By Matthew Boardman, Columnist for The Whitworthian
According to the Whitworth website, “Whitworth is a private, residential, liberal arts institution affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.” One of its mottos is to “honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity.” It is, at its core, a Christian university. However, this fact does not prevent Whitworth from cultivating a diverse student body of varying backgrounds. Subscribers to myriad beliefs attend Whitworth, including both Christians and non-Christians. I myself, in broad terms, am an agnostic theist—though I will spare you from a lengthy deluge of the particulars of my personal beliefs. So, what is it about a Presbyterian-affiliated university that appeals to a non-Christian?
For purely academic reasons, Whitworth is an exceptional school. For 15 consecutive years, Whitworth has been listed in U.S. News & World Report’s top 10 best private colleges and universities in the West. The Class of 2018’s average GPA was 3.76, and less than 15 percent of applicants were enrolled at Whitworth this year, according to the Whitworth website. Whitworth is a selective school, and one to be proud to be admitted to.
Part of Whitworth’s general education requirements is taking three credits of biblical literature. That fact seems natural enough for a Christian university, but that does not negate the importance of the credit requirement for non-theological reasons. Historically, Christianity has been present in the U.S. since its conception. References to Christian beliefs, both praising and criticizing them, are dispersed throughout literature of all kinds. As an English major, taking a class on biblical literature will be crucial to understanding references in the books I have read or will read in the future. According to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, one-third of the world population identifies as Christian. Exposure to Christianity, as well as other religions, is important for understanding and successfully working with people who differ from yourself, particularly in social, economical or political interactions.
Whitworth consists of Christians from many denominations, so a non-Christian attending Whitworth witnesses an expansive portion of the spectrum of Christianity. The diversity of Christian beliefs goes above and beyond the student body to also include faculty. New faculty are asked to “articulate a clear Christian commitment,” instead of signing a doctrinal statement, according to Whitworth’s website, because “to do so would limit the rich mix of denominational and theological diversity that Whitworth has enjoyed since its founding.” This allows for the denominationally varied faculty to “engage one another on the widest variety of important intellectual and social issues,” according to Whitworth’s website. Consequently, both Christian and non-Christian students benefit from exposure to numerous perspectives on a single theological topic. The different interpretations and their applications encourages students to consider each perspective carefully. Students can compare the various perspectives to their own preconceptions, thus promoting individualistic thinking. In my experience, this results in a more personal validation and genuine conviction in the conclusion, whatever it may be. The diversity of Whitworth’s community promotes individual growth, something that each person, regardless of belief, can benefit from.
As a non-Christian at Whitworth, I find myself grateful for the openness and free thinking Whitworth promotes. Exposure to the differences in Christianity leads me to consider my own beliefs, and amend or uphold them as I deem necessary. I believe that the reverse takes place as well. Having non-Christians ask hard questions causes Christians to confront their own beliefs. They can determine whether they need to be amended, or, if not, their beliefs have been strengthened on a personal level. In this mixture of beliefs and hospitality of diversity, Whitworth makes itself home to a community of personal and social growth, and it is for that reason, I believe, that Whitworth distinguishes itself from the majority of Christian universities.