White Jesus harms Westmont diversity
Views 20 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 4 - 14 - 2019 | By: Izzi Mata
In Isaiah 7:14 and later Matthew 1:23 we are told that “the virgin… will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel (which means, ‘God with us’).” The phrase “God with us” was originally a reminder to the exiled Israelites that God had not forsaken them. However, the birth and death of Christ expanded to include gentiles. People often read these words and imagine themselves and their immediate communities. This is because it is difficult to picture ourselves as part of both a global community and a “cloud of witnesses” that has encompassed people throughout history. Westmont College wants to bridge the gap, as seen in its five planks, Christian, Liberal Arts, Residential, Undergraduate, and— not least of all— Global. However, the white Jesus imagery in its prayer chapel stands in direct contrast to this goal.
According to CollegeFactual.com, Westmont is ranked “above the national average” for “ethnic diversity”, placed at #720 out of 2718 colleges and universities for its 40/60 ratio of non-white to white students. A portion of these students come from other countries, as Westmont is proudly tied to programs, such as Bridge to Rwanda, which enable and encourage students from around the world to pursue collegiate education in the United States. Furthermore, students are encouraged to engage in study abroad programs, and the college hopes that the majority of its students will go abroad. If students are not capable of engaging in these programs, they are still taught in depth about other cultures and their histories in their GE courses and often the courses specific to their major as well.
Why then, is the only depiction of Jesus on Westmont’s campus a trope of the nationalistic faith and practice that students are steered away from? Why are influential members of the college community, such as the Trollingers and Robert Gundry, not more concerned by the hypocrisy posed by this image and the image the college seeks to project?
In his own Op-Ed, Gundry asserted that “to darken the skin of Jesus . . . would spoil the symbolism of his identifying himself with Nancy Voskuyl.” Yet this flies in the face of the promise that Jesus would be “God with us.” It was not proclaimed that he would be “God with Nancy Voskyul.” The chapel itself as well as the plaque inside already memorialize this student who has been dead for 60 years; why should its depiction of Christ do the same when the space is intended for all students to come and meet with God?
The removal of this white, nationalistic depiction of Christ would, as the original Op Ed penned by Fong, Mata and Stowell said, “be a manifestation of Westmont’s commitment to witnessing to the entirety of the kingdom of God.” Simply put, Westmont cannot, with clean conscience, continue to pride itself in its diversity and global engagement if it ignores the hypocrisy posed by its most central symbol of worship and community.