When I am asked about the effects of the recent election—or other political or economic events—on Fresno Pacific University, I first talk about what hasn’t changed.
- Unchanged in our commitment to faithfulness, wisdom and service.
- Unchanged in our commitment to higher education that is centered in the way, the truth and the life of Jesus Christ.
- Unchanged in our commitment to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
- Unchanged in our commitment to loving God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength.
- Unchanged in our commitment to love our neighbor as ourselves, including especially those who believe and behave contrary to our understanding of God’s revealed truth; those who refuse to see the good that God enables us to do in the world; those who refuse to evaluate us by the servant heart and stewardship of faculty, staff, trustees, alumni and donors who lead and follow with humble strength and noble but quiet courage in the name of Christ.
The 2016 elections in America are over, but the rate of major social, economic and moral change continues to increase, and the resulting pressures on Christ-centered universities continue to intensify. No matter which presidential candidate would have been chosen, it was clear less than half the voters would be satisfied and even fewer willing to actively support that person as president. Street protests and celebrity rejections disowned the winning candidate, and the other candidate likely would have faced rejection and resistance just as real.
The ideal of unity around shared values and vision often seems nothing more than a quaint vestige of a nostalgic past. Individual rights and identities and other single-interest agendas often seem to have triumphed over the rights of cohesive and purposeful communities, especially if those communities are grounded in religious convictions. Uncertainty about the future of a family, village, state, nation or the world intensifies as “every person does what seems good in their own eyes.” Community requires giving up some individual desires or even “rights” for the shared good. Healthy communities are wise enough to choose, guide and support wise leaders who help the members contribute to these shared core values.
One common explanation of leadership is that leaders are created so followers have someone to blame when things go wrong, as inevitably happens when followers are feckless. This broken system may help explain why many in the current generation of American students doubt that they will enjoy a “better life” than their parents. One cause of this pessimism seems to be that it is not clear what a “better life” is in a world where many must lose for some to win.
The current malaise began decades ago—no one seems to know exactly when or where. Secular higher education began replacing the search for truth and moral wisdom with the search for power. Knowing and wisely doing what is right became less important than knowing how to get your way in the world. But as we elevate every individual’s right to their “pursuit of happiness” to the summum bonum of our society, with no shared restraining moral framework, we create a hopelessly fragmented society with no unifying principle sufficient to ensure the reasonable rights of all people and groups.
Politics is sometimes simply defined as the art and science of gaining and maintaining power in a system, whether the scope be an office, church, family, local community, a nation or between nations. Politics is about getting your way. The power to get other people to act a certain way and to make things be a certain way may come from many sources and exhibit many forms. Power may come from passionate and compassionate followers filled by the Spirit of God and guided by the truth of Scripture. But power can also come from the barrel of a gun, the force of a bomb or the noise of an angry mob.
Thankfully, power may come from the crucifixion and resurrection of one sinless person. At Fresno Pacific, this is the power we put first, despite what happens in the partisan politics of the world around us. We live in the upside-down politics of the kingdom of Christ who is sovereign over all earthly powers. He raises them up and takes them down and holds them accountable according to his ultimate purpose of reconciling every person to a joyful relationship with their Creator through Christ. God is the one true source of every good and perfect gift, including political power that can, like everything else, be employed for evil or for good. Our ultimate hope and confidence is not in earthly politics, as important as those forces may be, but in the politics of the already-but-not-yet kingdom of God.