By: Rev. Aaron Bolerjack
There was an ungly, racially insensitive incident at my (other) alma mater a few weeks ago.
Yes, before I came to OSU for grad school, I also attended a small, Christian liberal arts college in a different town.
To make a long story short: a young man made a dumb choice in public, and things escalated pretty quickly thanks to social media. Views were traded, insults exchanged, and a few threats were made. It didn’t take long for the conversation to get out of hand, and the school’s campus justice council stepped in pretty quickly. But in some ways the damage was already done.
In the immediate aftermath, I was surprised to hear many different sides to the same story. Some of my friends saw nothing wrong with the young man’s innocent insensitivity. Others condemned his offensive actions, regardless of their intent. Some blamed the young man; some blamed the environment he was raised in; others blamed the school itself.
A few days after the incident, I attended an on-campus discussion forum held for staff members, students, and alumni to share their ideas and experiences. I was surprised and saddened to hear so many members of the campus community describe their personal interactions with racial prejudice. Right here in Oklahoma. In 2016.
I heard angry voices.
“I was told by one student here that I was the Affirmative Action hire.”
“I shouldn’t have to answer phone calls from people in Ohio and have to explain to people who don’t know that we are not like this.”
“When I came to interview for a job here, a secretary looked at me and said. ‘Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. The trash is really piling up.’ She thought I was the janitor.”
I heard incredulous voices.
“On the way to Disneyworld, my family got stopped six times. We didn’t think that living in the United States was supposed to be like this, you now? The land of the free.”
“Let’s not promote Christ and then not act like him.”
“Stop telling me that you’re sorry and just fix it.”
I heard saddened voices.
“For 17 years I hated my skin tone. I’m 19 years old now. People have been pointing out my color for as long as I’ve been alive. People used to ask my mom whose kid she was babysitting.”
“A lot of the professors here are very smart and very successful. And why don’t any of them look like me?”
“I’m getting tired. And it sucks. Because I don’t really feel like loving people anymore.”
But I also heard voices of hope.
“I love you all. I love this place. And it breaks my heart that this has been a place where so many have been marginalized and experienced prejudice.”
“I really believe that as Christians we are called to do three things: love God, love others, and push back darkness.”
And then -mercifully, beautifully- the school chaplain recalled for us of the words of the Peace Prayer sometimes attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon…Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.”
And we were reminded: as Christians, we are created to live (and love) in community.
We are responsible for each other -in good times and bad times- because we are in relationship with each other. And those relationships transcend categories like race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and socio-economic status.
As the Apostle Paul reminded the Galatians: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith…There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:26-28, NRSV)
In other words: we are called to bring love, light, and joy to each other.
To love God. To love others. And to push back darkness.
*Rev. Aaron Bolerjack graduated from Oklahoma State (MA History) in 2010.
He is currently Co-Pastor for College & Community at OKC First Church of the Nazarene and Adjunct Professor of History at Southern Nazarene University.