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Response to anonymous note and invitation to dialogue - Message from Chief Diversity Officer

Dear Bethel family,

As many of you now know, some person or persons slipped notes under the office doors of some faculty in AC 3d floor. The notes expressed strong and urgent opinion around Black Lives Matter and illegal immigration.

For the purposes of this letter I’m going to assume the sincerity of the author(s) and that this is not an expression of a growing trend in American culture of getting viral attention or profit through the manufacture of outrage (see the Tucker Max story in the documentary, “(Dis)Honesty--The Truth About Lies”).

Each of us has the right, indeed perhaps the duty, to stand up and make our voices heard about challenging issues. Unfortunately, too often this is done in non-constructive and harmful ways (whether intended or not).

Is undocumented immigration a challenge? Yes. Are there challenging issues pertaining to race in America? Absolutely. But the anonymous statement contained very negative, exclusionary language and a spirit deeply hurtful to people in our Bethel community. One group that in the U.S. has been reduced to a despised, dehumanized, unwanted other (“illegal immigrants”) is used ostensibly (via their deportation) to help another historically devalued group (black people) who also appears in terms and assumptions very other. 

Students who take such Bethel courses as “Christianity and Western Culture” or the humanities course “Western Humanity in Christian Perspective” explore complex questions around the relationship between Christians and culture in order to understand why and how Christians in differing social-cultural circumstances have continued to divide into numerous expressions, sects, and even whole new religious alternatives.

Too often these differences have led to animosity and prejudice, and still further to acts of terrible injustice and violence contrary to the teachings and ministry of the Lord we claim to love and serve. For among our foundational Christian principles are that we are never to treat anyone except as we would want to be treated, that the proof that we love God is love for our neighbor, and that “neighbor” must include those who are outside of our group and are (but should not be) “other” in our hearts.

Just as every one of us was once rebellious and undeserving to be included in the family of God, but through Christ have been forgiven, loved, and adopted into God’s family, so too we are to model love, forgiveness, and inclusion to those outside of our family or group. Put simply, Christianity is supposed to end otherness--racial, immigrant, or otherwise. If we cannot or will not do this then there is truly nothing remarkable about Christianity. For Christ himself said: “If you love only those who love you, what credit do you have? Even non-believers can do that.”

Bethel University seeks to model a learning, living, and working community where we can approach differences in a Christ-like spirit of love and understanding as those who are called to be salt and light, and are singled out by Christ as blessed for being peacemakers for the kingdom of God. Jesus said that our unity and love for one another as those who claim to be Christ-followers was the evidence that God sent Christ into the world to save and transform it.

If you have concerns and disagreements, I urge you to find a way to engage others outside of the relative safety and confirmations of your group in an open, constructive, and accountable spirit of true dialogue, not in anonymous notes, not from the safety of social media, not in-groups, or any other one-way method that starts a fire that burns others but keeps you at a safe distance.

Here is what I strongly recommend:

  • Work with professors, students, pastoral leaders, and others to create opportunities for you to be involved in actual dialogue with people who are different from you and think differently. Everyone (and I mean everyone) involved should be prepared to be on a learning curve. Our larger culture of public speeches, debates, rallies, commentary, opinion, apologetics, social media bombs, and yes, anonymous statements, is the antithesis to dialogue. In other words, dialogue is not something that people in mixed group settings are likely to be very good at.
  • Pray, pray, pray. We can do our sincere best, but only God can do what God can do, and we need God in this desperately.
  • Be humble and committed to knowing one another and forming relationships in dialogue with those who are different from you. Such a process (and this takes time face-to-face) allows the possibility of our becoming more human to each other, and as a result can allow us to engage differences more constructively, with mutual benefit in mind as opposed to zero-sum game. This too would be counter to much in U.S. culture.
  • Pray and ask God’s grace, wisdom, courage, and strength to commit to be reconcilers and peacemakers across the many and vast differences that divide and harm humanity and grieve the heart of God. And don’t be surprised if God asks you to do such crazy things as sacrificing your comforts and comfort zones to follow He who had no place to lay his head, or to die to yourself for the good of others different from you, or to put to death the endless justifications you will come up with for not engaging in this work.
  • Email me if you are interested in starting a dialogue group. I’d be happy to be a resource and partner.

To God’s glory and our neighbors’ good,

Ruben

 

Ruben Rivera, Ph.D.

Chief Diversity Officer

Associate Professor of History

Bethel University

St. Paul, MN