Westmont's White Jesus goes to Ohio
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Westmont’s White Jesus Controversy has made its way to Ohio, following a blog published by Dr. Trollinger a few weeks ago.
Trollinger is a professor in the History and Religious Studies departments at the University of Dayton (UD) in Dayton, Ohio, which is a Catholic University. No rookie to the Evangelical community, he grew up in the Evangelical Church and attended youth groups all through his teen years. Still, even as an earnest young Christian, Trollinger could not understand why his church opposed the Civil Rights Movement, which was happening at the time. As he learned about the Bible and Jesus, he could not see how his Church could oppose something that seemed to him so gospel-oriented.
On March 30, Trollinger published a blog post titled “White Jesus at Westmont College: The Controversy” on his website “rightingamerica.net.“ In the blog, Trollinger shares about how he learned about the controversy while at Westmont for the Conversation on the Liberal Arts Conference. This sparked his interest and he went on to do some research, learning about the history of the prayer chapel and reading the multiple Horizon articles on the topic.
In the blog, Trollinger shares his own thoughts and opinions after giving an overview of the whole controversy. Regarding the window itself, Trollinger acknowledges the risks of replacing it and upsetting donors, but includes the idea of “adding--in the chapel and/or other central locations on campus--a variety of ethnically diverse portrayals of Jesus.” Trollinger then ends by addressing a wider issue. “Evangelical colleges are forever trying to thread the needle, moving to become more progressive ... while at the same time not alienating their fundamentalist constituency. Will there be an evangelical college that simply decides to quit ‘looking over the right shoulder’ and instead remake itself in the hopes of creating a new constituency?”
In an interview with Trollinger this past week, Trollinger shared his belief that “All America has a Whiteness problem, but evangelicals especially do, and a White Jesus problem. We need to address that.”
Trollinger compared the stained glass to Confederate monuments and statues in Ohio. The statues don’t have to come down, he said, but “if they are going to stay, there better be a memorial to victims of lynching or slavery nearby.” To him, taking down the window seems unlikely. Westmont’s administration, he says, has to take into account the constituency of the donors, most of whom Trollinger said hold more conservative, fundamentalist views. Still, Trollinger finds it more than fair to add a Black Jesus or a Brown Jesus.
To Westmont directly, Trollinger says, “It’s all well and good to say that it would be nice if we could just pretend the past is the past and we don’t have to deal with this. The truth is that the past isn’t dead or the past. We are still dealing with the original sin of slavery and we have to deal with it openly. We can’t pretend it’s gone or wasn’t as bad as it was or as bad as it is today. The only way to go forward is to directly address the topic of race. It’s not just an evangelical problem. You can pretend it’s not there, but that is a huge mistake and, well, it’s not Christian.”