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The 'D Word' at U.S. Christian Colleges

Jul 6 2010
At my Christian university, we are working toward reconciliation across ethnic and racial lines. We have a ways to go.

When Carmille Akande, a dean at Cedarville University, and I stepped into the Duke Gardens for the opening reception of Duke Divinity School's Summer Institute—a project of Duke's Center for Reconciliation—we sensed we were on holy ground. Our gratitude, awe, and love for Christ and his body only intensified throughout the week in June. Being with such a diverse group was a foretaste of the coming kingdom. And as we worshiped, fellowshipped, and lamented alongside brothers and sisters from all over the world, we were better equipped for our own ministry of reconciliation at Cedarville, a Baptist-affiliated college in Ohio.

We learned of Census projections that ethnic minorities will compose the majority in the U.S. by 2040. That, coupled with the fact that the center of Christianity has tilted toward the Global South, predominantly white Christian colleges and universities like Cedarville have to make changes necessary for institutional survival. But more important, the changes are necessary to faithfully represent Christ and his kingdom in our world.

Cedarville has already taken steps toward this faithful representation. In 2006, university trustees approved a statement on diversity, which includes the following:

Cedarville University actively seeks to attract and serve a diverse group of Christian employees and students who exercise their spiritual calling to be agents of reconciliation; pursuing unity, peace, and community in an atmosphere that recognizes our union in Christ and celebrates the contributions of all who seek to follow Christ.

In fall 2008, we hired Carmille as the Dean of Multi-Cultural and Special Programs. We hold diversity training and have a diversity committee. We are trying to diversify our faculty and staff. Such steps mirror those taking place at most other Christian colleges in the U.S. Thankfully many people on campus "get it." But, like most U.S. Christian colleges and universities, we have a lot to learn—and some institutional sin to overcome.

When we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day each January, hold diversity training, or even mention diversity, I inevitably hear, "Why is diversity being shoved down our throats? I'm tired of it. I love everybody. I am color-blind." After the 2008 presidential election, minority students who supported President Obama told stories of how their salvation was called into question by some on campus. Many felt they couldn't openly celebrate the election of America's first black president without meeting condemnation.

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The 'D Word' at U.S. Christian Colleges