Kemper weighs in on Christian campus

by Nancy Jo Kemper
Guest Columnist

Please allow me to respond to John Johnson’s letter in the Oct. 13 issue of The Rambler.

First, despite rumors to the contrary, Transylvania does not plan to sever its relationship with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). This rumor must be put to rest. It is false.

Second, I was expressly appointed by President R. Owen Williams, in part, to help the college articulate what it means to be a church-related college in the 21st century. A small committee, including a trustee, Dr. Paul Jones, Dr. Carole Barnsley, Dean of Students Dean Mike Vetter and me, has been at work since early August. We hope to include student representation soon.

This committee is exploring the key characteristics of our church relationship, its current meaning and the expansion of religious life programs in a manner that would also further Transy’s abiding commitment to education of the whole person for life in a world of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity. Thus, I repeat: Transylvania will continue its historic ties with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Johnson’s letter assumes that somehow a church-related college will reinforce particular religious convictions, whether his or those of another. That assumption might apply were Transy to identify itself as an explicitly sectarian Christian college, with a stated purpose of Christian formation for its students.

A church-related college, on the other hand, aims at the full development of the person as a human being, with the development and personal choice of moral and spiritual values as an important ingredient of that process.

A church-related college should engage the student, Christian or non-Christian, religious or nonreligious, in worthy life questions, and offer a panoply of opportunities to explore identity, vocation and meaning.

A church-related college appreciates and values the religious traditions and perspectives of all its students. This has been Transylvania’s pattern for well over 100 years.

Among the markers of a church-related college, our committee thinks that its purpose must surely include (1) helping to awaken students from perceptions formed because they are part of a cultural majority (Christian, Caucasian, American) to a respectful awareness and knowledge of others; (2) offering ways to strengthen personal choices about meaning, value and religion; (3) creating a hospitable environment where students, faculty and staff of non-Christian religions feel included, welcomed and appreciated for their religious identities; and (4) encouraging spiritual development in students that will correlate with the expanding knowledge and experience in other areas of a student’s life.

Trying to read between the lines of Johnson’s letter, he may be right that currently we have insufficient venues on campus for real dialogue about matters of religion, meaning and human purpose.

Thus, I also hope in my interim year to set the stage for the future in which Transylvania can launch new programs, organizations and arenas for such explorations. Intersections, a new interreligious campus group for fellowship, dialogue, fun and eventually service together, is one such program.

Finally, your contributions, ideas, and hopes and dreams for Transy are welcome and necessary as we move into this new future, celebrating diversity while maintaining our church-related heritage.

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