OBU President Dr. Heath A. Thomas led a panel discussion about challenges we are facing regarding racial and cultural issues, both on our campus and in our world, for the Wednesday chapel service Oct. 14. The panel included Dr. Hephzibah Dutt, assistant professor of theatre and director of theatre; Tony Rhone, pastor of Galilee Baptist Church in Shawnee; and Misael Gonzalez, spring 2020 graduate and ministerial staff member at FBC Owasso, Oklahoma.
Thomas opened the discussion by asking about racial injustice and how we prepare ourselves for the conversation.
“There is a historical perspective to racial injustice,” Dutt said. “It didn’t just emerge this past summer. It just jumped into the limelight is all. So I think remembering that we are products of our personal histories, that we are products of the voices that built us, just in the same way our communities are products of history and the shape, the laws, the rulers, the nations that govern laws built the communities we live in today. All this to say, we are part of a bigger story.”
Thomas added that it is important to remember it is OK to disagree.
“As a community at OBU, one of the key components of our education is we want to be critical thinkers,” he said. “Critical thinkers don’t always agree with someone who holds a different view than we, but as critical thinkers, we respect the other person.”
Gonzalez added the concept that as Christians, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard and we should expect more of how we love and treat one another.
“We’re coming at this from a biblical worldview,” he said. “We are speaking to people that claim to be transformed by the grace of God. We are speaking to born again believers, and I think that we should expect more from born again believers, from transformed and restored hearts. As we begin to talk about this conversation…we have to understand that there are some blind spots in our lives.”
Rhone noted that the effect of sin doesn’t stop at the door of the church, and that as Christians, we must stand against it.
“If there is any blame to be placed upon the continuing issues of race that we see in our culture, in our society, and even in the church, the church has to take the major blame for that,” he said. “The church has to take the major blame for the racism we see in our culture, because one of God’s purposes for the church is to bring those two men together so that they are no longer two, but that they are one.”
He challenged viewers with the reminder that we are called to be one church and not a divided church upon racial lines.
Dutt added that sin has taken shape in the systems that govern our societies. She noted that as Christians, we should be held to higher standards and filled with a holy discontent that the sin of racial inequalities exists in our societies.
Rhone added to the conversation that it is important for our diverse community to come together and see each other for what we are and where we come from, whether we disagree or not.
Gonzalez shared that there seems to be this idea of “normal” and then everyone else.
“When we think of a new normal, maybe we should think that diversity is not the goal, because diversity means variety. Maybe the goal should be equity,” Gonzalez said.
Rhone added that we all bear the image of God.
“God created humanity, and every person made in the image of God, bears part of God,” he said.
Thomas closed the panel discussion by allowing each panelist to give a word of encouragement to students listening. Dutt encouraged students to remember that we do not have the whole picture and to approach discussions with open ears, while Rhone encouraged students to show mercy and humility. Gonzalez reminded students to live in humility and in boldness.