Interview: Donyelle McCray

DMcrayDr. Donyelle McCray is Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Director of the Office of Multicultural Ministries at Virginia Theological Seminary. McCray earned her B.A. from Spelman College, J.D. from Harvard Law School, M.Div. from VTS, and Th.D. from Duke University Divinity School.

How did you decide to become a biblical scholar? Share your autobiographical journey.

While I was in seminary my church history professor asked me if I had considered doing doctoral work.  At the time I felt overwhelmed and was just focused on getting through the semester but the thought lingered.  Then, during my senior year I went on a retreat at the Bon Secours Convent in Marriottsville, MD and felt the Holy Spirit inviting me to ‘pray about teaching preaching.’  It was an unusual phrase and I was struck by how odd it was. I had not considered teaching preaching prior to that moment.  The desire grew from that time.  

Tell us about your current work. What are you most excited about right now?

I am interested in preaching as an expression of spirituality and I am especially interested in the preaching of women whom we might call mystics or visionaries like Julian of Norwich.  My dissertation is entitled, The Censored Pulpit:  Julian of Norwich as Preacher.  My study of the relationship between preaching and spirituality has led me to research the role of censorship in preaching.  Two of my current projects focus on ways women’s preaching voices are censored.

Who has most influenced you as a scholar? Tells us a bit about it.

I have a number of influences so I will just note a few who help me claim my own voice as a scholar:  Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Alice Walker.  I know none of these women can be classified as biblical scholars per se, but they have all been enormously influential in shaping my understanding of truth, human wholeness, and divine action.  I would also add Toni Morrison to this list because she is such a phenomenal storyteller.  Her storytelling helps me read the biblical text in fresh ways.  I use her Nobel Prize acceptance speech in my parables course because she includes a beautiful parable in it.

There are so many scholars who have shaped my thought in significant ways.  I am influenced by Emilie Townes, Karma Lochrie, Howard Thurman, Walter Wink, and Beverly Mayne Kienzle. The list of homileticians is super-long for me but the Duke homileticians have been most influential along with Anna Carter Florence and Mary Catherine Hilkert.

What are the most pressing issues or concerns you have related to the broader field of biblical studies/homiletics?

I am interested in the ethical claims of biblical texts and the ways churches enact the gospel in communities.  Both of these issues are directly related to proclamation in my view and proclamation needs more scholarly attention.

What is Scripture? And what is it for? Or, in other words, why study the biblical text?

I see scripture as the church’s story — the story that holds the key to Christian identity in all its complexity and diversity.  I study scripture because it is beautiful.  The beauty leads to adoration and worship.

What do you like to do for fun?

I like to cook, watch movies, paint (a new hobby!), and take long walks.  I am fascinated by old trees because they remind me that contrary to Western culture, things can grow more beautiful with age.  I like reading biographies and books on American history.

Anything else you would like to share?

I would just say that the community of biblical scholars really makes a difference. Group reflection and conversation can enhance our work and make it more joyous.  I hope [this] site enables collaboration and reflection.

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