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Charlotte Pastor to Discuss Faith and Social Justice

by Christina Ritchie Rogers '03

When is it appropriate to bring individual religious values into the pluralistic public square? How can faith inform concepts of social justice? Can religious institutions be involved in political activism while maintaining separation of church and state?

These are just some of the questions Rev. Steven Shoemaker will seek to answer during his Nov. 12 lecture, "Gay Equality, Moral Mondays, and God Talk: Witnessing Religious Values in the Public Square." A retired Baptist pastor, he has participated in Moral Mondays rallies, is an active advocate for gay rights, and has spoken outwardly against Amendment One, among other legislation.

"We're in a transition period in the American political realm," Shoemaker said, one in which religious leaders are taking active roles in political activism and individuals are invoking their personal faiths as reasons for legal actions. And that environment has lead to misperceptions of different religions, he said.

For example, "There's a large perception that if a Christian voice is raised in the political arena it's a conservative, evangelical voice," Shoemaker said. "I want to be a witness from the progressive side."

Shoemaker has served as a pastor in churches in Kentucky and Texas, and most recently served as pastor for 14 years at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte. Newly retired, this year he is working in various capacities with three local colleges and universities, including Davidson.

With support from the Lilly Foundation grant, Shoemaker will speak on campus Nov. 12 and also is coordinating this year's Lilly Alumni Seminar on Vocation, a summer seminar for alumni to explore the intersection of their faiths with their senses of vocation. The seminar will explore how we think about our life's work in spiritual terms, Shoemaker said.

In addition to his work with Davidson, Shoemaker is serving as theologian in residence at Queens University, working with the school's Center for Faith and Outreach, and is a visiting assistant professor of religion at Johnson C. Smith University.

"I care deeply about how young minds are being formed, particularly in terms of religion," he said.

The son of a minister of music, Shoemaker grew up in the church.

"I loved the life and worship of the church," he said. While in college he felt the "urging of spirit" to go into ministry and attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City. It was there that he focused on the ways religious beliefs can be invoked in positive ways in the public arena, he said.

"Steve is a pastor, an academic, a teacher, a leader and a public advocate," Davidson College Chaplain Rob Spach said. "Wherever you are on the political spectrum, his are meaningful questions."

Shoemaker's Nov. 12 lecture will address:

  • Is it appropriate to express religious views in the public square?
  • When is it appropriate for religious institutions to be involved in the political sphere?
  • His own attempts to witness his religious beliefs in the public square
  • His advocacy for gay equality in the public sphere
  • His public leadership in opposition to Amendment 1
  • His participation in Moral Mondays

"I think religion can be a force of great evil as well as great good, Shoemaker said. "I want to show people the positive resources of religion as a social force."