‘Be Tough and Tender,’ EMU President Advises

cross cultural departure prayer
Associate campus pastor Byron Peachey leads a commissioning prayer for
the EMU cross-cultural group leaving for Latin America following the
convocation address by President Loren Swartzendruber (standing, r.). Photo by Jim Bishop

Loren speaking

sax and piano prelude

People of faith, to be truly effective, should have “tough minds and tender hearts.”

In his first public address as new president of Eastern Mennonite University, Loren E. Swartzendruber called on the campus community to embody both concepts in their daily lives. He took office on Jan. 1 this year.

Swartzendruber spoke to EMU students, faculty and staff at the opening convocation service Wednesday morning, Jan. 7, of the second semester.

“Faith that is tough minded, but not tender hearted, is ultimately parched and dry, a faith that withers on the vine. But faith that is tender hearted and not also tough minded is fragile and subject to the fads of the time. It wears thin in the valley of life,” Swartzendruber said.

What does this mean, in practical terms, at a Christian liberal arts university like EMU? the president asked.

“When in dialog, especially with someone with whom we disagree, we choose not to vilify the other. Shouting louder to strengthen an argument is not productive. Tender hearts respect the the other person, acknowledging that we both bring our life experiences and emotions to our conversations.

“Knowing what one believes and holding it firmly is the beginning point for healthy dialog,” the president stated. “At EMU, we are prepared to consider other points of view and welcome new insights, but we don’t enter into those discussions as an institution unclear about our identity.

“Tough minds also recognize that there are rarely just two points of view on a controversial issue. Reducing complex issues to either-or extremes is intellectually dishonest. It is not relativism to acknowledge numerous
points of view, but neither does that mean that all of them are equally close to the truth.

“Persons of tough mind and tender heart resist using overly simplistic labels such as ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal.’ These are not very useful in our life as a church or the larger society,” Swartzendruber declared.

As an Anabaptist-Christian university in the liberal arts tradition, EMU “holds to high standards of intellectual pursuit – developing tough minds to engage a world of fuzzy thinkers is a worthy pursuit,” he said.

“EMU is in the business of honing tough minds to confront difficult questions. In fact, it is our calling as a Christian university in the Anabaptist tradition to celebrate intellectual achievement.

“EMU is also about the business of developing tender hearts. Our graduates are among the best in medicine, social work, teaching, conflict transformation and other areas of service around the world,”
Swartzendruber said.

The convocation closed with a commissioning for 22 EMU students who will spend the semester in a cross-cultural seminar in Guatemala and Cuba led by Nate and Elaine Zook Barge. Another group of 29 students, led by Linford and Janet Stutzman, will leave campus Jan. 10 for a semester-long study program in the Middle East.