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In the twenty-eighth episode of the “Saturdays at Seven” conversation series, Todd Ream talks with Michael D. Hammond, the President of Gordon College. Hammond opens by discussing his loyalties as an avid baseball fan and his experience of throwing out the first pitch at a Boston Red Sox game. He then discusses the discernment process he undertook and the critical role mentors played as he made the transition from a department chair to a dean, to a provost, and now to a president. Ream and Hammond discuss Hammond’s leadership style and how that style has contributed to the considerable rise in engagement and morale at Gordon even though morale and engagement have declined across higher education in recent years. They also talk about how that leadership style pays dividends during the season of political, social, and even religious fragmentation presently plaguing the United States. Ream and Hammond then close their conversation by exploring how the Christian academic vocation is understood and exercised at Gordon and the unique opportunities that come with its exercise in New England.

Todd Ream: Welcome to Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. My name is Todd Ream. I have the privilege of serving as the publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review and as the host for Saturdays at Seven. I also have the privilege of serving on the faculty and the administration at Indiana Wesleyan University.

Our guest is Michael D. Hammond, president of Gordon College. Thank you for joining us. 

Michael Hammond: Thank you, Todd. It’s a pleasure to be with you. 

Todd Ream: The details in your bio on the Gordon College website refer to you as a native of the Midwest and an avid baseball fan. And rumor has it that you once had a section of seats from the Cincinnati Reds former home, Riverfront Stadium, in your office.

As a result, I think the first and perhaps most important question I need to ask is whether you’re still holding tight to your credentials as a Reds fan. 

Michael Hammond: Well, for those watching on video, if you look over my shoulder, you can see the seats are still being used. There is a story. You’re right. Those came from the former Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. 

As a boy growing up in Indiana, the Major League Baseball experience was kind of a little bit beyond our grasp. And so it was a big deal for our family to have a road trip to a Major League park as a kid. And when they tore the stadium down in 2002, I was happy to pick through the rubble pile.

And I mean when the Yankees tore down the old Yankee stadium, every little nut or bolt was sold for a thousand dollars souvenir. When Cincinnati, small market team, tears it down, there’s a construction company that says, you can pick through the demolition pile and give us a little it’s so cheap, but I’ve towed these around the country and they’re a little out of place sometimes, but it’s a nice it’s a nice touch.

And as you say, it’s kind of a nice conversation piece. I used to joke when I was a provost that it was where the faculty would sit and boo me while I was doing my work from the bleachers. They would let me know they didn’t like it. But it is a fun way to kind of celebrate that legacy.

Todd Ream: Now, your loyalties, though, haven’t been tested at all as a result of your proximity to Fenway Park, because let me just note here, we have photographs of you throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park. And in case anyone wonders, I’m going to go with June 27th, 2023, at 7:10 PM against the Marlins, that night to be exact.

Michael Hammond: Well-researched, of course. That’s true. 

So here’s the thing, in God’s good grace and providence, as I’ve moved around the country in higher education, I’ve mostly lived in American league cities. Almost always. Especially in the days before interleague play, it was easy for the local team because they never would play the Reds.

So the Reds are still my team, but I’m happy that I love going to Fenway. It’s such a beautiful place and it’s such character there. And throwing out the first pitch was, was really just the experience of a lifetime. There’s a longer story there, but I actually had and still have a tear in my shoulder.

And so when I went out to warm up a month before this, this invitation was, was to be realized, I got a couple of my kids. I said, let’s go play catch. Daddy has to warm up for this. And I couldn’t throw the ball 10 feet. I had this injury that was, I thought, ah, it’s probably fine. And so the story is going through physical therapy with this really great therapist here in the area, who I just kept apologizing to.

I was like, this is the craziest thing you’ve ever had to do to rehab a guy’s shoulder so that he can throw one ball, one time. He loved it. He said, this is an easy challenge. It’s measurable. We could see if you did it. And sure enough, he did great work and got me there and threw a strike right down the middle.

