During the President's Q & A during student leader training, an Asian American student leader asked about the white Jesus in the Voskuyl Prayer Chapel. The following is an unabridged transcription of the exchange:
Student: As you know last semester, there was a lot of discussion between students, faculty, and administration regarding the chapel stained glass window of a White Jesus and the implications it has on campus that it has on the Westmont community. I was wondering if you could offer your thoughts on the window dialogue that took place, the deeper dialogue surrounding racial diversity at Westmont and the colleges decision to ultimately keep the window.
Dr. Beebe: Yeah. Well it's a memorial chapel and so I wanted it kept whole, and uh I certainly believe that it should be kept whole. Theres a variety of opinions on it, but my discipline, my Phd is in Philosphy, Religion and Historical Theology, and one of my favorite books is Jaroslav Pelikan's Jesus Through the Centuries. What the book teaches you is that throughout the 2,000 year history of the church there have been multiple ways in which Christ has been depicted depending on which culture [one is from]. And what you see in that book, and Edee (The Vice President of Student Life) ended up locating and giving me [this book] on my birthday a pictoral rendering of it. You see that wherever Christianity takes root, Christ is actually represented in the form of the race in that area. So you go through the book and you look at Jesus in Africa, Jesus is depicted as an African, an Asian, a European, South American, North American. And this is something that I think is lost in the conversation is, what is the righter way in which Jesus has been depicted in theology. He hasn't been depicted as a, uh, White North American in Africa, the culture takes on certain embodiments. I think that helps understand that there is a timeless component to the message, and there is a time bound component. There is a theological piece, and a cultural piece. What I really hope we can push into this year, is, not taking one away, but adding multiple embodiment's, thats part of our global engagement. We actually show how Jesus has been depicted around the world.
And I don't know if you have entered at our home, or were in chapel when they presented us with this gift of the Saint Agustin Painting. Have you seen this hanging in our home now?
Dr. Beebe: You haven't seen it? Well the, uh, the artist's, who is a tremendous artist, his first rendering of it, was of a, of an image of a Northern European, White, Balding Male, as Saint Augustine. and I sat down, I said "you know, Saint Augustine was from North Africa, I have always imagined he looked as if he was from Algeria, or from Ethiopia. So would you be willing to use the 40 year old face of one of my friends from seminary(?)" who eventually became the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. And the artist who is wonderful in that he'll take input, so if you see the rendering of Saint Augustine in the picture that was painted as a gift from the board to us, and it was to thank me for the start of the Augustinian scholars program, but it is a picture of my friend, where the face of Saint Augustine is an Ethiopian, and it's a beautiful rendering, and I think it's very accurate to how we should imagine Saint Augustine. And I want to see us do more to contextualize these images, rather than just expropriate them. And in that I'm glad that we fixed the window, I'm glad we put it back in, and in this coming year I really hope that we can add images of Christ on Campus that are reflective of the university in our community and in our world.
Student: Can I ask a follow up?
Dr. Beebe: Yeah, please.
Student: I guess, like, in the depictions of the Christ in Asia where the majority of the population is Asian, versus depictions in America, where it's almost, you know, 50% People of Color and 50% White, and also given the historical context of White institutions that are in the pathology of America: Do you think that this specific history of America and the depiction of Christ being White, has, I don't know, Do you think those two are connected? and what that portrays to People of Color [on campus]...
Dr. Beebe: I am not sure, if I, come at your question from a different angle ok? (undicernable from recording)
Student: I guess..
Dr. Beebe: Do I think Jesus can be depicted White? and without it offending others? or non-whites? or...
Student: Well l guess like, I heard you talk a lot about how, um, I guess, how Jesus is depicted depending on the culture or...
Dr. Beebe: Yeah.
Student: ...or the context, so in America we often depict Jesus as being White, um...
Dr. Beebe: Well we depict him in a variety of ways.
Student: Right, but like the majority of the way I think he is seen...
Dr. Beebe: Well the chapel was built in honor of Nancy Voskuyl who died in the 60's. During that time the college was easily over 90% White. And so I think it would probably fit the college at that time. Part of what I think we have to do moving forward, is how do we add to the images of Christ from around the world, that are actually more accurate to where the college is going and where the world community is going. And I'd like to see us to that.
But I think it can include, uh, it can include a depiction of Christ as White, but I think it should do more than just have a, a stained glass window where Jesus is White.
We were in South Africa at the Micheal House where we have one of our programs, and we went to this area down in Capetown. Or on the way to Capetown, and it actually was a depiction of Arabian missionaries coming to Capetown and it was almost the same exact rendering as you see in the Chapel. Only it was a French, Arabian Christian standing on France, looking towards South Africa. And I didn't look to see the period of the piece, but often these types of renderings are from similar periods. And I haven't researched, uh where the original architect got the painting, but it would have come of age during a time where the college was predominantly White, and we just need to move beyond that.
Facilitator: Do we have one more question?
