Westmont Magazine Can We Make a Difference?
by David K. Winter
Chancellor and Interim President
You must be struck, as I am, with the turmoil and suffering present throughout the world. The needs are huge. They are overwhelming. It seems that in many ways the world is tearing itself apart, inflicting enormous pain and suffering on a sizeable portion of humanity.
Where does a Christian liberal arts college fit into all this? What contribution are we making in response to the enormous needs of the world?
Of course, we as Christians see the ultimate source of the pain and suffering as the result of pervasive sin, the presence of evil. And we prepare our students to spread the Good News, that Jesus Christ has come to free us from the bondage of sin.
But at another level, one of the significant problems in the world is related to our difficulty in living and working with people who are different from ourselves. We find it hard to listen, to really hear, each other. In fact, this produces the kind of anger between people that at times leads to violence and warfare.
Whether it is the religious sectarian differences within Iraq, the growing animosity between ethnic groups in virtually every country of the world, the angry polarization of the political parties in the United States, the internal divisions within Protestant denominations, the factions within local parishes, or the hurt and resentment within marriages and families, one of the common conditions is an unwillingness to really listen, to hear, to be sensitive and appreciative of those who disagree with us.
It is discouraging to me that our news media pairs off liberals against conservatives and then claims this provides a balanced presentation of the issues. All we hear are two people screaming at each other, grossly exaggerating the facts and showing little respect for those with whom they disagree. This form of argument is about winning or losing, not about gaining a greater understanding of the issues.
Where can we find the thoughtful, respectful dialog and conversation that must be present in order to maintain a civil and healthy society and world? Where are the resources that can provide a vision of living successfully with difference, supporting strong convictions and yet, at the same time, demonstrating respect for those with whom we disagree?
It is my conviction that graduates of liberal arts colleges are more apt to be open and thoughtful and able to discern the truth because of their use of critical thinking skills. The depth and breadth of their understanding provides the perspective necessary to see the issues more clearly. In addition, they are more apt to become leaders, influencing the significant decisions in our society. And faith-based institutions such as Westmont have the additional advantage of our awareness of the prejudice that can result from pride and arrogance. We can thus guard against some obstacles in this search for truth. For the essence of handling difference is the biblical model of reconciliation.
Some years ago, with generous support from Robert and Jean Svoboda, we instituted a campus-wide program to practice and celebrate the expression of convictions in the spirit of respect. We call it, “Passion with Civility.” Tolerance and respect do not require relativism or a lack of passionate commitment.
Christians worldwide should be known for being scrupulously fair, honest and loving. Therefore Christian colleges must provide faculty and staff members who model reconciliation, who daily demonstrate how to disagree, at times strongly, while maintaining humility and integrity in their relationship with those who do not share their values or conclusions.
In fact, I can’t think of any enterprise within our society better prepared to make this crucial contribution. If we can’t disagree on a Christian college campus with thoughtful respect, where on earth can disagreement take place?
As an institution committed to the preparation of Christian leaders, we are serious about the development of passion regarding the Good News and the centrality of the Christian faith. With that call on our lives we must make certain that we are committed to the core of reconciliation as well, which results in genuine humility and love.
This approach characterizes Westmont graduates, and I believe with all my heart that this is a transforming contribution and response to the world in which we live.