It was a thrill. A thrill for Gordon. We had about 200 of our alumni and students in attendance. It was a lot of fun. 

Todd Ream: Wonderful. Wonderful. Thank you. 

At what point in time did you know that you were called to the Christian academic vocation, in particular, called to serve as an American religious historian?

Michael Hammond: Yeah, that story, in some ways, goes back to my years as a student, as an undergraduate. I was in Christian liberal arts college, was able to be involved as a student leader, sat in on the president’s cabinet meetings, didn’t think much of it at the time. I just thought this is a really neat leadership experience, but it planted a seed to think about the, the, the really important vitality of that mission of Christian higher education.

I went into politics right out of college, worked on Capitol Hill, loved that. But after two or three years of that, I was starting to feel a little fidgety, and part of what I was challenged by was I enjoyed the world of ideas as we might call it but I wanted a sort of personal outlet for that, a discipleship kind of piece of that. And so the turning point for me, among other things, I think God was really working on my heart. 

But when, when I worked for, I worked for a senator and when you worked as a member of Congress staff member, you could pick up the phone on your desk– this is prior to cell phones– you could pick up the phone on your desk, call the Library of Congress and order any book and they would hand deliver it to your desk. What a dream, right? Any book, because they’ve got every book. I mean, not the rare book collection, but any book in print. 

So I had read a book review of Mark Noll’s book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. This is 1994, ’95, and called up, ordered that book. And I still can remember it being delivered to my– it just was burned in my memory. Seeing this book and starting to read that just brought together some of the unease that I had around working in politics, but a desire to continue to work for what I thought was the, the important ideas of the Church in the public square.

And it kind of crystallized for me that another way to do this would be through academics and and that really, kind of pivoted my attention to thinking of going back to graduate school and working in, and really I was thinking at the time, maybe public theology or philosophy but, but American Christianity, the history of American Christianity, really became the pathway for me.

Todd Ream: And you wound up studying with Mark.

Michael Hammond: I did. Yes. Yeah. 

When he was at Wheaton, I did my master’s with him at Wheaton and just built on that idea that there’s a way to still pursue these, these kind of intellectually challenging questions about faith and public life, but to also do that in a teaching context. That was my dream. 

Todd Ream: And then you work with David Chappell at the University of Arkansas, too. Correct? 

Michael Hammond: Correct. Yes. As my research became more developed, I started to think of particular ways that the neo-evangelical experiment post World War II was lived out, and the challenges that it faced. 

And one of the biggest challenges really became issues of race, how the Church would deal with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s, and then the subsequent moves toward the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and 70s and onward.

And so at that point, Chappell’s book, A Stone of Hope had come out and really was, to great acclaim. And he and I connected and right away said, we need to work together. He was really charitable and invited me into his research he was doing at Arkansas. So that’s wonderful. 

Todd Ream: Yeah. Great mentors. 

You made the transition from serving as a department chair, to a dean, to a provost, and now to a president. Would you please explain the discernment process, in which you invested when deciding to follow such a path? 

Michael Hammond: I think about all those different stages. And again, when my wife, Jennifer and I got engaged to be married, we had this really simple dream. I mean, we had a sense of calling, but a simple dream that one day we wanted to live near a college, Christian liberal arts college. I would teach classes and we would open our home to students. That was our dream. And so even today, what we do is, is really fulfilling that dream in a very different way than we ever would have imagined.

And so I’ve known people over the years who at the age of 20, decided they wanted to be a college president. That wasn’t me. I really thought my vocation would be teaching and, and just exclusively to that. What ended up happening as you teach, as you take on some leadership roles, it really is just more opportunities to serve.

And so for me, that discernment process was done really first alongside my wife, thinking through different opportunities, but I’m also blessed by having a lot of really, really strong mentors. I never in my life, I think, ever approached anyone and said, will you be my mentor? You know, sort of like, will you be my valentine? It’s just such a heavy kind of awkward relationship. 

