By Kate Arenchild | News Reporter

Dr. Copeland delivers a lecture about the role of social justice in theology. (Adriana Avila/COLLEGIAN)

“Only God can save us, and only God knows how,” stated Dr. Shawn Copeland from Boston College. Her lecture, titled “Three Biblical Narratives on the Present American Moment,” was delivered on Tuesday, Oct. 3 in the Moraga Room of the Soda Center. Students and faculty were seen scrambling to set up dozens of more chairs as people continued to stream in long after the room was full. Dr. Copeland saw this and began her lecture by commenting on the beauty of the packed room.

The event was organized by professors Joe Drexler-Dreis and Jessica Coblentz, who are part of the Theology and Religious Studies department. Professor Coblentz introduced Dr. Copeland. She spoke of their personal interactions at Boston College. “I quickly realized that I would not only learn from her ideas, but also, and perhaps most importantly, from who she is,” she said. “The depth of her faith is reflected in the compassion she extends to others.” While working on her education, Coblentz found herself unsure “if the academic life really was for [her].” She wondered whether or not theologians actually care about the realities of human suffering and oppression in the world. Through encountering Dr. Copeland’s “bold and poetic theological reflections,” Coblentz found a way to embrace theology that incorporates her whole self. She expressed the hope that Dr. Copeland’s visit would inspire her students here at Saint Mary’s in the same way she was inspired.

During her lecture, Dr. Copeland emphasized the primacy of faith in addressing social concerns. “Jesus opens the table to all. He pulls out the couches for the unexpected. With Jesus, there is always room for one more at the table.” She was quick to question the way the audience loves those surrounding them. She cautioned against taking any sort of judgemental moral high ground; instead, we need the “transformations of our hearts, and the transformations of the ways we may live.” She also stressed that we are the ones who can cause or help cure the  brokenness of the Church and society. She invited personal reflection by asking, “Do we deprive our sisters and brothers of a place at the table? Do we…turn our backs on troubled men and women seeking a third or fourth or fifth or seventh chance?”

Much like Jesus, the prophets were key figures in teaching others how to love. Based on her definition, a prophet is not someone who foretells the future. Rather, it is someone who calls the attention of the people to the heart of God. She used both biblical examples, such as Amos, as well as modern prophets, such as Dorothy Day and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to demonstrate this. These are people who call us to the pained part of God: to human suffering, affliction and evil. “Prophets take us to slums and broken hearts,” she said. Their message is not for a culture long ago nor about people in a faraway country. It is for us, here and now. According to Dr. Copeland, taking prophets seriously is “to take on a dangerous memory for us Christians, the memory of the life, passion, and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, who was the Christ of God. The memory of his life and witness abolishes…our self-deceptions, our tendency to manipulate, our arrogant illusions of religious, and cultural and social and historical pride.” Her talk was well received, with warm applause following her address and many sincere questions asked during the Q&A period facilitated by Professor Drexler-Dreis.

In a later interview for The Collegian, Professor Coblentz spoke of her hopes of what Saint Mary’s students would walk out of the talk understanding. “Dr. Copeland reminds us of God’s ancient call to take up the work of justice as the work of faith. Her Catholic perspective informs her message that humans, in our finitude and sinfulness, cannot actualize a just society through our own efforts alone. We need God’s intervention—God’s assistance—to live up to God’s aspirations for humankind.”

This was the second of three Biblical Speaker Series Lectures hosted this semester. The next lecture will be held November 15 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, contact Zach Flanigan at

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