news-category: Campus News

Gardner-Webb School of Divinity Hosts Leader of Rural Development Coalition on Oct. 2-3

Free Mary Washburn Wilson Lectures Features Rev. Dr. K. Jason Coker Speaking on Poverty Relief

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—The Rev. Dr. K. Jason Coker, a leader in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, will be the featured speaker for the Mary Washburn Wilson Lectures on Oct 2 and 3. The School of Divinity is hosting the event each day at 1 p.m. in Dover Chapel. Both programs are free and open to the public.

Coker is the national director of “Together for Hope,” the rural development coalition of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Launched over 20 years ago, the organization focuses on four priorities of hope—education, health and nutrition, housing and environment, and social enterprise.

Coker’s themes for his lectures are “Reframing Hope,” where he will discuss helping a community see its assets and potential, and “Redefining Hope,” which is the heart of what his organization does: inspiring residents to capitalize on the gifts and talents they have. Coker will incorporate data specific to North Carolina as well as the nation.

In an interview with Drew Theological School, where he received his PhD, Coker stated, “My entire job at ‘Together for Hope’ is to reimagine a future of rural America that is thriving. How do we move from persistent rural poverty to a thriving society? This is literally a challenge of the imagination. How can we create social imagination, political imagination, economic imagination, and even religious imagination? So much of our challenge in the rural U.S. is an eroded social fabric, or a social fabric that has been knitted together with inequality and inequity.”

Coker also serves as the field coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi. After nearly two decades of life and ministry in Connecticut, he returned to his home state of Mississippi to work for peace and justice in areas of persistent rural poverty. The lessons of human compassion and equality he learned as a minister guide his work in poverty relief.

He is the author of “James in Postcolonial Perspective: The Letter as Nativist Discourse” (Fortress Press, 2015) and “Faded Flowers: Preaching in the Aftermath of Suicide” (Smyth & Helwys, 2020) and “The Corporation of God: A Biblical Critique of Global Capitalism” (Cascade Press, 2021). He is also the co-editor of “Bible and Theory: Essays in Biblical Interpretation in Honor of Stephen D. Moore” (Fortress Academic, 2020).

The Mary Washburn Wilson Lectureship is funded primarily by Wilson’s daughter, Tillie Duncan, a Gardner-Webb graduate with a long-standing connection to the University. “It was named for my mother—and by extension, her family (Washburn),” Duncan explained. “She grew up in an atmosphere in which education was important and in which new ideas were at least examined. The family I grew up in had little money, but Mama was committed to making sure that her children had an opportunity for higher education. In order to provide that, she denied herself much of what she might have wanted, materially speaking, and some of what she needed.

Because of her mother’s efforts, two of her three children have post-graduate degrees. Duncan noted, “As to what my dream is for the lectures. I am passionate about racial and gender equality. I am eager for people to be exposed to new ideas; my hope being that exposure will create a kind of willingness and openness to ideas not previously thought about in an intentional way. Or a willingness to consider ideas that one may have previously rejected outright because of insular cultural customs. I want to motivate folks to dig out of the safe, self-protection of their cocoons and fly free—to reach the highest self they can be.”

Auxiliary aids will be made available to persons with disabilities upon request 10 working days prior to the event.  Please call 704-406-4270 or email [email protected] with your request.

About the Mary Washburn Wilson Lectureship

The lectureship is supported by the Mary Washburn Wilson Visiting Scholar Endowment, which was established in honor of Mary Leigh Washburn Wilson (1922-2003) through a generous gift by her daughter, the Reverend Tillie Duncan, a member of the Gardner-Webb Gallery of Distinguished Alumni, along with her husband, Shannon Duncan. The lectureship is designed to expose students to new ideas and to make them aware of concepts not previously considered in an intentional way.

About Gardner-Webb University

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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