by Johnathon Goodenow
Greenville College prides itself on teaching students to be both intelligent and focused on the commission given to us by Jesus Christ. To that end, all students have the opportunity to go on a trip to St. Louis during CORE 102 to gain a better understanding of the various religions that are practiced around the world. Over the course of the trip, students visit a mosque and a synagogue in addition to several Christian churches of differing denominations. The experience is designed to challenge and strengthen the faiths of those who go on the trip, while simultaneously teaching them to be more mindful of religious beliefs that others hold.
Junior Randy Mueller took the course last year, and was willing to offer some insights that he gained from his experience. When asked if the trip impacted his faith, he stated that he could find more value in his own relationship with God after learning about how other people practiced their faiths. He also recounted several experiences from the trip that stood out to him. One of these was a discussion in the Grand Islamic Center about the identities and qualities of Jesus, Muhammad, and God. Another was a service in a megachurch that he described as “a complete money grab,” saying, “They didn’t speak any scripture message and it was all about how ‘God will bless you with money if you give to us.’ They essentially preached health, wealth, and prosperity gospel.” Finally, he described a synagogue which had allowed a practicing muslim to become a member. The leaders of this synagogue made a point of saying that there was no problem with practicing multiple religions, but also described the Torah as only good advice to live by.
All of this may seem like a very negative experience, but grappling with ideas that are contradictory to one’s own faith helps believers come to a better understanding of who God is and what He wants from His people. When encountering a religious belief that does not fit with one’s current understanding of Christianity, they are driven to dive into scripture and think critically about the concepts and values that are central to their religion. Coming into contact with the ideas that students face on the trip should cause them to ask questions such as: Does the Quran have any bearing on the qualities of God? To what extent should a Christian give to their church, and why should they do it? Does it make sense for someone to practice multiple religions? How literally should a biblical text be read? Thinking critically and asking questions is the best way to benefit from the experiences provided by the trip.
It is also entirely possible that while on this trip, students may come into contact with ideas that they believe should be incorporated into their own faiths more. Summer Mengarelli, a sophomore, had an experience like this.
“It was eye-opening to see, across this spectrum of religious traditions, a common devotion to justice and reconciliation that I often see lacking in my own religious background; this was a humble reminder of our inadequacies. Of course, some of the people we talked to held beliefs that differed from my own, but for the most part, through this trip, I was extremely encouraged in my pursuit of a deep, active faith.”
It is also important to understand that beliefs are held by individuals. Simply because someone worships with a denomination which believes the church can marry same-sex couples doesn’t necessarily mean they agree. There are many moving parts to what shapes a person’s faith. Scriptural interpretation, upbringing, and personal experiences influence how people think about religion just as much, if not more, than the denomination with which they associate. Beliefs about homosexuality, women in leadership roles, predestination, and even baptism will differ between members of a congregation. Every believer has the right to question the ideas of those around them. Students should take the opportunity to listen to as many voices as possible and have dialogue with people who disagree before making decisions.
Dr. Ben Wayman, instructor of philosophy and theology at Greenville, had this to say about the merits of the trip:
“The CORE trip is a distinctive experience of the kind of Christ-centered education we deliver at Greenville College. We are committed to helping our students develop a global perspective of the Church’s rich and diverse traditions. We believe that the diversity of the Church enriches the Church and expands our understanding of God’s wide embrace of the world and the church’s broad expression of friendship with God. Most of all, the trip invites students to think carefully about what it means to follow Jesus and to claim him as Lord of all. The CORE trip reminds us all that who we worship is the most important decision we will ever make, and it impacts every aspect of our life.”
During their college experience, students will learn more about themselves through coming into contact with ideas with which they disagree. The CORE 102 trip fulfills this purpose directly and has been a part of Greenville’s curriculum since the early 1970s in the form of a class called “Bible and Culture.” While the name of the class has since changed, and is likely to change again during Greenville’s transition to a university, it will continue to be an important part of what makes an education at Greenville unique and formative.