APU Seminary hosts lament service in Wynn Amphitheater in response to hate crimes against students on campus.
Musicians Jackie Gouche-Farris, Deona Hairston, Nichole Tuffin and Xavier Wilson opened the service of lament, “Black Pain and Tears,” with classic worship song, “Were You There?” in front of both students and faculty in Wynn Amphitheater on Tuesday, Nov. 7. The APU Seminary sponsored the service in response to recent hate crimes on campus.
A professor in the Department of Ministry, Rob Muthiah, began organizing the event after a black student’s car had been vandalized on Sept. 15. Muthiah spoke throughout the service between hymns and prayer.
“This was not just any sort of vandalism. On that night, racist, hateful aims were written in permanent marker around the corners of that car,” Muthiah said. “It was an act that tapped into old historical abuses and suffering–it was an act of hate that opened old wounds and created new ones.”
Initially, Muthiah wasn’t sure if the event would be a worship service, but he felt that the issue needed to be addressed in some way from the Theology Department.
“I feel like we have to address racism in so many ways, from so many different angles,” Muthiah said. “But we’re Christians, so we also have to find ways to bring this into the faith context, and there’s different ways to do that.”
The idea of lament came to Muthiah when he began discussing with other Theology professors and students how they could respond to the incidents. The book of Psalms was part of the service’s theme as an outcry against hateful acts and injustice.
“It’s a space that Psalms carves out for us, and we wanted to follow in that pattern of one of the things God might’ve wanted for our community,” he said.
Muthiah said that for many Christians, there should be a process of pulling back blinders that prohibits people from pinpointing the different ways one might benefit from “a system of racism.”
Sophomore psychology major Precious Lacy, who posted the video on Facebook of the car’s damage recorded by the victim, presented the video on two projection screens during the service. Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) student Adedeji Olajide joined alongside her.
“This cannot keep happening,” Lacy read from her Facebook post of the video. “Right now, we are such a divided campus and I pray that this racial foolery stops immediately.”
Lacy and Olajide proceeded to read screenshots of the Facebook comments under the video as “modern day words of lament.”
The Department of Campus Safety (DCS) has been investigating two reported incidents on campus since the beginning of the semester when someone traced racial slurs in the dust on two students’ vehicles. Recently, DCS determined that these two incidents were related.
However, because there was no damage to property and due to the vehicle owners’ races, these cases were not considered hate crimes or vandalism under California law, according to a campus-wide email sent a week before the service from Campus Safety Chief Tim Finneran.
“Through a series of interviews, community involvement and investigative tenacity, the two subjects were identified and ultimately admitted to tracing the racial epithet on the vehicles. Pursuant to university policies, these matters are now being referred to the Office of Student Life,” Finneran stated in the email.
Because the third incident involved property damage and racial slurs targeted against a black student, DCS immediately notified the Azusa Police Department (APD). An active investigation is currently in progress.
The service included multiple prayers of lament, moments of silence, communion, songs, a prayer of confession, anointing with oil and a closing benediction, or formal blessing.
Associate professor in the Department of Theology and Ethics, Brian Lugioyo Ph.D., offered a prayer of confession.
“As a white American citizen, as a professor at APU, and as an ordained minister of your church, I confess that we are indifferent about the privileges we have received because of the color of our skin,” Lugioyo said. “I confess that we are conveniently blind to the ways in which we use whiteness to measure the beautiful, the good and the true.”
Lugioyo said that the idealization of “white bodies” which is “the measure in which we define all other bodies,” has led to the dehumanization of “our brothers and sisters.”
“I confess that we have been devoted followers of the world and its ruler, enticed by his temptations of power and wealth,” Lugioyo said.
Assistant professor in APU’s seminary, Janette H. Ok Ph.D., led communion, where guests were invited to receive bread and dip them in grape juice symbolizing the blood of Christ from surrounding tables.
“In the broken body and the blood of Christ, we find healing and unity; we find hope and joy,” Ok said. “Willie Jennings [a Theologian] describes joy as a defying act of resistance against the forces of despair, and tonight Christ invites us to the table with this kind of joy, for it is only in Christ that the forces of sin and death and the forces of racism are overcome.”
One of the attendees, sophomore business management major Justin Hardin, said he was interested in attending the service to learn more information about the hate crimes and how the APU community has been affected.
“Getting that new perspective was really important, and I felt really empowered to be here and I felt a really strong [sense of] solidarity, especially with the silence, I thought this was very moving,” Hardin said.
When Hardin first heard about the hate incidents, he was deeply disappointed that they were happening at APU.
“Part of me was surprised,” Hardin said. “This is something that happens a lot in our country, and obviously there needs be a lot of changes.”
Hardin also expressed that the service felt like a mourning process, but that the moments of silence were the most impactful part of the night.
“The overall feeling of solidarity was definitely in this space tonight,” he said. “I hope that APU continues to make progress and make more events like this.”
One of the worship leaders, Jackie Gouche-Farris, is also student of APU’s M.Div. program. Farris said she was excited to share her musical gifts and be part of the service because she could relate personally to experiences of racism “often and firsthand.”
The night had a twofold effect, Farris explained.
“It was about us as black people being able to express our pain and our frustration and our anger with the specific situation that happened on campus, and the situation in our nation in general,” Farris said. “And it was also about our white brothers and sisters being able to acknowledge on behalf of many white Americans that sit in idle and sit oblivious to what African Americans are suffering.”
In accordance with Lugioyo’s confession prayer, Farris was moved by his apologies concerning white privilege.
“There was some repentance on behalf of our white brothers and sisters, which I thought was beautiful,” Farris said. “It was nice for me to hear that from a white person, for me to hear ‘I’m sorry.'”