Like every confession of enduring convictions, this one, too, has emerged from a particular historical context. This vision document for Houston Baptist University grows out of listening sessions and information gathered over the last several years, but these words are being written during the COVID-19 crisis, whose end we have yet to foresee. The pandemic has changed much of how we manage and deliver the content of higher education and affects greatly our ability to project trends for the future. In addition to the virus-related social and economic turmoil and the subsequent conditions of rapid change that it has generated and under which all of us operate— whether in higher education or other enterprises—this document is being composed on the heels of the most divisive, rancorous, and bitterly fought national elections since the reelection of Abraham Lincoln in 1864. The United States is experiencing a cultural divide of significant proportions; one even hears use of the word “secession.” This social chasm did not suddenly occur. We are reminded more than ever that politics is downstream from culture and that the divisions we are now experiencing, though no doubt exacerbated by the recent election cycle, have a longer history, going back many decades at least. We didn’t get to this point of national crisis overnight, and it will not be repaired with a series of court decisions or legislative maneuvers.
All of us, in our families, work environments, professional associations, voluntary societies, and political organizations, must consider and reflect upon the roots of these chaotic days and look for deeper sources of renewal whereby some modicum of peace and unity can be achieved. We must undertake painstaking and patient efforts at considering the things that truly matter.
Political structures, parties, and leaders have great influence, but unity and renewal will not happen through new laws, suppression, censorship, or political mandate; nor do we require or want superficially contrived methods of uniformity. Rather, we need at a minimum good faith discussions of honest differences within contexts of mutual respect and freedom. These are long-term projects.
We are not utopians. These problems are deeply embedded within the human situation, individually and socially; but we also believe that universities, though they too have contributed to our social ills, can provide (as can the family, houses of worship, and other voluntary societies) a context for approaching these age-old problems of human brokenness. Universities by their very nature and historical disposition are well situated to undertake this kind of long-term work by recommitting themselves as models and laboratories of freedom, thus reflecting the human capacity to tolerate vigorous differences. American universities must preserve and in some cases restore their historic practices of protecting and exercising the freedoms of conscience and speech. These historic behaviors and commitments can begin to renew the role of education, including university education, in our culture. Honoring these values will engender and in some cases restore public respect for the university and its mission. The university must, by conversation, reflection, research, writing, and teaching, exemplify those unifying commitments that can draw us together into a just and tolerant society, modeling what it means to be truly human.
Houston Baptist University endeavors to be just such a university—founded and framed by the convictions of these Ten Pillars, animated and sustained by our central confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. By God’s grace, we will be a place of stable shelter where wisdom may flourish even as the winds blow and the nations rage.