Mandatory Covenanting, the Death of a Community, and My Personal Manifesto.

Lately, a lot of discussion has been stirring in my kome (village, but biblical, and just altogether better) about our school’s Covenant. It is a document with seven statements that every prospective student must sign upon applying to our university, making an attempt to establish the rules upon which, apparently, our community will be centered. Few people actually follow the Covenant as it stands, and I, for one, can understand why.

First of all, the claims made in the Covenant are all doctrinal, not dogmatic, in nature. They require students to (at least nominally) agree with the beliefs of our school’s church denomination and, more immediately, with those of it’s upper-level administration. This includes a denouncement of alcohol of any kind, regardless of age, and anti-GLBTQ requirements, to name a couple. Granted, there are some statements (anti-plagarism, wise stewardship of resources, etc.) that are good statements to make, but they are doctrinal nonetheless.

Second, many of the statements made are not kept by the school’s administration as a whole. For example, there is a part of the Covenant that claims to reject materialism, yet many thousands of dollars have been invested in the school’s buildings as of late to make them more appealing to prospective students. These buildings were, albeit less attractive, still just as functionally fine before, and an adequate number of students still came to this school prior to such upgrades. One would think that, if we’re supposed to reject materialism, we wouldn’t have spent so much money on skylights, leather chairs, and intricate tile floors, and would have put that money to a better cause (perhaps, helping the enrolled students offset the $42,000 per year price tag).

Speaking of that price tag, how are we, as students, supposed to be “wise stewards of our resources” when we’re ending up with something like $80-$120 grand of debt for the average student? Either the price or the mandate has to change. The two simply don’t work together.

Third, this Covenant is written not as a goal, as something to strive towards, but as a demand of every person in the community. It does not say, “we will seek to…,” but instead, simply, “we will.” This implies that if you act contrary to the Covenant, or (heaven forbid) disagree with it, you cannot be a part of this community. These things are not aims, but requirements, and if you don’t deliver, you’re not in.

Such “mandatory covenanting” goes against the very nature of a covenant. All throughout the Bible, we see examples of covenants that are made between individuals/groups of people or people and God. All of these are different from our school’s Covenant on a few, very important, points: (1) these covenants are made between equal parties, or at least ones acting as if equals. (2) Both parties are agreeing to the terms that both had the power to set. (3) There were penalties on both sides if the covenant was broken. (4) Both parties were blessed by the covenant. (5) Both parties fully understood the reasons for entering into such a covenant. From my perspective, none of these things are present in the Covenant situation at my school.

If we claim to be a school based on the Bible, why are we not following this pattern? These covenants in the Bible were made in the name of community–to bind separate entities together. Why has ours become so superficial? Is it time, pluralism, the multitude of students? Is it simply passivity and the unwillingness to actually do anything? No matter what the reasons, it is killing the school’s community. Something originally (biblically) intended to unite is causing dishonesty and dissent, tearing our community to pieces, and frankly, pissing me off a whole hell of a lot.

So what can we do to fix this?

One of my professors, and also one of my dear friends (who I believe was building off of said professor), posited that, at the beginning of senior year, each student would write his or her own covenant that they would be responsible for keeping. They would be held accountable, but the things they would be held accountable to would be defined by them. Then, students would better understand what a covenant really means and the implications of it, instead of “just checking a box on a form at the beginning of freshman year.”

I like this idea. I like the concept of being able to decide what is important to me, and to discern what kind of lifestyle God is calling me to. I came to college believing that I would be taught how to think, not what to think. The former is good discipleship on behalf of both the instructor and the student, the latter is merely indoctrination. And, as a student who feels like I either have to compromise my beliefs or transfer schools, I know I’d feel a lot more welcome if I was held to a set of beliefs I actually, you know, believed in.

Now that I think of it, why can’t I do this anyway? I have a lot of problems with the existing covenant, and I’d change it if I could. Here goes, friends: WtD’s Senior Year Covenant, or as I prefer to call it, Manifesto.

1. I will seek to be in a loving relationship with my Creator in all arenas of my life. As a student, I will strive to hear the voice of God in my studies. As a sister, I will strive to lift up my siblings in Christ, to pray for them, to rejoice and to mourn with them, to encourage them and, when necessary, to reproach them. As a wife, I will strive to love my husband selflessly, to submit to him as Christ would and to lead him and instruct him when my gifting better suits me for it, and to grow closer to God with him. As a TA, I will strive to make my work a ministry, lifting up my younger siblings and helping them to succeed in their studies. As an image-bearer of God, I will strive to use my abilities as a musician, photographer, and writer to glorify and praise the Lord. In all things, I will seek to be who God created me to be.

2. I will work to do justice in the world around me. I will try to consume goods that are fair-trade, locally grown, and sustainably produced. I will do my best to keep my money and my time out of the hands of the corporations that are “too big to fail” and instead seek to invest it in my community. I will stand behind and work for the oppressed and the marginalized, including women, the poor, the GLBTQ community, ethnic minorities, and others as I feel God calling me. I aim to not be a hearer of the word only, but a doer. I will not simply preach Christ, but I will, whenever I can, be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world.

3. I will strive for peace. I will try earnestly to be filled with the peace that surpasses all understanding, and to not let my anger get the best of me. I will refrain from violence as much as I am able. I will seek to see the face of Jesus in every individual, regardless of if they know God or not. I will try to open my mind to beliefs wholly different from mine and to learn from my brothers and sisters of different convictions. I will try to open my arms to any who should come near.

4. I will seek to stand up for my beliefs. I will not allow myself to be silenced when I see injustice, and I will seek to dispel all fear in these situations and be filled with the courage of Christ, both in the face of my enemy and also, my community.

5. I will do my best to take care of myself. I will practice both spiritual and physical disciplines as I am able. I will eat as healthily as I can, stay active, and be aware of my body’s condition. I will try to be honest with myself and others about my mental and emotional state, and I will work to break down the facade I so often put up between me and the world. I will try to spend my time wisely, and to not waste the precious lot I have on this earth. I will strive to treat my body and mind as a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.

6. I will seek to grow in my faith always, but to also remain like a child in the eyes of Jesus. I will strive to not be foolish in my thinking. I will look for joy and beauty in all of the created world, and to see God in it. I will seek to bless this earth and let it bless me, with my eyes fixed on the heavenly realm.

All of these I commit to, with the assistance of Christ, as my manifesto to the Lord and to the world around me. May God grant me the ability to dedicate myself to, and the humility to accept my inadequacy to always do so. In the name of Jesus, so go I.

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