Paul L. Caron

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Christian Colleges Ask: Would God Want Us To Reopen?

Chronicle of Higher Education, Christian Colleges Ask: Would God Want Us to Reopen?:

America’s Christian colleges promise students not just an education but moral and spiritual enlightenment. The coming fall semester presents a new moral quandary: Can a reopening that poses serious health risks be justified in the eyes of God? Does the decision to hold in-person classes represent a brave step forward — or a reckless turn away from honoring the sanctity of life? ...

At one Christian institution after another, though, leaders are citing their spiritual mission to explain decisions to bring at least some students back to campus. Most are planning to reopen under a hybrid model that pairs online instruction with in-person lectures, according to the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, which counts 140 American colleges among its members. ...

At Wheaton College in Illinois, often described as the Harvard of Christian institutions, the president, Philip Graham Ryken, said administrators were taking many steps to make the campus safer: canceling intramural sports, requiring students to submit a negative Covid-19 test result before attending class, and making face masks mandatory for students and employees.

Students who refuse to wear a mask will be disciplined, Ryken said, and repeat offenders “will not be permitted to remain on campus.”

Ryken said that Illinois had achieved some success in limiting the spread of the coronavirus, and the state’s current health recommendations allow colleges to reopen. But if conditions on the ground worsen, he said, the college may be forced to switch to remote instruction.

Early in the pandemic, Ryken said, he read some of Martin Luther’s reflections on bubonic plague as the illness ravaged Germany in the 16th century. Luther’s view balanced a desire to limit the spread of disease with a willingness to take action, he said, and even risk infection if it meant helping others.

As Christian colleges weather the current pandemic, Ryken said, they feel a particularly strong yearning for in-person instruction. “There is a kind of life together, as a community, that we think is ordinarily healthy for the people of God, that we would do everything we could to promote,” he said. “We believe strongly in worshiping together as well as learning together.”

Nevertheless, the monthly All School Communion is being moved from the chapel to an outdoor location, with social-distancing requirements. Wheaton’s regular chapel services will continue three times a week, but will happen virtually. ...

Some Christian institutions have decided that welcoming students back to campus is simply too risky. Paul W. Ferguson, president of Azusa Pacific University, said the path forward requires balancing a variety of different goals, including health and safety, academic excellence, and spiritual formation. But in the end, Ferguson — a longtime professor of toxicology and public health — decided that the college should remain fully online, citing the scientific information in front of him. The campus is located in Southern California, a Covid-19 hot spot, and local health officials are recommending that no college reopen, for now.

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