A Christian institution is not a place without questions or without reason, argued the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Furthermore, it is not a place that that breaks relations and nourishes violence, as some in today’s society may believe.
Speaking this past weekend at Rikkyo University in Japan, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams acknowledged that religiously-grounded schools and higher institutions certainly have at their basis a number of “clear doctrinal commitments.”
However, what distinguishes a Christian institution is not so much the doctrine as the “outworking of it in the style and ethos of a community,” the Anglican leader said.
“'Faith-based' education is education in the mixture of realism or provisionality with the courage to act, discover and create, to make relations and mend them,” he stated.
“Christian institution is not necessarily one where everyone is drawn into the same patterns of moral life or discipline, but it is one where people are constantly being exposed to the challenge of living in such a way that justice and mercy and mutuality become visible,” he added.
Furthermore, in relating to God, people develop the habits of silence and listening, the willingness to be questioned and to question themselves.
“Specifically for Christians, relating to God means growing into the role of a child of God, called to maturity, to a life in which dependence and creativity go side by side, inseparably,” Williams stated.
And to those who feel faith-based education divides rather than reconciles, the archbishop noted that the rationality of secular thinking is no guarantee of universal understanding and reconciliation.
“A rationality that has brought us into the age of nuclear weaponry and global economic meltdown invites some sharp questions, to put it mildly; which has something to do with the revulsion in some quarters against the very idea of reason, against science and the notion of universal values and much else besides,” he stated.
Williams did, however, confess and lament over the fact that some religious camps are unable to reconcile with those whose ideas or beliefs seemingly challenge their own.
He called it “poisonous dogma,” the belief that the critical and skeptical sciences of Darwin, Marx or Freud and their countless followers and revisers must be regarded as destructive of faith and so to be reviled and rejected.
But the archbishop expressed gratitude for Christian schools in our world such as Rikkyo University that play a vital part in the health of every society by nurturing trust, the capacity for relation to God and the world, and the confidence that the future of the human family may yet be convergent not fragmented.
Such institutions, Williams said, set before society a picture of the genuinely rational person as one capable of intellectual searching and innovation, just as much as any secular account of rationality might do, but it adds the essential extra insight that rationality is about reverence, healing, humility and, ultimately, love.
“Universities can't teach love; yet an institution that stifles all the things that nourish love would be a menace (and there are some of those around in our world),” the Anglican leader stated.
Education, he continued, is properly to do with the growth of an emotionally as well as intellectually mature self, and the nurture of the rational person needs at least to point to what love might mean, not as a particular passing state of feeling but as an entire environment for thinking and relating.
“And this is where a university like this one, with its persistent but gently understated commitment to Christian faith, has a great gift to offer, in that it rests its hopes and visions on the ultimate definition of love - what we might call the self-definition of love itself, in the self-emptying of the divine into the form of our humanity so that we might be restored in divine likeness,” Williams said.
The archbishop concluded his speech by acknowledging what has been done at Rikkyo University to give “body and presence to that vision of the good.”
“And we commend the future to God's hands in rational confidence,” he stated.