Can Belmont maintain its Christian identity?
For the past 18 months, Belmont President Greg Jones has had one main talking point above all others – he wants to make Belmont the leading Christ-centered university in the world.
He said for Belmont to get there it will involve restructuring the university, creating new positions and focusing the faculty.
And it will take inclusion.
But what does all this really mean, especially now that Belmont will now consider Jewish faculty when it hires?
Over the past semester, the Vision has asked top administrators to define what it means to be
· President Greg Jones said it’s about being a good neighbor.
· Susan West, executive vice president for administration, said it’s about modeling the way of Christ.
· Todd Lake, vice president for church relations, said it’s about engaging with faith-driven individuals.
Jones said the new policy doesn’t change the meaning of “Christ-centered” – it amplifies it.
“Part of what it means to be Christ-centered is to be welcoming and embracing,” he said.
And starting immediately, Belmont will welcome members of the Jewish faith to apply for faculty positions in the colleges of law, medicine and pharmacy. The rest of the university will follow at a later date.
“Belmont historically hired only faculty who were of Christian faith and now we've broadened that to include our Jewish sisters and brothers,” Lake said.
But how does that fit in with Belmont’s God-sized dreams?
Both Jones and Lake emphasized the importance of the Jewish relationship to Christianity and said the policy is a step forward for Belmont.
“We’re fortunate to be able to make this move to deepen our faith commitment,” Lake said.
The Jewish faith doesn’t believe in Christ as the Messiah, but Belmont will welcome Jewish faculty “who are committed to the University’s Christ-centered mission,” Gregory said in an email.
“Christ-centered” isn’t an official classification for universities, but Belmont isn’t the only one to adapt this language. Baylor University, Notre Dame University and Boston College are all considered Christ-centered, or faith-based, institutions.
Like Belmont, Baylor University accepts professors who are both Christian and Jewish. Jones previously served as the provost of Baylor until 2017.
And while Belmont’s leadership have different definitions of what being the leading Christ-centered university looks like, they’re all grounded on one thing – Belmont is evolving.
For some professors, although they say the change is a step in the right direction, they feel it conflicts with Belmont’s inclusive, Christ-centered mission.
“Are we now saying that it's possible for a person of Jewish faith to be committed to our Christ centered mission, but a Latter-Day Saint person can't be? Yeah, that again, that makes no sense to me,” said Mark McEntire, professor of biblical studies at Belmont.
Jones said that there aren’t any current conversations to extend the hiring policy beyond Jewish and Christian faculty members.