In a world where the integrity of language is constantly disintegrating, the meaning and connotation of any given word or phrase can change dramatically, often in a very short time. This reality makes finding the right words to explain who you are as an individual or as an organization an ongoing challenge. The enormous power of the wide range of media platforms from the Internet to highway billboards allows the functional or emotional meaning of any word or phrase to be significantly redefined. Sometimes the change is subtle and slow, but often it is dramatic and rapid.
During the past year the Christian universities in California have been laboring individually and together to find the right language to respond to a state law that requires us to formally disclose to prospective students and employees that we have a religiously based exemption from certain federal laws. That long-standing exemption allows religious institutions to have different policies and organizational cultures than what the law requires of secular institutions.
The required disclosure is intended to ensure that no one would enroll or accept employment at such a religiously based institution without an adequate understanding of what kind of organization they would be joining. The affected colleges and universities support the clarifying intention of the disclosure law. Each of us wants every student and employee to clearly understand the distinctive character and values of the corporate culture in which they would study or work. We also want our donors and other supporters and partners to understand who we are and why we might differ from other institutions of higher education.
Therefore, in an environment in which unstable meanings create treacherous potential for misunderstanding, we developed two distinct and complementary disclosure statements. One statement meets the technical requirements of the law to explain that we have a religious exemption and direct people to the relevant documents that contain the basis of that exemption and its implications in our policies and practices. This statement is now publicly posted on our website. You can read it here.
The second statement, now in the final stage of legal review and formatting for publication, explains in more common everyday language what a person should expect to actually experience if they become part of the Fresno Pacific University community. You will be alerted to its availability as soon as it is posted. We invite your comments on both of these statements, and remind you and ourselves that the dynamic environment in which we seek to define ourselves requires us to treat these as living documents that must be adapted to constantly shifting cultural and linguistic realities.
Fresno Pacific University is so much a part of the church, and so infused with the beliefs and values of the church, that we often must remind ourselves that we are not a church, not a local congregation whose members are all followers of Jesus. A church can be and do many things that Fresno Pacific cannot, but Fresno Pacific is incorporated as a religious organization, created by the church and for the church as an integral part of the church. We exist to accomplish important outcomes that a church congregation or even a fellowship or conference of many congregations cannot do.
Like a church, all members of our leadership—faculty, staff and trustees—are committed followers of Jesus Christ who recognize his sovereign authority, serve as stewards in his kingdom and seek to make disciples in all the nations, teaching them to obey all his commands. But unlike a church, we are authorized to grant accredited higher education degrees that allow our graduates to serve Christ in the world with exceptional excellence in a wide range of professional vocations that require such advanced certification. So, members of our student bodies have varying faith commitments. And some may have no faith at all. We seek to encourage all our students to an increasingly full understanding of who Jesus is and what it means to follow him, to think like Christ in every field of learning and work. We want all our graduates to have experienced the effects of the mind of Christ and learned as fully as they can what it means to experience and extend the love of God to all people.
Like a church, we are a community of faith that worships, learns and serves together. We learn to accept differences that we cannot endorse and which may make us uncomfortable. We seek to grow through whatever discomfort God calls us to because we are deeply committed to moving every student toward increasingly faithful and wise service. Like the church of which we are such an integral part, we seek to see the fruit that comes when the Holy Spirit controls a life willingly submitted to and centered in Jesus Christ. By God’s grace and for his glory we seek love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Our disclosure statements are part of our commitment to help everyone understand what we mean when we say Fresno Pacific is a Christian university.