December 12, 2014

A personal statement by President Jay Rundell

As president of Methodist Theological School in Ohio, I have the privilege of speaking and acting to influence our seminary community in important ways. I strive to be a self-aware caretaker of that privilege and a thoughtful steward of the responsibilities and opportunities that accompany my role. I believe I am most faithful to this task when I attempt to listen, deeply and broadly, before I write or speak or act.

There is much to be heard in the streets of our nation's cities and neighborhoods. There is much to be heard in the hallways of our campus buildings. There are sounds of pain and anger about the racial inequity and injustice inherent to human relationships in American society. There is also deafening silence about the same matters. And there are both cries and sighs of frustration about that silence. There is the white noise of distractions, both substantive and frivolous, which too often take their place ahead of the matters that matter the most.

I have found in recent days that there is much for me to learn in listening to what's on my own mind and in my own heart. I am deeply saddened by the clear disparities between the experiences of law enforcement for white people and black people in America. I am sickened by the anecdotal stories of virtually every person of color I know. I am numbed by overwhelming empirical data that show an egregious inequity in police stops, arrests and rates of incarceration involving white people and people of color. Specifically, events in Ferguson, Dayton, Cleveland and Staten Island represent a reality that simply has to change.

I have found it important in my own processing to not underestimate my own complicity as a white man in this complex mess. And I am finding it important to not assume I know all there is to know. I can't directly know the experiences of persons of color, but I believe they are markedly different from my own in ways I need to take seriously. I don't need to condemn all authority and authorities in the American legal system to know that the system itself is broken in serious ways and is understandably not trusted by many of the people who need to be able to trust it the most.

In my listening and soul searching, I have tried to identify ways in which these matters are uniquely important to a seminary community. We are not a community of legal experts or even of those who can best speak to the historical and social complexities that continue to shape this national reality. And yet we are a community of learners and doers who are inspired and emboldened by the idea that the Gospel message with which we have been entrusted is one which summons our world to a state of justice and wholeness. In that regard, I deplore the systemic inequities that marginalize and disadvantage people along lines of race and class in ways that dehumanize all of us, both the oppressed and the oppressor. What we face in the killing of unarmed black persons without apparent legal consequence for those responsible is a particular, long-term, painful example of chronic injustice issues in our country. For us, this work is not peripheral business; it is our most central calling and vocation.

In an effort to transform words into action, I have called on all members of the MTSO community to speak in the ways they can. What's more, I have charged them with joining together in a serious and sustained effort in the coming months to engage our own structures, practices and commitments with the goal of transforming our school so that it embodies the very values we are attempting to speak to in these difficult weeks – and so that we succeed in motivating and equipping all MTSO graduates to do this work in the communities they will serve.

I ask for your prayers as well as your words of affirmation or challenge as we move ahead together in this essential undertaking.