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News Highlights Former Far Right Evangelical Leader Joins Pluralistic Jewish Institution

By Hebrew College
Rob Schenck

After nearly four decades as a controversial national figure on the Christian religious far right, the Reverend Dr. Rob Schenck has made an unusual move to join the faculty of Hebrew College as a visiting scholar. The once prominent anti-abortion activist has since repudiated his radical conservative positions and has dedicated himself to promoting racial justice, reducing gun violence, and fostering religious inclusion. His hiring as Visiting Scholar of Christianity & Religious Leadership at Hebrew College reflects the institution’s commitment to training Jewish and other religious leaders for service in an interconnected world.

“Rev. Schenck is a brave and wise leader, who has been engaged in significant efforts to make our country a more just and compassionate society for several years now. I am profoundly inspired by his personal journey and his moral and religious leadership. We are honored to welcome him to the Hebrew College community,” commented Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, president of Hebrew College, on the hiring.

Rabbi Or Rose, founding director of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College, added, “Rob’s personal and political evolution is a model of honest soul-searching (heshbon nefesh) and repentance (teshuvah), through which he arrived at a new understanding of himself as Christian and his responsibilities to others. Having worked with him on various initiatives over the last three years, I am confident he will contribute substantively as a teacher, mentor, and public intellectual.”

Schenck, who holds multiple degrees in Bible and Theology and Religion, will teach courses and lead seminars on Christian ethics and religion and public life. Previously, he has served as a Visiting Academic at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, and was named a Senior Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Law and Public Policy at Oxford. He also served on the U.S. Senate Chaplain’s Emergency Pastoral Response Team and is currently a civilian chaplain.

While on a leave of absence from his activist work between 2009-2012, Schenck undertook a doctoral program studying the role of the 1930s German evangelical church in helping Adolf Hitler claim dictatorial power in that country. This led him to carefully examine the relationship between American evangelical organizations, white Christian nationalism, and the national political landscape.

Schenck now identifies himself as a “dissenting evangelical voice,” refusing to cede his vision of Christianity to extreme and divisive actors. In 2018, he authored a critically acclaimed memoir of his ideological journey, Costly Grace (HarperCollins). He has also written for major news outlets such as the New York Times and has appeared on national television and radio programs such as Fresh Air (PBS). Commenting on Schenck’s role within the national progressive evangelical community, Rev. Doug Pagitt, executive director of the Common Good Coalition, stated, “Rob is a model for many of us who seek to live more fully as disciples of Jesus Christ. His unwavering commitment to treating others with compassion and care—including those on the margins of society—is a true inspiration.”

Reflecting on his new appointment, Schenck said, “The invitation by Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld and Rabbi Or Rose to join the unique community that is Hebrew College and to be associated with a trailblazing department like the Miller Center is humbling and a great honor. I look forward to collaborating with the faculty, staff, students, fellows, and everyone at the amazing Newton campus and around the country.”

Schenck will continue living in Northern Virginia, helping to coordinate Washington, D.C.-based Miller Center programs and writing, blogging, and speaking. He will make periodic visits to Boston to lecture and conduct intensive courses.

Read more about Rev. Schenck in Al Jazeera.

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