Seattle Pacific Seminary, now University, began out of a dream for an education that encouraged “the development and proper training of the intellectual and spiritual faculties.” From the late 19th century to today, SPU has been an expression of the Free Methodist Church’s educational vision, which has committed to a Christ-centered holiness that prioritizes justice for the poor, the centrality of the Christian Scriptures for a Christian education, a liberal arts education that equips leaders for the manifold vocations of the kingdom, a world-wide perspective on education and mission, and lastly, a non-sectarian collaborative vision that has allowed for diversity of thought under the unity of Jesus Christ within a post-secondary educational environment. This is a noble heritage, and one that the SPU Board of Trustees, senior leaders, members of our faculty and staff, and generations of students have chosen to embody for over a century. Though the University has developed over those years and continues to adapt to its current context, it has continually chosen to maintain this important ecclesial relationship. The following document compiled, written, and ratified by the Board of Trustees is an acknowledgment that this educational dream does not live only in the past, but that it must be lived out in today’s context, helping to further nurture the future of the University and its educational mission while also maintaining its partnership with the Free Methodist church.
The partnership between the church and the University is important, but not without challenges. This relationship has recently been tested by disagreements around same sex marriage and the different expressions of human sexuality which have divided many Protestant churches. And when this debate occurs on the heels of COVID-19, eight years of enrollment decline, a budget deficit, various lawsuits, and national political polarization, the test has proven critical. Within this fragile and contentious campus environment, the Board of Trustees voted twice, over a period of two years, to maintain the current employee lifestyle expectations and thus also to renew its relationship with the University’s founding denomination. Subsequently, this decision prompted faculty and staff, senior leaders, and students, with various viewpoints, to ask the Board to clarify the educational mission and articulate a vision for the University. The Enduring Commitments represents the response of the Board to these questions with the hope of providing greater direction going forward for the University community.
The Enduring Commitments articulates the Board’s conviction for Seattle Pacific University to remain true to its founding by the Free Methodist Church and desire for an ongoing relationship with the denomination that is future facing, mutually beneficial, and local, national, and international in its expression. The Board also seeks to balance our distinctive Wesleyan identity with our historically orthodox, clearly evangelical, and genuinely ecumenical influences that define our community of faith as detailed in the SPU Statement of Faith.
Some will view the recent Board decisions as sectarian or as a betrayal of the University’s “genuinely ecumenical” pillar outlined in the Statement of Faith. However, the reach of an ecumenical embrace must come about from a particular ecclesial location. The work of ecumenism is not an ecclesially rootless endeavor, for by attempting to be “of every church” the institution becomes of no church at all. The University’s ecumenism, rooted in SPU’s Wesleyan holiness identity, is an educational commitment to theological diversity of thought “grounded in historic orthodoxy and a common and vital faith in Christ.” For SPU, being “genuinely ecumenical” is not a neutral stance seeking the least common denominator for theological agreement, rather it is the pursuit of a diverse and thus enriching dialogue while holding fast to the University’s ecclesial distinctions. Our ecclesial roots and commitment to faithful dialogue will continue to secure Seattle Pacific University’s future. This is what the SPU Board of Trustees has affirmed and continues to affirm.
Educationally, the seven commitments identify elements of an academic vision that are both descriptive and aspirational. They describe longstanding commitments to an education that intentionally integrates faith with learning and seeks to cultivate character, wisdom, and a sense of calling, while also preparing our increasingly diverse students for meaningful careers, leadership, and service. The seven commitments are also aspirational in that they, taken as a whole, cast a vision of a diverse, grace-filled, academic community that speaks truth in love, expresses disagreement and opposing viewpoints with respect and civility, and that seek God’s shalom, justice, and reconciliation for all its members. The vision also looks to the city of Seattle and the world beyond SPU. It acknowledges the lived realities characteristic of today’s urban environment and the enormity of needs worldwide. This vision is a call to strategically marshal our academic and intellectual resources to engage challenges directly and address real world problems with research-informed solutions, wise judgement, and compassion. The heart of our educational program is Jesus Christ and the transforming power of the Gospel and the hope of God’s shalom.
Yet, the institutional and broader higher education contexts, including those unique to Christian higher education, cannot be minimized. Today’s higher education landscape is vastly different than the one in which the University was founded. Higher education institutions built for the industrial era are having to make the rapid shift to a knowledge economy that is increasingly global, technologically advanced, interconnected, and demographically different than any previous period. Declining enrollments and the high cost of attending college are raising serious questions about the value of a higher education degree, the efficacy of the current business model, and the need for additional revenue streams beyond tuition increases and relatively modest endowment contributions. There is also a desire on the part of students for easily accessible academic programs and services. Christian higher education institutions continue to be impacted by declining numbers in the North American church, challenges to religious freedom, and ongoing political and cultural divisions. Seattle Pacific is not immune to these challenges.
It is important to note that the Enduring Commitments is not a strategic plan or a vision statement in the traditional planning sense. It is also not the new University vision designed to replace “Engaging the Culture, Changing the World.” But rather, the document is intended to serve as a guide for administrative and academic decision-making by underscoring SPU’s core values, beliefs, and commitments that are foundational to institutional strategic planning. In this regard, it is a first step toward a more robust strategic planning process and vision statement.
The plan now is to identify meaningful ways for internal and external stakeholders to engage with the seven commitments and to have dialogue about the implications for SPU going forward. It is further hoped that the dialogue would inform current and future planning, curriculum revision, program prioritization, and emerging budget decisions.
The seven commitments are the result of three months of engagement on the part of the Board of Trustees with core University documents, webpages, and additional readings on Wesleyan/Free Methodist beliefs and core values and models of Christian higher education.
The process was facilitated by Dr. Margaret Diddams, former SPU associate provost, and former provost at Wheaton College. Once the core commitments were identified and affirmed by the full Board, individual trustees contributed to written sections resulting in a first draft. Dr. Pete Menjares, interim president, previewed the seven commitments in his State of the University Address and subsequently sought feedback from select individuals and groups across campus. Dr. Menjares was responsible for finalizing the draft and enlisted the assistance of Alison Estep, Dr. Brian Lugioyo, and Ruth Jacobsen. The final version of the Enduring Commitments was unanimously approved by the Board on October 21, 2022.
Board of Trustee contributors:
Dr. Pete Menjares
Dr. George Parker
Leslie Vander Griend
Rev. Dr. Matt Whitehead
Dr. Deborah Wilds
Dr. Joyce Williams