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A Message from President Michael A. Thomas on Racism and Sin

May 31, 2020

Good Shepherd Chapel

Once again our hearts are heavy as we witness another unjust, tragic, and senseless death of a person of color. There is no need to ask why this happened, as if we don’t already know. If we search our souls, all of us know. Hatred and violence—the sort that led to the death of George Floyd—are rooted in one of the deepest of human sins, racism. Each Christian, as a devout follower of the Lord who loves each and every human being sacrificially, must condemn racism in all its forms, whether subtle or overt, furtive or conspicuous, disdainful or violent. We are called to love all our neighbors as ourselves; those with a different skin tone, ethnicity, language, gender, etc. are included in this command. Therefore, as Christians and as human beings, we grieve deeply over the tragic and senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and so many others who have suffered indignity, the trauma of racism, and even death at the hands of bigots and racists.

Concordia University Irvine, as a Lutheran Christian University, condemns racism in all its horrific forms. We know that these deaths should move us to more than condemnation. It requires action in our nation, state, city, campus, and most importantly in our individual interactions with each other. Some people have taken to protesting peacefully in the streets throughout the nation. This is a first step, but one that has been undermined by others who have succumbed to more senseless violence, destruction, and looting. Instead, we must look beyond the present moment to address the structural and institutional racism that exists in our communities. Even the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately infected and killed people of color at a much higher rate due to the lack of accessible and affordable healthcare. Many of us are paralyzed about what we can do as individuals. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, yet racism vehemently attacks that qualifier, “as ourselves.”

At Concordia, we know that some of our students of color face incredible challenges. It is not enough to celebrate diversity. We must build a community that endeavors to remove inequities and biases on campus and create safe and nurturing environments for all students, but especially for students of color. But what does this mean concretely? To be perfectly honest, I am not sure. How can I, as the President of Concordia, even start to understand what obstacles students of color face on our campus? I have told myself over the years that I could empathize with students of different backgrounds other than my own, but now I realize that such a sentiment is utter foolishness. How can I understand what it is like to be a person of color in the United States? However, I am very willing to listen and learn from others who do know, those in our midst who have suffered from acts of racism. And I know there are many others on campus who want to do the same. While we might not understand or even be able to fully empathize, we know that many Concordia Irvine students and their families are hurting deeply right now. That we can understand. As Christians and human beings, we know what it means to hurt deeply and to feel sorrow well up in our bones. We’ll start with that aspect of our shared humanity… and we’ll listen intently and with vulnerability. And then we’ll act on a collective vision.

This week we will begin a series of Town Halls. Tomorrow afternoon, I and others administrators from CUI will meet virtually with two student groups, Black Student Union and Nuestra Voz, CUI’s Hispanic Club. The purpose? To listen intently to specific concerns and needs. We administrators will join ourselves to our students of color and work jointly on solutions that continue to address racism on our campus. Later in the week, CUI athletes will join a Town Hall, and then Friday we’ll open the discussion up a little wider. But this is only a start. I am committing to working with student leaders at Concordia University Irvine to create a community where all feel welcomed and loved as individuals, just as Christ has called us to love one another sacrificially.

For many Christians, Sunday was the celebration of Pentecost. This Christian holiday commemorates the birth of the Church as Christ breathed the Holy Spirit upon his followers who in turn began proclaiming the gospel in the specific language of all those gathered in Jerusalem from every part of the world. What is not stated explicitly is that each of these individuals—from places as disparate as Rome, North Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East— represented each race and ethnicity from antiquity. The Church, on that very day, became the Church not just for the Jews, but for every peoples on earth. As a Lutheran Christian university, Concordia Irvine strives to welcome each and every student, from every corner of the world, to join our learning community. Where our Lord calls us all together in community, there is no room for bigotry or hatred.

Our heavy hearts grieve with the family of Mr. George Floyd over this senseless and wasteful death. Likewise we deeply mourn with the communities of color around our nation as they struggle with hatred and try to manage their fear over the coming days. May the Lord bring each community, family, and individual the peace that only Christ can give. We pray that the Lord will use every one of us to build Concordia University into a community where each and every person is welcomed and loved deeply and richly.

Dr. Michael Thomas

Michael A. Thomas, Ph.D.
President, Concordia University Irvine

Virtual Town Halls

Black Student Union & Nuestra Voz Town Hall

Monday, June 1: 4pm-5pm PST

Student-Athlete Town Hall

Thursday, June 4: Time to be announced

Town Hall for all CUI students

Friday, June 5: Time to be announced

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