Here at Andrews, we explore how diverse peoples have enriched the human experience and develop the interpersonal abilities to respect, appreciate and interact with those of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, abilities, experiences and backgrounds. This blog is one method of said exploration.
Managed by Michael T. Nixon, vice president for Diversity & Inclusion, this blog is a place for thoughtful discourse on all issues surrounding these important topics which need to be regularly addressed.
It is certainly hardly ever encouraging these days to go online or turn on our televisions to watch the news.
Much of what we encounter in this news is a raw, awful evidence that this world is far too often affected by the pervasive force of evil in our society and our lives.
Of course, that’s hardly a new reality.
The dark force of evil is a specific story that weaves through every book of the Bible, just as it seems to now mark nearly every chapter of our contemporary lives.
And over the last week in particular, news stories that came from around the United States offered a relentless and particularly heartrending reminder of evil’s bleak impact.
The week began with the ongoing story of pipe bombs mailed to former presidents, politicians, media companies and businesspeople. When the person believed to be behind the construction and mailings of those bombs was arrested, he was driving a van that was festooned with a variety of stickers that proclaimed angry rhetoric against those with whom he disagreed. And when investigators and news organizations turned to this man’s social media posts, they discovered that he foreshadowed his evil deeds, referring to some of his targets as “piece slime trash” (sic) and threatening them with death.
Later in the week, in Kentucky, a man tried to break into the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown, a predominantly black church, and after finding it locked (there was a prayer meeting going on at the time), he turned to the Kroger grocery store next door and shot and killed two black shoppers. He allegedly told a bystander that “whites don’t shoot whites” before he was captured by police.
And last Sabbath (and I use that phrase intentionally), a man stormed the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By the time he was done shooting, 11 worshippers were dead and six policemen and worshippers injured.
It was the worst single day of violence against Jewish believers in U.S. history. When investigators and the media turned to the suspect’s social media account, once again they found speech filled with hatred and threats, including conspiracy theories that argued that Jewish people were the enemy. Minutes before he went to the synagogue, the shooter posted a message on a social media channel called Gab (an alternative Twitter-like social media channel since shut down), where he wrote that “HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered…I’m going in.”
For those who seek to live in a world marked by hope, each of these criminal and terrorist acts, these hate crimes, had their own unique and awful form of evil specifics.
However, at the same time, it seemed that each of these acts also reflected on the tragic reality of our times. Hate itself has become part of conversations that are no longer analog—person-to-person and out loud—but spread globally throughout the internet and social media channels. The term increasingly used for this sort of social media anger and hatred is the phrase “weaponized.”
“Weaponize” is an old word. Traditionally, it simply means “to adapt for use as a weapon of war,” with the idea that physical weapons were used. Most people believe it was a phrase first used in a book about conflict in India and first published in 1938. In the 1950s, the term meant “to provide (a nuclear or other explosive device) with a mechanism for being launched and propelled toward a target.”
Now, increasingly, weaponize often has little do with bombs. The current definition—as set out in the Guardian newspaper last year—is that “weaponized narrative seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilisation, identity and will by generating complexity, confusion and political and social schisms.”
As the three criminal, and even terrorist, acts of the last week unfolded, there was an unsurprising array not only of social media comments by these individuals, but also a trail of truly fake news and demonstrably untrue conspiracy theories that inspired the thoughts and actions of these individuals. Another phrase that’s sometimes used as these acts become a part of our lives is that these individuals become “radicalized” through their online media habits—a term that in the past we would use for terrorists that lived somewhere else.
As we face a world that listens to, and then amplifies, this kind of hate, what might or should we do as a community of God’s children who are committed to inspiring and caring for our world?
As Christians, believers in Jesus Christ, individuals who seek to live by His teachings, to be inspired by His life, what do we do in a world of weaponized hate?
The answer is a small but powerful word—love—and it’s a small but powerful, and truly central commitment, to Christ’s radical and transforming mission and mercy.
So, then, to try to recapture this military term—weaponize—is there a way that we can “weaponize love?”
Christ’s life consistently suggested and demonstrated that love was indeed not simply an attitude of stubborn response to the evil in the world, love was also an active and proactive force to confront and bring about real change in response to evil.
In turn, that kind of world-shaking, transforming love must inspire our response as a community filled with heartache and horror, as we speak out against and strongly condemn these awful attitudes and acts. The real question for us, as followers of Christ, is how might we meaningfully/powerfully/unabashedly call out those things and stand for truth—how do our lives and voices become a tool to simply and powerfully weaponize love?
I believe that’s one of the core elements of Christ’s example and life, as he daily sought to counter and meaningfully transform a society so often aligned against those who are lesser than.
1 John 4:15–21 (NLT, emphasis mine) gives us this poignant reminder:
"All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in His love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face Him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced His perfect love. We love each other because He loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And He has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers."
