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Finding Hope in Christianity’s Hard Truths

Dr. Larry Covin Jr. on the intersection between theology, race, and justice
News Larry Covin

As Systematic Theologian-Religion Scholar at Trinity UCC Church in York, Pennsylvania, it is not lost on Dr. Larry Covin Jr., ThM ’19, that as late as the 1970s, he could not enter the church that he now pastors. “It is this dialectic of Christianity — the religion that helped African Americans to survive in America is the religion that was instrumental in their near genocide,” he says, that informs his latest book, Thirteen Turns: A Theology Resurrected from the Gallows of Jim Crow Christianity.

Covin emphasizes that anyone interested in social justice should examine the history of the African American experience, within the context of Christianity as well. “We need authentic voices to reflect our experience in Christianity, to continue to build upon James Cone and others,” he says.

Drawn to criminal justice work as an undergraduate at Albany State University, he understood early on that “criminal justice, as a discipline, was a medium through which African Americans and all marginalized people could pursue redress of systemic inequities in our society from within the system.”

He credits his grandfather, the late Reverend Roger Lee Brown, with kindling his imagination to aspire to study theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. His research, as part of the ThM degree in Theology and Ethics, was intentionally focused on theologians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jurgen Moltmann, who were concerned often with social struggle.

“As a theologian from the African American context, my theological perspective is concerned with mitigating existential threats to an entire people, and not simply abstract dialectical theological concerns,” Covin says. “Princeton Theological Seminary was the only place I considered studying theology due to its faculty, shared relationship with Princeton University, and history of scholarship.”

Covin discovered his talent for teaching at Morgan State University when he filled in at the last minute for a professor. “Twenty four years later, I was still teaching,” he says. “Teaching in the classroom, or in the pulpit, is a gift that requires one to perfect one’s craft through preparation. Teaching for me, like writing, is a discipline I feel drawn to.”

It is the teaching aspect of the pulpit each Sunday morning that he finds most fulfilling in his current role at Trinity UCC.

“There is a satisfaction at this stage of my vocation, to know that I am providing my best work on the front lines — in the local church — and following in the tradition of theologians such as Martin Luther King Jr., Howard Thurman, and Karl Barth, who were grounded in the work of the church and understood themselves as pastoral theologians,” he says. “I think that’s pretty good company.”

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Pastor at Franklin Lakes United Methodist Church, New Jersey

Alison VanBuskirk, Class of 2015

“My call as a pastor centers on shaping a community where people can connect and be real with each other and God.”