A note from the editor: The following open letter was written by Professor Karl Martin, the acting chair of PLNU’s faculty council, in response to a second document created by an anonymous group called the Bresee Collective. This group distributed its first document last semester which targeted specific staff and faculty for their stances on anti-racism. This semester the Bresee Collective has targeted PLNU for a second time. The Point contacted the Bresee Collective last semester and interviewed a source who requested to remain anonymous. The Point will not publish the contents of their second document because of their refusal to share their identities. Martin read the following letter at a faculty meeting on Oct. 19.
An Open Letter to Members of the Bresee Collective:
I am writing to you as my brothers and sisters in Christ. I do so because you identify yourselves as “sinners saved by grace, believers working out sanctification.” I pray that you accept me as your brother in Christ and receive this letter as coming from a fellow disciple of Jesus.
In the time-honored practice of the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, I offer you this testimony of my conversion as a means of introduction. In my early adolescence I became increasingly aware of my sinfulness. For me, this sinfulness manifest itself in very Pauline terms: The good that I wanted to do so often was left undone. That which I would not wish to do, I did. I sought and found forgiveness of my sins in Jesus Christ. Subsequent to this confession, I sought and experienced the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Since that time, I have grown in grace, inching my way to a place where my heart is filled with nothing but love—love of God and God’s holiness, appropriate love of self, and love of my neighbor. I have found Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan particularly helpful—the one I encounter on my journey through life who exhibits a great need is my neighbor. I make no claims to have achieved perfection in love, but I press on toward that goal.
The purpose of my letter is to let you know that I hold something against you. It is this: You have treated some of my faculty colleagues at Point Loma Nazarene University—our brothers and sisters in Christ whom I dearly love—in unkind and unloving ways. I long to discuss this behavior with you privately and in person as instructed by our Lord and Savior; unfortunately, your insistence on remaining anonymous makes this impossible. I offer this letter as a greatly diminished alternative.
I confess that your claiming the name “Bresee” tempts me to Pauline levels of foolish boasting. I am tempted to trot out my Nazarene and Point Loma Nazarene University credentials, to remind you that I am a fifth generation member of the Church of the Nazarene whose family has been a part of this small and humble denomination for more than a hundred years, to state that I have been a faculty member at PLNU for nearly a quarter of a century and know this faculty intimately, to state that I was directly formed by this community of Christian scholars starting in 1977 when I was an eighteen year old first year student, to state that I was indirectly formed by his community through my older siblings—through the stories they told me of the faithfulness of this community to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and through the stories of mutual love and support they experienced as students—as early as 1966 when my eldest sibling enrolled. My personal experience of this community dates back decades. But I know that such boasting is foolishness. Through such boasting I gain nothing. It is rubbish compared to knowing Christ.
To return to the matter at hand. I do not wish to speak for my colleagues whose work you have so sharply criticized and whose devotion to the Gospel you have at least indirectly questioned, but much of what you have written about them could just as easily be written of me. So I will respond from my own experience and perspective. I regularly engage with scholars who practice what, I’m certain, you would call critical race theory. I encourage my students to engage with these scholars as well. I do so because these scholars have taught me to ask a direct but complex question. The question is this: To what extent, if any, do racist ways of thinking contribute to the cultural phenomenon we are examining? In my context as an Americanist, the answer is sometimes quite obvious. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 comes to mind; the law itself was based on terribly racist assumptions. At other times, the answer is much less obvious. Have racist ways of thinking controlled what authors are and are not included in the American literature anthology we are using? It is an interesting question. Even if we don’t come to a definitive answer, the question seems worthy of consideration.
I regularly engage, and encourage my students to engage, with Marxist scholars. I do so because, in spite of the ways that our capitalistic economic systems have worked to enhance the lives of millions, they are not perfect systems. No systems devised by fallen humanity will ever be perfect. Marxist scholars have called my attention to those for whom capitalistic economic practices have not worked well. Some of those harmed by capitalistic economic practices are surely my neighbors, set upon by thieves and left to die along the Jericho Road.
