Every year since I arrived at Cedarville, we have celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr., day by inviting a guest to chapel and, on occasion, holding smaller events across campus. Every year, I have received questions from students and parents about why we did not observe the day as a holiday. Every year, we have discussed whether the most appropriate way to celebrate the day was through chapel or observing the holiday. This year was no exception.
During lunch following our chapel service, I asked our guests, which included chapel speaker, Dr. Allen McFarland; and a few others for their thoughts on this matter. We had a good discussion among the guests about all of the things we could do to have good discussions and celebrate the day. During that time, Dr. McFarland said something that impacted me greatly. He said, “No black man will think you are celebrating the day unless you are closed. No matter what you do, that will be the perception. You can have a guest speaker in anytime.” That may not have been his exact wording, but that was the gist of it. I’m thankful for his honesty.
In my personal Bible reading that day, I had just read Proverbs 12:15, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” I don’t believe in coincidence.
That afternoon, the Cabinet held a discussion on what to do and decided that we would close for Martin Luther King, Jr., day from this point forward.
We desire to serve well, and part of that is listening well to the right advice. As an overwhelmingly white campus, we must make intentional decisions that clearly communicate our desire to look more like heaven than we do right now. I hope and pray that this decision will communicate to families that we genuinely desire to have a more diverse, authentic Christian community in these cornfields. We do not deserve applause for this decision, as frankly it should have been made years ago.
To make this change, we must adjust the academic calendar. We cannot take an extra day off of classes and meet the Higher Learning Commission guidelines for required hours of instruction. Thus, we will begin to hold classes on the Monday after Easter. This Monday has never been a holiday for staff members, but we have never had classes on that day. As boldly as we proclaim the Gospel, along with taking Good Friday as a holiday, and the fact that the Monday was only a break from classes and not a complete holiday, means that no message is being sent by operating fully on the Monday after Easter.
It won’t be easy to make progress looking more like heaven, but we must try. We must have difficult, frank conversations that may be awkward at times, but we must have them. We will make some mistakes along the way. We must apologize and keep working. When we fail, we must try again. We must take intentional and strategic steps to communicate that we truly desire all ethnicities to feel at home and welcomed at Cedarville University. During that lunch, I realized that one decision, a relatively easy decision in the grand scheme of things, communicated to some of our brothers in sisters in Christ that we didn’t truly celebrate something very important to them. Our actions contradicted our words. Loving others well means apologizing and correcting it. I apologize to all of you, and I am thankful to Dr. McFarland for speaking the truth in love to help us correct it.
Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “The time is always ripe (or right) to do right.” This is right. This is the right time. The time is also always right for all of us to look at our relationships with others and see what we can do to extend the olive branch of love in the same way that Christ has loved us.
In Christ Alone,
Cedarville University President