Leah R. Thomas, PhD
Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Contextual Education
Leah Thomas, PhD, blends an academic focus on pastoral care and Christian social ethics with professional experience in hospital chaplaincy, pastoring and nonprofit management. Her ministry and theological commitments inform her teaching and research, which carefully attends to and incorporates voices excluded by the dominant culture, asking how these voices inform and shift caregiving. Leah’s research interests include anti-racist and intercultural pastoral care, trauma, culture, and the role of embodiment in caregiving and Christian spiritual practices. Her desire to teach at AMBS is rooted in a commitment to peace, justice and anti-racism in a world that is reeling from disparity, injustice and divisiveness.
How does the Bible shape your vocation as a professor?
The sacred stories of the Bible speak to us about the ways our ancestors in the faith made meaning of their experience of a transcendent creator God who chose to come close enough to walk with them. We bring many lenses to biblical texts, and those whom we accompany as pastoral caregivers also bring their own history, lenses and interpretations. As a caregiver, it’s important to be able to recognize and converse with our own readings of the texts so that we can better appreciate how the Bible functions in the lives of those seeking care. At times, our reading of certain texts may reveal God as knowable and intimate. At other times, awareness of scholarly theological perspectives, culture and context informs and challenges our understanding. Many times we may be holding both of these! It is important to inquire about how our context shapes our readings of texts, and to put this into dialogue with the ways that the context of the care seeker/community informs their reading of texts. This practice enables us to offer care that integrates sensitive, culturally-informed perspectives on the Bible, while also recognizing Bible’s power to transform lives and communities toward peace and justice.
What can students expect in your classroom?
In the classroom, I value the rich and varied experiences of students’ lives. I encourage students to bring their own wisdom into the room to create a mutual, intersubjective learning environment in which we are all contributing to something “larger than ourselves.” The text (or other resource) becomes the thing around which we gather, each bringing his/her/their experience and unique history to enable the community to engage with this resource in new and complex ways. I draw on practical techniques such as roleplays, verbatims and embodied exercises, coupled with critical thinking and theological reflection, to help us approach caregiving from a holistic perspective.
Why is it important for you to integrate diverse voices into your teaching?
The field of pastoral care in particular has historically failed to address systemic racism and white privilege, which morally restricts and damages caregivers, care seekers and communities in numerous ways. As such, it is necessary to draw on the voices of more recent pastoral care scholars from a variety of social locations who are committed to undoing oppression. These resources enable students to explore the impact of intersections of culture, gender, race, sexuality, ability and class on both the individual pastoral encounter and pastoral care within the wider community. My approach to pastoral care also explores the structures, institutions and processes that surround an encounter and the ways they affect the situation. This approach invites us to recognize, however, that information about culture can never be a substitute for the uniqueness and sacredness of a particular encounter.
My goal for students