A panel of four Elon University faculty and staff members came together Monday night in the Isabella Cannon Room to discuss the traditions and experiences that have shaped their understandings of Christianity.
“For Christians, our point of view is formed by how we use and interpret the bible,” said associate chaplain Jan Fuller in her opening address. “How we read the bible is shaped by our beliefs, the tradition of interpretation we come from, what we’ve learned from our churches and our families.”
Fuller said she first recognized a need for this event during the summer, while reading Facebook posts about controversial topics in society.
“The way I saw people posting and responding to each other made me think there wasn’t a basic understanding of the belief system that founded or constructed these different points of view,” she said.
Although Fuller said she recognizes social media doesn’t always provide an ideal platform for in-depth discussions, she found the posts she read to be judgmental and unhelpful.
“It became clear that we needed to begin to understand and talk about the framework of the belief systems and processes that produce the stands we take in public,” she said.
In an effort to help accomplish this goal, the panel members were invited to share the ways in which they interpret their own belief systems.
[quote]I was always taught to be a good person, to not lie, to do the right thing and I’d make it to heaven. -Christian Esters, coordinator of foundation and community engagement[/quote]
Vic Costello, associate professor of communications, spoke about his experience as an elder in the Evangelical Church. After providing a brief history of the Evangelical faith, Costello spoke about the emphasis his church places on scripture.
“Evangelicals view scripture as the final authority for informing and defending Christian doctrine,” he said.
Christina Esters, coordinator of foundation and community engagement, spoke about her experience growing up in a Methodist church.
“I really didn’t have any true knowledge of the bible,” she said. “But I was always taught to be a good person, to not lie, to do the right thing and I’d make it to heaven.”
Her early understanding of her faith led to a constant sense of guilt and fear of condemnation, Esters said.
The way she viewed her faith changed when she began reading about Jesus’ crucifixion and learning about a new interpretation of his death as a sacrifice, she said.
“I learned that all the grace that’s provided to us is a free gift,” she said. “If I have to work for it then it’s no longer grace.”
Todd Coleman, associate professor of music, addressed several misconceptions held about the Church of Latter Day Saints. He emphasized that the Book of Mormon is read in addition to, rather than opposed to, the bible, despite the common belief that it is an alternative scripture.
Associate professor of psychology Chris Leupold concluded the event by sharing his experiences searching for the source of anti-Catholic sentiment. By expanding his knowledge of the bible, Leupold became more familiar with and appreciative of the unity his Catholic faith provides.
A question and answer session followed the discussion, and audience members asked questions ranging from the role of women in the church to the role of the bible in a Catholic Mass.
“I hope this has given all of us a sense of hope that we can continue to have these conversations and understand each other better, and not simply write each other off because we are different or think differently,” Fuller said. “I hope we can understand that for every view that someone has there is a reason.”