A Westmont to belong to
Views 32 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 3 - 8 - 2019 | By: Alister Chapman and Felicia Song
Professor of History
Associate Professor of Sociology
Here at Westmont, we are committed to cultivating critical thinking, civic engagement, and care for the vulnerable. From this perspective, the students who wrote the Westmont White Jesus petition are doing exactly what we want. They have done research, consulted mentors, and expressed concerns with grace and self-restraint. Their actions should make us proud.
Let’s be clear: no matter what anyone may think about the prayer chapel window, our students’ effort is not only or even primarily about a window. Our students are calling us to explore how matters of race are embedded in our college’s institutional culture. To talk about white portrayals of Jesus or the whiteness of evangelicalism can be unsettling. But there are important questions here that are worth wrestling with.
In his book, “Insider Outsider,” Bryan Loritts relates that he often asks seminary students to define “black preaching” and “black theology.” They all have an answer. But when he then asks them to define “white preaching” and “white theology,” there is silence. Loritts goes on:
“It’s awfully hard to define what one has normalized and mainstreamed. It’s like asking fish to describe water. This is the challenge we face with white evangelicalism. It has been the very water of mainstream American life for four hundred years.”
Matters of race are hard to discuss in American culture, in our churches, and here at Westmont. Yet, these historically-rooted struggles are increasingly relevant as the US moves toward becoming a minority-majority culture and much of the vibrancy in global Christianity is seen in Asian, Hispanic, and African cultures. In this light, the challenges we are experiencing at Westmont are a microcosm of what is happening nationally and globally.
Our students have done us a service by raising these knotty matters. They have put a finger on the fact that often we find it comfortable to avoid these conversations. The conversation they want is one that seriously considers how race is inextricably inflected in our campus life together, just as it is everywhere else.
Instead of viewing their raised voices as stirring controversy, let’s see this as an opportunity to live into God’s reconciling work in our hearts, the Church, and our country. The journey will be hard for all of us, regardless of our race. It will take spiritual discipline, extensions of grace, and efforts to forgive. It will take the redemptive work of Jesus to bridge our divisions, heal our wounds, and drive away our fears.
Yet, we believe this must be possible because of the power of the Cross. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and to receive the reconciliation He offers--not just with God, but with one another, and in the institutional cultures that we inhabit. Rather than laying low in the vain hope that these challenging issues will pass, we have an opportunity to strive toward the vision of shalom we all believe is promised in Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is the Westmont we want to belong to. This is the Westmont we believe can exist.