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A Theological Foundation for Diversity & Intercultural Relations at Whitworth University
The purpose of this document is to provide a theological foundation that informs Whitworth University's commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and intercultural relations as articulated in our mission and reflected in our institutional strategic goals. This statement attempts to build upon, and respond to, the Great Commandments of Jesus Christ, which state "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31).
The Christian mission of Whitworth University is grounded in our twin theological commitments: to the centrality of Christ and to the authority of scripture, as both are understood within the context of historical Christian orthodoxy. As a Christian educational institution we seek to live out these - commitments as we "honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity." Due to the expanding global context in which we live and work, we believe that we will be able to live out our mission only by developing intercultural competency; that is, the skills needed for effective and Christ-like engagement in a diverse community, with its variety of worldviews, life histories, learning styles, customs, communication patterns and methods of problem-solving. These skills are necessary due to the presence and participation of in the human community of people and groups who differ from one another in a variety of ways. The Whitworth community must first engage these issues of intercultural relations and diversity from the perspective of its commitments to the authority of the scriptures and the centrality of Christ. In other words, we strive to develop intercultural competencies that are biblically and theologically grounded. A biblical approach to diversity rightly begins with the promise of unity in Christ, in whom God's purpose was "to bring all things together under one head" (Eph. 1.10; Col. 1.17-20). Therefore, we seek to root both the theory and practice of inclusive community in the saving work of Christ and in the unity of the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We claim Christ's resurrection power over sin as the only means by which we may attempt unity in Christ. With the promise of unity in Christ firmly in mind, we turn to the Bible to help us understand the role that diversity plays in the story of creation, fall and redemption.
In Genesis, the order of creation includes and celebrates difference. Therefore, difference is part of what God pronounced as "very good." Adam and Eve are different, yet both made in the image of God. In making humanity unified but not uniform, God is reflecting in a lesser way God's own being, which is relationship. Without distinctions there is no relationship, only identity. In other words, the image of God includes the capacity for loving relationship with God, with one another and with all of creation. Since diversity is a pre-condition for relationship, it is an essential aspect of human design and a necessary condition for human unity.
When they disobeyed God's command, Adam and Eve broke shalom: the life-giving unity received through God's sovereignty. Without this unity, human differences began to produce dissension and domination (Gen. 3). The sin of Eve and Adam also impaired human reason, especially with regard to the ability to know God. Therefore, the loving relationship and knowledge of God for which humanity was created are now extremely difficult to realize in this fallen state. The brokenness of original unity has been constantly repeated in the events of world history. Persons who are perceived as "different" have tended to inspire fear in their neighbors, causing "the other" to become the focus of oppression, exploitation and cruelty.
At Whitworth University, the theological foundation of our deliberations on both unity and diversity is the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus preached and ushered in "the kingdom of God" by calling for a return to life under the sovereignty of God and the shalom that characterizes that life. Jesus also manifested the universal reach of God's love by intentionally crossing social barriers. This prophetic dimension of Jesus' work was complemented by his priestly work of atonement, in which he died and rose again to reconcile the world to God (John 3:16-17, 2 Cor. 5.19).
The apostle Paul elaborates on the Christ's reconciling work in his letter to the Ephesians:
But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace (shalom); in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace (shalom), and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace (shalom) to you who were far off and peace (shalom) to those who were near; for through him, both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Eph. 2: 13-18, NRSV)
The practical outworking of Paul's description of Christ's work as described in his Ephesian letter can be seen at Pentecost, with God's Spirit – bringing a diverse and reconciled people into existence, unifying them in Christ, and sending them into the world to take this good news of reconciliation to every person - (Acts 2.6-11). Moreover, the church's message of unity with God finds visible expression in the community that diverse people now experience in Christ. "There is no longer Jew and Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3.28).
Because of Christ's saving work, the Holy Spirit is working to restore diversity to its positive role in the good creation as an essential component of relationship. The Spirit is also working to restore the image of God in all people who respond to Christ in faith, making unity with God, with "the other," and with all of creation possible once more. God has given talents to all members of Whitworth University, and these talents will find their richest expression when we are one in Christ. Therefore, members of the Whitworth community have a responsibility to strive for unity so that all of us may "rise above" the effects of the fall and become fully human in Christ. At Whitworth, we therefore understand educational excellence (academic, personal, institutional, and spiritual) as the responsible stewardship of our God-given and God-redeemed humanity. This invitation to develop our humanity, according to our being created in God's image and redeemed in and through Jesus, is especially urgent in the case of those who, because of various categories of difference, have not had access to excellence – to God's grace and truth in Jesus – nor to the experience of authentic and genuine community. As we work toward this biblical, theological, spiritual and relational unity, we trust in the grace of the triune God, who "is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine" (Eph. 3.20).