I’m a Seattle Pacific University graduate. My gal was an adjunct professor at the school this year.
On “date night,” as her class wrapped up, I’d wait for her in the same lobby where a 26-year-old mentally unstable gunman allegedly opened fire Thursday, killing one student and severely wounding others.
More than the unfolding narrative of what drove this gunman, this is what I’d like you to know about my alma mater as it grieves.
SPU is a weird place, at least to me. When I arrived from public school at this “distinctly Christian” university founded by Free Methodists, I was exposed for the first time to mainline Protestant theology and practice.
Growing up evangelical in a loud nondenominational church, the only outsiders I knew were crude “bro” types from high school. Mainliners worship differently, I soon learned. Their guitars were acoustic and their songs new to me. They loved hymns. A lot of them scoffed at creationists, which I considered myself.
The theology faculty were mostly liberal. Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll, before his Mars Hill congregation became a multi-state movement and neo-Calvinist beachhead, was stopped from leading a Bible study on campus by the theology faculty. They didn’t like his views on women and ministry.
This, however, is an incomplete picture. Professor Reed Davis, at the time the chair of the county Republican Party, told students that we could have more honest discussions at SPU on nearly everything – sex, politics, evolution, the raging social issues of the day – than at the University of Washington on the other side of the canal. He was right.
‘What Does the LORD Require of You?’
You could be a conservative, a liberal, or a “squishy” moderate (as Davis jokingly called some of his students) at SPU and feel respected. The conservative political club and the lefty evangelicals each brought speakers to campus. No one was shouted down or intimidated. Flyers weren’t torn down. Many of us were friends with political opposites.
I’m not sure this kind of academic openness and social tolerance happens consistently at state schools or elite private universities.
SPU is tolerant precisely because its identity is Christian. As President Daniel Martin, who arrived at SPU this fall, said powerfully after the shooting, “We are a community that relies on Jesus Christ for strength, and we’ll need that at this time.”
The sign that greets visitors to the Student Union Building quotes Micah 6:8: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” It demands a daily mental reset, whether you believe in a more aggressive or more limited government.
It even affects press coverage. As a reporter for The Falcon, I wrote a story on the weakness of the school’s expensive new Internet filter, which drew a strong private rebuke from a student government officer. But we talked it over amicably. You can do that kind of thing more easily when you both see your need for a Savior.
Tolerance Rooted in Faith
I’ve come to appreciate SPU’s core tolerance more since moving back to Seattle in 2010. During Sex Week this spring – a series of discussions on issues and relationships, not dildos – the campus hosted a debate on homosexuality and the Bible.
Both activists said they identify as gay Christians, but one believes in monogamous same-sex marriage, and the other believes his faith requires celibacy. They tour the country together, taking turns talking about their views and lives. It was genuinely the most enlightening conversation I’ve ever heard on homosexuality, and the audience was rapt. I can’t imagine it happening many other places.
Much of what we cover at The College Fix is the active intolerance for views that do not match a narrow sphere of progressive thought. Even progressives get called out for whatever –ism has been singled out this year (“taco-ism” now?).
Maybe this will happen at SPU. Sometimes it waffles on free speech or pursues a mushy middle. (It’s an inspiration for a Web series I’m developing.) SPU’s ambitious motto – “engaging the culture, changing the world” – is a frequent punch line for alumni who have come up on the wrong side of a “lifestyle” infraction.
I still remember one theology professor, Frank Spina, pouncing on a freshman when she said matter-of-factly the serpent in the Garden of Eden was Satan. I thought he was a jerk. My assessment quickly changed.
Spina led the campus – and the city – in lamentations just hours after the shooting. He didn’t sugarcoat it. This is going to hurt like hell for a long time for the SPU community.
But the school will pull through in the way President Martin described. You can identify us Falcons on Facebook and Twitter by our school’s red-and-white torch logo. Read about the deep reservoirs of faith that continue to sustain the community during tragedy.
And please, #PrayforSPU.
Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)
IMAGES: Curtis Cronn/Flickr; Inside image: Facebook, Internet screenshot