Educating Toward Reconciliation
By Kerry Dearborn, SPU Professor of Theological Studies
Photo by Mike Siegel
Professor Kerry Dearborn
“Why are there banners on campus that highlight ‘reconciliation’?” a student asked one afternoon in class. “What does SPU mean by ‘reconciliation’?” and “What does our John Perkins Center for
Reconciliation do?” other students inquired.
This wasn’t just any class, but a group of upper-division students, most of whom were theology majors. The course topic was the doctrine of Jesus Christ. I was pleased that these students were eager to make the connection between what they were learning in class and the central biblical and theological commitment to reconciliation that Seattle Pacific University has embraced.
I explained that reconciliation is a priority at SPU because it is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The God of love, who is revealed to us in Scripture and who has come to us in Jesus Christ, desires not only our own personal forgiveness and transformation, but also the healing of all of our relationships. To share in the kingdom of God, for which Jesus taught his disciples to pray and to seek, is to participate in Jesus’ work of reconciliation. It is to be trained and empowered to love God with our entire being, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and even to learn to love our enemies.
So began a rich new adventure for me. Soon after this conversation, I was asked to chair SPU’s Faculty Committee on Diversity with a particular charge from Vice President for Academic Affairs Les Steele: to expand understanding of what it means to “educate for reconciliation.” In other words, what are the academic implications of the Christ-centered call for reconciliation that is at the heart of Seattle Pacific’s commitment to diversity?
SPU has long had a Faculty Committee on Diversity — for biblical and theological reasons, rather than merely to conform to pressure for political correctness. We seek to be a community that models reconciliation because Jesus Christ — by whom and through whom everything in heaven and on earth was created and in whom all things are reconciled — calls us both to celebrate our differences, and to live out the reality of having been made one in him (Galatians 3:28). As the new Adam, Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience, and his death on the cross has broken down the dividing walls between us and created one new humanity.
Faculty members are called to reflect the University’s commitment to biblical reconciliation both in what we teach and in how we teach. This can be seen in the Undergraduate Degree Program Learning Outcomes, which include goals that our graduates “demonstrate a global perspective” and “engage with diverse others” in ways that “facilitate reconciliation” and “promote the development of community.”
In response to our charge, last year the Faculty Committee on Diversity offered quarterly workshops for faculty focusing on the theme of reconciliation and implications for the classroom. In partnership with the vice president’s office and the SPU Center for Scholarship and Faculty Development, the committee also helped to administer a grant program for
faculty who proposed ways to integrate themes of reconciliation more fully into their classes. Because of these grants, more students will gain an understanding of the implications of reconciliation for their work in physics, education, theology, psychology, literature, communication, history, and music.
Finally, the committee began to develop a new interdisciplinary minor in reconciliation, to be housed in the School of Theology and linked with the Global and Urban Ministry program. Students would take courses that deepen their biblical and theological understanding of reconciliation, and also study
ethnic, class, gender, and racial barriers to
reconciliation. SPU’s Perkins Center, a bridge-building force in the city, is ready to help coordinate service-learning opportunities for the minor so that the practice of reconciliation can become a way of life for students.
One student wrote to the committee recently, “If we are to become active participants in ongoing reconciliation, which is a … mission of this University and an essential piece of our calling as Christians, then we clearly need to become educated about reconciliation.”
Students are taking the call to reconciliation ministry so seriously that they have launched clubs and small groups to work on issues of racial reconciliation. They have volunteered in some of the world’s most divided places, such as Bethlehem, where one student spent part of last summer being trained in the work of reconciliation among Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Other students participate in reconciliation opportunities throughout this city, guided by the Perkins Center.
John Perkins once said in an SPU Chapel service, “The word ‘reconciliation’ implies a situation of brokenness and pain. Christian discipleship involves the cultivation of a
character able to enter into the pain of others.” It is a privilege to work and serve at a place that is committed to graduating students with the competence and the character to participate in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.
Kerry Dearborn has served for more than 10 years on the Christian International Scholarship Foundation, whose mission is to assist leaders from the Two-Thirds World in obtaining Ph.D.s in theological, biblical, and intercultural studies. She is also a member of the board of the Stewardship Foundation, which funds ministries of reconciliation and justice.
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