COLUMBIA—Religious leaders and lay people pondered why young people must be encouraged to pursue intellectual and moral knowledge.
The discussion was held during the annual Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Methodist Bishops’ Dialogue held Sept. 27 at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbia.
Keynote speaker Benjamin Bernard “Bernie” Dunlap, president of Wofford College in Spartanburg, asked the crowd of about 80 to meditate on the day’s theme, “Our Call to Education: Being A Church that Teaches and Inspires.”
Dunlap talked about the meaning of a true liberal arts education. What does it mean to a nation with an increased focus on technology and career-oriented degrees? How does our political climate affect it when some people consider the word liberal a negative, no matter how it is used?
He said the original intent of liberal arts studies, which date from the late Middle Ages, was to open students’ minds to a wide variety of subjects so they would be able to relate to many different types of people, work and values. He said a true liberal arts education includes exposure to discussions of morals and theology.
Dunlap believes that approach to education is important because studies show many people change careers four or five times during their lives, and skills in a wider range of disciplines help students function in a variety of careers and in a multicultural, globalized society.
“A knowledge of who you are and what you believe is not something that can automatically fall in one’s lap without some effort,” he said.
“The liberal arts give students a disposition to go on learning, to ask the deep questions and ideally, to learn that true happiness comes from learning how to serve others.”
Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, diocesan secretary of education, participated in a discussion with faculty from Claflin University, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, and Newberry University about how to offer a solid spiritual and academic education when many students don’t come well prepared for either.
She said Catholics have a rich tradition of liberal arts education to draw from, and students need to be taught that knowledge is a gift from God worth pursuing.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone took part in a panel discussion about education with Bishop Herman R. Yoos of the S.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bishop W. Andrew Waldo of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, and Bishop Mark J. Lawrence of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
Bishop Guglielmone said teaching morality is such a challenge because many parents and teachers have been shaped by several decades of an “I’m OK, you’re OK” culture that focused more on subjective values than concrete, lasting virtues such as those described in Scripture and church teaching.
“How do we cultivate virtues in a secular world that is almost atheistic these days?” he asked. “We need to respond to the challenge of showing our young people the real value of God, and teach them how to really love Christian values.”
The three bishops on the panel agreed that churches need to take a more active role in encouraging all ages to be truly active Christian disciples, rather than passive believers.