Dr. Brad Braxton is the Founder of The Open Church of Maryland. He holds a Ph.D. in New Testament studies from Emory University, where he was a George W. Woodruff Fellow, a Master’s degree in theology from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and a B.A. degree in religious studies from the University of Virginia, where he was a Jefferson Scholar and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He is the author of three scholarly books and numerous articles and essays. His writings explore the role of religion, race, and culture in promoting a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive world. His books No Longer Slaves: Galatians and African American Experience and Preaching Paul are frequently used in divinity school courses.
Dr. Braxton is also a seasoned scholar, educator, and diversity, equity, and inclusion professional. In addition to providing visionary oversight for The Open Church, Dr. Braxton serves as the Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer at St. Luke’s School, a highly regarded, coeducational Episcopal day school in New York City. Additionally, Dr. Braxton has held professorships at Southern Methodist University, Vanderbilt University, and Wake Forest University, as well as recent lectureships at Georgetown University, Harvard Divinity School, and McCormick Theological Seminary.
His leadership has extended beyond the academy to the arenas of museums, philanthropic organizations, and faith-based communities. He formerly served as the Director of the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, the Program Officer for Religion in the Public Sphere at the Ford Foundation in New York City, and the Senior Minister of the Riverside Church in New York City.
His wife, Lazetta Rainey Braxton, is a nationally recognized Certified Financial Planner and Co-Founder and Co-CEO of 2050 Wealth Partners, a firm that provides wealth management and comprehensive financial planning. They are the proud parents of a daughter, Karis, an inquisitive high school student who loves to dance and draw. The Braxtons also enjoy the company of Sampson, their Labrador Retriever/Terrier.
TOC Leadership Responsibilities
As the Founder, I exercise leadership for the congregation through preaching, teaching, scholarship, social activism, counseling, and pastoral care. I provide executive management, direction, and evaluation for all aspects of TOC’s ministry in consultation with the Board of Directors.
Additionally, I serve as the chief spokesperson and storyteller for TOC. Using traditional and emerging media, I present and interpret TOC’s mission and vision to local and national audiences.
Finally, I am the Chief Visionary Officer for the congregation. I listen with my “third ear” and watch with my “third eye” to discern the subtle and audacious ways God wants TOC to embody the divine dream of radically inclusive love.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Rarely do we find [people] who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
Mother Teresa: “Kindness has converted more people than zeal, science, or eloquence.”
Why The Open Church is for me?
Our world has such a thin imagination concerning the beauty and necessity of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Unfortunately, religious communities have often misrepresented God’s inclusive intentions. I want to build a community with a thick moral imagination. That kind of imagination will enable us to appreciate the diverse manifestations of divinity and the many ways we are connected as sacred siblings.
In order to counteract the plethora of unhealthy congregations promulgating “bad religion” that asphyxiates people, there needs to be a growing critical mass of vibrant, healthy congregations practicing “good religion” that liberates people. The Open Church attempts to set people free to love beyond color, culture, or creed.
What gifts have you brought to this community?
Vision-casting: Vision involves the presentation of dynamic possibilities that inspire imaginative action. My rich experiences in ministry, education, and civic institutions have involved teaching diverse individuals and groups how to imagine and implement new possibilities that create common ground for the common good.
Teaching and Preaching: Teaching and preaching are in my blood. My mother was a teacher and my father was a preacher. I was genetically “predestined” for a life of teaching and preaching by my parents’ sterling examples.
My mother was a celebrated kindergarten teacher in Salem, Virginia, my hometown. She transformed lesson planning and classroom organization into high art forms. From my mother, I inherited a love for the classroom and a profound appreciation for the life-long transformations that classrooms inspire.
My father was a compassionate and visionary minister significantly concerned about social justice. Across more than forty-five years, he served as pastor of several Baptist congregations in Virginia. From my father, I inherited a love for the pulpit and an abiding respect for the power of carefully-crafted words to uplift downtrodden hearts and trouble, if not topple, unjust social systems.
Laughter: There is nothing more annoying than uptight, uninteresting, “religious” people. I avoid such people at all costs. I laugh often because God wants us to enjoy the abundant life amid our trials and tragedies. I laugh often at myself to keep my feet planted and my head from getting too big.
Finally, laughter for me is theological. I understand resurrection faith—belief in God’s extraordinary ability to bring life from death—as a marvelous form of laughter. Easter is God’s cosmic chuckling at the presumptuousness of death. Because of the resurrection, death no longer can parade around as an ultimate reality. In God, death is penultimate. Life is ultimate.
As a pastor, I regularly accompany congregants to the cemetery to bury their loved ones. Prior to dashing dirt on caskets and declaring, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” my soul can laugh amid the sadness. These farewells are not final. God has promised a family reunion!
In which ways has the TOC community aided in your personal/spiritual growth?
TOC has made me more honest. Establishing a congregation—creating something from virtually nothing—is the most rewarding and difficult professional task I have ever undertaken. The work of embodying radically inclusive love is so needed and so urgent. Thus, I have little tolerance now for shallow thinking, trite religious platitudes, or people who are always afraid to try something new or think something different. This is my third pastorate, and this time, I am really learning how to speak the truth in love.
I love God deeply, and yet I fuss with God frequently. I pray a lot with my eyes open, and yet I cuss about as much as I pray. To paraphrase the words of one well-known minister, I quit my job at TOC every night, and then by God’s grace I sign back up every morning. TOC is a loving, flexible, grace-filled community that allows me to live creatively and courageously within these tensions—all to the glory of God.