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November 15, 2018

What does our faith look like when we subtract the cultural values and systems we’ve been raised in? That’s the question Asbury University’s inaugural Embrace Conference had students and guests from across the country asking this week. Scroll down to view a photo gallery! 

The first annual Embrace Conference, held Nov. 13-14, was created to provide a space of exploration, set up in a series of sessions and events that allowed conference attendees to analyze what redemptive social action looks like in the context of Christian faith.

According to Assistant Vice President for Intercultural Affairs Rev. Esther Jadhav, the Embrace Conference goes hand in hand with Initiative III of Imagine 2022 — an initiative created to “cultivate a culturally responsible Christian community that practices hospitality, mutuality, redemptive social action and grace-filled reconciliation.”

“While our conference is titled ‘Embrace,’ it has the theme of redemptive social action and it comes directly out of our strategic plan,” Jadhav said. “So, the title of our conference is also the title of our bullet in the strategic plan for the University. That really motivates us to continue to build a campus that is culturally responsible in all dimensions.”

The conference featured keynote speaker Christina Edmondson, who serves as the Dean of Intercultural Student Development at Calvin College and co-hosts the Truth’s Table Podcast. Edmondson’s podcast co-hosts Michelle Higgins and Ekemini Uwan also took part in conference events, most notably a live recording of Truth’s Table in the Student Center. Gathered around a table with the podcast’s signature three large, white teacups covering its surface, Edmondson, Higgins and Uwan reflected on their experiences of black identity and faith during their college years in front of a live audience.

“Why is the topic of social justice so provocative in the contemporary Christian world?” Edmondson said, opening up the conference at Tuesday’s plenary session in the Gray Room. This question is one that was probed throughout the two-day event.

She spoke in depth about the cost of creating false theologies that are convenient to the current political climate or that make a majority group comfortable to the detriment of minority groups.

“Theologies of convenience that you and I create because of the moment in time that we’re in, that give us access and inclusion, that give us a sense of safety, help us to avoid the high cost of rectifying injustice,” Edmondson said. “Lovelessness is our greatest threat to personal piety, personal holiness and obedience to God’s word.” 

Edmondson addressed the student body in an informative Wednesday morning Chapel service about how to become a more inclusive leader.   

“Our presence ought to bring salt and light to society and, practically speaking, that’s a lot of what social justice is, bringing salt and light to society,” Edmondson said. “Salt flavors and brings out the best and it slows decay and it’s no good if it’s kept in the cabinet. Light illuminates and exposes. The church represents that town built on a hill that cannot be hidden.”

Four breakout sessions offered students, guests and faculty the opportunity to learn from students Stephanie Beltran ‘19, Helen Gonzalez ’20 and Seth Kinyua ’21 as well as faculty members Professor Henry Zonio ’97 and Associate Director of Admissions & Professor Kim Okesson on a variety of topics.

Breakout sessions included:

  • “Double Life”- The Experience of Being “Too American” or “Too Hispanic” for Second Generation Hispanics
  • “Wakanda”- The African Experience in America
  • “Cultural Appreciation vs. Appropriation”-Learning to Value Other Cultures Without Disrespecting or Exploiting Cultural Elements
  • “Are We Getting It Right?”- The Process of Biblical Redemptive Social Action

The Embrace Conference is one of many events hosted by the University that highlight cultural learning and faith. Asbury’s Intercultural Affairs Office, as well as the Global Engagement Office, Student Intercultural Programs and Issues Awareness Committee, host a variety of events each semester providing spaces of education and celebration around international and U.S. ethnic cultures and issues. 

Learn more about Asbury University’s Office of Intercultural Affairs.