President speaks at lectern.
Dr. Brian Stogner, president of Rochester Christian University

The RCU Blog features insights into our core principles and mission while highlighting the diverse voices and innovative research from within our community.

June 13, 2024

By Dr. Brian Stogner

As Rochester University adds the word “Christian” back into its name, we are called to clarify and develop our identity as a distinctive Christian university. 

As many of you are aware, many private colleges today have adopted a particular political perspective in an attempt to attract students and donors from the families and constituencies most likely to attend and support their institutions.

A 2022 article in the “Detroit Free Press” headlined “Battle over ‘wokeness’ at Christian colleges isn’t just about politics, it’s about dollars” highlighted this situation. Many people among our constituents wanted to discuss that article with me. I don’t intend to rehash or debate the assertions of the article, but I do want to highlight one element and suggest a perspective I believe was missing.

One individual quoted in the article mentioned the importance of being distinctive, rather than just going along with what seems to be popular, which could be either “woke,” or “anti-woke,” depending upon to whom you’re trying to appeal. I think that was probably the most important statement in the article, and the one most relevant to us. 

Our emphasis will not be political 

As we elaborate upon our nature as a distinctive Christian University, our emphasis will not be on a political perspective. Do a little thought experiment with me. Make for yourself a mental picture of a line moving horizontally across from left to right. In your own mind, make an ‘X’ on that line where you think you are today in terms of your own political point of view, liberal on the left or conservative on the right.

I’m sure the RU community has folks with perspectives all over that line, and maybe in different places, depending on the issue you’re considering. The “Free Press” article emphasized the importance of Christian colleges aligning themselves farther to the right on that line.

Now, imagine there’s also a vertical line. So now we have a graph with an X and Y axis. (It’s OK to do a little math—we are a university after all.) On the vertical axis, we would plot our level of hospitality and welcome for perspectives that are different from our own. Is yours low or high?

Everyone could plot coordinates on both axes: one for your political perspective, and the other for your welcome of those with different perspectives. But, it is that hospitality and welcome, not your political perspective, that are defining characteristics of a distinctive Christian university.

Our defining characteristics are hospitality & welcome

Consider the metaphor of the open table as a fundamental of our identity. Everyone is welcome at the Table of the Lord. That principle creates for us a foundation for our emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. It means we will be welcoming and inclusive of all believers and unbelievers, all races and ethnicities, all political persuasions, all socioeconomic statuses, all orientations, and citizens of every nation. In our commitment to loving and valuing every human, we adamantly stand against racism, Christian nationalism, homophobia, sexism and any other doctrines that work to further oppress marginalized groups. The marginalized are always welcome at Christ’s open table at Rochester Christian University.

As we create and foster that inclusive and welcoming environment, we will strive to keep in front of us the reminder that it is because Jesus is Lord that we emulate his model of hospitality, welcome and inclusion.

 If we do this, we will encounter others (and already have encountered them) who embrace a life narrative that differs from our own political perspectives — and is even sometimes different from the Christian story. Those differences will produce deep variations not only in perspectives, but also in values and practices.

 In the spirit of the open table (which reflects the Golden Rule and the greatest commandments) as an institution, we will welcome and value these differences and the people who embody them, while continuing to speak and live the truth as we understand it. I don’t know, or care, whether doing that would be called ‘woke’ or not, but it is who we are going to strive to be.

Carrying a cross, not accumulating possessions

In addition, as we further clarify our distinctive identity, we will deepen our focus on the words and example of Jesus. We will emphasize humble and selfless service, not seeking glory or recognition for our efforts, but setting an example and teaching our students that following the call of God means carrying a cross, not accumulating possessions. 

That is a countercultural message, but I don’t know how we can call ourselves a Christian college, and at the same time buy into the idol of materialism and the fantasy of worldly success. If we educate our students well, material success and wealth will come to some of them. As we prepare them for successful careers and the potential for material success, let’s help them understand the proper value to place on those things in the Kingdom of God and how to be good stewards of them.

A distinctive Christian university not only is guided by the example and teachings of Christ but further recognizes the importance of having “Christ formed in us.” 

Our students are coming to us with hopes, aspirations and dreams. We are here, with the help of God, to serve and guide them as they clarify and realize those visions and more clearly discern how they fit into the work God is doing. 

God is certainly working here. And as we commit to being a distinctive Christian university joining God in that work, may we be a community of truth and blessing for each other, for our students, and for the people and world around us.