Sociology studies prepares heart and mind for service
Where do seminaries stand on the social sciences?
LANGLEY, BC—What does sociology and Christianity have in common? While the divide between theology and sociology exists, Trinity Western University (TWU) professor of sociology, Michael Wilkinson, says seminaries are coming around on the social sciences.
“We’re coming back to the beginning, when seminaries wanted ministers to be informed on social sciences,” he says, noting Canadian churches at the beginning of the 21st century believed sociology informed ministry to become more effective.
The discipline moved into the secular universities and became a state profession in the early 1930s, but Wilkinson says Christians and Christian higher education is again looking to learn how to better serve their world and communities through the understanding of social sciences.
“Many Christian universities put less of an impact on sociology than say, psychology, but I think that could change,” Wilkinson says.
He has seen how an education on contemporary social issues has been useful not only for student pursuing social work, but also for seminary students looking to enter full-time ministry.
“It can be very easy to be overwhelmed by society’s issues, they’re so complex,” Wilkinson says. “Students say, “I can’t make a difference,” but you can make a difference.”
It starts by being informed on how society operates, and understanding what the world looks like.
“You can’t change the world through social change until you understand how society works,” he says. “Understanding why a society works and how is a big step in identifying the root of the problems… and how you can take action.”
The combination of a sociology education and faith prepare students to make an impact.
“You give them the tools, and your beliefs shape your work,” Wilkinson says.
There are plenty of social problems, and it’s impossible for any one organization to solve them all, he says. But one organization can address at least one problem or more.
“We need specialists in all fields,” Wilkinson says. “Together we can create a flourishing society.”
TWU launched its sociology degree program five years ago, Wilkinson says, and it is going strong.
It was while attending TWU and taking First Nations Studies that Jenny Shantz’s dream to minister to first nations youth in Vancouver became tangible. Mentored by a professor with a passion for social justice and native relations, Shantz says she came to understand history from other perspectives.
One project included conducting interviews on a reserve over a weekend.
“I was learning so much,” Shantz says. “But I needed to live in a native community to understand where they are coming from, and how reserve life functions.”
After earning her bachelor of arts with TWU, Shantz returned to university for her teaching degree. She went on to develop an after-school program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside while working at Union Gospel Mission, and later lived and taught for two years in Driftpile, a Cree community in Northern Alberta.
The experience and education she says were critical to the role of supporting First Nations people in Vancouver, who are diverse in languages and traditions.
In 2007, Shantz helped found Inner Hope, a youth ministry in East Vancouver serving at-risk Aboriginal teens.
It all stems from her faith and convictions that this is God’s work.
An analogy that explains Shantz’s convictions is the story of the paralytic being carried to Jesus, only for the man’s friends to lower him from the roof to get close to Jesus.
“The youth we work with are paralyzed, paralyzed from addiction, poverty and abuse,” Shantz says. “There are times you need friends to pick you up and take the roof apart… it’s about breaking down barriers. That’s Christian love, to say, “your circumstances do not define you.”’
As Christians we are all called to break down these barriers, she says, and give the hurting a chance to “walk and jump again”.
Mady Sieben is a third-year International Studies major at TWU and says it was an International Justice Mission video on present-day slavery that flamed her passion for social work and justice.
“I was blown away,” Sieben says. “I thought slavery was abolished; I was confused that it still existed.”
She began devouring information and books on slavery and the more she learned, the more she found social work a perfect way to make a difference.
Her International Studies courses include everything from political science to global policy and current events.
“Education is key,” she says. “It’s easy to be ignorant about what’s going on, and if you don’t know fully what’s happening it’s hard to make a difference.”
She says the training prepares students with a well-rounded understanding of how the world is constructed. Combined with the spiritual growth Sieben has experienced at TWU, she feels she has the knowledge and the passion to take a stand.
“The closer I get to the Lord, the more on fire I am for justice,” Sieben says. “Any time injustice is present, it breaks His heart. He wants everyone to see his or her God-given worth.”
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