On May 16, the Rev. Cheryl Stewart Pero made history when she received her doctorate at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago's 150th commencement ceremony. She is the first African American Lutheran woman to earn the doctor of philosophy degree in New Testament studies.
Stewart Pero’s advisor, the Rev. Dr. David Rhoads, said, "There have been students from Africa who have earned a Ph.D. in biblical studies, and there are African Americans in the ELCA who have earned Ph.D.s in other areas, but what Cheryl has done is unique."
"At the end of the second millennium, Randall Bailey documented the fact that African American scholars working in Biblical Studies at colleges, universities and seminaries were just reaching critical mass. In the late 1990s we were fewer than 300; I do not believe that we have yet surpassed that benchmark. For this reason, and many others, we welcome our newest 'first African American' to the challenges and joys of making the vision plain," wrote Dr. Peter T. Nash, Franklin and Irene List Saemann Professor in World Communities, professor of religion and liberal studies, and assistant to the president for equity and compliance at Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa.
Support of the community
Stewart Pero credits the African American Lutheran community, especially the Conference of International Black Lutherans, with encouraging her and supporting her as she pursued a doctorate. “Others told me that I had the gifts and talents to do this. I did this as much for the community as for myself,” she says.
"I also had the support of an amazing group of scholars in my Ph.D. study group – other LSTC students from around the world who were working on degrees in biblical studies."
Dissertation examines exorcism in the book of Mark
Stewart Pero’s dissertation, "Demonic Possession and Exorcism in the Gospel of Mark: Liberation from Empire," uses narrative, social science, and post-colonial methods of criticism to look at her topic.
"In Mark, demonic possession is a cosmic war between Satan and God. Something’s wrong in the cosmos if demons can possess people and make them lose their senses, sense of self, to do things they don't want to do, losing their families and their place in the community," Stewart Pero says.
Stewart Pero was the second African American woman ordained in the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). After briefly serving on the churchwide staff of the LCA, Stewart Pero served parishes in Chicago and worked in campus ministry for 12 years.
During the 2009-2010 academic year Stewart Pero has been LSTC’s Pastor to the Community.
She has recently been appointed as Director of LSTC’s Multicultural Center.
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The Lutheran School of Theology (LSTC) is dedicated to bearing witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. Based in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, it is the leading urban Lutheran seminary training students for purposeful vocations in the global community. Aligned with its Lutheran heritage and built on a foundation of intellectual rigor, LSTC’s innovative, nationally recognized curriculum gives students skills for visionary Christian leadership in the public sphere.