Meet the Rev. Dr. Adam L. Bond
Join us in Atlanta or online for the BJC Luncheon on Friday, June 30, 2023. This year’s keynote speaker is the Rev. Dr. Adam Bond, the former pastor the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church of Jackson Ward in Richmond, Virginia, who will begin serving as Associate Professor of Religion at Baylor University in August.
An ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches USA, Dr. Bond maintains a commitment to the local church and higher education. An advocate for students, congregations, and community groups that strive for justice, Dr. Bond is also a historian of American Christianity. We asked him to share about his work and calling. Join us in Atlanta or online – get your tickets to the BJC Luncheon today.
What does faith freedom for all mean to you?
Faith freedom for all means to me that people are able to explore and encounter and discover what it means to be a human being. That at the core of who we are as individuals — as a community of people — is the distinct fact that we are part of the human family. That’s true whether you place it in religious terms of the God-given right or whether you place it in legal terms as the legal right to discover what it means to be fully human. When we do incorporate the Biblical language of being made in the image of God, we have this freedom to discover what it means to be just that.
Your research and writing on the history of American Christianity focuses on the narratives and ideas of Black Christian leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries. What calls you to study history and focus your scholarship in those centuries?
I really wanted to learn more about what went into my faith lineage. I wanted to learn how we came to do the things that we do within the life of a congregation — why we sing the songs that we sing, why the preachers sound the way they do — and I wanted to get to the core of those areas of my faith that were created in some ways that I inherited by persons who came before me who thought that the best ways to practice, to be faithful and to live in relationship with God were to operate as persons who expressed their faith in these diverse and beautiful ways. From my time in seminary all the way through graduate school, I was curious to discover the source of what made me but also what contributed to the formation of my grandmother, my grandfather, my mother and my father. In the process, I landed on the research area of American Christianity or Christianity in America, and from there it was important for me to focus specifically on the narrative, the lives and the ideas of African American Christian communities and people.
What should everyone know about the narratives of Black Christian leaders during that period of American history?
I believe that people should know that the whole goal, the thrust of African American Christianity – the Black Church – has been freedom. What freedom has meant to them has taken on different shapes, sizes, forms and notions over the course of the African experience in America, but what we can say is that freedom was at the forefront of what it meant to be Black and Christian in many communities, in many denominations and in many local congregations. Much of how Christianity was practiced – much of how theology was formed and shaped and practiced – all came with that idea, freedom, as the core principle from which we found ourselves worshipping, practicing, living into our activist selves throughout the course of history.
Tell us more about Jackson Ward, the area of Richmond where your church is located.
The historic Jackson Ward is one of the historic Black communities in the larger Untied States cities along the coast, but it is one of the larger Black communities within southern cities. The community came together and created a political base, an economic base, a social base and an educational base – they did what it took to create this community that was strong, connected and did what people do for one another in the process of just living in community and in the face of the racism that existed and still exists in the American experience.
Jackson Ward is one of the “Harlems of the South.” This community created an entertainment base, and many big-name performers came to Jackson Ward. It is also the home of many historic churches, including the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Formally organized in 1858, it grew out of the first African Baptist Church in the city of Richmond. You’ll also find right down the street from Ebenezer Baptist Church the historic Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, which is the home of the Rev. John Jasper, a legendary preacher whose famous sermon “The Sun Do Move” was controversial within the Black community.
But this was really the home of one of the strongest Black communities in the United States. Unfortunately, when you fast forward into the 20th century, you do get the very intentional and blatant attempt to break up that political base and to disperse the large population and the community connections that existed in Jackson Ward. Interstate 95 runs directly through Jackson Ward, and the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church almost hangs over a ledge of the interstate. There was a lot of damage done to the community and that church by way of dividing that community with the interstate, and that’s the story of so many Black Christian communities and so many Black congregations. The people have been resilient, they have adapted, they’ve been strong, and they still exist and do great work in communities such as Jackson Ward and even beyond it.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Maggie Lena Walker and Bill Bojangles Robinson and so many other legends who came through here. Plus, Ebenezer Baptist Church started the first public school for African American children in the city of Richmond, and it housed the first YMCA for African Americans in the city of Richmond. It was the colored YMCA that started in basically the lower level of our original building. We only have some sparse records of how that first public school got started, but this church has an amazing legacy, and we’re continuing to build on it even as we think about what it means to love all people and empower our community through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You are known for helping parishioners and students see the connections between yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Can you share any “aha!” moments you’ve seen in your work?