I regularly engage, and encourage my students to engage, with feminist scholars. I do so because, as a male, my lived experience shields me from a whole host of questions women—my faculty colleagues, my students, my sisters, my spouse—face on a daily basis. Feminist scholars, both female and male, have taught me to ask a direct but complex question. It is this: How have patriarchal ways of thinking inhibited my ability to understand the world as it is experienced by more than half of the people on earth?
I attend to these voices not because I am committed to some leftist political agenda but because I have heard the call in the Epistle to the Galatians: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3: 27-28). I am convinced that this unity in Christ will not happen automatically, so we must investigate the places where we are still divided by race, where we are still divided by class, where we are still divided by gender. I wish to be as clear as I can possibly be on this point. My willingness to listen to scholars of race, scholars of class, scholars of gender comes directly from my commitment to the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I have no other agenda than to build into my own life and into the lives of my students a passionate desire for the Kingdom of God. This should be an essential aspect of Christian higher education. I want to prepare our students for productive careers, and I want to prepare our students to function as responsible citizens. But above all things I want to instill in them a passionate desire for the Kingdom of God.
So this too is my testimony. The Holy Spirit has used scholars whom I’m sure you would consider critical race theorist to open my eyes to see and tune my ears to hear the ways that my own assumptions about race and my racial prejudices have inhibited my ability to love my brothers and sisters in Christ and the stranger who stands at my door as I ought to love.
As strange as it may seem to some, the Holy Spirit has used Marxist scholars to open my eyes to see and tune my ears to hear the ways that my own patterns of consumption have inhibited my ability to love my brothers and sisters in Christ and the stranger who stands at my door as I ought to love.
And most certainly, the Holy Spirit has used feminist scholars, especially feminist scholars on this faculty, to open my eyes to see and tune my ears to hear the ways that patriarchal values have played too large a part in my formation and have inhibited my ability to love my brothers and sisters in Christ and the stranger who stands at my door as I ought to love.
To fail to attend to these voices would be to quench the power of the Holy Spirit’s call on my life to be transformed by the renewing of my mind and to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love my neighbor as I love myself. To deprive my students the right to engage these scholars in appropriate contexts would, I believe, inhibit the potential of the Holy Spirit to work in their lives in similar ways. As a Christian educator, I dare not quench the Holy Spirit in this way.
I might be wrong about my approach to educating Christian young people. I certainly know that earning a PhD does not shield me from error. To believe otherwise would make me nothing more than an educated fool. And perhaps I have much to learn from you, my brothers and sisters in the Bresee Collective. But your critique must come after I have been assured of your love for me and for my faculty colleagues. From what I have read from you, I am not convinced of this love.
My prayer for you, my brothers and sisters of the Bresee Collective, is this: That when you engage in your Christian practices, when you are metaphorically presenting your gifts at the altar, that the Holy Spirit will remind you that your brother has something against you, that I have something against you, that I am convinced that you have treated your brothers and sisters in Christ in unloving ways. When you are reminded of this, I pray that you will obey the commandment of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as recorded in the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, leave your gifts at the altar and come to me, your brother in Christ, and be reconciled to me. If you believe I have sinned against you by misrepresenting your actions, I pray that you again will follow the commandment of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as recorded in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and come to me personally and in private to show me my faults. We both know that Christ is very clear on these matters, that we have been given clear instructions regarding how to handle conflict among brothers and sisters in Christ.
Perhaps I am naïve to believe that reconciliation is possible between us. But I know that we have been called to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. If we can indeed be reconciled to one another, perhaps we can inspire those outside the kingdom to marvel at the way brothers and sisters in Christ love one another. Perhaps I am a fool, but if I am, I am a fool for Christ because, above all things, I believe in the power of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Written By: Karl Martin