At the time I graduated from Goshen College in 2011, I would have unequivocally urged support for Mennonite colleges, as MWR’s Oct. 22 editorial does. But no longer. We would do better refocusing resources on U.S. and international seminaries, parachurch institutions and peace and justice work.
Mennonite undergraduate education has changed (I am most familiar with Goshen and Eastern Mennonite University). Bible and peace major enrollment has collapsed. Far fewer alumni do Mennonite Voluntary Service or go to Mennonite seminaries. One school’s multiyear internal surveys showed a decline in faith attitudes. Bible professors see less interest in their classes.
Multiple pastors report lower or no college student and recent alumni attendance at local churches. Religious themes almost never appear in campus papers and scarcely feature even in alumni magazines. Recent alumni in churches mainly emphasize social justice from secular perspectives. Pervasive secularism changes committed Christian attendees, not vice versa.
Sadly, there’s little market for a Christ-centered Mennonite education. One school recently took “Christian” out of the student ministry mission. Chapels are ever-vaguer, often secular or universalist. Some faculty and staff disown Christianity, in private and even in public writing. Naturally, these institutions have many committed Anabaptist faculty and staff, and students have diverse experiences, but trends are clear.
Mennonites give tens of millions of dollars to our schools annually. Education is a valuable service on its own (though the cost is extravagant). But if our purpose is equipping the church, we are not realizing our intentions. We have good options for devoting our resources elsewhere. As our undergraduate schools join the ample ranks of nominally Christian schools, our superb seminaries are at risk. If you have benefited from Mennonite pastors, this is the time to help endow our seminaries.
The global church offers more opportunities. Mennonite World Conference brings us all together. Meserete Kristos College in Ethiopia needs women’s scholarships. SEMILLA enriches the church in Latin America. EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding changes the world for less than $21,000 per student per year. Mennonite Central Committee continues to serve vulnerable people well.
Fortunately, we have institutions that encompass Jesus’ full vision to love God and neighbor. Let’s support them.
David Lapp Jost
The writer serves with Mennonite Mission Network in a sensitive location overseas.
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