The United Workers is proud to have worked closely with St. Anthony of Padua– Most Precious Blood– and St. Dominic Parishes in Northeast Baltimore, the Poverty Initiative, and Crystal Hall, a Divinity student at Union Theological Seminary to build the following Bible Study Series. We are also proud of the close collaboration between the United Workers and parishioners at these churches that produced the Bible Studies, which meant the studies reflect the needs of the churches involved in the work. Building the Faith curriculum is on-going, and the process is highly collaborative. Each study was developed by a group representing the United Workers, NEHI (North East Housing Initiative, a social justice group at St. Anthony, which means these studies may or may not fit the needs of your particular group. However, this collaborative process in developing the curriculum is in itself the realization of a goal we have had for a long time, and which we hope we can replicate and expand more and more in our curriculum work moving forward. We are excited to expand our collaborations with new churches, and into new campaigns. The xxxx study, an Ecumenical study around Pope Francis’ encyclical, was developed with xxx church in Curtis Bay and members of the Free Your Voice student committee, who are fighting for healthier alternatives to the incinerator, planned for their community.
The following studies have been conducted so far.
Social Justice and Human Rights: A Lenten Bible Study Series
This unit of study was developed by the United Workers in collaboration with St. Anthony of Padua – Most Precious Blood Parish and the Poverty Initiative.
Introduction and Background
The purpose of this Bible study series is to provide a resource through which to engage communities and individuals of faith. It intends to create a space for biblical study and theological reflection through the lens of contemporary struggles for social justice—struggles that take place in a society increasingly faced by the abandonment of the majority, in the midst of unheard of abundance for the few. This study approaches the struggle for social justice through a human rights organizing model.
The United States today is defined both by a growing polarity between wealth and poverty, and the pervasiveness of religion. Religion, especially the Judeo-Christian tradition, has historically played a significant role in shaping the values of people in the U.S. through sacred texts, images, shared beliefs, and the organization of institutions. Christianity continues to deeply shape the U.S. context, and as a “religion of the book,” the Bible plays a foundational role in shaping the culture, beliefs, values, and ethics of people in the U.S., whether they specifically identify as Christian or not.
Like Christianity itself, the Bible has the potential to be both oppressive and liberative. It has been used to justify positions on both sides of every major social struggle in U.S. history. Today it has the power to, and provides resources for, both sanctifying and justifying the status quo, and articulating a vision of a more just society. Through United Workers claiming the power of faith to affirm the human rights values of dignity, respect and the sacredness of life, it asserts that the Bible has a definitive role to play in the struggle for human rights in the U.S.
Through collective study, the stories of the Bible are brought into conversation with today’s stories of the organized poor and the struggle to achieve human rights. The purpose of bridging this gap between the Bible’s texts and contexts and our own is to explore ways in which these stories can speak to, and potentially intersect with, one another.
This Bible study takes both text and context seriously. The texts for this study are both the biblical texts themselves, as well as the contemporary “texts” of the lives of people committed to the struggle for human rights. This method interprets biblical texts within their literary, and well as historical, contexts. It also interprets contemporary “texts” within their respective social, political and economic contexts.
The methodology of this study is primarily dialogical. Through this discussion-based approach, the voices and experiences of the participants themselves are placed at the center of biblical and theological reflection.
Two major influences on this Bible study series are the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary’s methodology of “Reading the Bible with the Poor,” and the Ujamma Centre for Biblical and Theological Community Development and Research at University of KwaZulu-Natal’s methodology of “Contextual Bible Study.”
There are several interconnected components to this curriculum. Although originally developed as a Bible study series in which the sessions were sequential, each study within this series could also be independently facilitated as a stand-alone session. The texts chosen follow the gospel readings for the season of Lent in Year C of the Roman Catholic Mass Lectionary. The texts include:
- Luke 4:1-13
- Luke 9:28-36
- Luke 13:1-9
- Luke 15:11-32
- John 8:1-11
The “Notes for Facilitators” included in the complete curriculum guide, are a resource for both organizing and implementing this Bible study series. In addition, the guide includes an “Introduction to the Gospel of Luke” and a series of five sessions, each with questions for study and a study guide as a resource for facilitators in preparing for each session.