Nearly a year after Grand Canyon University theology professor Dr. Toby Jennings complained about some members of the Black Lives Matter Movement, civil right leaders are calling for his termination.
Jennings issued an apology for his comments made at a theology conference in September 2016 last week. “The Black Lives Matter movement, we can’t even talk about it as the Black Lives Matter movement because it is not a monolith, that is, it does not look the same all across the board. You have folks who claim to participate in that on one side that are very thoughtful about the matter,” Jennings said in response to a question about Black Lives Matter. “They are very gracious and discerning and conversationally, dynamically dialoguing about the issue. They’re wanting to hear what somebody else has to say about it. And then you have people on the opposite extreme of that that frankly should be hung. And, yes, I did say that on video. They are saying things that are not helpful to any way, shape or form of human dignity or flourishing. That is not helpful to any conversation. That kind of rhetoric is not helpful to any conversation. And that’s what I mean by they should be hung. That’s not to say that I’m joining the rhetoric. But I’m saying that is not contributing to the conversation is what I mean by that. And then you have everybody in between. And so, when we talk about the Black Lives Matter movement, you have some who would support it, but what is it that you are supporting? I support facets of it. …”
GCU officials report that they have apologized to Black Lives Matter representatives and suspended Dr. Jennings. GCU issued a statement that read in part:
The reprehensible rhetoric in this statement is unacceptable and the University condemns it in the strongest terms. Leaders of the College that hosted this forum were aware of this offensive language at the time it was made and addressed it with the professor at the conclusion of the event. However, leaders within the College did not escalate the matter to University executives who were unaware of this incident until last week. Upon learning of this incident, and learning that a video replay of the forum had been posted online since the time of the forum, University executives immediately removed the video and, within 48 hours, met with local leaders of Black Lives Matter to apologize, assure them that this rhetoric does not reflect the actions or beliefs of the University as a whole, and to discuss this situation more fully.
The University wants to be clear that the professor’s rhetoric in no way reflects the heart of this University or its dedicated students, faculty and staff. The University’s President is leading an investigation into this incident and has met with the professor who made these statements, as well as the Dean of the College, who both agree it was completely inappropriate and who have issued an apology, in their own words, that can be viewed here. We have placed this professor on administrative leave until at least the end of the first semester while the University completes its investigation.
As part of the University’s investigation so far, we have discovered that, prior to removing the video, it had been viewed 199 times and 85 individuals were present at the forum. As we continue our investigation, we will interview students who have attended this professor’s classes and students and guests who attended the forum to gain their perspective on this professor and this incident and why it was not brought to the attention of University executives sooner. In order to be completely transparent, a copy of the video replay is available here, and the discussion at issue begins at approximately 1:02:00. However, we suggest that the entire video be reviewed to understand the vital conversations that were occurring during this forum.
While we issue this statement as a means of clarifying our position on race and ethnicity in light of our Christian mission and identity, a statement alone will not suffice. There must be no distance between what we say and what we do. The University has an unprecedented commitment to our community that is expressed on a daily basis through a myriad of programs that reflect the University’s true spirit. One terrible statement will not define this University or divert us from our dedicated commitment to our Christian values, and the principle of loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Of that we will not be deterred. God has blessed this University so that we can be a blessing to others.
Both Jennings and his supervisor, Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean, College of Theology, issued the following statements:
Dr. Toby Jennings
In light of the reality that I, Toby Jennings, am a sinner who has received the forgiving and rescuing grace of Jesus Christ, I confess that I both sin and have sinned. Particularly, I have inexcusably offended many fellow image bearers of God by my imprudent use of inappropriate, uncharitable, and incendiary language. Not only does my communicated sentiment not reflect my personal and more thoughtful disposition toward any and all priceless treasures who bear the image of my heavenly Father, but my impassioned choice of words certainly does not reflect the pathos, practice, and vision of Grand Canyon University.
Having been entrusted with representing such an institution that has a public record of contributing Godward change in individuals and in our community, I deeply and sincerely regret having communicated such ill-motivated rhetoric—particularly in light of our nation’s present rhetoric-saturated distress. While words, once spoken, can never be taken back, my hope is that my sincere apology for my own words can pave a more gracious path toward reconciliation—a reconciliation that is at the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ—humanity’s sole hope for rescue from all its evils.
Dr. Jason Hiles
I, Jason Hiles, wish to extend a formal apology for my handling of comments made during the context of a Ministry Forum event on GCU’s campus in the fall of 2016. During the course of responding to student questions, a professor under my supervision made insensitive and incendiary comments about certain individuals within the Black Lives Matter movement.
These comments were entirely inappropriate, inexcusable, and out of line with the University’s views on racial issues and the Black Lives Matter movement. While I addressed the comments directly with the professor after the event, in retrospect I believe that an immediate, public refutation of the comments would have provided greater clarity to the 85 faculty and students in attendance and the 199 or so who have viewed the video since.
It was not my intention to leave ambiguity about the University’s position on these complicated matters, nor did I intend to imply that the comments were acceptable. While this is by no means an excuse for my misjudgment in this case, I am confident that what I have learned from the incident will enable me to respond more adequately if faced with a similar situation at a future date.
Again, I apologize for this incident and I accept full responsibility for failing to adequately address comments which clearly have no place in civil public discourse.