A Gospel View of Our World
SPU Seeks to Become a Model of Reconciliation and Embrace
ON SEPTEMBER 20, 2000, as part of my annual
State of the University Address, I stood before the Seattle Pacific
University community and called us to intensify our commitment
to racial reconciliation. I had no idea at the time where this
call might lead us.
But I felt a deep conviction, that if we are serious about our mission to engage the culture and change the world, we must step up to the challenge of race and dividedness and exclusion that has plagued our world far too long. Most of all,
I felt we had to try to craft a vision of hope that is rooted in the gospel of Jesus.
Of course, I knew there were many on our campus who cared deeply
about this issue and that much had been accomplished over time
at SPU. But I was convinced we had to take huge new steps toward
articulating a coherent purpose for what we were trying to bring
From left: Philip Eaton,
Tali Hairston, and
Pastor Harvey Drake
listen to Elizabeth
of John Perkins,
speak at the opening ceremony for the John
Perkins Center at SPU.
Might it be possible, I thought, right here at Seattle Pacific
University, to discover some of the keys to tearing down walls
that divide? Might it be possible, to use the language of Miroslav
Volf, to get at the conditions of exclusion and find our
way forward to become a community of embrace?
Might we bear witness to the hope we find in Jesus Christ, the
hope of grace and love, forgiveness, and unity? Might we claim
for our community the radical notion that God wants all of his
children to flourish together?
Might we actually make a real difference through the very gifts
we have been given as a Christian university — through the radical
call of a gospel view of the world, through the gifts of learning
and scholarship, through our clear commitment to grace-filled community,
through our distinctive mission to engage the culture? Could it
be that we might actually model reconciliation? Could it be that
reconciliation might become part of the very fabric of our institution?
How presumptuous of us, how naïve, our critics might say,
just another gesture of political correctness. Others might claim
our campus is too “white” to think we have anything to say. Others
might accuse us of indulging in “white guilt,” a motivation that
is almost never healthy.
I understand these notes of caution and suspicion, and I understand
we have a lot to learn and we have trust to earn. But we are moving
forward. Sometimes groping our way, we are determined to take one
step at a time on the long road toward reconciliation and embrace.
I stand at this moment quite simply amazed at what is going on
across our campus. Something pretty profound is happening. We have
begun to talk more openly about race and reconciliation. We have
recruited ethnically diverse students more intentionally, and our
numbers are changing quite dramatically. Faculty reading groups
are discussing works such as Miroslav Volf's Exclusion and
Embrace and Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Our
friends Gary and Barbara Ames contributed $1 million toward a strong
scholarship program, and we now celebrate 15 Ames Scholars, ethnic
minority student leaders who are making a huge impact on our campus.
We hosted 13 CCCU colleges and universities for a three-day conference
on our campus to discuss reconciliation, a project supported by
Deborah Wilds of the Gates Foundation.
We are building relationships and forming partnerships in the
urban community, and we are adding ethnic minority members to our
Board of Trustees. We hired two key leaders in Tali Hairston and
Joe Snell to give leadership to our efforts, and we brought in
Pastor Alex Gee as a wonderful coach and encourager. This fall,
we held a President's Symposium on Reconciliation and, under the
guidance of Vice President Les Steele, conducted a Day of Common
Learning on the topic. We also welcomed 400 multicultural student
leaders to Seattle Pacific for a national conference.
Two years ago, a group of students invited me to go with them
to Jackson, Mississippi. They were headed to Jackson, as part of
our SPRINT program, to work with the great civil rights leader
John Perkins, and they insisted that their president come along.
Well, after nudging my calendar in many different ways, I went
to Jackson that December, and I had the privilege to see the work
of Dr. Perkins and to sit with our students and listen to him deliver
some of the most moving and penetrating Bible teaching I have ever
heard. The theme was reconciliation. Tali Hairston and I then gathered
with John and his team and began to think together how SPU might
partner with this great leader. How could we extend the teachings,
the hopeful vision, and something of the legacy of Dr. Perkins
into our own efforts for reconciliation?
Out of those conversations and many more came the John Perkins
Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development
that we inaugurated on October 20, 2004. Through the work of the
Center, we will build bridges into our urban community, create
partnerships with urban churches and organizations, launch scholarship
and reflection, and change the shape and face of our own campus
community. We are thrilled to open this new chapter in our work
and are grateful to Dr. Perkins for partnering with us.
So, something is happening indeed. We feel blessed, and we are
thankful. As we move into the future, my hope is that reconciliation
becomes part of the fabric of our institution, the natural way
we go about our work. This strong commitment to reconciliation
will be a clear part of our 2014 Blueprint for Excellence.We
will continue to focus on dismantling those walls that divide,
but our great desire is to craft a vision of hope, not just through
words but through our actions. We actually seek to model reconciliation.
As I have said from the very beginning, we are serious about this
work, and we will stay with this for the long haul.
— BY PHILIP W. EATON, PRESIDENT
— PHOTO BY GREG SCHNEIDER
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