The School of Theology held its first Faith Matters panel discussion of the semester in Wynn Amphitheater on Thursday, Oct. 27.

The forum was moderated by exclusively APU professors: Jacquelyn E. Winston, Ph.D, Jessica W. Wong, Ph.D, Gregg Moder, D.Min and Michael A. Mata, M. Div.

Winston opened the discussion by talking about the history of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Civil Rights Movement, as well as similarities and differences between the two.

Growing up during the Civil Rights Movement, Winston shared her understanding of the origins of racism.

“If we’re going to have this kind of discussion, it’s helpful to understand people’s social [background] and social location,” Winston said. “Your worldview is shaped by a number of different factors.”

Winston went on to discuss her experiences growing up and how certain events shaped her current perspective on the racial division that is apparent on a national scale.

“There’s a divide in the country, and the divide in the country is ‘why do we have to talk about this now? Why can’t you people just get over it?'” she said. “From a Christian point of view, the reason we can’t get over it is because racism is the un-repented sin of our nation.”

Wong followed Winston, beginning her lecture. She explained in her speech that “we have not come far” from the racial complications of the past.

“The appraisal of dark bodies as criminal, as a naturally strong [body] as demonic––these are the characteristics that constitute the image of blackness that is projected upon dark bodies,” Wong said. “This visual assessment happens in an instant, and the time it takes to determine whether this person is a threat or not, [and] in the time it takes to decide whether or not to pull the trigger.”

Wong went on to say that the recent police shootings are the product of the perverted racial sight that “infects our whole society.” She said she believes people have failed in their study of theology because they “have domesticated Jesus. We have made Him into our image, and in turn made ourselves like God, and as a result have marginalized non-white bodies.”

According to Wong, the connection of whiteness and Jesus has shaped social imagination, which is a by-product of the Anglo-Saxon images of Jesus. She said the white Jesus has perpetuated a hierarchy of race in which whiteness reigns supreme.

“It is time for us to understand that Jesus is not a comfortable affirmation of ‘my way of life,'” Wong said. “Jesus is not an upper class white man. He is a dark-bodied Jewish man.”

Wong suggests that the next step toward living in harmony is a recognition that “we have been habituated into a perverted way of seeing the world, ourselves and others.”

In her lecture, Wong encouraged students to take small steps toward a new mindset of humility, emphasizing that it does not have to happen through radical acts, but it can be as small as “the act of sharing a meal with someone who doesn’t look like [you], through the act of listening, through the act of making a new friend, and perhaps most profoundly––through the act of falling in love.”

After Wong’s lecture, Moder addressed the concept behind Black Lives Matter as a movement, noting its existence as an effort to organize marginalized voices.

“Activism will get you noticed, but it’s community organizing that gets you heard,” Moder said. “Black Lives Matter is a public outcry.”

Mata concluded the lecture portion of the event by highlighting the uniqueness of each race and how each individual is beautiful in God’s eyes. He explained his feelings of deficiency in his childhood related to his Mexican heritage because of the way others would treat him in school and in church. This was caused by the sense of whiteness that dominated his educational and church environment.

“We are created in God’s image––that’s precious,” he said. “But I wish my church at the time would’ve told me that. I even wish my professors in my theology department at my Christian school would have told me that. I wish I didn’t have to spend most of my life at that time to understand that I am precious.”

Mata said each and every race and individual contributes to his overall understanding of God.

“I appreciate the complexity and the beauty that all of you represent here, because if one of you is missing, then I lose out on who God is,” Mata said. “You bring a unique experience and understanding that I will never have, but I need you to share that with me because in that journey together I have a fuller, deeper, more profound understanding of the love and grace of God and who Jesus Christ is.”

At the conclusion of the event, attendees had the opportunity to reflect on what they learned during a Q&A session.

Senior business management major Rueben Lindsey said he thought it was a great event to explain the movement of Black Lives Matter.

“It was good for those who don’t know what it’s like to be black in America,” Rueben said. “We have to leave our old way of thinking and how we were raised, because sometimes we weren’t raised with the right ideals. We need to be open to hearing other people’s stories and how they feel and how they were brought up.”

Second year student in the Master of Divinity program Norris Spagner said his favorite part of the event was the reiteration of Jesus being a dark-skinned Jewish man.

“I think that was very crucial because I think how white people interact with black people, and even for how black people view themselves, I think that the image of a white Jesus has a huge impact on people.”

Spagner said he believes that getting rid of the toxic dichotomy between white and black and good and bad will effectively change the way people interact with one another.

“If Jesus was a darker skinned person, how does that impact how you interact with darker people?” Spagner said.

Sophomore youth ministry major Colin Magnusson said he appreciated how the panel attempted to identify the core of the issue instead of surfacing the symptoms of it.

“It was a time for self reflection for all who were here, for them to open up a time of question and comments I think was giving a voice to those who were listening,” Magnusson said. “The panel was full of people who have had life experience in multi-cultural settings which I think was huge because we were able to hear from people who are truly living through what they are speaking on and doing so passionately.”