Barry McNamara  |   Published April 20, 2016

Leading the discussion

Monmouth co-hosts national conference about Presbyterian colleges’ role in society
  • The Rev. Dr. Teri Ott, Monmouth College chaplain
Presbyterian-affiliated colleges such as Monmouth College have an important role to play in shaping public discourse.

That was one of the topics discussed at a national higher education conference held April 6-7 in Chicago and co-sponsored by Monmouth.

“Presbyterian and Pluralist: Equipping Presbyterian Colleges and Universities for Interfaith Leadership” included “some amazing discussions,” according to the Rev. Dr. Teri Ott, Monmouth College chaplain.

Held at Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church, one of the premier Presbyterian churches in the nation and conference co-host, the two-day meeting was also sponsored by the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities, the Presbyterian College Chaplains Association and the Interfaith Youth Core.

“Some amazing discussions came out of the conference,” said Ott, who noted that more than half of the 56 Presbyterian-affiliated colleges in the United States were represented in Chicago. “We talked a lot about how we can truly be a Presbyterian college, but also open to religious diversity.”

Ott said one of the answers to that question lies in the word “college” itself.

“There is a lot of troubling rhetoric in the world today from politicians, and troubling issues such as Islamophobia,” she said. “One way to combat that is with a really good education. We need our students to be better informed, not so that they can understand our Presbyterian-affiliated colleges better, but understand our pluralistic world better. We need leaders who know the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim; leaders who know how to make space for the Buddhist and the Jain, so that all will feel welcome.”

Although Monmouth College has evolved as an institution during its 163-year history, Ott said one of the College’s strengths remains its Presbyterian heritage.

“One of their founding principles was the promotion of social righteousness,” she said. “The founders of Monmouth, and colleges like it, believed in doing good things for the world and making society right, and they saw education as a way to lift society up. That’s the mission – not to make everyone a Presbyterian, but to do big things for the world. We live that out every day here at Monmouth.”

Ott said that today’s college students are more “unchurched, non-Christian,” and they often receive an unfavorable Christian witness through the news and through politics.

“I want them to understand that Christians are for justice, and that you can be a Christian and be a pluralist,” said Ott. “We want and need this college to be diverse. Lifting that identity up is a really wonderful service we provide to our students – that all voices are welcome.”

Ott said that Monmouth College was invited to assume a leadership role in the conference by Interfaith Youth Core founder and president Eboo Patel, who was impressed by how the College “brought people together” in conjunction with his visit to campus in 2014.
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