Dear Cairn Community,
There have been a number of communication pieces that have addressed the issues of race and racism in our country and at our institution. I would like to share the most recent communication that went out to students that discusses our own imperfect institutional history and the initiatives we have in place to address race, justice, and equity on campus. To reiterate our position, Cairn University unequivocally and publicly believes in and affirms the value, worth, and dignity of each and every Black and African American life. As believers, we condemn the sins of racism and are committed to praying, learning, and discussing action steps of how we can better serve our Black community, faculty and staff, and students.
It has been a little more than a week since my last letter to you and the faculty and staff. Today, I am writing to you again and doing so in an attempt to communicate my thoughts and concerns, some institutional perspective, and some initiatives being undertaken. I also want to prepare us as a community for the next steps in our life together. There is much to say and I ask that you take the time to read this in its entirety. I know it is lengthy, but I want you to know my thoughts and my heart. In fact, let me encourage you to read it more than once because these are weighty issues. I trust you have read the statements made in last week’s eNews and my previous letter despite the technical mishap that delayed its delivery to many of you. I apologize for that and pray that you will find this letter to be helpful and encouraging.
I am pleased to repeat the announcement made earlier this week. We will reopen shortly, and I look forward to our regularly scheduled start to the fall semester at both graduate and undergraduate levels. You have been sorely missed on campus; the place is never the same without you. It was difficult and sad for all of us having the spring semester altered so dramatically and the spring commencement postponed. But we will soon make an announcement about celebrating with our 2020 graduates. We will soon be together again. It is my hope and prayer that we will have a wonderful reunion, that we will have a good year, and that you will enjoy reengaging your life and calling as students at Cairn.
It is also my hope and prayer that we will turn a new corner in our life as a community of believers, that some things will not be the same, that we will be strengthened in our bonds and appreciation for one another, and that our community will learn and grow together. My earnest desire is that Cairn be a place where what we believe and teach will be manifest in our relationships with one another in all areas of life and work—particularly in the area of race. Our attitudes and actions toward one another, and interactions with one another across racial lines, must be guided and governed by the love of God, His Holy Word, our shared faith and oneness in Christ, as well as our submission to the work of the Holy Spirit who indwells us as believers.
I have thought and prayed and sought counsel from many voices about what to share with you. I have been troubled deeply in a very powerful and spiritually renewing way. Over the course of the past two weeks, I have heard from students, alumni, community and church leaders, as well as members of our faculty and staff and our Board of Trustees. I have heard the pain and grief and fatigue as well as the outrage at injustice and violence. I have heard support and affirmation as well as criticism and exhortation. All of this is important and worth hearing and will hopefully make us stronger and more understanding, but it also underscores some of the challenges we face.
It would be naive to think the tensions we see in the broader community and world around us do not exist within the church and our own University. It would be wrong to assume that simply because we are Christians who study the Bible, attend chapels, and carry out Christian service, we do not have deeply entrenched attitudes and resulting behaviors that have been, and still are, hurtful to African-Americans and other students of color and have caused pain for those who are living and studying in a predominately white institution. For this I ask forgiveness and pray God’s grace will enable us to right these things.
It would be foolish to pretend that life is perfect, that all of us feel the same sense of belonging, that all of us feel loved, cared for, and listened to equally. It would also be foolish and arrogant to believe that any of us is free from a personal struggle with race and racism. We fight every day with the world, the flesh, and the devil. To think that spiritual conflict does not impact us on matters of race does not reflect Godly humility. As Christians, we are to be humbly desirous of truth, and this begins with honesty before God about the nature of humanity in a fallen and sinful world, and consequently, with our own sinful attitudes and actions. Yet within Christian communities, not only do we fail too often to love and respect one another as we should, we often fail to see our failures. Sometimes when we do see them, we fail to make them right. This ought not be so. And we must commit ourselves to doing better by God’s grace. I am personally committed to that, and I will lead us accordingly.
We have before us an opportunity to be a fellowship of Jesus’ followers whose love for one another is a sweet aroma in our midst and a testimony to the world around us of God’s goodness. But this will require work, humility, repentance, and action on each of our parts as well as the institution’s. Hard conversations, too long avoided, must take place respectfully and in keeping with our Christian convictions in a way that builds up and unites rather than divides and tears down. We are committed to this work, and there are specific things already underway and others being discussed and planned that will be undertaken soon. Please be assured we will communicate with you as these are developed and implemented.
You may be aware that during the January faculty workshop, discussions were started on the important matters of race and racism and the implications of these as we carry out our work at Cairn. Dr. VanBilliard and the academic leadership at the University support further training and discussion, and Dr. VanBilliard has decided to dedicate the upcoming August faculty workshop to this. There will be training for faculty and staff members from both internal and external individuals. I believe there will be some open and helpful dialogue that will benefit our faculty and staff as colleagues and you as their students.
There are also ongoing conversations about the curriculum. These will build upon the development of the new core and new courses that took place last year, as well as our discussions about these important matters regarding race and racism. As you know, we have also been discussing our discipleship efforts and how those can be strengthened not just outside the classroom but in and through the classroom. I look forward to those conversations continuing as well as the strengthening of our teaching in a way that addresses serious cultural issues from a biblical perspective and challenges students to seek and submit to the Lord in every area of life and relationships.
