Because of, Not in Spite Of: A Holiday Message

Berea College Christmas Ball Ornament

 “For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness.” – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

This is a season when people of many different spiritual backgrounds celebrate holidays, and I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about Berea College’s commitment to inclusive Christian values, a guiding philosophy that drives us to accept, minister to, and embrace and learn from people of different faiths or no faith at all. This approach has its roots in our founding.

Our founder, Christian abolitionist, the Reverend John G. Fee, viewed the mission of providing an education to those most in need regardless of “caste” as a way to “promote the Cause of Christ.” The “Cause of Christ” was one of unity and social reform, hence Fee’s insistence on the school being nonsectarian, and one of providing for the needy in a way that transcends difference. Fee took the guiding motto of Berea, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth” (Acts 17:26) from scripture to emphasize that kinship we all share has its foundation in faith. And that kinship means looking past the surface issues that divide us—race, class, gender or creed—to love and learn from each other in all possible ways.

Some educational communities strive to be religiously inclusive by diminishing the significance of any particular faith commitment.  We take the alternative approach of encouraging everyone on their respective spiritual journeys, realizing with Rabbi Sacks and so many other great religious thinkers that thereby our way will be more brightly lit.

In short, Berea College is inclusive of all people, regardless of faith, because of our Christian commitment, not in spite of that commitment. This approach gets beyond mere tolerance. It’s not just letting others work or go to school here, it’s about loving each other and wanting to engage with each other, agreeing that the spiritual commitment of others enriches our own and vice versa.

The Christmas season—a time for “peace on earth and goodwill towards men”—is the perfect time of year for reaffirming the kinship we all share and celebrating the myriad ways we can live and study alongside each other in mutual appreciation and work toward the common good of all humanity.

With that in mind, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a joyous season for all traditions. May we open our hearts and minds to one another in peace and love.