Again, I feel like God really worked through the relationships that I had professionally and even personally, with people who had experienced leadership in Christian higher education or in politics or in, in those public settings and were willing to take the phone call when I was discerning. Were willing to pray with me, were willing to think this through. 

And it really meant a lot through each of those transitions you mentioned. I can remember vividly conversations I had with particular mentors and the advice that they gave me, and that was really a means of grace that God allowed for us, as we worked through those different transitions.

Todd Ream: What advice then would you offer to younger scholars who may be considering a comparable path or paths? 

Michael Hammond: So, I’ll echo some of the advice that I received. 

One would be I think young scholars sometimes, and this is natural for all of us, but you are probably primarily concerned or even obsessed with the immediate next step. So if you’re in your PhD program, you’re looking for a postdoc or you’re looking for your first tenure track position. If you’re in that position, you’re looking for your first book. I mean, you’re just looking to that next step. 

And I remember one really strong kind of forceful piece of advice I had young in my career from a mentor who said, you need to think longer term. You need to think this out. And it doesn’t mean you plot this out in a Machiavellian way. And if I do this, maybe it’ll lead to that. Some people do that well. 

But for me, it was more about being open to what God might do beyond what I could even ask or imagine in that sense, to what God would do. And even to dream a little bit about what that might look like.

I understand the anxiety and I still keep in touch with a lot of former students who are in the graduate pathway or in academic careers. And I get it. I mean, at some point you can have these big dreams, but it doesn’t pay the bills. So I understand the immediate. 

But think ahead. Think about what you want to be 20 years from now? Especially when you start to think of your publication record and the research track that you want to go under, be really deliberate about that. Don’t just kind of flip around from one interest to another, but think about how you can build on your research with taking it to the further step.

And then in terms of leadership, if you are given opportunities to go into a leadership role, it doesn’t mean it’s always the best move. There are a lot of opportunities that I turned down or decided not to pursue and others that I pursued that didn’t open for me. I mean, that’s very natural.

And so, ultimately it’s a matter of having faith that God is the One who’s called you to this. And if you have that sense of calling and that sense of faith that He’s going to lead you and open the right doors, then work hard and trust that He’ll open the doors in time. 

Todd Ream: Thank you. I want to go back to your bio and another thing that was noted in it, that it reads, in particular, that you have a reputation that was developed for being innovative, working through contentious situations and solving difficult problems. 

To work through such situations and solve such problems, what intellectual, moral, and or theological virtues have proven most important for you to cultivate and then to exercise? 

Michael Hammond: So for me, it’s really important to to really try to live out a leadership role in a humble way. There’s a quote from Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus, that really short book where he talks about giving a speech with his friend, Bill, who was from L’Arche community.

But he talks about the temptations for leaders to be relevant or to be impressive. And, he says, really, the leader of the future– and he wrote this in the 1980s but it’s so relevant– the leader of the future has to start with vulnerability. 

And I’ve always kept that because it’s a bit of a paradox when you think about what we sometimes define leadership as. But vulnerability and humility, in terms of leadership, for me, that means engaging in relationships with folks that you’re partnering with or that you’re leading. 

And honestly, sometimes being hurt. Putting yourself in a position of vulnerability means that you’re not in self-protection mode all the time. It means you will extend trust. Leaders say, hey, trust me. I want you to trust me. You only get trust when you extend trust first. And sometimes when you extend trust first, that gets broken or you get burned by that. 

And I can point to different elements where that’s happened in my, in my professional life and yet, I think that’s the call of the leader, is to be vulnerable and be open in a humble sense. 

So I think that innovation. So, how does innovation follow that? Some of that is when you start to cultivate relationships built on trust, and then you empower people, either through resources or permission or creating an atmosphere of innovation. You empower people to dream a little bit and to take a risk and give them the opportunity to fail without being punished. You provide accountable relationships, but not punitive relationships around that accountability. 

