Engaging Science with Marginalized Communities of Faith

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As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17, NIV).

At Science for the Church, we take inclusion, diversity, and equity very seriously. In fact, these principles represent some of our core values. This is why we recently convened advisors at Howard University School of Divinity and engaged this group of friends, old and new, with a profound desire not only to be sharpened but also influenced by our discussion.

Our agenda was simple. First, we wanted to expand our understanding of diversity. Second, we sought new ways to promote and enhance equity and participation among racially and theologically diverse constituencies. And, even when we came to the meeting with a designed plan, our primary desire was to listen to those gathered around the table. Our time together helped us see a path to provide access and opportunities for those who might be excluded or marginalized within our space. Let me share with you some of the things we learned.

Science Equity is Needed in BIPOC Communities

Even when we may be tempted to think that increased access to educational resources translates into increased access to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) professions for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), evidence shows something different. Studies demonstrate that Black and Hispanic people are systematically underrepresented in STEM. The Pew Research Center affirms that they only represent about 8 percent of the workforce. This information is troubling and has profound implications for BIPOC communities.

Consistently, our conversation touched on aspects of BIPOC’s limited understanding of the importance of science for marginalized communities of faith. Unfortunately, when ministry is moved by people’s present and pressing needs, the dialogue between science and faith seems reserved only for privileged congregations who can afford this type of lofty exercise. However, through mutual respect, dialogue, access, and equity, we can create space and time where these communities can sit at the table and begin connecting with these issues.

For many people in these communities, the word “science” seems connected with the type of laboratory research conducted by PhD-level professionals. Therefore, to create equity and access, our nomenclature and approach must evolve to address the fundamental needs of BIPOC communities. Specifically, clergy must be resourced to address the science behind health, incarceration, education, and racial issues.

Engaging Diverse Voices to Find Suitable Solutions

I have felt like the token Hispanic in my faith tradition for years. Despite being invited to some tables of power, my voice was quickly dismissed in favor of the ruling majority. While my presence at those tables gave the appearance of diversity and inclusion, the truth is that there was no equity, access, or agency within these unbalanced interactions. This kind of experience was addressed by our advisors as they highlighted how representation could be extremely difficult in fields (i.e., science and theology) that are both white and male-driven. Consequently, an active awareness of how we engage and leverage the power of diverse constituencies must be developed to engage science with marginalized communities of faith.

Traditionally, Black history places a significant emphasis on the role played by scientists and STEM professionals within Black communities. However, BIPOC communities of faith are driven by the immediacy of tangible needs and not necessarily by “heady science stuff,” as described by one of our advisors. As a result, engaging and leveraging diverse voices must include partnerships with STEM educational professionals to help churches navigate the field.  Additionally, clergy must advance the idea that STEM vocations can be a means to glorify God.

This approach necessitates inviting diverse constituencies to the table with a desire and willingness to listen, not pushing a preconceived agenda. It includes creating a space where their story can be heard in the spirit of acceptance and mutuality. It is an invitation, not to come up with ingenious commodification of solutions, but to allow their deeply-rooted faith and knowledge to show us how we can create partnerships grounded in mutual respect, access, equity, and agency to open a way for scientific engagement.

  • Greg weaves a profoundly intimate portrait of the importance of vocational calling and its centrality to our Christian identity: “Scientists, Your Work Matters to God.”
  • Drew explains that scientists are among us, and they can use their God-given knowledge and skills in kingdom-oriented ways: “Scientists Matter to the Church.”

Relationships Remain Central

Intuitively, at SftC, we know that relationships are central to the faith and science dialogue. In fact, The Standard Model, or TSM (i.e., our most robust effort to engage science) is predicated on leveraging these compelling relationships between pastors and STEM professionals to reinvigorate the church, foster spiritual growth, energize ministries, and help churches address relevant contemporary issues. And even when there was a bit of skepticism among some of our advisors about the Standard Model’s effectiveness in engaging BIPOC congregations, we are convinced that it offers the best framework to highlight and leverage the centrality of relationships to strengthen communities of faith and effective outreach.

A repeated refrain in our meeting at Howard underscored the importance of bringing people together to foster intentional diversity, address uncomfortable issues, and create spaces at the table for BIPOC. While science engagement within marginalized communities of faith may not be seen as an immediate or pressing problem, TSM effectively addresses the complex and controversial issues these communities face. Moreover, the dialogue modeled by TSM will generate a deeper trust between the church and the community.

We know that a significant portion of our work is connected to campus churches and other ministries that identify science as an integral part of their organizational values. We also know that science engagement ranks low for marginalized communities of faith. However, we remain committed to helping all churches embrace science as a means for spiritual growth. As a result, SftC is committed to finding ways to foster science equity for BIPOC, engaging and leveraging diverse voices, and strengthening relationships with marginalized communities of faith.

So, just “as iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), inviting and listening to diverse voices will sharpen our focus, improve our ministries, and result in stronger communities. Therefore, we must be committed to engaging in deep discussion and meaningful interactions with our marginalized siblings to shape inclusion and equity at the table.

In Nobis Regnat Iesus


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