each other, and take action!

The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence with Bishop Eugene Sutton and Bishop Ian Douglas

Image Big Class Blog Post

We are excited to announce our upcoming Big Class, A Christian Response to Gun Violence with The Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and the The Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.

From Sept. 14-Sept. 28, anybody who wants to take this free online class can learn how to respond in productive ways to the problem of gun violence that continues to plague our nation. In a series of four short videos, Bishops Sutton and Douglas, co-founders of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, offer insight into how and why Christians need to become active in our opposition to gun violence. The class offers opportunities for Christians to contemplate the problem of gun violence with other Christians across the world and also with the bishops themselves, who will respond to questions and comments from participants over the course of the two-week period. It is free for everyone, takes less than an hour to complete, and requires no special software. For more information and to register, click here.

Anybody who has any interest in the problem of gun violence in the U.S. can profit from this course, which offers compassionate, practical ideas about combating gun violence. “This course is not about repealing the Second Amendment,” says Sutton. “It’s about examining the roots, causes, reality, and our response to our increasingly violent and tragic age, and offering ways for Christians to take action.”

Hail Thee, Festival Day

1456726_855222091216516_4378694426733185725_nWhat a blessing it has been to join with the Rev. Becca Stevens of Thistle Farms as we cultivate deeper spiritual paths. Thank you to Becca, the folks at Thistle Farms, and sponsors Church Publishing, Forward Movement, Trinity Wall Street, and the Episcopal Church for allowing us to offer The Big Class free for two weeks to over 850 people worldwide. What richness of thought and wisdom came from the discussions in this course.

A Simple Path to a Deeper Spiritual Life is now available to congregations to add to your ChurchNext online course offerings. Perhaps you could take the course during the great 50 days of Easter as a way to celebrate the glorious Good News of this season!

Be sure to watch for Becca’s latest book, Letters from the Farm: A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life, which becomes available in June. We wish you all great joy in this Eastertide.

Wisdom from You

Have a farmer’s theology- there’s always

The Big Class with Becca Stevens is over 700 people strong, and the Holy Spirit is clearly at work. Here is what some of you had to say in the discussion forums. We are so glad that this course continues through April 5 — join this life-giving study.

On having a farmer’s theology:

“I like the analogy of a farmer’s theology. I had never thought of spirituality in that context before, but it makes perfect sense. Just like many other biblical precepts can be seen in things in the secular world also. If you leave the garden, animals, or our spiritual life un-tended, they become emaciated or wilted, and eventually wither away to nothingness. I can see the times in my life where I neglected the daily weed and water, and then I wonder why I feel so far from God, like the Spirit is not within me. I order to abide in Him, I need the daily discipline of prayer, study and quiet time in the presence of my Lord. Thank you, Becca, for giving me a visual that I can identify with.” ~Michael A.

“Water and weed is a practical, clear way of walking out our obedience and being a living sacrifice. As an adoptive mom of many kids, I can easily get uninspired by the mundane or the repeated setbacks in their lives. This concise phrase gives me a tangible reminder of daily service. Not to mention if we follow the metaphor, then the farmer does not see fruit for a long time. He hopes. He works. He nurtures, but he’s operating in faith. In hope.” ~Suzanne M.

On the power of just “showing up”:

“Like walking a labyrinth — sometimes it seems you’re getting nowhere … or going in the opposite direction of where you wanted to go … but just keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you’ll get where you’re supposed to be.” ~Judy S.

“As an artist, I can’t always rely on inspiration. Sometimes I just have to start creating. That is true for other things, from cleaning house to going to work. Sometimes inspiration comes. Sometimes it doesn’t. But there is always satisfaction in showing up.” ~Amy Jo G.

“Early in my faith walk, I reached a point where I thought that I was not being fed spiritually in a particular church. A dear sweet saint and pastor took the time to help me understand that we cannot just soak up the good things of being a Christian, but that there are expectations that go with being a Christian. He gently let me know that when I started feeling like I wasn’t being fed spiritually, perhaps I should roll up my sleeves and go to work after consulting the Lord for what it was that He would have me do. Miraculously, spirituality took an exponential leap for me. It was in serving that I received. I reflect back on this lesson that happened over 40 years ago, and it still serves me well to this day. ” ~Michael A.

On “considering the thistle”:

“To me the ‘thistle’ is the thing I turn from or  push aside cause it may be too hard to face at the moment.  I am ever pressing forward to see through the ‘hard’ thistle and to find the peace, beauty, love or learning lesson it has to show me.  I have learned to love not change the ‘thistle’….. what a profound feeling to just love, without the anxiety to try to change!” ~Phyllis S.

On a single act (or “light”) that can change everything:

“I often need the light, and sometimes reflect the light.  Learning to accept light from others really helps us learn to accept God’s unconditional love for us.. In reflecting the light of Christ, through whatever means we have been given allows us a glimpse into what he wants to be to us.” ~Ken M.

The Big Class is now live!

A Simple Path to a Deeper Spiritual Life with Becca Stevens

free worldwide from today through Easter Sunday

Join us for a wonderfully inspiring and thought-provoking course on deepening our spiritual lives. Becca newbeccaStevens shares insight and wisdom from her years of ministry and service as an Episcopal priest and as founder of Thistle Farms, the social enterprise for women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets.  Because, as Becca shares, a deeper spirituality comes from the daily practice of loving and serving the world.

The Big Class also offers a sneak peek at Becca’s new book, Letters from the Farm, which releases in June. Take this course at your own pace with people from around the world over the next couple of weeks. We pray that it spurs you to reflection, conversation, and action as you deepen your own spiritual journey. Click here for more information or to get started.

Thank you to our sponsors, Church Publishing, Forward Movement, the Episcopal Church, and Trinity Wall Street.

Practicing Resurrection

If you’ve never read Wendell Berry’s poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, you won’t know how much Becca Stevens’ ministry “practices resurrection” and embodies that nonsensical love for the world and its people that so characterizes Jesus’ own ministry. (Take a moment to read the poem by clicking the link above: you won’t regret it.)newbecca

Registration for The Big Class: A Simple Path to a Deeper Spiritual Life opens today; the free course runs March 22 – April 5. We’re thrilled to be offering this course free to the world and are grateful to our sponsors, The Episcopal Church, Trinity Wall Street, Church Publishing, and Forward Movement. Over four lessons, Becca shares the lessons and insights she’s gained in her ministry and offers wisdom on journeying into a deeper spiritual life. (Click here for more information or to register.)

But the point of the Berry’s poem — and Becca Stevens’ ministry — is that living a spiritual life and doing the work of Christ is simple: love God, love God’s creation and God’s people, celebrate Jesus’ power to redeem, recreate, refresh, resurrect. Becca, through her various ministries and through Thistle Farms, has seen death — living death — but has also witnessed resurrection. By paying attention, loving and celebrating what the world would see as wasted or maimed or undeserving of attention and service, Becca’s ministry has seen the power of new life, of what was dead becoming new again and flowering in a harvest that is much larger than we may ever know.

Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.

In The Big Class, Becca invites us to a similar way of viewing the world, and reminds us not to worry about forging some deep spiritual path: just show up, get your hands dirty, dig in the soil God has given you to work with, and the new life will come. We hope you’ll join us in this mission and share it with anyone who may be longing for new life.