Bishop Ken Carder on "The State of the Church"

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“God’s vision is not difficult to discern, but hard to follow,” says retiring professor.
Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bishop Kenneth L. Carder, who will retire June 30, 2011, as Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams Jr. Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry, received a standing ovation from students, faculty, and staff following his April 13 public interview by Dean Richard B. Hays on “The State of the Church.”Carder

Carder reminded his audience that John Wesley once asked, “Why is it that the people under our care are no better?”

Wesley’s response, added Carder, was, “Because we are not more knowing and more holy.”

The kind of leadership needed in the church, particularly today, he said, requires strengths in three areas:

  • a deep experiential knowledge of scripture and the Christian tradition. Without that knowledge, Carder said, “We are a church with amnesia.”
  • a character formed by grace. Knowledge in and of itself can become dangerous, leading to intellectual arrogance and elitism.
  • the skills necessary to form communities with knowledge, character, and grace. This involves not only exegeting the great texts, “but how you exegete the context in which this faith is to be lived out.” That, he added, involves other ways of knowing than theology. 

The special event marked Carder’s transition to the role of bishop-in-residence for Duke Divinity School. He will serve as a mentor to students in the D.Min. program and will teach individual courses periodically.

Hays conducted the interview.The hour-long interview was followed by a community-wide reception in Bishop Carder’s honor.

Carder served as bishop of the Mississippi area of the United Methodist Church from 2000-2004 and before that was bishop of the Nashville (Tenn.) area for eight years. Prior to his election as a bishop, he was a pastor in the Holston Conference.

During the interview, Carder talked about his commitment to prison ministry, which dates from early in his ministry, when he heard a judge say that “every pastor should be as familiar with the inside of a prison as the inside of a hospital.” 

As a young United Methodist pastor, Carder had never been inside a prison, but he felt convicted.

“It seemed to be a call from God,” he said, adding, “Our faith was birthed among the imprisoned, the enslaved, and Jesus was a convicted felon, the victim of another culture’s capital punishment; and much of the New Testament was written from prisons. The Wesleyan Revival cannot be understood without an understanding of John and Charles Wesley’s involvement in prisons. If you miss the fact that Paul was sitting in a jail cell when he wrote, then you misunderstand Philippians.”

Since joining the Divinity School faculty in 2004, Carder has taught courses in United Methodism, introduction to Christian ministry, the local church in mission to God’s world, and prison ministry, including “Restorative Justice, Prison Ministry, and the Church” (see "Finding God in Prison," from Divinity Magazine). The faculty recently voted to add a Certificate in Prison Ministry to the curriculum.

Play the interview: