Community of Courage – Humanities
Bendi Benson Schrambach, Ph.D.
Good evening. It is an honor to celebrate with you the inauguration of our new president, Beck Taylor.
How should a Christian philosophy professor teach the outspoken atheist Friedrich Nietzsche and Nietzsche's critique of Christian morality?
How should a French professor introduce the topic of present-day racism against French citizens of North African descent?
How should a theology professor facilitate a discussion on the often controversial matter of a woman's role in the family and in the Church?
These and similar questions arise each day on Whitworth's campus. As an instructor of humanities, I have observed many ways that Whitworth professors courageously – and prayerfully – broach these delicate issues with their students. And I would suggest that Whitworth embodies a community of courage in part because of the willingness of these professors to ask difficult questions, engage in challenging discussions and sometimes accept ambiguity.
Not on fundamental issues of our faith, of course: the Headship of God; the Lordship of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit are the foundation upon which all is built. But given these certainties, given the fact that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," Whitworth professors take on important topics – topics that will or should cross the minds of young, compassionate scholars – such as injustice, prejudice, poverty, racism, sexism and challenges to our faith. If a Whitworth classroom isn't a safe environment in which to raise these issues, often in the form of incisive questions, then where is?
Jesus knew the value of asking thorny questions: "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?", "Where is your faith?" and "Who do people say that I am?" In the Sermon on the Mount alone, Jesus posed more than fourteen questions, using them to prompt critical thinking, draw out those who might otherwise not take a stand, and promote action. Remember how empowered Peter was when he finally got the answer right?
But not all questions possess so straightforward a reply as Peter's. On the contrary, some questions highlight uncertainty and raise additional arguments. Some admit no pat response at all. Yet as we attempt to uncover and shed light on the world's problems – past and present, and, when possible, inspire practical change, all types of questions should be raised in our classrooms.
And they are – in courses as varied as the History offering "Colonialism and Globalization," to the theology course, "How Free Are We?" We are a community of courage when, in philosophy, we dissect and debate divergent theories of justice or when, in theatre, we bring this art to bear on issues of justice in Spokane, beginning with an investigation of our own prejudices. We are a community of courage when we canvass modern day examples of injustice, such as on a study program to Thailand where students meet women exploited in human trafficking. We are a community of courage in English, French, German and Spanish courses when we analyze racism through examinations of literature from underrepresented populations and grant a voice to the manifold perspectives of the "Other." We are a community of courage, finally, when we ask our students to live in poverty, participate in service projects to the poor and listen to the testimony of eye-witnesses to atrocities that have torn families apart on the Central America Study Program.
At our best, we in humanities inspire our students to reflection and to action by means of good questions raised but not always answered. Through this approach and others, courageous professors model positive and compelling ways for our students to grapple with the trials and the triumphs of humanity in our fallen world.