Todd Ream: Thank you. Morale amongst educators across higher education is approaching or at recorded lows. What, in your opinion, are the causes then for such declines in morale? 

Michael Hammond: Well, it’s a hard time to work in higher education, and I’d say that across every level. You can look at the recent challenges that our Ivy League presidents have had, dealing with some of the international affairs questions and the political fallout from them. And you think about our small colleges and how we are working hard to stay faithful to our mission. And yet, there’s so many ways that that’s challenged today, politically and culturally. 

First of all, just there’s a context around the morale in higher ed that can be really challenging. I mean, there are probably other times when that type of conflict was realized or was visible, but today, it seems like, for many scholars, they’re choosing to go other directions. 

At the same time, if you line up missionally with the place where you’re serving or even if you serve at a place where you have freedom to pursue a research agenda or a publication agenda that’s really true to your heart and your calling, there’s nothing more rewarding than that.

There’s nothing more rewarding than finding that place where your gifts and abilities are able to be realized. And most people that I talk to in higher education, even if they have struggles with morale they’ll say, but I love the students, you know? I’m struggling with this issue or there’s some tension with the faculty or tension with the administration. But when I go to class, that’s where I feel energized. And so some of it comes from figuring out what it is that gives you the most energy in that work. 

If you strike out on all of them, if you can’t find anything that gives you energy, then maybe it is time to look into another line of work. But most of the scholars I talk to, whatever it is, they find some element that heightens their morale.

Todd Ream: Since you were appointed at Gordon, however, morale has increased amongst your colleagues at a rate, some of them noted as being historically unprecedented. 

In addition to some of the things that you said in response to a previous question, what are some of the leadership practices you exercise that may have led to that increase at Gordon?

Michael Hammond: Gordon’s a great place, and I say that as someone who’s still rather new here, just in year three. I did not have any real background or experience, not only at Gordon, but in New England, which is a different place than the Midwest or the South, where I served most of my life. 

And yet, there’s such a rich legacy, 135 year legacy of this being a place that is about serving the Church, the mission of the Church, about serving the Great Commission, the greatest commandment, and doing that in ways that now are about professional preparation but initially we’re about training missionaries and pastors. So we have that legacy and we haven’t abandoned that. That’s still at the heart of who we are. 

What I would say, just in terms of how we’ve been able to move forward in our workplace engagement, morale, we’ve really worked hard, and I say this, we, meaning that the leadership team and to give people a voice, to listen. So it’s one thing to give people a voice and to create committees or task forces, but if that voice yields no actual fruit, in other words, if people just kind of voice their opinions and there’s no action on that, that’s what frustrates people. And it’s almost more frustrating to feel like you were asked, but didn’t get to see any of those ideas realized. 

And so we’ve tried to cultivate a spirit of innovation. I’ve encouraged the faculty to lead that. And you can see some of the ways we’ve changed the way we tell our story on campus. We’ve created some new initiatives and academics, really put the faculty at the center of what innovation should look like. And with all due respect, I want our faculty to lead that more than outside consultants.

I mean, consultants have their place and we certainly use a lot of consultants here, but I don’t think that you move the community forward in a morale sense by outsourcing innovation, by outsourcing ideas. You have to build that around the people who own the mission and that’s our faculty and our staff.

Todd Ream: Along those lines, shared governance is a practice in higher education that’s as often cited as it is misunderstood. 

How do you understand the practice of shared governance and what does it ask of administrators, but then also, what does it ask of faculty? 

Michael Hammond: So it’s interesting because obviously shared governance is the term we use across higher education. It’s not just a sort of integrated faith and learning term. 

But I think a mutual submission. I think of the idea in Scripture, where we submit to one another out of love. And maybe that’s a little too idealistic for every higher ed institution, but it is this recognition that, essentially, all authority for the college or university really is owned by the board, depending on what the framework looks like. And then it’s delegated out from the board. 

