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Georgia Harkness: Methodist Trailblazer in Theology

Georgia Harkness (1891-1974) was a theologian who broke new ground for women in the Methodist church at a time when the pulpits and seminaries were closed to females. Harkness was a voice for racial and gender equality, a prolific author, and her hymns and prayers are still known today.

Harkness' book, What Christians Believe, was rereleased in 2017 by Abingdon Press. 



Born in 1891 and ordained decades before women were given full clergy rights in her church, this Methodist pioneer persisted.

Told she could not attend the all-male Boston University School of Theology, she instead earned a Ph.D. and then became the first woman to teach theology in an American seminary.

Georgia Harkness went on to write 37 books.

In her time, Harkness notoriously confronted Karl Barth himself on his theology of female subordination. But she also inspired famous faith leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Narrator reads: "I had the great privilege of reading some of your books and articles. I have long admired your Christian witness and your sound theology."

Harkness' words and her witness of faith left an unmistakable mark on Methodism and the world, according to the head of the church's archives agency.

The Rev. Alfred T. Day, United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History: "She grew to be a pronounced denouncer of racism and unbridled capitalism and the internment of Japanese Americans in internment camps during the Second World War, a great defender of women's rights, a promoter of women's ordination and ecumenist in a 60 or 70-year career as probably the most pronounced female theologian of her time."

Hers was once a household name, and Harkness' books have been favorites of seminarians present and past, like the Rev. Hirho Park.

The Rev. HiRho Park, United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry: "Because I studied practical theology, the fact that she was a scholar, an activist in the church, as a woman was very impressive to me."

In 2016, the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, Tennessee named their library for the woman who taught theology in words any church member could understand. Brian Milford is Chief Executive there.

The Rev. Brian Milford, United Methodist Publishing House: "It matters more today than ever. The church is called of God to make a difference in the world. And Georgia Harkness helped us understand how we serve that vocation, how we respond to God's call on our life to make a difference in the world."

(Music: "Hope of the World")

Her hymns and prayers are staples in the United Methodist Hymnal. In 1953, she penned the song, "Hope of the World."

She also continues to leave a mark on education. A Georgia Harkness scholarship is offered for women seeking a second career in ordained ministry.

Students at Garrett Evangelical, where Harkness taught for 11 years, graduate in red shoes as a tribute, stepping out to serve in the footsteps of Georgia Harkness.

The Rev. HiRho Park: "Whenever we as clergywomen get discouraged by the "isms" of the world, we should remember her daring faith in Jesus Christ."

The Rev. Brian Milford: "Pick up a book by Georgia Harkness and read it. It will change your life!

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
Media contact is Joe Iovino.

This video was first posted on March 14, 2017.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

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