SPU lacks strong Christian identity

Like many students, I came to Seattle Pacific because it was a Christian university. Although I am a Christian, I ultimately chose SPU because it didn’t require students to be Christians, and I wanted a place where all people would feel welcome to have conversations and have different opinions.

I believe the freedom to choose is an essential part of SPU’s identity. In 1891, SPU began as a seminary dedicated to sending out missionaries to all the corners of the Earth.

Over the years, and in a move to become more inclusive, we have lost our identity as being rooted in faith above all else.

Over the last decade, at least 70 percent of students identify as being strongly Christian.

But we don’t require them to engage in any sort of Christian community or education outside of the UFND series. Over 40 percent of students graduate from SPU without ever attending a campus worship event, such as Gather or Group.

It is common to go on a student-led tour without hearing a single mention of our Christian identity. We are hiding our faith, and we are certainly no longer a school with the deep desire to send missionaries out to the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

We have embraced our motto “Engage the culture, change the world” so well that we fit right in. We have engaged the culture so well that it is impossible to tell us apart from anyone else.

We are trying to change the world, so long as no one knows we are Christians. You’ve all seen the “From this place…” banners around campus. They are wonderful achievements from some talented and gifted alumni, but not one of them mentions a single thing about Christ.

Not one of them even hints at our Christian identity. We will boast about nonprofits, development work, social justice and professional athletics, but Heaven forbid we boast about Jesus Christ.

We live in a world that has mistaken tolerance for grace and have become so concerned about being tolerant, accepting and inclusive that we have shied away from the difficult narratives Scripture presents us.

We no longer present the truth that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We have become an apologetically Christian university.

We act like our faith is something to apologize for, so we try to hide that part of our identity. We have won the fight for inclusivity, but done so at the expense of our identity.

We have forgotten how to follow in the footsteps of our radically inclusive yet dangerously bold savior, Jesus Christ.

Hope is far from lost, and I believe that SPU will continue to be a Christian university.

But if Jesus Christ is not the center, not the focus, not the basis of our university, then we will always be apologizing. We will constantly be on defense, trying not to hurt anyone offend anyone, or make anyone uncomfortable. But that is not the faith that we are called to have.

If SPU is going to continue to be the Christian institution we claim it to be, then things need to change. All our staff and faculty need to actively engage with students about what it means to be Christian.

Our professors need to bravely share their faith because students need models to look up to.

Our tour guides cannot be afraid to claim SPU’s Christian identity. Our marketing campaigns cannot strategically hide our faith.

My hope that non-Christian students who choose to come to SPU will not only have a fair understanding of SPU’s core commitments, but will also feel welcome regardless of their religion.

A diverse student body of different faith traditions, cultural backgrounds, economic positions, interests and gifts is what makes SPU great.

I believe God is doing something great through Seattle Pacific University, and I believe it is going to take hard work and big risks. We cannot be afraid or apologize for being Christians.

I pray that the city of Seattle will know we are Christians by our love, by our words and by our deeds.

I pray that the city of Seattle comes to know Jesus through every interaction with Seattle Pacific University.

 

Laura Nile is a senior theology major.

This article was posted in the section Opinion.

3 thoughts on “SPU lacks strong Christian identity

  1. It seems to me you want the best of both worlds. You came to SPU because you appreciated the diversity it would offer, however over-emphasizing SPU’s Christian faith would only alienate those different than yourself in faith and background. I would disagree that SPU is greatly steering away from its Christian identity. We are one of the few schools which still requires all professors to take an oath of faith. Other well-known Christian universities in this state: Gonzaga, Seattle University, and Whitworth University do not require this. We have multiple campus worship groups. Our library even closes for special chapel services!
    Also mentioned in your editorial were the “From This Place” banners around campus, although they do not explicitly mention Christ, these people are living a life that exemplifies the values that Christ laid out. I would agree with you that there needs to be a balance between SPU accepting its Christian history and trying to be accepting to those who are different. However, I disagree with your opinion that SPU is not already doing a great job of that. Tacking on more Christian related requirements such as: attending worship or church services and/or requiring professors to speak even more of their faith would make the students with a variety of different belief systems feel out of place, which is really not what I think SPU wants. I appreciate how SPU works to have students be aware of the faith and values of the school without making it feel forced or preach-y.

  2. I agree with Marina. This seems contradictory. While we ARE a Christian university and are acknowledged as such from affiliates and strangers alike, the school should not alienate those who do not identify as Christians and should come to accept the inevitable diversity that comes with higher education. Students come here for any number of reasons, not just for our religiosity. Even if we had what you considered a “strong” Christian identity, what would that say about us as a group of people? Would that classify us as xenophobic? Maybe uppity or exclusive? It seems that this is almost striving for some sort of Christian utopia in which we all emanate the word of God and live like Jesus while trying to embrace those that aren’t Christians, yet still wanting them to support the very prominent religious identity of the school. The fact of the matter is, is that we can’t expect to have this controlled, church-like environment for four years and expect the rest of our lives to follow in this manner. We cannot neglect the fact that there are people who do not adhere to the lifestyle expectations and religious views upheld at SPU – that’s a fact of life and it should not be ignored.

    I would argue that SPU is already a place that has a “strong” Christian identity. From my experience, professors make their faith very well known and often integrate that into their classes – sometimes even opening and closing class with prayer. Many people make the assumption that all of the students are Christian and have a strong background in the Word, so much to the point that it actually makes it difficult and sometimes unwelcoming for those who do not. With the mentality that many have here at SPU, peoples’ identities ultimately stem from their religion (or lack thereof), and I don’t think that our definition of embracing diversity should be rooted in accepting different ethnicities and cultures alone – religion should be included, without people feeling the need to evangelize. Now don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m generalizing a lot, but I would have to say an overwhelming majority of students are so set in the idea that we are an all-Christian school that there is a significant amount of insensitivity to beliefs that do not lie tangent with “ours”.

    I came to this school well aware of its Christian values, but that wasn’t why I chose to attend here. If the school works so hard to take on a stronger Christian identity, that puts pressure on the students to take this on as well, thus steering others away.
    If you want students who don’t identify as religious to understand SPU’s standpoint and to feel welcome while still trying to reemphasize and uphold this strong Christian identity that we supposedly lost, this is not the way to do it. We can’t do both successfully, in the way you appear to be stressing it. There is a happy medium, but we just can’t have the best of both worlds in this manner.

  3. It’s the result of the increasing liberalism of both theology and politics, sadly. The school will only be as good as long as it’s the majority of students who profess Jesus Christ. Heaven forbid eventually they just let staff believe whatever they want. SPU is spitting out more and more generations of kids who think they get to decide who God is and what the bible actually means instead of LEARNING about Him and it.

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