Forrest E. Harris

President of American Baptist College, professor of the practice of ministry, director of the Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Church Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School

We are experiencing a moment in American history where the loose threads of democracy need stitching and strengthening with the dignity of justice and human flourishing for all. The task belongs not solely to government, it belongs to every community, religion, social creed, and diversity of American culture.

Over thirty years in theological education and as Director of Black Church Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Professor Forrest E. Harris has become nationally recognized as being one of the most progressive scholars, theological educators and visionary for prophetic Christianity in the Black Church tradition. Harris holds a B.A. from Knoxville College, Th. B. from American Baptist College, M. Div. and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Vanderbilt University Divinity School where he was a Benjamin E. Mays Fellow and received the Florence Conwell prize for preaching. Harris is accredited with the distinction of making a significant contribution to the academy and the church by bridging academic theology with the practical ministry needs of the church.

Since 1988, Professor Harris led the Divinity School’s Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Church Studies to national acclaim as the only such Institute with a $1.8 million dollar endowment in the country. With grants from major foundations totaling over $4million dollars, Harris coordinated a national ecumenical dialogue involving over 12,000 people, launched a Theology and Ministry Project for congregations and established Vanderbilt Divinity School as institutional host for the first online Lectionary for African American churches.

Harris is the author of Ministry for Social Crisis: Theology and Praxis in the Black Church Tradition, Mercer University Press. In the anthology, Walk Together Children, Black and Womanist Theologies, Church and Theological Education, Harris’ essay “The Children Have Come to Birth: The Black church’s Theological Response for Survival and Quality of Life” received national recognition. He also authored the essay, The Black Church Influence on Dietrich Bonheoffer written in support of Journey Films 2006 broadcast on the film Dietrich Bonheoffer on PBS stations nationwide, and received a journalism prize, cash award from The Journal of Intergroup Relations, National Association of Human Rights Workers for his article, “South Africa beyond Apartheid,” The Journal of Intergroup Relations, the National Association of Human Rights Workers.

As a member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians, Harris delivered papers in Johannesburg, South Africa, and as a member of the Human Rights Commission of the Baptist World Alliance, traveled to Hong Kong, Durban, South Africa where he delivered papers on human rights, global and ethnic conflict and coordinating global panel discussions religious freedom in Mexico City, Ghana, and Amsterdam.  

In addition to his duties at Vanderbilt, Harris is the president of Nashville’s historic American Baptist College where under his leadership the past 17 years the school has seen significant increase in its endowment and received Congressional recognition as a Historically Black College and University.