As the 20th century faded and the 21st century emerged, so did the fact that religious diversity could no longer be ignored. Some have argued that 9/11 prompted engagement with religious diversity. Perhaps 9/11 was a catalyst–the engagement with religious diversity has been occurring for centuries–except this time it meant different faiths engaging each other.
In the Chaplain’s Office of Wake Forest University there are Christian chaplains as well as a Muslim and Jewish chaplains. These positions, added in the past two years, reflect the University’s commitment to cross-cultural engagement.
Chief of Staff Mary Pugel on behalf of the Office of the President said, “President Hatch fully supports the efforts of Wake Forest to address the religious diversity of our campus through the appointment of persons to work with our increasingly diverse student community…We believe that an important part of a university education includes opportunities to learn about and to appreciate diversity – in all its forms.” While the commitment remains strong, opposition to such the hiring decisions remains equally strong.
Wake Forest University separated from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in 1986, and is no longer affiliated with any religious group. In fact, even the School of Divinity (of which I am in my final semester) has no religious affiliation. This, coupled with the hiring of a Jewish and Muslim chaplain, has seemingly hurt donations, though exact figures are not available. It should be noted, however, that the University is not “hard up” for money.
While people are certainly permitted to use their cash to influence decision-making, the larger problem is insensitivity and intolerance of other religions (read: people that aren’t Christian). I applaud the WFU for making this decision, and others schools that have made similar decisions, but the larger populace is what concerns me.
We can no longer think we can jump back into a homogenous Christian society. The forces of globalization and pluralism have pushed us, willingly or not, into a religiously diverse world. Educating current students on religious differences is work that will make for a better future—a future inching toward peace. Those that would see injustice continue and allow their own lives to lack the enrichment of others would do well to know that they, at one time, were the minority, the other.
With a Presidential race in full swing, keep an eye out for the continued politicization of religious belief. If it’s happening on university campuses, a place where open-minded thinking should be the norm, you can believe it’s happening in the partisan, polarized political atmosphere.
Changing the system will take time, but there’s work to be done now. Chaplain offices around the country need people who represent the diverse religious beliefs present. From Abrahamic faiths, to Eastern religion, and to atheists and secular humanists, we need the engagement of the many to change this one world. If we want to change the system, applaud those who keep pushing the conversation and making hard change.
And, as University Chaplain Tim Auman says, “Sometimes people vote with their checkbooks.” Vote for difference and change. Vote for the change that says, “We are better together.”