And so, as president, I have a lot of authority, but the board really grants that authority to me to manage what we do, in terms of our strategic vision and the operations of the college campus. I delegate some of that out to the leadership team, to the faculty and so on. Even to the students.

So I think part of it is coming to grips with that shared part of it. I oftentimes in, in dialogue over the years, when I served on faculty even, we would talk about faculty governance. That’s a different thing. Faculty governance isn’t shared governance, but sometimes faculty want to take it. 

Or the board saying, well, from our fiduciary responsibilities, we have to manage everything. And you want to say, well, let’s think about that. You really don’t micromanage everything. You have responsibility as a fiduciary. 

So some of it I think is trust and submission, you know? Believing that we can trust one another. You cultivate morale, you cultivate that sense of mutual submission and mutual respect only over time by proving it through trusting each other. 

Maybe it’s my background in politics, but I’m a bit of a governance nerd. I like reading about it. I’ve presented about it. I’ve done research. I mean, I find it really interesting. And even in my current work or work I’ve done in other positions, when a challenge comes up, there’s a challenge to the governance model. It doesn’t depress me. 

I actually get kind of excited and lean in and say, hey, let’s, let’s figure this out. We might need to make some handbook changes. Not everybody gets excited by that. I think it can be invigorating when you start to think of how you can do this better or how you can do it well. 

Todd Ream: As someone who spent a fair amount of time reviewing student handbooks and faculty handbooks, let me just say, I’m glad you get energized by that. 

Michael Hammond: Yeah, yeah, for sure. 

Todd Ream: We can learn, we can learn from you then in that regard. 

Yeah. In terms of morale, going back to that question, one of the challenges that’s plaguing American culture and in turn, American higher education, is what’s often referred to as political, social, or even religious polarization.

From the vantage point of an American religious historian, has the US experienced comparable forms of polarization in its history or is what we’re experiencing unique? 

Michael Hammond: Well, it’s definitely unique, that’s an easy way to answer it. I think the harder question is to say, is this the worst it’s ever been? Or again, in a superlative sense. 

And even though some people are predicting another civil war, we’re not in a civil war, and hopefully we won’t be so you certainly have to point to that time as a moment when sectionalism and the fights around that led to all out war. 

On the other hand, the volume is louder than ever, and that’s because everyone has a megaphone, in terms of social media or in terms of a platform, which is an opportunity to voice their opinion. 

And there’s not an entry fee for voicing your opinion as there may have been in the past. In other words, you had to at least get the editorial board to print your letter to the editor, and it had to have some type of cogent thought behind it. No longer. You can publish it yourself. You can put it out on whatever platform you wish. 

And so I think in that context, the challenges we have in terms of the polarization politically, and as you say, even in our faith communities, even in our churches, it is probably louder than ever and there’s more divergent voices than ever. And it’s that temptation that pushes you to the furthest opposite pole that, I think, is maybe unique to this time period. It’s hard to imagine another time when we would have that much noise around those challenges. 

Todd Ream: For you personally, are there examples of leadership that you’ve sought to review in greater detail or consider in terms of what you exert then, there on campus?

Michael Hammond: Yeah, there are. 

And some of those are actually for me, more deeply personal. Even family members who’ve now passed away who modeled for me a way to walk patiently with those that they might not agree with on everything. Or to manage difficult situations with open-handedness and a sense of wanting to learn through the conflict.

Those examples, again, I go back to the mentoring idea. Those mentors that did that, and in some cases, it was more when I would have had a really challenging situation and went to them for advice, and they could say- I don’t know if this is advice- but it reminds me of a situation I went through 10 years ago or 20 years ago, and they would walk through what they did not always right. But what they did in the midst of that.

Those examples stand out more than maybe my favorite political leader or military leader or something like that. I think it’s also the common thread, if you will, through those examples would be ultimately a faith that God is in control. And that sounds trite, sounds like a bumper sticker, but I think there’s real truth to that, because at least a temptation for me as a leader and I think for a lot of leaders, is to lead out of our own desire to be the person with the right answer or the person that settles this their way. 

