President's Statement on Unity
March 11, 2021
Introduction to the Larry Donnell Kimmons Memorial Lecture Series
The prophet Isaiah said about Jesus:
"Finally, he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of
all the world."
Matthew 12:20-21 NLT
I greet you in the name of Jesus, the hope of all the world.
Believers today are divided by so much hurt—and that division breaks the heart of Jesus. And it breaks my heart. But I am committed to our healing.
Jesus' vision for his people is unity. In John 17, Jesus said to his disciples and to all those who would eventually believe on account of their testimony:
"I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me." John 17:20-21 NLT
As followers of Jesus, our most powerful testimony to the world is our unity. But unity is not sustainable without healing and reconciliation.
Authentic unity comes through our universal commitment to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Unity does not come through political activism or ideological uniformity. Unity does not come through sociological theories or theological debate. Unity is so much bigger than that, so much higher than that. Our commitment must be to the truth, the truth that is found in Jesus. Jesus gave John a glimpse of the Father's heart, unity, and design for his people in Revelation 7:9-10:
"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" Revelation 7:9-10 ESV
Jesus also taught us to pray, "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." That is my prayer today. That God's will, God's kingdom, as pictured in the Revelation 7 vision given to John, would be present on earth, at Pepperdine, just as it is in heaven. That all members of our community know in their heart of hearts that they belong here, that they are seen, heard, loved, valued, respected, and empowered—here.
Nelson Mandela said, "It is necessary to heal the wounds of the past if you are going to build your country and to have unity. I am working with people who fought me very bitterly before the elections. It was my responsibility as the man who is leading the majority party, my responsibility to heal the wounds of the past and to work with people who were my opponents."
Today, I am thinking about Larry Donnell Kimmons about justice, about healing, and about unity. 52 years ago tomorrow, Pepperdine experienced a tragic event on its campus—the fatal shooting of Larry Donnell Kimmons by a Pepperdine security guard on our campus. Some of our alumni were there and have shared with me the story of what happened on that fateful night in 1969. In the midst of racial tensions and riots in LA, Pepperdine was thrust into the spotlight of a violent and divided city. We may not know the precise details of what was said that night and what motivated that horrific shooting. But enough is known for us to recognize that this young man's life was unjustifiably taken on our campus and lives were shattered as a result. The lives of his family and friends and generations of our black community have suffered as a result of the life taken that night.
Today, this day, March 11, 2021, must be a day of healing. We have made important efforts to acknowledge Larry Donnell Kimmons' life and death. The mounting of this portrait and the words of President Benton owning the sin that led to his death, the establishment of this annual lecture series, and recently the naming of the Larry Kimmons Belonging Award at our law school. But as I start my presidency, I am compelled to do my part to help heal this long-standing divide in our Pepperdine family.
We who are here today did not cause this tragedy. We did not pull the trigger that night. But we are a family, we are the body of Christ, and as such we are inextricably linked to one another as a community. God designed us to live in community and therefore we would be woefully self-centered, merciless, and without compassion to intentionally distance ourselves from this devastating part of our history. To the degree that Pepperdine failed in our response to this tragedy at the time, or to the degree that our community has tolerated any racial animus toward one another over the decades since, we are, as a community, responsible for that. Paul said in Philippians 2: in humility consider others more important than yourselves. That is what kingdom community like. What we do here today, we do as an act of community, in community, for community. What I say here today, I say with the full authority of the Board of Regents on behalf of this university that we all love so dearly.
We live in a broken and divided world, but as believers we know how to heal, we know what is the right thing to do when our past is stained with division, wounds, and injustice. As the African SanKofa bird wisely counsels us, in order to move forward, we must look back, take responsibility, and remember. Remembering is a powerful tradition. But we mustn't stop there. We must remember AND move forward with purpose and conviction not to repeat our wrongs. The powerful legacy of Larry Donnell Kimmons's life for the future of our university is our unflagging commitment to building a kingdom of God community of belonging so that things like this don't happen again.
As the Apostle John said: "let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."
It is in the remembrance of young Larry Donnell Kimmons that we change things so that his life and death were not in vain. We change things not only for Pepperdine's community, but so that Pepperdine may become a light and a leader in the national conversation on racial reconciliation and justice in our world.
Although most of our family members who were present at that time are no longer here to help us heal, we are here. It is my deepest desire to be an instrument of healing and unity. I also recognize that mere words can never bring Larry back or reconcile the long-standing divide in our history, but these are not mere words—these are heartfelt words offered humbly in the context of Christian community where Jesus is Lord and desires to bring his people together by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Some may understandably feel that this is too little too late. But given the options to speak or be silent, I felt compelled to speak, and I call on all of us to lay down that which divides us and lift up the name of the One who unites us.
And now may we, being rooted and grounded in love, have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God." Ephesians 3:17-19 ESV