Samford Provost J. Bradley Creed opened the University's spring semester with words of support for the Student Government Association's "Be Aware" campaign.
The campaign, which will be launched in early February, was initiated by SGA leader Charlie Raddin, a senior from Yazoo City, Miss. The University-wide campaign is intended to promote reflection on and respect for the multitude of beliefs, backgrounds and views represented in the Samford community.
Addressing an audience of students, faculty and staff, Creed acknowledged that many students struggle to understand and articulate their own beliefs, much less the beliefs of others. But, he said, taking on the latter of these challenges is essential to intellectual growth.
"Listening to the perspective behind other voices lies at the heart of what we are trying to accomplish at Samford University," Creed said. "It leads us closer to the kind of transformational learning that transcends credit hours, [academic] major and grade point average. This is central to the purposes of a liberal arts education."
Mindful that some might fear that Christianity and cultural diversity are incompatible, Creed added that being aware of how what we do affects others "also lies at the heart of authentic and vital religious faith."
"In stating the great commandment--which is to love God and love neighbor--Jesus is admonishing his followers to be aware," Creed said. "Your neighbor is not just the person you are comfortable with, or who thinks like you, or votes like you, or is a member of your organization or club. Your neighbor is 'the other'--the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner and the stranger. Your neighbor is the one who's on the margins of your life."
Creed reminded his audience that Jesus was criticized for associating with those on the margins of his own culture. "His message, through word and deed, was that there was nothing wrong with 'the wrong people,'" Creed said. "They were just different. They were loved by God as much as anyone else, and when they were loved and forgiven by Jesus those differences became a source of beauty, power and a new community of faith."
Following Jesus away from comfortable routines in order to better understand oneself and one's community might not be at the top of every undergraduate's to-do list, but Creed encouraged students to make the extra effort. "It will be a mind-expanding, soul-stretching, community-building experience," he said, "and Samford will be better for it."