In these dark and trying times with seemingly few answers or effective responses to this evil world, I’m convinced that we can be confident in the fact that if we decide to live out God’s perfect love, and use that as our weapon of choice to combat the manifestations of evil that we see in the world, God will drive out all fear—not only for our own lives but for the lives of our brothers and sisters, our neighbors.
So, while it will never be easy or as immediate as we might sometimes wish, the story of our lives and this world itself is that God’s perfect love will expel the hatred from the hearts of those who are truly willing to experience it. And for each one of us, it’s important to remember that we cannot declare that we love God while harboring hatred for those around us.
I don’t mean to be casual or glib when I say we must weaponize love—God’s love. I say it because I believe that God-fueled love will move us beyond just our mere thoughts and prayers and into tangible action. It’s the sort of action that seeks to stand alongside the oppressed in our communities and our world as we strive to meet our neighbors’ immediate needs, while also committing to the long-term effort of seeking restorative justice on their behalf.
Further, we talk a lot about World Changers here at Andrews. I believe that the first step to becoming a world changer is to allow the perfect love of God to transform us—to renew our minds, to purify our thoughts and to break our hearts for what breaks His.
That perfect love, inspired and energized by God’s Spirit in our lives, will allow us to see those around us the way that God sees them, and it’s a simple perspective: A son or daughter who has been created in God’s image.
Once we have been transformed by that love, we can then use it as a weapon that’s not a weapon at all but a Holy Force, an Ultimate Love, that seeks to truly change the world.
These heartbreaking days remind us that yes, world changers can be made here at Andrews University and wherever God’s children are found...and we can and will change the world only and ultimately through the power of God’s perfect love.
One of the ways we can seek to live out the Love we talk about here is reflected in a local Interfaith Prayer Vigil when we will gather with our neighbors to honor and pray for the victims of the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue shooting—as well as other victims of hate crimes. This prayer vigil will be held on Monday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m. in the Oak Room at The Citadel, 91 Hinkley Street in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I invite you to attend as part of being a force for transforming love in a world so often marked by evil.
“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:17–19
We join the chorus of voices including the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists (NAD) and the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (PUC) who have spoken out against the inhumane cruelty being inflicted upon immigrants and refugees— including their children—due to the new “zero tolerance” policy that has was approved by the Executive Branch of the United States and implemented by the Department of Justice.
The implementation of this policy has led to young children being separated from their parents who, in the majority of cases, are political asylum-seekers from countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras among others. Rather than processing those claims, it has been reported that they have been taken into custody immediately while having their children taken away from them and detained in chain link enclosures in the McAllen Central Processing Station in Texas.
We have also been deeply troubled by the practice of using Scripture to justify this policy that many have engaged in. There are several examples in Scripture of God commanding us to treat those who are not native to our land in the exact same manner that we would treat a family member.
The book of Ezekiel puts it this way:
“Divide the land within these boundaries among the tribes of Israel. Distribute the land as an allotment for yourselves and for the foreigners who have joined you and are raising their families among you. They will be like native-born Israelites to you and will receive an allotment among the tribes. These foreigners are to be given land within the territory of the tribe with whom they now live. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” Ezekiel 47:21–23
God calls His people to take an active part in not only welcoming in the foreigner or stranger that is within our gates, but also to make provision for them—treating them as if they are members of our own families.
Our ancestors were brought to this country by way of divergent and varying paths. Some migrated to America and forcibly claimed these lands, which were not native to them, as their own. Others were brought to these shores by force and the foundations of this country were built on the backs of their free labor. Still others sought the dream of a better life in this country fleeing war-torn and impoverished communities in their countries of origin.
Throughout America’s history, it has indeed been the contributions of our global community that has given it the potential to be a great country. If we ignore and invalidate those contributions and allow close-mindedness to close ourselves off from the rest of the world, America as we know it will cease to exist. We cannot and must not turn a blind eye to the needs of those seeking refuge in our country. As their applications for entry are considered, the very least we can do is treat them humanely.
America has always prided itself on being the land of the free and the home of the brave. This is a country where people from all different walks of life are endowed with certain inalienable rights—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While this ideal has only been true for some, we believe that as people of faith we are called to stand in the prophetic tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. by speaking truth to power and demanding that this country truly live up to the meaning of its creed for all of its inhabitants, as well as for those seeking refuge here.
Ultimately, we are called to treat everyone around us with the love of Christ. That love should motivate us to tangible action. Hebrews implores us to:
“Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.” Hebrews 13:1–3.
I am reminded of a monumental event that occurred on this date—June 19—in 1865. More than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Union General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and announced that the 250,000 remaining enslaved people in the state of Texas were free. Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as “Juneteenth” around the country as a symbol of true emancipation and freedom.
