Attentiveness: Life’s Rhythms and Race
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist
Character cannot be formed without developing rhythms of life. Patterns for living make it possible to develop virtues. In a similar vein, cultures are shaped around and in patterns of living. In fact, the 9th grade definition of culture that I learned when taking “world cultures” makes this very clear. Cultures are made up of “learned patterns of behavior of any given society.” So, both character and culture are built around patterns of repeated thoughts, actions and behaviors.
Racism will not have a chance of flourishing in a culture that has healthy patterns of Christian community. Last week we mentioned the need to starve racism through both relationships and changing systems or cultures. When we establish patterns of work and life, we are doing both: creating places and spaces for healthy relationships and structuring the institutional patterns. What do we mean by “structuring institutional patterns?” Here are some starters:
- President’s Cabinet: Every month the Cabinet meets, and at every meeting there are discussions, readings, guests and/or Bible studies to help us grow in our areas of equity and inclusion for ethnic and racial minorities. This will be done as long as I am president.
- Hiring practices: Our new practice of hiring at all levels of the seminary will reflect the diversity of the seminary and of global Christianity. This is also a formative practice.
- Syllabi: The faculty has started reviewing their syllabi for the inclusion of racial and ethnic communities in our reading, teaching, and in class discussions. An institutional syllabi review process will begin in 2021.
- The Gordon-Conwell statement “Theology of Diversity, Inclusion and Equality” is being reviewed by a faculty committee to be fully owned by the faculty for the future. When revised it will be brought back to the Board of Trustees for review.
- Student Evaluations: A faculty sub-committee is working on a question that will be added to all student course evaluations starting in the spring semester related to the professor’s awareness of race, ethnicity, and class in the course (including in the classroom experience).
- Student Association: On the Hamilton campus, the Student Association is organizing weekly lunches this semester to give students, faculty, and staff time to talk together about experiences of race and ethnicity.
This is the beginning, but each of these relate to healthy rhythms for the Gordon-Conwell community and our life together. The type of institutional development we are talking about must become part of our rhythms in hiring, in reviewing syllabi, working together, and in reviewing faculty.
What is the goal in all of this? I think we can look at the goal in three ways. First, our goal is for prospective students from all cultures and ethnicities to see something of themselves and their culture in the community known as Gordon-Conwell. They can see some of their Korean, Black, Hispanic, or Caribbean history in our church history classes and readings. They would know there are some faculty who share the same heritage. And in worship, they would recognize some of the liturgies, music, and prayers from their own church of origin.
A second goal we have is to create a thriving diverse community for forming global leaders for the church of the 21st century. Diverse communities of scholarship and work tend to outperform and are more creative than homogenous communities. Included in this diversity is women in positions of leadership. So, our first goal is from the beginning: the time a potential student visits a campus, and they find themselves in this community. The second is for the sake of Christian thriving while in the community. The third goal has to do with the end.
The third way of looking at the goal in all of this is more eschatological. It is the unifying vision of heaven in Revelation that is a multi-cultural mission vision (“I looked and I saw people from every tongue and tribe and people and nation…”), and a vision of worship (“…standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”) and a vision of justice (“…and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”).
And so, before Thanksgiving I will preach on this vision. The sermon title is simple and aspirational, even inspirational: “Many languages, on Lamb, and no tears.”
Scott W. Sunquist, the new President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Monday morning on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses and good ideas.