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Bethel faculty reject Christian association with nationalism, white supremacy in Inauguration Day statement

A statement released to the Bethel community today addressed a transition of power following recent polarizing events at the Capitol.

By Rachel Blood | News Reporter

A statement written by History Department Chair Dr. Christopher Gehrz and other Bethel faculty addressing this year’s inauguration day was sent via email to the Bethel community today. The letter prays for a peaceful transition of power in light of the Jan. 6 events at the U.S. Capitol and was signed by about 300 members of the Bethel community. 

The statement is notably preceded by the disclaimer that the absence of a community member’s signature “doesn’t necessarily mean that this person has deliberately withheld their support for this statement.” 

The unofficial faculty statement builds on Sunday’s community email from President Ross Allen, which also addressed the Capitol violence and urged for “healing in the midst of division.” Unlike President Allen’s initial email, however, Gehrz’s statement also firmly condemns the use of Jesus’ name and symbols of white supremacy, racism and nationalism seen at the events at the Capitol.

Since the faculty statement was released, President Allen sent an additional email to the Bethel community saying he met with the faculty authors upon the writing of the inauguration statement. Instead of fueling heated debates, he said, the goal of the statement was primarily to serve as a dialogue catalyst for the community. 

Allen emphasized that regardless of whether or not an individual agrees with the statement, they are a valued part of the Bethel community. He encouraged readers to thoughtfully engage in conversation, seek truth and take action to follow Jesus’ example. Allen and his cabinet have a practice of refraining from signing documents and petitions and have upheld this practice with the most recent statement.

For Gehrz, one of the most pressing issues in light of recent political division is Christianity.

Reverend Ridout, Converge President, called the usage of the cross in association with the events at the Capitol the “present disgraceful association of Christians with nationalism, white supremacy and racism.” 

Gehrz wrote, “As members of Christ’s church and educators at a Christ-centered university, we confess our own role in the larger failure of discipleship that has led so many white American Christians to make idols of their race and nation.”

“I couldn’t stay silent when Christianity was being fused with white supremacy, racism, and nationalism,” Gehrz said. “I thought that this day of transition could be a time for us to come together as a community and reflect on what it means for followers of Jesus Christ to participate in a democracy.”

An email sent out to political science majors and minors accompanying the statement addressed how the document may strike some readers as controversial. The issues within are complex and raise questions leading to important debates, which “are actually a sign of a healthy learning community,” according to the email.

“These are historic times in our nation,” Faculty Senate President Amy Dykstra said. “Students at Bethel University have great opportunities to learn from faculty and staff members as we all respond to the various crises our country is going through, by trying in our different ways to apply our faith to what is going on.”

Dykstra, like Gehrz, has been discouraged by the Christian affiliations with the events at the Capitol. The statement released aimed to spark dialogue regarding Christian engagement in democracy.

“I wanted to encourage us to seek truthful information, and I wanted to call us all to continue to work on reconciliation,” said Dykstra. “This is all part of our calling to be salt and light, to be reconcilers, and in general to live out our Christian faith.”

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