Originally published July 1, 2013
Jonathan White has been a criminal justice professor at Grand Valley State University for about 30 years. During that time, White became an ordained minister in the National ASsociation of Congregational Christian Churches and served as a pastor in Congregational churches and churches in the United Church of Christ.
White said he did not find it difficult to shift from lecturing in a religious role to lecturing in a secular one.
“I feel teaching and pastoring are religious vocations,” he said.
But his vocation has not included proselytizing. “As a Christian, I do not feel called to make people believe as I believe,” he said. “Our calling is to recognize our fellow human beings as children of divinity.”
White said that the secular ideas he’s called to teach don’t often—or really ever—contradict his religious views. “The search for knowledge is sacred,” he said. “Science, for example, is a holy quest. The ideas of existence and the evolution of a self-reflective species is much more exciting than envisioning magic tricks.”
Although now retired from religious ministry, White said he thinks his religious perspective influences his teaching every day. “I approach teaching in contemplative prayer, hoping that the mistakes I make do not have a negative impact on my students,” he said. “I hope they feel respected and honored—and that they learn a few things.”
Likewise, White said his university role has affected his faith by deepening it.
“I was ordained after teaching for 13 years at GVSU,” White said. “Regardless, deep ecumenism—respect for divine wisdom in other religions and in non-faith traditions—involves active participation in in all experiences. This involves the search for a universal truth, something cosmologists call the Theory of Everything. We’re all part of that searching process whether we follow a faith tradition or not. Most religious colleges are based on the premise that their sacred experiences have captured and defined all truth. I couldn’t teach in an environment like that.”
Original publication (on A3): https://issuu.com/grandvalleylanthorn/docs/issue_1_f149edd9e0a236