I am also reminded of a boldly prophetic passage that Ellen G. White released around 1855 in “Testimonies for the Church,” Volume One. At the time, slavery was still alive and well in this country and many had questions about how we as Christians should respond in the face of immoral laws and policies. In the face of such questions, particularly as it pertained to the “Fugitive Slave Act of 1850,” Sister White penned the following passage:
“We have men placed over us for rulers, and laws to govern the people. Were it not for these laws, the condition of the world would be worse than it is now. Some of these laws are good, others are bad. The bad have been increasing, and we are yet to be brought into strait places. But God will sustain His people in being firm and living up to the principles of His word. When the laws of men conflict with the word and law of God, we are to obey the latter, whatever the consequences may be. The law of our land requiring us to deliver a slave to his master, we are not to obey; and we must abide the consequences of violating this law. The slave is not the property of any man. God is his rightful master, and man has no right to take God's workmanship into his hands, and claim him as his own.” Testimonies for the Church, Chapter 37 (201.2).
Andrews University fully denounces the practice of separating families and detaining immigrants and their children in chain-link enclosures. This practice goes against everything that we stand for as a diverse and welcoming community that seeks to help every member of our institution find their voice and value.
As Pacific Union Conference President Ricardo Graham said in their statement “our thoughts and prayers must turn into actions and deeds.” If you’d like to read more about those who are working to support and aid these immigrant families, you can find out more here.
As we finished our Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations in Newbold Auditorium, I was reminded of one of Dr. King’s powerful statements about his dream for a more just society: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Those words, more than five decades old, are urgently and painfully relevant to the society we now live in. As recently as last week, an immediate national and international uproar unfolded after news reports indicated that our nation's president, Donald Trump, had disparaged the quality, character and potential of immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and Africa.
Those reported remarks are racist, painful and destructive. More importantly, those crude sentiments and perspectives do not reflect the values of our Andrews University community. We would like to make it clear that racist remarks of any kind, from our students, staff, faculty or administration, will not be tolerated, encouraged, accepted or overlooked.
I and we believe that Andrews University is consistently enriched and improved by our students who come from literally everywhere in the world—an international family of students, faculty, staff and administration that helps us daily understand the pain, reality and potential of God’s kingdom.
As a result, we deplore any beliefs and attitudes that run counter to our God-centered call to create and nurture a beloved community whose neighbors are not defined by geography. These neighbors of ours are instead defined simply by their status as children of God—children who make their home everywhere in the world, including here in Berrien Springs and in all the other institutions and homes around the world where our students study.
For those who can attend Andrews on our Berrien Springs campus, we are humbled and honored to welcome every student, including those from Haiti, El Salvador or the countries of Africa which were the targets of last week’s racist remarks. In fact, we seek to welcome students from every corner of this earth to be educated and inspired to help ultimately Change the World for God.
To do anything less at Andrews University would be to deny the call and purpose God has given our beloved community.
I welcome your reflection, prayer and productive action in helping to assure that this Kingdom Value—a God-centered and unwavering commitment to the equity and strength of each human—ultimately infuses and transforms our world, our societies and those who are leaders, both political and spiritual.
At this time of the year, we are reminded of the Bible stories of families, even entire people groups, who were forced from their homes and pursued new lives for God’s promise and promised lands. Current news echoes the Biblical stories, as hundreds of thousands are forced to leave their homes because of race, ethnicity or religion.
CNN reports on Ethiopian refugees being sold into slavery in Libya, tens of thousands of Haitians displaced by the 2010 earthquake returning to an uncertain home 18 months from now, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyans driven from their home country because of their beliefs, and years of ongoing challenges experienced by Syrian refugees.
As a global university committed to viewing the world through God’s eyes, we are heartbroken by these realities. We call on the countries of the world, as well as the members of our campus community, to fulfill our essential responsibilities as God’s children, to meaningfully respond to our neighbors, wherever they live, and to continue to condemn the actions of those who restrict the freedoms and destroy the homes and lives of our neighbors.
The issue of slavery and human trafficking continues to be a staggering injustice. A conservative estimate from recent studies, as reported by the International Labour Organization, shows that 40 million people are currently enslaved worldwide through either forced labor or forced marriages. Additionally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that more than 65 million are currently considered refugees worldwide.
As we finish the semester and look forward to our celebrations with family and friends this holiday season, let’s remember those who will not be afforded the same opportunity. May we work and pray together as we strive to help the displaced and marginalized find a home—with us. Let those prayers be geared towards asking God to lead us as we consider how we can lift our voices as well as commit our efforts to finding tangible solutions to these sobering and difficult injustices.
“Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33–34
(image source: https://www.diyatvusa.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/human-trafficking-fact.jpg)
We are profoundly saddened by the Trump Administration’s decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Our institution remains committed to providing a safe and inclusive learning environment for every student who is enrolled at Andrews. Andrews University does not discriminate against our enrolled students on the basis of national origin or citizenship status.
