Mennonite higher education keeps the faith

Nov 19, 2018 by

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While I understand many of David Lapp Jost’s observations (“Colleges Not Christian Enough,” Letters & Comments, Nov. 5), I respectfully disagree with many of his conclusions.

We in Mennonite higher education today offer excellent education through faculty and staff who daily strive to embody God’s love to our students, many of whom are not Mennonite and are unfamiliar with the Bible. Having worked in various university settings, I can assure you that the student experience at Goshen College is distinctively gracious and faithful due to the Christ-centered lives and actions of our faculty and staff.

Goshen College is passionately committed to the way of Jesus, as we make clear in our new vision statement. A written commitment to our Christ-centered core values is a required part of our hiring process for all faculty and academic leaders. Our student survey data show that both the importance and satisfaction of students’ spiritual growth are the highest they have been in the past decade.

We are living through a period of widespread decline in religious and denominational affiliation and loyalty. It is a nation-wide trend that majors outside of the professions and sciences, including Bible and peace-related majors, are experiencing declining enrollments. Goshen College is undertaking academic planning to sustain the role of Anabaptist-related studies as we respond to this reality.

Mennonite colleges and universities, like all church-based institutions and the church itself, are persevering and adapting through a period of generalized mistrust in institutions. We are holding the faith in Anabaptist higher education, offering Christ-centered education, teaching and modeling the way of Jesus, to a student body that is increasingly diverse, including religious background.

I agree with David Lapp Jost’s encouragement to support our seminaries, in the United States and globally, as well as other church agencies, Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite World Conference. But now is not the time to turn from our colleges and universities.

We are incubators and disseminators of Anabaptist faith and practice in a time of great uncertainty for Mennonite Church USA. Our majority non-Mennonite students are staging peace plays, practicing intercultural respect and humility, joining the Poor People’s Campaign begun by Martin Luther King, presenting their original peace orations to packed theaters, advocating for racial justice, spending their fall break with Mennonite Disaster Service in Puerto Rico, leading worship services, creating awe-inspiring beauty in art and music and finding open and civil spaces to debate deep questions and varying viewpoints. Whether they graduate as Mennonites, Catholics, nonbelievers or Muslims, they are deeply shaped by Anabaptist faith and values.

Our Christ-centered faculty are teaching the Bible as part of our core curriculum, supporting the legal needs of undocumented students, teaching English to immigrant families, preaching in churches, leading classes in our county jail, staging Christian musical programs to audiences of thousands, teaching creation care, leading study trips to SEMILLA Ana­baptist Seminary in Guate­mala, publishing Mennonite Quarterly Review, stewarding the Mennonite Historical Library, and yes, engaging our postmodern students’ doubts about everything religious.

Through the new Mennonite Higher Education Association, the Mennonite colleges, universities and seminaries are working alongside Mennonite Education Agency to strengthen our work. We are providing competitively priced education and an excellent return on investment. All of our schools offer generous financial aid to many low-income and first-generation students. We cannot do this without the continued support of our Mennonite church family.

Rebecca J. Stoltzfus
Goshen, Ind.

The writer is president of Goshen College and chair of the Mennonite Higher Education Association.

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