SSU is a Liberal Arts university with a Christian community at its core. The term ‘Christian’ is very broad, and it can have negative associations for some people, so we’d like to clarify what being a Christian community means to us.
The prevailing perception of Christianity can give the impression that Christians are judgmental and unkind; we see the heart of Christianity to be quite the opposite, and in an increasingly polarized political and cultural landscape, SSU is trying to become a refuge of intentional hospitality and inclusion. We recognise that we, as the Church, have often failed to demonstrate Jesus’ compassion in the past. He made a point of accepting and including the marginalised, and we want to follow his example. At SSU we want you to be free to be yourself; consequently we are an affirming, inclusive community that does not judge or exclude people based on their race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. We value and embrace all who want to join our community and journey with us.
One of our main priorities at SSU is to give you the opportunity to explore and develop your spirituality as part of your educational experience. To us this is a vital element of learning and growth, and is as important to our community as intellectual development. We love to tackle deep questions of faith, identity and meaning as an integral part of our Liberal Arts program. We ask these questions from a position of open-mindedness, and we don’t dish out pat answers – we think the questions are often more helpful, and being over-certain of answers can limit learning and growth. One of the hallmarks of a Liberal Arts degree is critical thinking – the analysis and evaluation of an issue to form an opinion. At SSU we help you form, question and express your opinions and worldview, and foster an environment in which we all respect and learn from those with differing opinions and worldviews.
Unlike a denominational institution or Bible college, at SSU we don’t share one common set of beliefs or doctrine that uniformly identifies us – we are a diverse group of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Each member of our community has a unique faith story, and over the years we’ve changed as new chapters are added to our stories; we respect the older chapters while continuing to write new ones – we want to learn and grow, continually reaching for more humility, justice and compassion. We love the beauty that emerges from diversity, and our community is richer for the medley of ideas and opinions that coexist within it.
While as an institution we try to avoid being positioned on Christian spectrums (e.g. Liberal-Conservative, Religious Left-Right), or being neatly labeled, many of us would align with the generally accepted values of progressive Christianity, centred around a deep belief in the centrality of Jesus’ instruction to love one another, leading to a focus on values such as compassion, justice and mercy. Progressive Christianity could also be broadly characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the earth. Our heritage has been in the contemplative Christian stream, in which traditional and progressive voices come together to share their unique gifts and pursue vital spirituality.
We take the Bible seriously, and we acknowledge that it can be read and interpreted in many ways, so for us it doesn’t prescribe one particular worldview to the exclusion of others. The Bible leads us to a focus on authentic spirituality, contemplative practices and compassionate action.
We highly value the historical journey of the Church and its teachings and traditions, and at the same time we continually explore and question how to better represent Jesus and love people. A phrase we like that reflects this tension for us is “anchored, with wings.”
Although we aren’t homogenous in our worldviews, we do find ourselves commonly influenced by certain authors who challenge us to keep thinking, learning and progressing in our understanding of God and life and people*:
Jean Vanier Brian McLaren Henri Nouwen Wendell Berry
Shane Claiborne Thomas Merton Simone Weil Richard Rohr
Parker Palmer Martin Buber Desmond Tutu Therese de Lisieux
*Perhaps you, like us, see that we need to give greater attention to women and minority voices. We’re hoping that in a few years we’ll have a more diverse list of favourites to share!