In the days following the TCU Rose Bowl victory in which declamatory billboards from “little sisters of the poor” popped up across Columbus, Ohio, armchair moralists had to inquire: Is rubbing Horned Frog success in the face of doubters a Christian thing to do?
While hopefully in good fun, the billboards nonetheless caused outside observers to ask after the elusive middle word in the TCU acronym: Christian. The TCU student body ought to ask after the same thing. What is TCU’s Christian identity, and why is it steadfastly important?
A November 2010 conference of the 14 colleges and universities affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), of which TCU is one, produced a revised covenant between schools and church. With this document as a lens, students must see and understand TCU’s Christian identity as a warm and deeply necessary embrace between the university and the denomination.
Since Addison and Randolph Clark brought their first students to Thorp Spring in 1873, TCU nursed and relied upon the vitality of the Disciples of Christ denomination. Disciples ministers served as presidents or chancellors of the university until 1998, distinguished professors and alumni held strong relationships with the church and the adjacent University Christian Church existed entirely within TCU until 1933.
Not only did the Disciples of Christ denomination share its lifeblood with Texas Christian for years, but also vaunted the university to a sturdy prominence. Iconic Robert Carr Chapel, the highest point on campus, drove Brite Divinity School and attracted newlyweds from its construction in 1953. University Christian Church Senior Minister Granville Walker represented the Fort Worth and TCU communities before John F. Kennedy on the day of the president’s assassination in 1963.
Snippets of history touch on the deep bond between TCU and Disciples of Christ, as the denomination was as a parent to the fledgling university. Yet into the new millennium, the church remains firmly affixed to the vision and goals of the school as TCU realizes its full potential.
The revised covenant emphasizes “valuing the dignity of all people, acting with integrity and responsibility, viewing self as part of community, living life within a global context, providing service to others and pursuing life-long learning” as the basis for a relationship with the Disciples denomination. The resonance with TCU’s mission statement could not be deeper.
Committing to sustainability, global reconciliation and critical thinking, the church has programs including Higher Education and Leadership Ministries and the Council of College and University Presidents to nurture its relationship. TCU would commit a great error in overlooking its shared values with the Disciples of Christ.
Recognizing the tremendous debt of history and paying it simply through understanding shared values is not enough. The revised covenant lists a series of actions supportive of the church-university relationship, including “[emphasizing] in communications their partnership with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).”
Admissions and administration at TCU need not go through elaborate footwork to avoid discussing and enriching the Disciples of Christ covenant. Students, both prospective and current, would benefit greatly from seeing how the relationship makes the university distinctive and uniquely competitive in the United States today.
As this university soars to national and global attention, it can return the tight embrace and guiding hand it received for so much of its life and place itself squarely in the highway of its strongest identity and mission, or it can uncomfortably separate and push on alone. TCU students and staff alike must choose to return the embrace.
Pearce Edwards is a sophomore political science and history double major from Albuquerque, N.M.