I teach some leadership classes and some other classes with our graduate program here, and one of the principles that we dig into is don’t lead out of ego or anxiety. I think when we lead out of ego or anxiety is when we actually make the situation much worse because we only want our solution. We don’t give other people an opportunity to be a part of that. 

Todd Ream: In what sort of concrete ways have you and your colleagues at Gordon then sought to address such forms of polarization as they may have found their ways into the campus and the campus culture?

Michael Hammond: We’ve had no shortage of opportunities to test those theories in the past and even currently. And I think part of that is just the spirit of the age that we’re in. 

Part of that might be some uniquenesses about New England. But we’ve actually, glad to say, we’ve had some really good success in cultivating a spirit of understanding on campus. And for me, that challenge has been not only to the faculty and staff and leadership, but to the students. I’ve addressed some of these issues in different chapel messages in different times. I’ve spoken to student groups. And so there’s kind of a vision here. 

In an age that is marked by the severe polarization, in an age that where you could say there’s kind of the habits of judgmentalism or self-righteousness, habits of self-centeredness, what would it look like to, to first of all, be a Christian college that’s known for or marked by being a place that, that has good dialogue, that learns together, that respects each other? That in itself would be a pretty good aspiration. 

Now, to make it even higher in our degree of difficulty, let’s do that in New England. Let’s do that at a place where to be a Christian liberal arts college is a sort of fish out of water moment. Most of our communities around us don’t quite understand who we are or what we do. We have our really rich network of alumni and church partners and they love us and they understand, but outside of that network, it’s a little more of a challenge.

So what we’ve really talked about here is ways to do that. Our students have responded. Our students lead in ways that I’m really impressed by with their programming that they do on challenging issues, issues of race, issues of global challenge. And they’ve done a good job of leading some of that dialogue alongside our faculty.

So it can’t be top down. It can’t be me programming all that or dictating, we’re going to do it this way. But I think I can call people together to a vision of us being known as a place where we have such a rich sense of confidence in our Christian faith and our belief in Jesus, that we’re not afraid to ask hard questions and disagree at times around those. That’s what we aim for. 

Todd Ream: In terms of those neighbors, then, in New England, in what ways have you and your colleagues sought to address such forms of polarization with them, sort of widening the influence of the campus? 

Michael Hammond: Yeah, it’s interesting. 

So I’ve learned a lot about New England coming in here as a sort of non New Englander and, and really it would take three or four generations for my family to ever be native New Englanders. That’s just kind of how it works. And so that’s fair. 

When I moved here or I was preparing to move here, a lot of people had advice around New England. And I was told that New Englanders, they’re very dismissive of religion. They don’t appreciate Christianity. There’s only 3 percent of New England that are really evangelical Christians. 

And a couple years here, and I felt like if that’s true, I think I’ve met them all. I mean, there’s a lot of really strong churches and there’s a lot of really strong Christian believers. And so I don’t know how the demographics work on that. 

But what I found is that there’s a kind of steely resilience or we might say grit around being a person of Christian faith in New England. And a couple of ways to think about this. 

Traffic in Boston can really be a headache, except on Sunday mornings. The roads are clear, there’s not a lot of people out. And that’s because church attendance is lower here and we don’t have as many big megachurches. But the people who do get up on Sunday morning and, and go to those church services, go to Mass, go to worship together, they’re serious about it. 

There’s no cultural pressure to do it. There’s no expectation. There’s no kind of social networking element where I know if I’m part of this Bible study, it’ll get me ahead in the office. Quite the contrary. If you start a Bible study in your workplace, you’ll probably get some criticism for it, maybe even some pushback.

