The Methodist Church is engaged in a mammoth campaign to raise money for the support of its more than 100 colleges and universities. Something of the scale of the campaign is revealed by the goal of 5 million dollars set for Methodists in the one state of Alabama. The breakdown of this goal to local levels is suggested in the goal of $36,000-plus assigned to the one church served by the writer. The immense denominational machinery of Methodism with its customary efficiency is rapidly transmuting the goals into quotas, and pastors and laymen are busily engaged in securing pledges to assure the quotas.
The justification for this campaign for funds for colleges and universities related to the church is found in the phrase Christian higher education. Like most other private institutions, Methodist church-related institutions of higher education have been caught in the squeeze between inflation and increased enrollment. Substantial increases in financial resources are essential if these institutions are to provide for growing student bodies and maintain high academic qualifications.
The same economic facts of life that affect the educational institutions also affect the local church. There are problems of post-war inflation, enlarged budgets, and new building programs to accommodate growing memberships. It is understandable, therefore, that many Methodists are closely scrutinizing the word Christian in the phrase “Christian higher education.” Taking their cue from John Wesley, founder of Methodism, the Methodists have entered more extensively into the field of higher education than any other Protestant denomination. They have done so because they believe that Christian education incorporates something distinctively valuable, something necessarily lacking in secular higher education whether public or private.
More and more church members, however, have developed an uneasy suspicion that this distinctive element in church-related institutions of higher education is much less obvious than they wish. They question the soundness of their investment in the field of higher education in colleges and universities which, if their suspicion is justified, simply reproduce or duplicate the kind of higher education available in secular educational institutions.
COLLEGE AND CHURCH
This raises anew the question, What is an institution of Christian higher education? What is the obligation of such an institution to the church whose name and sponsorship the institution claims? The president of one church-related college told the writer that his duty, as he sees it, is to administer the highest quality academic program his college can provide. He went on to say that the academic program should include elementary courses in the Bible and in religious education but that the obligation to the church did not extend beyond that point. He was firm in his insistence that the college should not be an evangelistic agency or engage in social crusades.
To the writer such circumscription as this cannot be regarded as a satisfactory description of any Christian community. Certainly, the educational function is primary to any institution of higher education. But a church-related college which professes to be engaged in Christian higher education, implies a Christian community devoted primarily to education. This primary purpose, however, cannot exclude other basic characteristics of a Christian community without seriously damaging the community or even destroying its distinctive character. While the Christian institution of higher education must properly keep its educational purpose foremost, it must not exclude or minimize its involvement with the Christian faith and the Christian tradition and their basic components and concerns.
The Christian community, whatever its central concern, will also be concerned with the Christian faith and its correct interpretation through the biblical revelation and sound doctrine. The Christian community will be concerned with the Christian ethic and its implications for the individual and society. The Christian community will be concerned for the human soul and its relationship to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. These basic concerns are minimum delineations of any Christian community irrespective of the special purpose for which it may be formed.
FAITH AND FREEDOM
It has been argued, and is argued still, that no educational institution can commit itself to such a posture as that indicated above without imposing restrictions on academic freedom and encroaching on the academic integrity of the institution. This argument assumes that an educational institution can be operated without a basic commitment which envelops it within a faith-context. It is obvious that a pluralistic society cannot permit its publicly-supported educational institutions to commit themselves to sectarian religious posture. It is fallacious to assume, however, that some kind of commitment can be avoided. The secularistic assumptions which lie behind the public educational institutions comprise as definite a commitment to a world-view as does the word Christian in the term “Christian higher education.” The choice is not between commitment and no commitment. The choice is whether the commitment shall be made to this or that world-view. The church-related institution by its very nature is committed to a Christian world view.
This commitment on the part of the church-related college does not entail limitations on academic freedom or integrity, but it does entail the acceptance of the total responsibility of a Christian community. It does require, for instance, that the leadership both in administration and faculty shall be of persons committed to the Christian faith and life. While there may be no Christian physics or chemistry, there are Christian professors of physics and chemistry. Any educational process extends far beyond the classroom and the laboratory into the realm of human relations. It is in this extended area that the church-related college finds its distinction and this is a distinction which cannot be maintained unless the leadership of the community is unashamedly Christian.
In the scramble for academically-qualified faculty personnel, this factor tends to be neglected. A faculty member in a church-related college acknowledged during religious emphasis week that, although he had taught in this college for several years, he was a man without a faith. On the same campus more than one student in private interviews stated that they had lost their faith since coming to the college and had found no one to guide them toward new faith. When I cited these cases to one administrator in a church-related college and also reported some instances where, to my knowledge, certain young men had been influenced to abandon their call to the ministry, he evaded the issue by saying that all the students had been exposed to family and local church influences for at least 18 years before coming to college, and he added positively that the college is an educational, not an evangelistic, institution. Such a reply simply evades the total responsibility of a Christian community.
Similar issues arise when one reviews the relationship between church-related college and the sponsoring institution. Admittedly, denominational support for church-related colleges has often been something less than generous, although this situation is now steadily improving. Nevertheless, the college that goes under the banner of a Christian denomination and appeals for support to the members of the denomination on the basis that it is “your Christian college” incurs obligations to the sponsoring denomination. Among these obligations is due regard for the theological and ethical posture of the denomination. That this obligation is frequently ignored or glossed over is a fact well known to those acquainted with the church-related college. A case in point is that of a church-related college that severely reprimanded five male students, three of them candidates for full-time service in the sponsoring denomination, for attending interracial meetings, and threatened the students with expulsion in the event they attended other such meetings or engaged in interracial activities. Their action was in harmony with the stated position of the denomination on interracial affairs and likewise of its general board of education.
TIME FOR EXAMINATION
We are not suggesting a spate of witch hunts and heresy trials on the campuses of church-related colleges. Church and college alike usually come off badly when such actions are prosecuted. We are suggesting rather that the churches and the church-related colleges make forthright and frank evaluations of their mutual responsibilities to each other and that the church-related institution of higher education explore fully the implication, in terms of the Christian community, of the word Christian in the designation “Christian higher education.” If this is to be interpreted, as seems to be the case in a number of instances, as meaning liberal education of a high academic quality with a rather casual bow in the direction of the church, then the church-related college can hardly justify its appeal for support on the basis of its distinction as a Christian institution, for this may describe some publicly-supported institutions and any number of private, non-church-related institutions. The only real reason for the existence of the church-related college is its distinctively Christian character. In these times of resurgent paganism, the need for Christian higher education assumes new and urgent proportion. Let church and college draw closer to each other to assure that this need will not go unmet.
Samuel M. Shoemaker is the author of a number of popular books and the gifted Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. He is known for his effective leadership of laymen and his deeply spiritual approach to all vital issues.
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