WACO—As Baylor University aspires to be the “caring community” described in its mission statement—and to correct the flaws cited in an investigation into the school’s handling of sexual violence—some members of the “Baylor Family” believe the university should aim even higher.
“Talk of community is good, but maybe friendship is better,” said Darin Davis, vice president for university mission and director of Baylor’s Institute for Faith and Learning.
“Friendship mediated by the God who loves us” enables each person to “see everyone as a gift,” he continued.
Spiritual life and character formation
Davis moderated a panel discussion that explored how a deeper understanding and practice of friendship can cultivate virtue and enrich community. The “Remembering our Hope” program grew out of Baylor’s spiritual life and character formation task force.
Interim President David Garland created the task force in direct response to the findings and recommendations of Pepper Hamilton, the law firm that investigated Baylor’s response to incidents of sexual abuse.
‘Grace makes friendship work’
Panelist Emmanuel Roldan, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Waco and a recent graduate of Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary, emphasized the role of unconditional love and undeserved favor in friendships.
“Grace makes friendship work,” Roldan said.
Friends offer forgiveness when they are neglected and assurance when it is needed, he said.
‘Vital to healing our brokenness’
Thinking back on his teenage years, Roldan recalled wrecking his father’s car and his father’s response: “Emmanuel, there is nothing that has been broken that can’t be fixed.”
“Friendship is vital to healing our brokenness,” Roldan said.
Friendship offers “the blessing to speak honestly and to hear honest words,” he added.
Roldan recalled a conversation in which a friend showed love by challenging him when he needed it.
“I am 100 percent sure that I am right,” Roldan recalled saying to his friend.
“I am 100 percent sure that you are wrong,” his friend responded. “But I still love you. And I care enough to tell you.”
Be an attentive and caring listener
Friendship is learned by observation and experience, said Cheryl Gochis, Baylor’s vice president for human resources. The same skills that make a person a good friend also make an individual a good employee and co-worker, she noted.
“If you want to be a great friend, be a great listener,” Gochis said.
Compassion and caring grow out of listening attentively and learning about another person, she observed.
“If you want to be a good friend, always assume positive intent,” she added.
Give the other person the benefit of the doubt, and assume the individual means well—“or, at least, they are doing the best they can do,” she said.
While most people are drawn naturally to people who are like them, seek out friends who are different, Gochis advised.
“We learn the most from people who are different than us,” she said. “We are attracted to those who are like us, but the richest relationships develop with people who are different.”
In seeking to be a friend, she suggested, think first about what you are giving before evaluating what you are receiving.
Focus on relationships
Panelist Alice Knaeble described how self-imposed pressure to excel as a premed University Scholars student in Baylor’s Great Texts program caused her to isolate herself, concentrating only on academics at the expense of friendships.
“I neglected my friends—people made in the image of God,” she confessed.
However, friends continued to love her, and in time, she grew to understand she would not become a good physician unless she valued people as individuals whom God loves and treasures.
As a result, she and other friends launched a student organization, the Christian Pre-health Fellowship. Rather than focusing only on preprofessional development, she said, the organization seeks to foster deep friendships based first on common Christian commitment and secondarily on shared vocational interests.
Briceon Wiley, a graduate student in statistical sciences, described how faculty and staff at Baylor demonstrated genuine concern for him and befriended him.
“They have invested so much in me, I want to give something back,” Wiley said.
Move from darkness to light
At a worship service following the panel discussion, Greg Jones, Baylor’s executive vice president and provost, reflected on the themes of moving from darkness to light and finding hope in Christ.
Christian hope is more than optimism, he stressed.
“We are tempted to be optimists—to think if we just try harder and harder, life will get better and better, and Baylor will get better and better,” he said.
“We can believe we are getting better and better every day as optimists, and then reality hits us. We encounter the darkness. We encounter the darkness of the world, the brokenness of the world and the ravages of sin. We encounter it in our own hearts and in the institutions that we love.”
Christians know their hope rests not in who they are primarily but in who God is, Jones insisted.
‘Called to lean into the light’
“We are called to lean into the light,” he said. Christians should not ignore the darkness, but they should be so filled with Christ that they radiate his light, he added.
“We can only do that as people who remember our hope,” he said.
Remembrance involves awareness of “the reality of the brokenness of the world, the brokenness of our own lives, the ways in which sin continues to haunt and infect us personally and institutionally and in the world—the things we fail to do for others, the things we do to others, the things others fail to do for us, the things others do to us,” Jones insisted.
“And yet, we are called to come out of the dark and bear witness to the light, and to see that light shine not only on us but through us,” he said.