Emma Hester, The Horizon
I regularly encounter students who critique Westmont’s foundation as a Christian liberal arts institution. Some challenge Westmont’s commitment to a traditional understanding of Scripture and Christian living. Others shrug off Westmont’s mission to train leaders in effectively serving Christ. Still others wonder and even protest when the college doesn’t enthusiastically embrace every cultural movement focused on equality.
Westmont is not supposed to look like the typical college. Westmont is founded on Christian principles for the purpose of training leaders to impact the world for Christ. Our mission statement declares, “Westmont College is an undergraduate, residential, Christian liberal arts community serving God’s kingdom by cultivating thoughtful scholars, grateful servants and faithful leaders for global engagement with the academy, church and world.”
Students, faculty and administration must keep Westmont’s mission statement front and center in our conversations if we want Westmont College to remain distinctive in a rapidly changing culture.
As a community, we must affirm Westmont’s missional purpose. The school approaches education from a Christian perspective for the purpose of reaching the world. A Christian liberal arts education engages subjects differently than the typical college. Westmont classes start with Christ and what he is doing in the world. We do not learn for the sake of education; we learn for the sake of glorifying God. This shouldn’t always look like a vocational ministry; it means training students to faithfully serve Christ in every field.
Because Westmont is a missional institution, it must also be a countercultural institution. Unlike colleges not defined by a mission to serve God’s kingdom, Westmont looks to the authority of Scripture. Our statement of faith reads, “The Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, is God-breathed and true, without error in all that it teaches; it is the supreme authority and only infallible guide for Christian faith and conduct-teaching, rebuking, and training us in righteousness.”
The college adheres to a Community Life Statement requiring students to live according to core Christian principles, a foreign and even offensive concept to many non-Christian institutions. The college cannot embrace cultural movements that twist a Christian sexual ethic or a biblical view of marriage. As a countercultural institution committed to Scripture, Westmont’s Community Life Statement does not affirm sex outside of marriage, transgender lifestyles or same-sex relationships.
Many students at Westmont question this commitment to living out biblical standards in a culture that sees these standards as unnecessary and even harmful. In our conversations as a community, we must remember that Westmont should look very different from other schools. As faculty, administration and students, we must affirm our commitment to upholding a countercultural institution that looks to Scripture to guide its community.
A firm commitment to Westmont’s mission statement does not mean we should blindly accept. Rather, we must maintain a healthy debate about what it means to uphold these core principles and live faithfully as Christians.
Since its founding in 1937, Westmont has changed significantly in good and necessary ways as the college has wrestled with what it looks like to prepare students to live out the gospel. For instance, the school began as a Missionary Bible Institute and was dedicated to preparing students for vocational ministry. Since then, Westmont has expanded its vision to include training students to serve Christ in every arena of life.
When my grandma attended Westmont in the ‘60s, students pledged they would not dance or attend movies. The college has changed these and other unnecessary rules that distract from the core mission of honoring God in all things.
Westmont has not always faithfully pursued this mission. We have often taken our focus off Christ. We have failed to love and include every member of the community in this mission. Last spring, the college had several necessary conversations about what it should look like to value diversity in the kingdom of God. The college recognized its failures in the past to value the voices of students and faculty of color. The Westmont community must continue to discuss how to faithfully and holistically glorify God.
We, as members of the Westmont community, must ask ourselves: do we want Westmont to remain distinctive as a Christian liberal arts institution? If so, we must keep our mission statement at the center of all of our conversations as we wrestle with what it means to faithfully serve Christ in our education and the world.
Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.