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Molly Marshall for wordpressBy BJC Staff Reports

On April 4-5, Dr. Molly T. Marshall will deliver the 2016 Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State on the campus of Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. The president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, Dr. Marshall has dedicated three decades to theological education. She has written monographs, numerous book chapters, journal articles and Bible study curricula.

In anticipation of the event, Marshall took time to answer a few questions for Report from the Capital about her lectures and her career as an educator.

Why did you accept the invitation to speak at the Shurden Lectures?
Not only do I respect the Shurdens greatly, I wanted to be in the good company of other lecturers such as Alan Brownstein, Melissa Rogers and Rabbi David Saperstein! Religious liberty is a critical concern for me, especially in Myanmar, which will be focal in my lectures. My regular pilgrimages there have opened my eyes to the challenges of being a religious minority as a Christian.

Why is discussing religious liberty so important at this time?
There are many threats to religious liberty, and many Baptists — as well as other faith traditions — have their freedom constricted in varied ways. In a religiously plural world, it is more important than ever that we preserve this fundamental human right. Humans are ineluctably religious, and freedom of inquiry and practice is of great consequence.

Which of your lectures do you think students will find the most surprising?
I think students will find it surprising that a Baptist has such strong convictions about respect for the lived religion of others. Too often Christians have functioned as if we held ultimate religious truth and other ways of faith were benighted expressions of idolatry, perduring in darkness. The competing religious liberties in Myanmar will serve as a case study for my lectures; my experience there will summon critical questions about the limits of religious liberty.

What do you enjoy about engaging with young people?
Young people bring fresh questions and creative insight to the existential realities of what it means to be human. I enjoy engaging their pursuit of their own distinctive voices and moral reasoning in a world of competing ideologies. The authentic questions of young adults evoke new awareness for me, and I am moved by their earnest pursuit of living fully.

You began your career at a time when it was difficult for Baptist women to lead. How has that changed over the years?
Thankfully, these past few decades have witnessed a greater openness to women’s leadership in Baptist congregations, although ministry compensation for women still lags. Baptists are becoming much richer theologically because of the entrance of women into key positions of pastoral and institutional leadership. Women bring new insights into biblical texts, creative competencies for institutional flourishing, and constructive and imaginative capacities for transformation of old systems.

You’ve spent more than 30 years dedicated to theological education. Why did you choose this path rather than a full-time career in ministry and preaching?
Actually, I believe I have chosen the path of full-time ministry! Theological education is a ministry for the church, and preparing ministry leaders serves its mission in an essential way. I love pastoral work and preaching, yet I believe the unique call of God for me has been to the formation of theologically wise and faithful ministers of the Gospel. I cannot imagine a vocation that would bring me more joy! (Besides, I got to teach Brent Walker!) And, yes, I still preach a lot.

What do you want people to take away from your lectures?
I want people to consider more fully the contextual realities of religious pluralism and the ways religious liberty has implications for competing traditions. I want Christians to perceive the ways in which aspects of personal zeal for the Gospel must interface with the strong convictional faith of others.

The 2016 Shurden Lectures are free and open to the public. For more information, including lecture titles, visit

From the February 2016 Report from the Capital. Click here to read the next story.