Difference, Diversity, Multiculturalism, Tolerance – these words can spark heated debate in any culture; and questions of difference are at the heart of many discussions within contemporary religious, political, economic, and educational organizations as well as within an individual’s struggle to understand diversity. Cedarville is not exempt from the ongoing debate and over the last year certain events (Title IX investigation, high number of faculty and staff departures, shakeup of Board of Trustees and administration, elimination of philosophy major) highlight and underscore Cedarville’s commitment to diversity. The University’s diversity statement states Cedarville “actively seeks to attract and serve a diverse group of Christian employees and students...” Cedarville believes its diversity statement is a supplement to the mission statement as it articulates Cedarville’s commitment to be a diverse Christian university. The question of Cedarville’s commitment to diversity must go beyond a written statement, beyond an articulation of commitment; it must have a measurable existence in reality. In short, what does Diversity at Cedarville look like?
The language of Cedarville’s diversity statement is intentional, deliberate and calculated. Cedarville claims its definition of diversity has its origin in Creation. The statement uses Gen. 1:27 to establish God’s intention and divine order. Gen 1:27 describes an action of God, that of creating man in God’s image and creating male and female. Intention or the thought process of God is absent in that particular text. The phrase of “intention and divine order” is critical to Cedarville’s argument of its version of diversity. Cedarville elevates the concept of diversity to one of an order and established boundaries. It is another way of saying that diversity has an order to it, just as a tapestry does. In a tapestry, there are several distinct threads of fabric—all of different color, weight, value and purpose. What makes a tapestry different from a bolt of fabric is the separation of those threads. In a bolt of fabric, all the threads are the same; deviation is an abnormality and reduces the value of the bolt. The value of a tapestry is in maintaining its separation of threads – that the threads do not blend, mix or become one. The additional two verses of scripture (Gen 9:6 and 2 Cor. 3:18) reiterate the “image of God” narrative. In contrast, Cedarville uses those two verses to argue that God “declared all people – regardless of race, gender, physical ability, or socioeconomic class—equally valuable,” a narrative found in Galatians 3:28 and not in the three verses cited. At that point, Cedarville’s statement concludes, “[i]t’s clear that God delights in the rich tapestry of diversity.” Gen. 1:27 declares God’s act of creation in God’s image, Gen. 9:6 declares God created in God’s image, and 2 Cor. 3:18 adds a different image by declaring the transformation into the image of God’s glory. From three verses stating man was made in the image of God, Cedarville argues that it knows God’s intent (purpose, see Isaiah 55:8), knows what divine order should look like, knows what delights God and knows that in God’s perspective, diversity is a tapestry. Venturing into the area of claiming to know God’s mind is questionable at best and dangerous at worst.
Cedarville explains diversity as “a demonstration of God’s intention and divine order for humankind” and uses the metaphor of a tapestry. To be clear, Cedarville does not state diversity is like a tapestry, it concludes that diversity is a tapestry. Using the metaphor of a tapestry, Cedarville’s diversity statement ventures into an area that sheds light on Cedarville’s masked view of diversity. Keep in mind that for Cedarville, diversity is a tapestry. Just as a tapestry must maintain the separation of threads to maintain its identity, so too must Cedarville’s concept of diversity. Remember, Cedarville believes the God established the order of diversity at Creation and God’s intention is to maintain that order—to maintain the tapestry. In that tapestry, the combination of two threads, forming a third thread, destroys the distinctness and separation and the order of the tapestry is not maintained. In the same manner, when two aspects of diversity (the ones mentioned by Cedarville are race, gender, physical ability and socioeconomic class) combine, that combination destroys the distinctness and separation of the order of diversity. Applying the tapestry metaphor, when two individuals from two distinct races give birth to a child of a third race, the original distinctness and separation is destroyed. When we realize that gender is not the same concept as sex and is a social construction of reality, the original distinctness and separation is destroyed. Cedarville’s view of a tapestry is no more than a veiled argument for racial segregation, binary division of sex, division of people into physically abled and differently-abled, and for the maintenance of the system of economic power and economic powerless. These arguments, whether they be thinly veiled or not, are at the core of the system of oppressor and oppressed.
The language of Cedarville’s diversity statement reveals a desire to maintain diversity’s division, distinctness, and separation that existed at the very moment of Creation. Cedarville wants you to think that diversity has four forms: race, gender [Cedarville means biological sex], physical ability, and socioeconomic class. The practical application of Cedarville’s diversity statement is to maintain divisions, distinctness and separation of races, biological sex, physical ability and socioeconomic class. Under Cedarville’s construction of diversity, to go against the tapestry is to go against God’s order of humanity. In this construction of binary opposites, Cedarville’s view of diversity effectively eliminates people who exist between the binaries, where we all live, breathe, and have our being. It reduces humanity into a series of ones and zeroes. It shows a world of Male vs. Female, Black vs. White, Abled vs. Non-abled; the Have’s vs. Have not’s, Master vs. Slave, and Oppressor vs. Oppressed. The Diversity Statement offers no evidence of the four forms of diversity as existing at Creation. The evidence offered about diversity, as it existed at Creation, is the narrative of the “image of God.” Which makes me think that diversity is more about the image of God than the image of people and the divisions created and maintained over the centuries.
Cedarville’s official diversity statement focuses on attracting and serving a diverse group of Christian employees and students. Recent personnel changes reveal that, at minimum, Cedarville has no intention of attracting and serving a diverse group of Christian employees. By purging women from the ranks of the Bible department, Cedarville has intentionally silenced the voices of women in regards to theology and church. Cedarville has made it clear that when it comes to women being able to teach religion, women are not equally valuable in the eyes of God. This purge is not complete; Cedarville’s commitment to the idea of biblical integration places all female faculty members at risk. Cedarville boasts of Christian professors who challenge students to think biblically in every subject area and offering an education grounded in biblical truth. For professors to challenge students to think biblically in every subject area and to show how each academic area is grounded in biblical truth, female professors must teach the bible, on some level.
I do not offer a neat and perfect answer to the masked meanings of Cedarville’s diversity statement. My intention is to highlight what Cedarville says about diversity and begin a conversation about diversity that is not rooted in an institution’s claim to know the thoughts of God but rather one rooted in the realities of our existence and how gaining a better understanding of diversity will aid in social progress. I have never been a fan of limiting the voices of people. I believe that a better decision is always reached through a multitude of views. The conversation about diversity must continue, in the dorms, in classrooms, in cafeteria lines, in the places where we live. A written statement is insufficient. Especially one that seeks to maintain social divisions and can be read to support segregation policies. I understand that texts have multiple meanings; my concern is when a text has racist, sexist and classist meanings so apparent in what the text includes and in what the text excludes.
My ruminations on Cedarville’s diversity are incomplete. Every day I learn something that re-shapes how I look at diversity and how I incorporate that into my daily actions. What I do know is that I must merge critical thinking in everyday life with knowledge learned in books, through study and through life experiences. That union of theory and practice drives my work. We must continually search for ways to think, teach, write, and act in ways that excite and liberate the mind. We must seek that passion to live and act in a way that challenges systems of domination: racism, sexism, class elitism. In many ways, progressive cultural revolution can happen only as we learn to do everything differently. Decolonizing our minds and imaginations, we learn to think differently, to see everything with “the new eyes” we need if we are to enter the struggle as subjects and not objects. This article is an invitation to enter a space of changing thought and opening minds. Get the facts, get educated, get active, and change the world.