I’ll give you one example from the classroom and one example from the church. In the classroom, there was a student who was having a difficult time trying to process what this information had to do with what her trajectory was supposed to be in ministry. At one point halfway through the term, she said, “Oh my goodness, I get it. I see that we have inherited so many of these ideas, but we have inherited them without really interrogating them and discerning what they have contributed to who we are today and what it means for us to build upon or critique and move to the side those ideas that are no longer healthy for us to be all that God calls us to be.” When she said that, I almost had to pause the class so I could step out and cry, because sometimes you do this work and you are not totally sure that you are presenting it in a way that is as accessible as you would like. For her to recognize that reminded me of what I felt God had called me to do in that season.
An example from the church happened just recently. One of the core principles that I try to teach around the notion of Christian education is that the Bible gives us permission to have conversations about many of the topics that have been taboo in congregational life. I argue that we have every right to develop our sense of what it means to be faithful to God in several core areas, and I believe the Bible gives us an opportunity to develop our political literacy, financial literacy, ecological literacy and sexuality literacy. In having those conversations, we have an opportunity to grow our whole selves – not the idea that we are spiritual beings and disconnect all of that from what it means to live faithfully each and every day. One of our Christian education leaders planned a trip to the Maymont gardens in Richmond to teach the smaller kids how the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. In the process, they talked about what it means to be faithful over the creation that God has entrusted us with during our lifetimes. The kids loved it, and they saw these connections that we don’t always encounter in our Sunday school literature or our Vacation Bible School literature.
What most excites you about your transition to Baylor University this year?
I am excited about getting back into the classroom. I love the work of the church, but I believe that at this stage in my journey, I am going to do the work my soul must have: in the classroom, mentoring young people and graduate students who are preparing themselves to be future professors, researchers and scholars who do great work, who tell the story of not only persons within the Baptist tradition but within Christianity broadly. I love the energy of the classroom, I love the conversations in the classroom, and I am energized by this opportunity to return to my own work in ways in which I feel like we, as a congregation at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, had to put on pause as we made our way through the pandemic.
The title of your presentation for the 2023 BJC Luncheon is “Reimagining Religious Freedom.” What can we expect at the event?
I believe there is room for us to have a more nuanced and intentional conversation about religious freedom as both a blessing and as a burden — as a principle that has done great good in the world but also that has done great harm in terms of the way that it has been constructed and executed at different points in history. I’m inviting us as a community to be in conversation to think about what it means to redefine, to reinvent, to critique and to interrogate how religious freedom can be lived in such a way that it enhances the life prospects and the empowerment of our communities of faith, as well as of individuals who are exploring, encountering and discovering what it means to be truly human.
How can we best be in partnership while working for a more just society?
I would encourage us to acknowledge how diverse activism can be: We can honor both the activists who are on the front lines shouting the words of freedom and those who watch as marches take place. I believe that there is room for the quiet activists — the persons who have been convicted to do great things behind the scenes, who are the advocates in spaces where a lot of people cannot go, who help to influence policy, who help to make the decisions, who have the kind of conscience that won’t let them be quiet in spaces where it is civilized or it is expected for people to be quiet. When we acknowledge how diverse activism can be, we create the pathways for more people to see themselves as activists, for more people to find their way and their voice into the struggle for freedom for all. Not everyone is built to march and not everyone is built to carry picket signs, but there are people who are equipped, who are brilliant, who are ready and willing to build the infrastructure and the capacity for justice to find its way into our society. But that takes many of us acknowledging this call to a certain type of activism that is not necessarily going to look like your neighbor’s activism. I believe being an advocate for justice means acknowledging that call to be activists and advocates in the spaces where we find ourselves – at whatever point in our career, at whatever point in our formation – as people who see that we are being faithful when we say yes to that call.
Tickets to the BJC Luncheon in Atlanta are $55, and discounted $30 tickets are available for young ministers. If you want to watch the program online, tickets are only $5.
This Q&A appears in the summer edition of Report from the Capital. The full magazine will be online in the near future.