- Philip W. Eaton, Ph.D.
Dear SPU colleagues and friends,
It is Saturday morning early as I begin this note (I’m actually in the Bay Area as I finish), my time for reflection and regrouping. I am sorry this is the first moment in a very busy week I’ve had time to collect myself on the current issues around club status and human sexuality and care for our students.
But let me offer here some suggestions and principles that might guide us as we move forward.
1. I assure you I have been reading and listening and reflecting on all of this. I have been talking and listening to faculty and Vice Presidents and trustees. I received some thoughtful and articulate letters from a number of recent alums, to which I am responding. I look forward to the chance to talk further with our students at the appropriate time, as I have done in the past.
My question always comes around to this: How can we model, in all we do, genuine Christian community?
Here’s the other question we must ask: How we can help guide our students toward a life that is full and healthy and meaningful, help them discover what is right and good, help them affirm the ancient Christian teaching on all matters of life?
And so I share what follows in the spirit of these aspirations.
2. We need at this moment to address very clearly and openly the issue of club status. I have asked Vice President Les Steele and Associate Vice President Jeff Jordan to communicate directly the reasons for their decisions. There is a lot of misinformation floating around, and we need to clear things up about what happened and why.
I have also asked them to outline and communicate specific next steps as they work closely with the students and others to get clarity about where we go from here. I will be involved in that discussion.
Let me also commend Les and Jeff for endless hours of work with our students over years on this matter. Their hearts and minds and efforts are absolutely in the right place. We owe them our thanks.
3. We have some differences on these issues, not only on our campus, but surely within our messy and often divided society. Strong communities are always open to differences and are willing to engage those differences meaningfully and together. We should guard against closed or clogged channels. We should seek to respect each other. We should always seek to focus our attention on our students with love and genuine concern for their well being. We should always be willing to tackle the important, even contested issues of our day. That’s what engaging the culture is all about, and we go about that work without fear or hesitation.
4. Let us think hard in this moment about the Christian view of human flourishing that animates the center of our lives and our university. We want the best for our students. Let us love our students even as we affirm our deepest convictions.
We find ourselves these days always asking this question: Where do we turn for guidance about human flourishing when all stories of what is true and good and beautiful are called into question by our postmodern, post-Christian culture? How do we embrace the Christian story when the truth and goodness of our story is decidedly contested by our culture?
Here is my deepest conviction on these questions: We turn to the Christian Scriptures and to the teaching of the Christian church throughout the centuries. As a Christian university, and as Christian individuals, this is our foundation, our deepest and profound resource, our guide. We focus intensely on our holy text. This is the authoritative source that must guide us as we move forward.
As we turn to these teachings, we begin at the beginning: Everyone is created in the image of God. Everyone is formed with human dignity. God loves all of his children.
And then we say, in our brokenness, we lean on the grace of God’s transforming power through Jesus Christ. We become new creatures, even so in transformation, but all of us still on our way.
But then, what happens “after we believe,” as N. T. Wright phrases it? Well, we begin the hard work of “putting on,” in Paul’s familiar words, the “garments that suit God’s chosen and beloved people: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience,” tolerance and forgiveness, and of course “to bind everything and complete the whole, there must be love.” All of this is part of the discipline of our lives as Christians, the discipline that contributes to the formation of communities of grace and love.
But then Paul ventures into what is sometimes the tough part: He tells us we must “put off” some things that are harmful for us, destructive to our communities of faith, hurtful to our world. We don’t like boundaries to our freedom, especially in our time, but our faith tradition calls on us to consider the need for certain boundaries, not just in the area of our sexuality, but in all sorts of areas of human experience.
In the end God wants for all of his children lives that are flourishing, and it is our task, “after we believe,” to seek and model and teach our way toward human flourishing. What the disciples discovered in Jesus, says Wright, was “a way of being human which nobody had ever imagined before. This was a way of generosity and forgiveness, a way of self-emptying and a determination to put everyone else’s needs first. . . .” It was the way of “humility, charity, patience, and chastity,” something unthinkable as virtues to the ancient Greeks.
We seek this remarkable “way of being human, ” the one we discover in Jesus, the one communicated to us through holy Scriptures, the one we grapple with in the teachings of the Christian church throughout the centuries.
We want this new way for our students and for each of our lives and for our community at SPU.
5. Finally, I don’t want to be vague on the whole topic of human sexuality. We’ve got to continue to sort things out. We don’t want to dodge the specifics in some fog of abstraction. We have a statement on human sexuality we have worked on over many years, seeking to be clear, seeking to be nuanced. We lift up that statement, not as holy text, but as something that can encourage our wrestling with these issues.
This is a time when our culture has made some decisive moves on these things, shifting quite dramatically even over the last five years, and we ask now, as a Christian community, how we might affirm where we stand as Christians as we engage that culture, how we might lovingly communicate the ancient tradition we represent?
My great hope is that we can do all of this with humility and in the spirit of grace and love to which we are called. No one has a corner on compassion and righteousness. We are all in this together. My hope is that we can learn better all the time how to treat our students lovingly even as we affirm some things we believe to be true and good and beautiful.
God bless each one of you. May God bless our students. May God bless our community as we seek to be faithful and obedient to God’s call on this place, for this time, even on these very issues.
Philip W. Eaton, President
Seattle Pacific University
(206) 281 2114
Seattle Pacific University
Engaging the Culture, Changing the World