I had intended to discuss a more historical topic for this, my first official blog entry. I even had a story all chosen, with a scriptural application . . . but then a classroom situation erupted. Another professor and I discovered some instances of cheating that were taking place in our classes. Some students were using online materials to answer chapter reading quizzes. We were shocked by how pervasive it turned out to be, and by the number of students that were involved in it on one level or another. It helped me realize a challenge for this age - there is so much information at our fingertips (through the power of the internet, accessed on countless devices) that our ethics have not caught up to our technology. It is easy to slip into an unethical use of information without having to think too much about it until it has become a habit.
But this essay is not about that.
The “Great Cheating Scandal of 2015,” as I have dubbed it, and the upcoming graduation of 170 or so students from both Johnson campuses have pointed me in a different direction. It has given me an opportunity to explain some things about myself and what I perceive as my purpose. This is something that I often feel awkward talking about and probably do not make as clear to students as I should. But here goes:
Since middle school, I have believed that God has given me the gift of teaching. I strongly believe that all of God’s gifts have been given to build up the Church and to extend his Kingdom. I also strongly believe that there is often a disconnect between the academy and the church. At the church where I grew up in Northern Indiana, I would occasionally hear disparaging comments about higher education - unless it was from the right sort of “Bible School.” When I made the decision to go to a “non-approved” school (I attended Milligan College to study history), there were some who openly told me that I would lose my faith, that I would emerge a hapless and hopeless liberal, and that I would lose my love for God and his Word. I certainly do not feel like that was (or is) the case, even after times of study at Emmanuel Christian Seminary and even the University of Tennessee.
I have focused academically on history, more than on the Bible, not because I believe history to be more important, but because history is so often ignored, forgotten, and twisted by people - both purposefully and accidentally. And yet without an understanding of history, no one can truly discern the shape of the current world. And how can we minister to others if we do not understand the cultures, ideas, and events that have shaped them? How can we bring Christ to all peoples if we do not understand these things?
There are other places that I could be teaching. Community colleges are always looking for professors to fill history slots; they are always full of students, so there is job security there. I could have continued working at the local historical society; the pay was not great, but it was interesting work and might have grown into something more. I could have continued in ministry. But none of those options fit best with my understanding of God’s gifts to me. I teach history at Johnson because here, at this place, I can try to bring understanding and knowledge to hundreds of students who will (hopefully) use that information to deepen their ministries. This is my ministry, my calling. I hope that I model Christian scholarship for my students, and I pray that, if I am successful and if what I show is good, that students will imitate me as I strive to imitate Christ.
And this is why one’s character is important, and why I care about the ethical use of information in this technological age. Outsiders will see and notice things, even if we do not. It is only right that we treat people, ideas, cultures, and information with the same kindness and respect as our Lord Jesus did.
Jason Mead is the Assistant Professor of History at Johnson University Tennessee.