Now Is The Time For Our Light

“God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.” — Martin Luther

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

As a Christian university imbued with a Lutheran ethos, we believe that we are saved not by works but through the undeserved grace of God. Yet, we also know this does not mean good works are not required. As Martin Luther reminds us, we have a responsibility to our neighbors and to our sisters and brothers around the world, one that we must uphold to live out our calling as followers of Jesus Christ.

Each year during my charge to graduates of Valparaiso University, I remind them of Jesus’ teaching that “For those whom much as been given, more is required.” As we face a reckoning of the wounds caused by slavery, Jim Crow, and enduring racism in the United States, those of us who hold privilege must recognize the ways we benefit from our current political, societal, and criminal justice systems. More important, we must recognize how we can use our privilege to turn anguish into good acts for the sake of our neighbors.

To our African American students, faculty, staff, and alumni: My heart aches for you. I can only imagine what you must be feeling right now — the pain you are experiencing. For the past weeks and months, our nation has seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected African American communities — and communities of color at large. And now, we are once again in the wake of another series of deaths of unarmed African Americans by those who are sworn to protect them. Many in our nation are confused, saddened, and left in the dark as we witness this ongoing trauma.

At Valparaiso University, our motto is “In Thy Light We See Light.” God’s light is our North Star, our guiding principle that informs and illuminates the way we act and appear in the world. If we are to uphold the values upon which this University stands, we cannot remain silent and absent. We must speak out and we must be present now more than ever.

This University prays for and grieves with the families of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade. These tragedies, though especially difficult for our African American brothers and sisters, are nonetheless trauma-inducing for us all. We cannot continue to see images of such reckless disregard for human dignity and grotesque violence done to the bodies of human beings and not be moved. At the sight of such violence, it is often easier to turn our eyes away, parrot the party line of our elected leaders, or simply cry about what we have seen. This is especially true for those of us who hold privilege in this society.

Yet, I am reminded of the words of James Baldwin, who once said, “People can cry much easier than they can change.”

We must directly face the horror of our current existence and do the boldest thing that any of us can do — change. Change is more than a declaration on social media, or a shift in common courtesies or platitudes. What this moment requires is a change of our individual and collective moral arch to ensure that, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is bent toward justice. This change ought to become evident at our most sincere and basic level. This change will not be easy, nor should it. To make such a change, we will have to follow the example of Christ and sacrifice the status quo for a better way of being.

We are contending with extraordinary times and combating two scourges, one new and one centuries old. However daunting this may appear, I encourage each of us not to sink into the depths of despair, not to answer violence with violence, but to seek the light of our creator as we engage each other to build a beloved community.

May God’s light shine upon you. May God illumine your way and guide you on the pathway to lasting change.


Mark A. Heckler, Ph.D.