The Association of Governing Boards (AGB) of Universities & Colleges (of which we are a member) released a poignant statement which said in part, “the roughly 800,000 individuals who have registered under [DACA] have passed rigorous tests and are already working and serving the communities in which they live...these are hard working, bright, young people—embodying traditional American values.”
The Association of American Colleges & Universities (“AAC&U”) reaffirmed the “deep and abiding commitment” of its 1,400 members (of which we are one), “to the values of diversity, inclusion and equity as critical to the wellbeing of our democratic society and as the cornerstones of excellence in liberal education.”
If you or someone you know would like to discuss the implications of this decision, please feel free to reach out to me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The days ahead for the DACA program and the students who have studied within the guidelines of this program are uncertain, but at Andrews University we will face them together as a unified community of people that are committed to treating one another with respect, dignity and honor.
(You can read the full AGB statement here).
(You can read the full AAC&U statement, which includes more links and resources, here).
I am deeply saddened and outraged by the events that transpired over this past weekend in Virginia where demonstrators at a white nationalist rally descended upon Charlottesville with the express intent to spread hate, bigotry, and violence. These senseless acts were inspired and informed by the hateful messages of the white supremacy movement and its roots in the KKK, neo-nazism, the alt-right, and other like-minded domestic terrorist groups.
As you’ve doubtless heard or read, demonstrations by those groups this last weekend, sadly culminated in the death of Heather Heyer, and injuries for nearly 20 others when a car was intentionally driven into a crowd of counter protesters.
A thirty-two-year-old life has been snuffed out by intentional, hate-infused violence by a domestic terrorist who believes that his life is more valuable than others due to the color of his skin. Two others died in the line of duty protecting those in attendance at the event. Our country has been forced, once again, to face the fact that this kind of bigotry, hatred and violence has been, and continues to be, a part of who we are as a country. The question we must now ask ourselves as a community is are we willing to face and confront that reality? What steps are we willing to take to change our collective trajectory going forward?
Though it is comforting that so many have denounced the senseless acts of violence promulgated by the alt-right, KKK, neo-Nazis, and other like-minded domestic terrorist groups, we should be careful not to simply reject and discount these acts as from a few people on the fringe.
And, for Andrews University, as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian institution, we cannot be silent in the wake of these events. I would like to speak in a clear and direct way about where we stand on these issues and what we intend to do moving forward.
In particular, as we prepare to welcome students from all around our country and the world to our campus for this new school year, I want to make it clear that Andrews denounces hate, bigotry, and racism in all of its forms and reject the false ideas of white supremacy & white nationalism. Discriminatory hate speech on the basis of race, national origin, religion, gender (identity or expression) or sexual orientation will not be tolerated on our campus.
We reject hateful groups such as the KKK, the alt-right, neo-Nazis, and other domestic terrorist groups as well as the beliefs they subscribe to. We also reject the notion that one can subscribe to the belief that their race alone should be allowed to have life, liberty, and the right to pursue happiness in this country while also claiming to be a Christian.
The book of First John makes this clear, “If anyone says ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20).
Here at Andrews, we are committed to modeling the commandment that finishes up the book of First John:
“And this commandment we have from Him, that one who loves God should also unselfishly love his brother and seek the best for him" (1 John 4:21).
Ultimately, the true value of our response will be found in our actions as we go forward as a campus community.
We will double down on our commitment to create a more equitable and inclusive environment for the faculty, staff, students and administrators on our globally and ethnically diverse campus. We are encouraged by the public statements made by the leadership of the North American Division of Seventh-Day Adventists, Oakwood University, as well local church leaders in our denomination who have come together to speak directly and firmly against the hate and bigotry they have witnessed and experienced in their own lives.
I call on all of those in leadership in our church: Pastors, Local Conferences, Unions, Divisions, the General Conference, our sister higher education institutions, and medical facilities, to take—and continue to take—affirmative steps to denounce the violent hatred and bigotry that was embodied over the weekend in Charlottesville by the alt-right, KKK, neo-Nazis, and other like-minded domestic terrorist groups.
These views are a danger to the future not just of our country, but also for our Church. We must proactively address any ways that these racist and bigoted views may have influenced or even infected the way that we operate here in our own Andrews community. If found, we must root those views out immediately.
“God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27).
At Andrews University, we fully believe that we have all been created in the image of God, equally. We are against any notion of racial, cultural, religious, or national superiority.
We all have eternal value and should keep in mind that when we interact with one another, we are interacting with the image of God that can be discovered and seen in one another.
As a Seventh-day Adventist Christian institution, we are committed to modeling the life and teachings of Christ in every aspect of what we say and do. We invite you to join us on this crucial and world changing journey.