A Christ-Centered Community’s Response

These have been days of great sorrow, anger, and confusion as we have had to face yet again the terrible effects of racial injustice and conflict.  Words seem cheap at moments like these.  But what we say does matter.  What we do matters even more.

When I cannot understand these terrible events, when my heart is flooded with grief and my thoughts are consumed with anger and blame, I have found that I find direction by affirming the bedrock values and commitments that anchor my life.

So what are those bedrock values and commitments for our university?

At the heart of Indiana Wesleyan University is our love for and commitment to Jesus Christ.  Here is what we say about ourselves.

IWU is a Christ-centered academic community committed to changing the world . . .

 IWU is a truly great Christian university serving the world.

 IWU is unapologetically Christ-centered.

 How should a Jesus-centered academic community be present in a nation threatening to tear itself apart over racial conflict and moral confusion?

We must be a community of compassion. Our immediate impulse is often to ask why, to seek an explanation, to defend, to criticize.  But in times of great tragedy and injustice the first response of the people of Jesus should simply be one of compassion for those who suffer.

If this is true, let us say without equivocation that we care deeply for the well-being of our colleagues, friends, and neighbors who are black Americans and who suffer from the awful legacy of racial injustice.

We care deeply for our law enforcement officers who are usually the first to deal with the aftermath of suffering.

We would be horrified if one of our students was shot dead during a traffic stop, if one of our faculty colleagues was killed during a police encounter.  We would be devastated if one of our campus security officers was shot dead as they sought to protect and serve us.  As a Christ-centered community, perhaps our first duty is to affirm that we cannot accept an America so broken by racial injustice, misunderstanding, and conflict.

We must be a community of redemption.  If we cannot accept an America so broken by racial conflict, then we must seek to heal it.  We must drink deeply at the well of hope that the God of redemption can redeem what to us seems hopeless.

We ourselves are being redeemed – bought back from the precipice of our misguided ways by the love and grace of Jesus.  Our words, policies, and actions toward our black neighbors have at times been anything but exemplary of the love and grace of Christ.  We have experienced grace and forgiveness.

A redeemed people must be redeeming people.  We, in turn, must look for ways to pull our relationships and our communities back from the abyss of perpetuated injustice, misunderstanding, and conflict.

We must be a community of self-sacrifice.  Jesus is the ultimate example of self-giving, self-sacrificing love.  He did not seek his own.  He emptied himself of his privilege and power.  He entered a world of hurt, confusion, misunderstanding, and injustice.  And so must we.  As Timothy Keller and John Inazu have written, “There is no principled legal or theological argument that looks only to the good of Christians over the interests of others.”  We must seek the good of all, and we must seek it in the good news of God’s will for our lives and our communities.

We must be a community of engagement.  Jesus did not withdraw from the messy and painful reality of life in first century Palestine.  He touched those whom others would never touch.  He ate with those whom others shunned.  He rescued those condemned by others.  In fact, there were no “others” with Jesus.  And so there must be none with us.  We dare not hold ourselves aloof from the pain of our neighbors, from our own pain.  We must engage in the struggles for dignity, for wholeness and holiness, for justice, for well-being.

So let me finish by telling you about two ways that I hope we will engage in coming weeks.

First, I have asked President Alex Huskey, President of Ivy Tech in Marion, and Dr. Brad Lindsay, Superintendent of Marion Community Schools to join IWU in hosting a Marion Summit on Community Safety and Well-Being.  They have agreed.  We will announce the dates for this Summit very soon.

Our local paper has reported more shootings and injuries in our Marion community than ever before. Other communities are being torn apart by shootings of police officers, and by shootings of unarmed black men.  We all have a huge interest in living in a community that is safe.  We need to do all we can to ensure that we don’t suffer the fate of other communities.  I believe together we can make this a topic of discussion and action among ourselves our community members who are stakeholders. We have wonderful resources in our leaders, and by facilitating conversation, knowledge, and possibly action items, we can take a pro-active position for Marion and Grant County.

I want to work with Mrs. Audrey Hahn to ask how our Regional Education centers can do similar things in the other cities throughout Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana where IWU serves.

Second, within our own community, we are going to continue to educate ourselves on how to live together well as a diverse community.  In October we are going to invite Dr. Lorna Hernandez Jarvis and Dr. Deirdre Johnston from Hope University to bring their Intergroup Dialogue and Diversity Education Institute to IWU to train over 30 of us in the unique skills needed for effective intergroup dialog.  They will help us learn how to reframe conflict as an opportunity for Christian ministry.

Last week I was privileged to attend the Annual Ecumenical Service of Indianapolis Black Expo.  It was held at the great Light of the World Church in Indianapolis.  Pastor Jeffrey A. Johnson of Eastern Star Church spoke powerfully about the experience and hope of black Americans.  It was a deeply moving experience to be present among a body of fellow believers as they faced their reality, celebrated their strength, comforted themselves in their grief, confessed their anger to one another and to God, and challenged themselves to persevere and overcome all that threatens their wellbeing.  My own heart was stirred and strengthened.

When we read about and consume images of violence and grief we can be left without hope, twisted by anger, frustrated by our inability to change.  When I sat in the presence of my brothers and sisters as they worshipped in the midst of their pain and anger, these wonderful neighbors, friends, and colleagues proved themselves to be stronger than their pain and grief.  I was challenged and strengthened to work for the good of the communities we serve.

Together we are stronger than the sinful legacy of injustice.

O Christ, in whom the fullness of God dwells,

You are deep within our lives and all life,

You are deep within this place and every place.

In this place and this time and in the depths of our own souls

We draw from the inner well of your love

That we too might be filled with the fullness of God

And that you might do within us and our world

Far more than we could ever ask or imagine. (J. Philip Newell)