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I have the joy and privilege of serving as the chief academic officer at Union University, which is a Baptist institution. Some time ago I was at a gathering of academic leaders from at least nominally Christian colleges and we had an interesting conversation about statements of faith for faculty and other leaders.

One very seasoned leader said that the problem with requiring signed statements of faith is two-fold: the people who will sign them and the people who will sign them. All of us looked confused until he explained.

The first group will sign the statement and really believe every bit of its contents, but then they use it as a means to club their colleagues to death, undermining any sense of community that exists. They proof-text every jot and tittle of campus life against their own interpretations of the statement and constantly hound anyone who crosses their viewpoints.

The second group will sign the statement not because they agree with it but rather because they will sign anything in order to get a job. According to their views, the interpretation of the statement lies in the eyes of the interpreter and they can sign freely, knowing that they will assign the meaning of the items themselves in whatever way makes them comfortable. Both groups end up practicing a kind of hermeneutical hegemony that ends up being destructive.

The leader’s point was a good one: using a sheet of paper alone to guard institutional identity is a weak means of defense. It takes more than a signature to ensure that faculty members and other leaders are dedicated to the mission of the institution.

An institution tends to lose its mission one hire at a time: first it hires nice persons who pretty much agree with the mission, then those nice persons become leaders who hire people with shiny doctoral alma maters who barely agree with the mission, and then those people hire folks who openly disagree with the mission and view it as an impediment to “real” education. The preservation of institutional mission takes more than a statement of faith; it takes a careful, fulsome cultivation of a community of faith.

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