Ten Years Later: A Reflection and Invitation from Dr. Norman Gottwald

Norman Gottwald
Published 28 September 2021

Dear Friends,

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the Center and Library for the Bible and Social Justice (CLBSJ)’s inaugural gathering, I have been spending time reflecting and considering what we have accomplished, and what is yet to come. I invite you to join me in this reflecting and visioning, and also to join me in contributing to make it possible.

Some of you were with me ten years ago when we gathered at Stony Point Center to launch CLBSJ into public view. I recall the gathering was a time of great excitement and anticipation. Like all new efforts, it seemed to those present that we were embarking on uncharted territory, and we were hopeful that CLBSJ would provide a critical shift in helping to reclaim the Bible from the religious right, and fundamentally change the public conversation around how the Bible is understood.

Looking back on that gathering, I still share that hope, and rejoice that there are so many people traveling this same path. Across these past ten years there has been a flourishing of efforts to augment the voice of the religious left. I am humbled, excited, and deeply hopeful when I consider the rise of these collective efforts and new allies in our work.

This past year, under the leadership of our Board President Nicholas Johnson and our Executive Director Amy Dalton, CLBSJ has been exploring the question of how we might most effectively and uniquely contribute to this beautiful tapestry. As it turned out, the pandemic has helped us with this process by forcing us to experiment with developing online content that furthers the type of conversions we want to cultivate. From that process has emerged our monthly Scholar-Activist Encoutner series as well as mini-series programs including the Lenten Bible Detox study and last month’s “Black August” series. I am grateful to Amy, Nick, and the whole CLBSJ Board for their ability to generate such momentum in the midst of the pandemic.

Our small effort sometimes feels like the tiny mustard seed, especially when we consider the size of the forces assembled against us. But the scripture promises that the smallest mustard seed, sown with faith, will become a gracious tree, making space for fellow travelers.

In that spirit, Laura and I have committed to make a monthly gift to help CLBSJ build its capacity. We need to increase our Executive Director to full time, and fund several key support roles. Would you join with us to commit to a regular monthly gift?

One-time gifts also help a great deal. We are a small organization with big dreams, so any size gift will truly make a difference.

I know there are many who share my conviction that we must dream big and work hard to reclaim the Bible from the religious right — both those who gathered with me ten years ago to launch this project, and those who have become involved since. Please join with us to sow these seeds today. You can make your gift online or see instructions on how to mail it at clbsj.org/donate

Amy recently asked me what scriptures we worked with in our opening gathering ten years ago. The one that stands out is the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) I remember in particular the spirited discussion among different perspectives on how to see this text. Some saw it as a testimony to the generosity of God; others (including myself) followed William Herzog’s reading to see it as a veiled critique of the power dynamics that were (and are) prevalent in imperial contexts. Despite our differing interpretations, we all agreed with the notion that it is not an endorsement of capitalism, and that we want our deployment of the text to support the efforts of workers every where to achieve a living wage and decent working conditions.

That is a beautiful encapsulation of what CLBSJ is trying to cultivate — open, respectful biblical inquiry combined with unwavering commitment to social justice.

Will you join me in this project?

With gratitude on the journey,

Norman Gottwald Co-founder and Advisory Committee Member