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Whitworth's Statement on Freedom of Expression and Civil Discourse for Our Campus Community

As a university dedicated to a Christian liberal arts education, Whitworth affirms freedom of expression for its students, staff and faculty. Our commitment to free expression is grounded in our faith in the triune God who creates and redeems a good world for flourishing through his life-giving Word, Jesus Christ.[1] We take Jesus Christ as the model for engagement in public discourse and for exploration and expression of ideas. 

This statement explains our affirmation of free expression and is meant to provide guidance for the review or creation of policy related to expression. It is also meant to provide our campus community with a common ground for discussion of expression. We understand "expression" to encompass all efforts to communicate. It is lectures and discussions, art and music, essay and poetry, protest and petition. Our affirmation of free expression leaves space for some regulation of expression within our community. In line with Constitutional understandings of free expression, incitement to physical violence, true threats, deception, obscenity, and substantial disruption of the normal operations of the university may be prohibited or sanctioned, even as we seek to maximize speech that allows us to explore God's creation, flourish as a Christ-centered community, and engage the world as Christians. 

We affirm free expression because it is essential to exploration. We believe every aspect of God's creation is worthy of study because God's creation reflects God's glory and is bound together by the life-giving Word, Jesus Christ.[2] We also recognize, as Christians, that we are finite, fallible, and fallen human beings. For that reason, no one of us, no one of our communities, and no one of our ideologies will ever fully possess or express the whole of God's truth. If, as we believe, no one possesses the whole truth, all thinkers must learn to listen to others and to ask and tolerate difficult or unanticipated questions. Free expression is crucial for creating a space in which such questions may be formed. We support free expression so that members of our community may enter honestly, courageously, and even joyfully into disagreements and debates about difficult questions and difficult ideas. That kind of engagement is integral to our mission of seeking the truth for the sake of the world's flourishing and God's glory. 

We affirm free expression because it is essential for a flourishing community. Christ's ministry and teachings prompt us to regard reconciliation, justice, mercy, and love as essential to human flourishing. We believe it is necessary to hear from one another in order to pursue such flourishing. Therefore, we aim to cultivate a welcoming, truth-seeking community in which we are committed to taking seriously the possible merits of views that differ from or even clash with our own. At the same time, we resist the notion that in order to maintain a good, flourishing community, we must minimize real disagreement or seek compromise on every issue. In fact, Christ's reconciling love for the world lends us confidence to listen well and respond with courage, thoughtfulness, honesty, and love toward ideas and expressions that challenge us. We embrace Christ's admonishment to "do to others what you would have them do to you," which we hear in this context as a call to mutual respect and humility amid disagreement.[3] We exhort one another to tame the tongue's power to do harm,[4] understanding that Christ summons us to communicate with grace and to meet graceless expression with charitable and truthful response, even forgiving without limit.[5] In that spirit, members of this community will be open to correction and challenge and will show one another forgiveness and patience when, inevitably, we are unskilled, imperfect, or self-serving in our expression and discourse. 

We affirm free expression because it is essential for a life of civic involvement. The life of Jesus was not insular; he chose to open himself to all of humanity in a radical act of love.[6] Christ's public ministry was undertaken for all but especially took place among and on behalf of those with relatively little social and economic capital.[7] Knowing this, we aim to ready our graduates to interact gracefully with diverse communities and to serve humanity through expression that affirms the life, dignity, and image of God reflected in each person. We are mindful that power differences tend to distort and frustrate even well-intended communication, even as we strive to become faithful, self-reflective stewards of the powers of expression and dialogue—which, used well, should yield the fruit of the Spirit.[8] In faith, we trust that even in our fallibility, God is at work, using our flawed language and our flawed efforts to bring about the Kingdom. 

[1] Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6; John 1:1-18 

[2] Psalm 104; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-3 

[3] Matthew 7:12 

[4] James 3:1-12 

[5] Matthew 18:21-35; Colossians 3:12-13 

[6] John 1:14; Philippians 2:6-11 

[7] Luke 1:46-56; 4:16-21 

[8] Galatians 5:13-25