Thirty-eight Calvin faculty and staff members joined hundreds of Christian faculty from across the United States in signing a “Statement of Confession and Commitment” in response to the contentious election and post-election season.
Although the faculty clarify that they do not speak for their institutions in signing the document, the statement “identifies faculty members from various Christian academic institutions who are seeking truth, justice, and reconciliation in our communities,” according to Kumar Sinniah, professor of Chemistry at Calvin.
This statement is an adaptation and expansion of statements written by faculty and staff at North Park Theological Seminary and Westmont College shortly following the election. Faculty from than 160 institutions have signed the statement; among the institutions represented are Wheaton College, Trinity Christian College, Dordt College and Hope College.
The statement begins by expressing the signers’ decision to join their voices “with those who are most vulnerable.” It goes on to give a scriptural basis for human dignity and the importance of serving and suffering alongside all created in God’s image. The statement affirms the signers’ commitment to truth, and recognizes the deep fear and pain experienced by marginalized groups. Finally, it calls Christian communities to seek justice and healing, confesses failure to promote love and justice and describes a vision of Christian communities that earnestly seek to love their neighbors.
Kevin Timpe of Calvin’s philosophy department heard about the statement from one of his colleagues at Westmont College. Timpe said that one paragraph in the statement particularly compelled him to sign:
“Regardless of where Christians stand politically, the gospel demands we recognize vulnerable populations among us. The gospel also demands that Christians recognize ways we benefit from and participate in structural injustices. Ignoring policies that denigrate and even endanger vulnerable groups is not a faithful option, even if privilege allows some to do so. When we have power, we are called to use it justly and for the good of all.”
Timpe explained that privilege must be used to empower those in precarious social situations: “I teach a number of classes that deal with the virtue of justice, and I think the statement is right that we are obligated to work for justice, even if the injustice doesn’t directly affect us but others.”
After hearing about the statement from Timpe, Sinniah decided to add his name to the list of signatures because it resonated with his belief in identifying with people who live in fear, his desire to identify with his neighbor, and his belief that Christians “need to be ‘truth seekers’ and not pander to political ideologies.”
In signing this document, Sinniah said he hoped that it will give Christian faculty “a platform to speak against hatred, especially when it comes from Christians against those who are weak and vulnerable” and will “help to bridge the polarization among Christians within our churches.”
Timpe said he hoped “an expression of solidarity like this gives some degree of comfort to those to whom we are committing.” He went on to say that the statement presents the opportunity to confess both intentional and unintentional moral failings, and explained that signing the statement allows his students and colleagues to hold him accountable to the commitments expressed in the document.
In signing the statement, Christian faculty commit to the vision of “a community in which walls of hostility are broken down […] and where love casts out all fear.”
When asked how the Calvin community is breaking down barriers of hostility, Sinniah said, “I believe the college has made a tremendous effort at breaking down barriers at the institutional level.” Yet he also added that it is still a work in progress: “There is much to be done in this area at the individual and departmental levels at Calvin.”
Timpe said, “What I’ve been impressed with during my short time here is the College’s willingness to wrestle with some of the difficult questions that my previous university preferred to ignore.” One example, he said, was the number of Calvin faculty who signed this statement. In doing so, these faculty and staff commit to “humbly seek not only to love our neighbor but to know our neighbor […], through our conversations, classroom discussions and times of prayer.”