We will have the opportunity in chapel to pray, worship, and fellowship as well as learn together what the Lord and His Word have to teach us about Christian unity and community. There will be speakers and worship services specifically addressing issues of race and racism. We will also be hosting a student forum or town meeting with me personally to hear directly from students and answer questions pertaining to these issues and our approach to them, including what we have done and said and what we have not done and said. Dean Porcella had been meeting in the spring term with a group of students expressing concerns about the disparate experiences of students of color. He also met with them in the past week. Those meetings are important and will be helpful to the staff and their work in caring for the entire student body.
I also want you to know the Board has had good and serious discussions regarding race, racial tension, and racism at the University and beyond. These will continue. This group, which is charged to guard our mission and support the fulfillment of it. Members give of their time and resources sacrificially as God’s servants called to their important roles. They are genuinely concerned about you as students, your education, your well-being, and your experience at Cairn. We will be arranging some opportunities for members of the Board of Trustees to meet with and hear the concerns of African-American and other ethnic minority faculty members. The same opportunity will be planned for student representatives. Likewise, I will be meeting with African-American faculty members soon, and the student event my wife and I agreed to host in our home before the COVID-19 interruption, concerning racial issues and the experiences of minority students, will take place when we return to campus. These opportunities and meetings are hopefully the beginning of an ongoing dialogue which will improve awareness and understanding that will lead to strengthening our community and improving the experience of all students.
In my previous letter, I referenced our own imperfect institutional history. The events of recent days have rightly led many institutions like Cairn to do some serious soul-searching and listening. In the spirit of Christian love, humility, and unity, we must examine ourselves before God and seek to make right what we can by God’s grace. It is altogether fitting and morally right that the University speak to the hurt and pain caused to the African-American and black communities by the false and damaging teaching regarding the Curse of Ham, as referenced in the original Scofield Notes that are so closely associated with our institution. These were used in this institution’s curriculum for many years, and while they have not been in use for some time now, our institution served historically as an architect and proliferator of those notes and the study Bible of which they are part. We lament this and the generational, collective, and personal damage experienced and incurred. This abhorrent teaching that black men and women are the “inferior and servile posterity” of Ham is a shameful part of our past. Its harmful impact on both black and white students is grievous. In our own institution’s history and the history of others like ours, this sinful doctrine has been used to justify, foment, cause, and perpetuate racist attitudes and actions which have hurt generations of African-Americans and African-American members of the University community. This grieves God and violates biblical standards of morality as well as the biblical teaching and truth that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God and therefore are equal in worth, dignity, and value. For the place this teaching had in our own history and the harm it has caused, the Board and I together apologize and ask for forgiveness. We repent of this before the Lord. It is a sinful and shameful thing—the damage of which we cannot totally reverse. But we are committed to ensuring that all our students understand its abhorrence and are taught to love and respect people according to the teaching and example of Jesus, as our institutional objectives state. It must also be clear that we are committed to demonstrating to the University community and the church we serve that we will not allow this error and sin of our past to be repeated.
Finally, a word regarding your roles. Much of what we experience in the life of the University is not only enlivened and enriched by you as students but is dependent upon you. I have been so encouraged by the way you rallied around one another and the school in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and interruption. I have every confidence that you will care for one another and our University in an edifying manner now. The way in which you commit yourselves to the student’s life and calling, as men and women committed to receiving an education centered on Christ and His Word, matters a great deal. It matters a great deal how you think about one another, talk to one another, and treat one another. It matters a great deal that you are motivated by and sustained by the goodness, grace, love, and mercy of God. Ours is not a secular institution. Our purpose is different. So too should our motivations and approaches be different. I am gravely concerned about potential increased divisiveness, mistreatment, and misunderstanding in our community. I am also concerned that the tensions and conflict you see around you will lead you either to apathy and indifference or vitriol and rage. I am concerned that the secular values and sensibilities vying for your hearts and minds will harm your faith and erode your biblical worldview, leading you to follow the pattern of this world rather than the transformation God is working in us through the renewing of our minds, as Romans 12 teaches. We must remember that we are the sheep of the Good Shepherd Jesus‘ fold; all of us, each of us. We must remember who we are as Christians—those bought with the precious blood of Jesus who have been reconciled to God, enabling us and requiring us to be reconciled to one another.
We pray for you every day. I trust you know that we love and care for all of you and that our desire is for us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord as individuals and as a community. Let me challenge you and ask you to do what I am doing personally and what I am asking the faculty and staff to do as well. Take some time in the weeks that remain before we reconvene, whether you are a graduate student or an undergraduate student, whether you study here on campus or online, whether you are a resident student or a commuter, to go before the Lord and examine yourself as we are encouraged to do in Scripture, and to commit yourself anew to what we are taught in Ephesians 4:1–3: to walk according to our calling and with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. When we come together again, we will corporately and collectively commit ourselves to this before the Lord.
May our faithful God be gracious and merciful to us and give us what we need to be instruments fit for His service.