Church and college (Feb. 4, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church and college

Feb. 4, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0018}

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

Bishop Timothy W. WhitakerFrom the very beginning American Methodists have claimed a stake in higher education. The first major project of The Methodist Episcopal Church was to establish Cokesbury College. After two fires destroyed the buildings Cokesbury College was eventually closed. Yet the impulse to build new colleges did not wane. American Methodists went on to establish colleges in every part of the nation and, most recently, also in Africa. Many of the leading universities and colleges in America were founded by Methodists or the Evangelical United Brethern.

During the 20th century the relationship between the church and the colleges it founded became weaker. The Christian identity of the colleges diminished under the assumption that a distinctively Christian identity would interfere with "academic freedom." Some colleges and universities severed their relationship with the church. Others often maintained cordial ties with the church, but were somewhat wary of emphasizing their relationship to the church.

In the 21st century there is a renewed interest on the part of the church and colleges to strengthen their ties. There will be a proposal to the 2004 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference to reclaim a stronger connection between the church and colleges and universities formally related to The United Methodist Church. Similar efforts are being developed in other jurisdictions.

I believe we have an excellent opportunity to strengthen the good relationship between The United Methodist Church and the two colleges in our annual conference, Bethune-Cookman College and Florida Southern College. I believe the church's presence on campus in a more significant way would strengthen both the church and the colleges.

One thing we should do is to encourage more United Methodist youth to attend our colleges. Pastors should invite representatives from the colleges to speak to their congregations, and congregations should provide information about the colleges to their youth. These simple actions could make a difference in increasing United Methodist enrollment in our splendid colleges.

As the century proceeds it is my hope that those with intellectual confidence in the depth and breadth of the Christian faith will challenge the sophistry of opposing serious Christian discourse about philosophy, art and politics on campus and provide appropriate arenas for the engagement of issues from a Christian perspective. I hope the colleges will encourage vital practice of the Christian life in worship and service. These things can be done without violating intellectual or personal freedom, and they would introduce new vigor into the life of both church and college.


This commentary relates to Higher Education and Campus Ministries

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Annual Conference

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