September 17, 2020
Letter to the Editor
In a recent op-ed piece appearing in Baptist News Global, Isaac Sharp expressed some salient concerns about our alma mater. Carson-Newman University is no doubt as special to Dr. Sharp as it is to me, as we both graduated from the same religion department and were shaped by the same religion faculty. Not only that, Isaac and I both benefitted from Carson-Newman’s Honors Program and a program that sends students to Oxford University for a subsidized term of study. Now, I serve at Carson-Newman as a member of that same religion faculty, and I have served as director of both our Honors Program and our Oxford Studies Program as well.
This, however, is where Dr. Sharp and I part ways. While Dr. Sharp feels comfortable dividing the possibilities that lay open for Christian institutions of higher education into two rigid, mutually exclusive categories, my own hope for Carson-Newman’s future lies beyond the ideological divisions that characterize our nation’s current political realities. We have always been, and will continue to be, an institution that welcomes all students who choose to study with us into a community of free academic inquiry and deep interpersonal concern. We have also been, and will continue to be, an institution where those activities are grounded in an understanding of the Christian faith that is broadly and clearly articulated, and that emerges organically from the lives of our faculty and staff. Carson-Newman is a remarkable place precisely because we have refused as a faculty, and as an institution, to be polarized.
I admit that I felt some grief as we celebrated, as a community, the contributions of the many faculty members who chose to retire this year. Those choices, free responses to an offer connected not to ideological but to financial concerns, forced us to say goodbye to folks who have given their lives to this place and its mission. But new faculty members are here, and more are coming; they bring passion for their subjects and for free inquiry. The mission we all serve is unchanged.
I chose to attend Carson-Newman in the fall of 1998 because I could tell it was a very special place. Twenty-two years later, standing on the other side of the lectern, I still feel the same way. Every morning, when I take my place behind Robert Shurden and Wade Bibb’s old desk in Henderson Humanities 205, I feel at home — now more than ever.
Associate professor of religion, Carson-Newman University