We are dedicated to learning. Our student learning outcomes (SLOs) are one of the chief ways we evaluate how well we are doing at our mission and core purposes and values. Learning means two related but separate things: gaining knowledge and gaining skill. Knowing something and knowing how to do something. Understanding and behaving. In the spiritual dimension of our lives, which is even deeper in our institutional soul, this concept expresses itself very naturally as what we often call faith and life. It recognizes that we can believe or say we believe something, but we may or may not act in concert with that belief. The Apostle James puts it very starkly:
“Faith is dead and useless without corresponding good deeds.”
You can know all the principles of entrepreneurship or peacemaking, but you will have no impact on your world until you take the risks of starting a new enterprise or stepping between two angry antagonists. Every Christian university or seminary is a creature of the church in some way, but the academic institutions of the church both teach and learn with the church. We help teach and lead the church and we humbly learn from the church and follow the church.
Some faith-based academic institutions serve the church as a whole, and others, like Fresno Pacific University, are owned or controlled by a particular, formally organized part of the larger body of Christ on earth, such as a denomination. In either case, if this church-academy relationship actually matters and is healthy, it is a dynamic interaction of tensions and multiple influences that are mutually beneficial. The church and its university lead each other, follow each other, serve each other, trust each other and help each other do the kingdom work that God has entrusted to each partner.
Fresno Pacific is Anabaptist, evangelical, pietistic and ecumenical in a wonderfully multicultural and multi-denominational amalgamation. We are legally, formally and spiritually under the Pacific District Conference of Mennonite Brethren, which is part of the U.S. Mennonite Brethren (USMB), which, of course, is part of the entire body of Jesus-followers worldwide. Currently about 40 USMB members are engaged in a process that seeks to produce a stronger and more effective conference of MB churches in America, a conference with a clear and unified mission and vision that are advanced by wise strategies and supported by effective organizational structures and adequate levels of people, prayer and resources. Several people who are connected in various ways with Fresno Pacific are part of this USMB advancement process. The hope is to reach consensus on a plan for the desired future of the USMB by March 2015, and be ready to move ahead soon thereafter to implement that plan.
During this same time period, Fresno Pacific is working through its own process of assessment, reorganization, visioning and planning, including ongoing processes related to accreditation of various kinds. The two processes—that of the university and that of the church—must inform and benefit each other so both can succeed and so FPU can move ahead as an effective, Christ-centered, biblically guided university and seminary. The two efforts need to advance together.
One of the key ways FPU depends on and follows its church is by following the USMB Confession of Faith. One of many significant challenges faced by both the university and all the varied churches we serve is expressing Christ-like love and kindness to people whose understandings, beliefs or behaviors do not align with what is expressed in that carefully developed faith statement.
A current major issue is properly demonstrating loving-kindness and Christian friendship to persons whose homosexual desires lead them to sexual activity outside the limits of the marriage of a man and a woman. To the maximum extent that is practically possible, Fresno Pacific remains firmly committed to lovingly but firmly requiring behavior that agrees with the articles of our confession of faith. We remain committed to the spiritual disciplines that express in our actions what we believe to be morally right. We must actively express love and extend grace to those among us who struggle with strong desires for behavior we believe is morally wrong. We must engage in authentic conversation with them. And we must hold ourselves and everyone in the Fresno Pacific community to behavior that aligns with what we believe.
Our true evangelical faith cannot lie dormant. Our faith must inform and control our behavior. We can and must affirm the worth of each person and love and respect those who are culturally, emotionally, sexually, religiously or in any other way different from us. There can be no harassment, bullying or demeaning of others. We must love God above all and every neighbor as we love ourselves. Doing so includes not approving, encouraging or accepting behavior in our own life or theirs that contradicts what we believe is God’s truth, given to us for our good. Our faith must be sincere, alive and powerfully expressed in good deeds of righteous living. May God give us the wisdom and courage to do this well for his glory as lights in a world that does not understand or approve of what we are trying to be and do.