Following the submission of the 'Lines of Inquiry' to the Faculty Council, Brendan Fong, Emily Mata and Olivia Stowell discuss the document with the Faculty Council. It is revealed that the stained glass window depicting white Jesus is scheduled for maintenance over the summer which will require it's removal. White normativity in classroom climate and syllabi are discussed.
On April 23rd, 2019, Brendan Fong, Emily Mata and Olivia Stowell met with Edee Shulze (Vice President of Student Life), Stu Cleek (Dean of Students), Scott Lisea (Campus Pastor) and Jason Cha (Director of Intercultural Programs).
In an Op-Ed published in the Horizon, Izzi Mata ('18) responds to the op-ed written by Robert Gundry and the petition.
Mata writes: "Westmont cannot, with clean conscience, continue to pride itself in its diversity and global engagement if it ignores the hypocrisy posed by its most central symbol of worship and community."
Read the full article here.
On April 12th, 2019, the following was sent to Westmont's Administration and Faculty Council:
To whom it may concern,
Nearly two months ago we organized a student petition to address a stained glass window depicting a White Jesus at the forefront of a central spiritual location on campus...
On April 10th, 2019, the student paper featured an article entitled A window into the "Westmont White Jesus" controversy The article by Kate Overton includes an interview with Fong, Mata and Stowell and a timeline of events.
Click to read at the Horizon website.
On March 27th, Will Walker - editor-in-chief of the Horizon newspaper - wrote an op-ed requesting the removal of white Jesus. Alluding to Ta-Neihisi Coats' case for reperations and its endorsement by David Brooks, Walker argues that "Westmont must make a gesture to respect the voices of those who hurt under an image of Jesus... If Westmont wishes to enact the radical love embodied in the New Testament, it will replace White Jesus with a creative and inclusive piece of art which better represents our community, both in terms of its values and its actual demographics." Walker also responds to common objections to the removal of the image and explains the image's spiritual importance.
Read the full article at the Horizon website.
In March 2019, the Westmont Initiative for Public Dialogue and Deliberation held a conversation about Art and Depictions of Christ on Campus. The summary of their report is attached below.
On March 8th, five Westmont professors author three articles published in the Horizon.
Lisa DeBoer - Professor of Art
Caryn Reeder - Associate Professor of New Testament Religious Studies and Co-coordinator of Gender Studies Program
Click here to read at the Horizon
A Westmont to Belong To
Alister Chapman - Professor of History
Felicia Song - Associate Professor of Sociology
Click here to read at the Horizon
Why Objections to white Jesus are only skin deep
Robert Gundry - Professor emeritus and Scholar-in-residence
Click Here to read at the Horizon
On Wednesday, March 6th, Westmont Faculty Council hosted a faculty panel discussion in the Global Leadership Center. The event was attended by more than 230 students, staff, faculty and alumni.
The event was opened by Brendan Fong, Emily Mata and Olivia Stowell who re-stated their case for the removal of white Jesus from the Voskul Prayer Chapel. Their introduction was followed by opening statements from the faculty panel. The panel featured Dr.Lisa DeBoer — Professor of Art, Dr. Telford Work — Professor of Theology, Dr. Alister Chapman — Professor of History, and Dr. Felicia Song — Associate Professor of Sociology. After the opening statements, the floor was open for questions from the attendants for the faculty panel.
On March 4th, Brendan Fong and Emily Mata met with Edee Shulze (Vice President of Student Life), Stu Cleek (Dean of Students), Scott Lisea (Campus Pastor) and Jason Cha (Director of Intercultural Programs).
As early as Febuary 12th, Fong, Mata and Stowell attempted to organize a campus wide discussion via a faculty panel. The event was to be called "#westmontwhitejesus... What's the big deal?" By February 21st, student leaders had faculty willing to participate and a poster ready for publicity. Unfortunately, on February 24th the event was indefinitely postponed by the administrative body responsible for approving student events. Due to this setback, the faculty council began preparations for their own panel entitled #westmontwhitejesus and Life Together which would occur on March 3rd.
On Febuary 19th, 2019, the following email was sent by various students to every student on campus:
Dear fellow students,
Many of you have probably heard about the petition regarding Westmont’s White Jesus, referenced in a recent all-student email on February 13.
In chapel on Febuary 15th, 2019, Campus Pastor Scott Lisea apologized in Chapel to anyone who felt "discouraged" by his email. He offers to speak with personally with anyone after service.
On Febuary 14th, 2019, Brendan Fong '21, Emily Mata '20, and Oliva Stowell '19 posted the following open letter in the Horizon, Westmont's Student Newspaper. This open letter is an abridged version of the letter sent to Westmont's Administration on Tuesday Febuary 5th, 2019.
On Wednesday, Febuary 13th, 2019 at 3:39PM, Pastor Lisea sent the following email to all Students, Staff and Faculty:
We are having thoughtful conversation in our community...
On February 10th, the petition is opened to members of the Westmont Community.
On February 5th, 2019, Brendan Fong, Emily Mata and Olivia Stowell sent the following letter to members of the Administration:
To Whom it May Concern,
It has recently come to the attention of us and other members of the Westmont community that a stained glass image of Jesus Christ in the Voskuyl Memorial Chapel...