Renita Weems to deliver 2020 O’Connor Lectures at Columbia Seminary

The sought-after speaker and scholar also wrapped up the preaching at Big Tent last summer

by Columbia Theological Seminary | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Renita Weems, co-pastor of Ray of Hope Community Church in Nashville, Tenn., preaches during Big Tent closing worship last August. Next month she’ll deliver the 2020 Kathleen O’Connor Lectures at Columbia Theological Seminary. (Photo by Rich Copley)

DECATUR, Georgia — Biblical scholar, minister and author the Rev. Dr. Renita Weems will present the 2020 Kathleen O’Connor Lectures at Columbia Theological Seminary on February 4-5.

Previously, she has taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School and Spelman College. Weems has since served as academic dean at American Baptist College and is now co-pastor at Ray of Hope Community Church, both in Nashville, Tenn. The lectures will be offered free to the public each day on the seminary campus located at 701 S. Columbia Drive in Decatur, Ga.

The first lecture, “Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger with a Womanist Thirst: Growing up Black, Female, Theologically Conservative, and Socially Radical,” will be held from 7-8 p.m. on Tuesday, February 4, in the Harrington Center Chapel. A reception will follow in the Harrington Center Library.

The second lecture, “Womanist Ways of Knowing:  Race, Gender, and the Power of Interpretation,” will take place from 11 a.m. through noon on Wednesday, February 5, in the Harrington Center Chapel.

About Renita Weems

The Rev. Dr. Renita J. Weems is a biblical scholar, minister, and author whose scholarly insights into modern faith, biblical texts, and the role of spirituality in everyday lives has made her a highly sought-after writer and speaker for more than four decades. She has numerous books, commentaries and articles on the Bible and prophetic religion to her credit.

After earning her M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1983 and a year later being ordained an elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she earned her doctoral degree at Princeton Seminary in 1989, making her the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in Old Testament Studies.

Weems’s dissertation was a trailblazing effort. Writing in an era when women doctoral students hesitated to take on “women’s issue” topics, and when most male faculty still felt uncertain, if not uncomfortable, advising such topics, Weems chose to study marriage imagery in the Hebrew prophets.

Her work offered careful, challenging, and often painful insights into use of this metaphor, moving beyond traditional scholarship, which had all too easily looked only at the “love” side of the marriage metaphor. Weems was among the first to point to the violence associated with this biblical imagery, violence acceptable within the prophets’ cultural assumptions about marriage and all too often considered acceptable even in 20th-century America. Her 1995 volume “Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets” brought this important work to a wide audience, with powerful hermeneutical reflection on implications for contemporary understandings of God and of marriage.

Along with a host of other articles and books highlighting the ways black women read the Bible, Weems published “Just A Sister Away: A Womanist Vision of Women’s Relationships in the Bible” in 1989 and sealed her legacy as trailblazer in the field of womanist biblical scholarship. Her award-winning “Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt won the Religious Communicators’ Council’s prestigious Wilbur Award for “excellence in communicating spiritual values to the secular media.”

Weems taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School from 1987-2004. She then served as the William and Camille Cosby Visiting Professor of Humanities at Spelman College, and Vice President of Academic Affairs at American Baptist College in Nashville. In 2008, she became the first black woman to deliver the Yale University Lyman Beecher Lecture.

Weems is now enjoying “semi-retirement” between assisting her husband, the Rev. Martin Espinosa, in ministry at the Ray of Hope Community Church in Nashville and juggling various writing projects, blogging for online publications, writing Bible study lessons and engaging others on Twitter about the news of the day.

About the Kathleen O’Connor Lectures

These lectures honor the many contributions that Dr. Kathleen M. O’Connor, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, made in biblical scholarship for the sake of the world. For nearly three decades, first at Maryknoll School of Theology in Maryknoll, N.Y. (1982-1994) and then at Columbia Seminary (1995-2010),  O’Connor modeled close reading of the biblical text; rigorous engagement of the text in light of intercultural, ecumenical, and interdisciplinary conversations; and the articulation of compelling, fresh claims for the relevance and power of the text and its interpretation for present-day realities. For students and colleagues around the world, O’Connor exemplifies first-rate biblical scholarship that is spiritually significant and globally aware.

About Columbia Theological Seminary

Columbia Theological Seminary seeks “to educate and nurture faithful, imaginative, and effective leaders for the sake of the church and the world.” As an educational institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Columbia Seminary is a community of theological inquiry, leadership development, and formation for ministry in the service of the Church of Jesus Christ. Columbia Seminary offers six graduate degree programs and dozens of courses and events as a resource for church professionals and lay people through The Center for Lifelong Learning. For more information, visit

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