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The Bresee Collective and PLNU: It’s Not About Racism, It’s About Politics

Mieras Hall. Photo courtesy of Noah Harrel.

Sadness and discouragement were the emotions that filled a staff and faculty meeting held by Point Loma Nazarene University’s President Bob Brower on Feb. 16, said literature professor Bettina Pate Pedersen. This meeting was to address a 26 page document critiquing PLNU’s stance on anti-racism put together by an anonymous group who call themselves the Bresee Collective. 

If one was to trudge through the 26 pages – littered with typos and grammatical errors – the general argument that can be gleaned is that PLNU has taken its efforts of being anti-racism too far and has lost its way as a Nazarene institution by adhering to Marxist and liberal ideals. 

After looking over the document herself, Pedersen said there were lots of very thin, inconsistent and contradictory positions and arguments that were meant to be provocative and inflammatory.

“This is how oppression works. Oppression works on stereotypes, on hierarchies, pitting people against one another,” Pedersen said.

In an email interview with The Point, Brower said that this is not the first time PLNU has been subject to negative attention like that from the Bresee Collective. According to Brower, there is a process in place that determines an appropriate response to each incident. 

“Because this anonymous attack attempted to distort, I felt that it was important to communicate with the faculty, staff and student body about the existence of the document and to provide an affirmation of the university’s position and work against racism,” Brower said.

On Feb. 18, two days after the staff and faculty meeting, Brower sent out an email to all PLNU students with the goal of stating PLNU’s position against racism. Due to the fact that the document was not widespread among students at this point, the general reaction was confusion.

Sara Bocksch, third-year business administration major, skimmed the email but eventually just closed it and got filled in later from a friend. 

“I pretty much just read it and was like ‘Wait, what is this about? I haven’t heard anything about this,’” Bocksch said.

One member of the Bresee Collective agreed to an email interview with The Point, on the condition of remaining anonymous. As the elected spokesperson for the Collective, they were disheartened by Brower’s response to the document and said he was using his position of power to misdirect church leaders. 

[Direct quotes from email interviews have not been altered for grammar, spelling, syntax, or AP Style.]

“In his letter, he said that the university was targeted with “distortions, half-truths, and outright lies.”  After reviewing the quotes and references documented in the article, I found the quotes accurate and easily accessible. My question to Dr. Brower would be, “Can please provide the alumni, Nazarene pastors, District Superintends and PLNU students, with examples that supports this claim?”” the spokesperson said.

Kim Berry Jones, director of PLNU’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation (CJR), addressed one of these distortions. On page 5 of their document, the Bresee Collective compared the CJR’s attempt to establish definitions for words having to do with anti-racism to the work of Nazis redefining words for their propaganda. Jones said this was not the case. 

“The thinking behind it was because words carry weight and meaning: How do we best help the community understand what we mean when we’re using certain terms, what we mean in the [anti-racism] collective,” said Jones. “And how as a university do we come around a common language so that when I say ‘anti-racism’ it means the same thing as when you say it.” 

The Common Language and Partnerships (CLP), a committee from PLNU’s Anti-Racism Collective, is working on an “anti-racism glossary” which will define what PLNU means when they use these words. After comparing the CLP’s draft definition of anti-racism to the Bresee Collective’s definition of anti-racism based on works they’ve cited in the document from Ibram X Kendi, a shared, working, definition of anti-racism and words relating to this topic may be necessary for further discussion since both definitions differ.

Page 9 of the document features Jamie Gates, PLNU professor of sociology, and claims how his emotional scars from growing up in apartheid South Africa have shifted him away from American ideals and Christian values to Marxist ideaology of the oppressed and oppressor.

Gates argued that no one should be accepting everything any one theorist says. He saw the Bresee Collective’s use of Marxism as a straw man or as caricature. 

“They used Marx as a boogeyman that then allows them to ignore any criticism that remotely sounds like ‘Marxism,’” Gates said.

Despite this critique, Gates said that he is glad the Bresee Collective brought up topics like white supremacy, race, racism and social dynamics in their document since he feels these are important things to talk about. According to Gates, exploring these topics are a part of the calling of Christians, but his issue in this particular situation is with the Bresee Collective’s anonymity. 

“I welcome the conversation, engagement and disagreement. But it would be helpful if it was from somebody whose name I know, who has introduced themselves to me and not just used my name in public as a battering ram,” Gates said.

While both PLNU staff and faculty as well as the Bresee Collective want to have a dialogue about the issue of anti-racism, both run into their own roadblocks. The spokesperson said that their goal in remaining anonymous was to keep the focus on the message, not the messenger, and that cancel culture was their biggest concern. 

“As President Brower’ s response demonstrates, it is easier to smear (“distortions, half-truths, and outright lies” are very strong accusations without factual basis) than dialog about critical questions affecting our denomination and the present faculty changing our theological foundations,” the spokesperson said.

After talking to representatives from the Bresee Collective and Student Life and Formation, the need for conversation is clear as both sides said they have the same end goal in mind, but just disagree on how to get there.

Mary Paul, vice president of Student Life and Formation, who has both a masters of divinity and doctorate of ministry, said her main concern is whether a Christian is following what Jesus said are the greatest commandments in Matthew 22:36-40: loving God and loving others. 

“I would say that caring for your neighbor is not owned by any one political system. I am not so concerned about arguments over Marxism,” Paul said. “And it all circles back – to loving my neighbor; truly, deeply, humbly and sacrificially like Jesus.”

The spokesperson for the Bresee Collective wanted to make clear that the Collective is against racially based discrimination in any form and that they have no issue with compassion for the poor, lifting up the disadvantaged or opening more opportunity for all peoples. They said this is all part of their Christian identity and a part of their calling. 

“The issue is how do you separate the wheat of true “Anti-Racism” from the the chaff of illiberal ideology (and politics) that Ibram X. Kendi attaches to the now fashionable definition. 

We posit there is a third way. Not Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, Fundamentalist or Progressive, but a third way.  As NT Wright stated in responds to anti-racism, “the answer is teaching and practicing the whole biblical gospel.”

We believe that third way, is Christ,” the spokesperson said.

Next steps for the Bresee Collective are found on page 19 of the document. They encouraged their supporters to speak out and stop funding PLNU, whether donations or by not sending students to school there. 

“From our perspective, withholding support funding from a church or business is an ideal way to get its administrators to rethink their errant mission.  Several Nazarene churches had stopped tithing to support the university. Until some individuals realign with Christian orthodoxy, we hope more churches and alum follow suit,” the spokesperson said.

PLNU staff and faculty decided to hold to their stance regarding the actions they have taken toward anti-racism. Amid the air of sadness and discouragement in the staff and faculty meeting on Feb. 16, Pedersen offered a new perspective:

“That we take this as a sign of celebration, that if we are being attacked for standing with the oppressed then we are doing what we ought to be doing as followers of Christ and that we should be rejoicing, that this is what we are called to do.”

Written By: Noah Harrel

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