Klaus-Peter Adam finds new solutions in Old Testament
Klaus-Peter Adam, professor of Old Testament, understands well that being ensconced by the Great Lakes, Chicagoans have a privileged perspective when it comes to water and natural resources.
For most of the world, the reality is as it was in the Old Testament, where, as Adam says, “the use of fresh water is shaped by scarcity, and dependence on God’s giving of rain. Really, it’s very much the opposite situation of fresh water use in the Great Lakes [region].” And yet, he says today there are less fortunate children drinking leaded water out of their taps and even less fortunate future generations that will inherit the failed efforts of urban water engineering that continue to pollute local waterways.
“These [realities] have to do with water justice,” Adam says. “And that’s a part of where I think theology must be precise, and locally-aware, and informed.”
Some of his students are part of the Green Zone campus ecology group, which works with the interactive educational program known as Green Team (through the non-profit Faith in Place). Their highly contested topics are part and parcel of investigating a reality where students must, as Adam says, “perceive of themselves in the landscape of God’s creation.”
LSTC, a seminary with a long tradition of engaging in environmental and climate justice, is just the place to consider these implications.
The big question, he says, is “What are we doing as human beings, as moral agents with a faith, in order to steer the ship in the right direction?”
For Adam, studying the Old Testament’s approach to discussing interpersonal conflict can help students better understand localized strife in our contemporary world and lead to a deeper understanding of how violent conflicts are settled.
“I try in my work to equip students by ways of reflecting on the biblical message to better understand their worlds,” he says. “I teach a class on enmity in the Hebrew Bible and U.S. race relations … I especially [juxtapose] private enmity pertaining to the concept of feuding individuals in antiquity with gangland societies in Chicago.” Coming at the discussion from a legal anthropological perspective, Adam challenges his students to consider the feuding model at play in Chicago’s gangland neighborhoods, a model that has historically emerged in kinship societies excluded from cultures shaped by centrally organized law enforcement.
A key takeaway: no way of managing conflict is “better.” Rather, according to Adam, people in kinship societies have developed a different way of conflict settlement, closer to a biblical paradigm than mainstream U.S. society. The question becomes: how to use this understanding and awareness to solve for harms that are associated with retributive violence? Adam uses a model called “Victims of Violence are Speaking Out” that allows for people who have been hurt by violence to talk about their life reality, with the hope that giving voice to those traditionally ignored by leading power paradigms can lead to a better future and perhaps give agency to those who have been harmed.
In his academic and professional life, Adam seeks to expose students to new problems, new historiographies, and new solutions with the goal of providing them with the resources they need to be successful in various ministerial and academic environments. To prospective students, Adam has a message: “trust the school to guide you through the complexities of academics and to open up new worlds that your faith can inhabit, new rooms, and new windows to the theological world.”
By Rhiannon Koehler, a writer, editor and content director in Chicago.