So there’s a sense here, and I’ve seen this, again, all through the Northeast and all through New England, as I’ve traveled to various churches, spoken at churches, spoken at Christian schools, there’s an expectation, and it even comes back to me as a president of Gordon, an expectation that we take faith seriously and that we are not yielding on that commitment. And we’re not. 

It’s also a reminder of our mission, that we support the Church in the Northeast, we support the Church in New England. And our graduates go all over the world. But we kind of have, in many contexts, states talking about brain drain, their best graduates, intellectually, they’re superior and they go out of state for college and you want to bring them back to work. 

In a spiritual sense, we’re sort of reversing the spiritual drain in New England. And, again, this has just naturally happened over the years. Gordon recruits students from all over the country, all over the world and they end up loving New England and they stay here and they fill the churches in New England and they get involved in ministry and they do outreach in the community. And we love that that’s part of our mission. 

We’re just one little college, but there’s not a whole lot of other colleges in New England, that you can count on one hand schools that are even reasonably close to what we do in terms of our mission 

Todd Ream: In what ways then can these efforts that you’re leading on campus and your colleagues and your students are investing in, can a college or university campus then become a laboratory, for the virtues that are necessary for vibrant democracies?

Michael Hammond: I think of the Biblical principles that we’re all called to individually. The idea of the greatest commandment: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

So what does that mean for an institution? What does that mean for Gordon as our neighbors around us might sometimes not agree with us or might be hostile to us. What does it mean and when 2 Corinthians talk about being the aroma of Christ, drawing people to Christ because of that, the sweet Spirit, the sweet scent of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we take that seriously as part of our mission and its sense of a democracy.

And again, we’re in a presidential election year. Sometimes that means that, that our role is to, to find that common ground. And certainly we will acknowledge where we would depart or disagree, but not always go in with our fists up and ready to fight. Those times come. We have a lot of good lawyers on speed dial. We know how to fight for ourselves. We know how to defend our mission and we will. 

But I don’t assume when I work with the chamber of commerce locally or I work with other local colleges that might have a different mission, I don’t assume that I’m going into hostile territory. I’m trying to think about that Biblical admonition to be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove, but also just to be a good neighbor and a good friend.

And again that relational element, it doesn’t always work in politics, but if you can find that common ground and start to build a partnership and, and frankly, for our Chamber of Commerce, I can talk about our mission all day, but it probably matters more to them that we’re turning out really good business graduates that are going to be hireable and are really competent in finance and accounting and marketing. 

And so we lead with that. And it’s also part of our Christian mission, that those students then live out their faith in those workplaces. 

Todd Ream: Thank you. In terms of our sort of last questions for our conversation today, I want to focus on the nature of the Christian academic vocation as it’s exercised there at Gordon and as it is exercised at Gordon in relation to other colleges and universities, perhaps then in New England.

When you think about the educators with whom you serve there at Gordon, how would you first define the Christian academic vocation? 

Michael Hammond: So Gordon has a rich legacy, I think even within Christian college circles of thinking about integration and how faith is integrated into everything that we do.

And so I have to mention the Christian Scholar’s Review, it started, as you know, at Gordon College as the Gordon Review, as an outgrowth of the faculty’s desire to have an opportunity, a forum, to think together and to write ideas around faith and learning and faith-learning integration. 

At one time, to think of Gordon and Gordon-Conwell, even around this idea of creating this, this this project that Harold Ockenga and Carl Henry and others were behind of a massive Christian research university. And of course, they abandoned that crusade university idea, but Gordon was involved in those conversations early on. 

And so some of that is the residue of being in New England and being in Boston, being in a place where at its best, higher education is held up as a great opportunity to advance and to think about being a good citizen. At its worst, it’s arrogance. At its worst, higher education becomes idolatry. 

So Gordon’s had to navigate those waters. Bbecause of our location, we’ve not been kind of free to do whatever we want, however we want. We’ve really been driven by strong academics. 

And so, that vocation for our faculty, they take it very seriously. They have good collaboration with scholars in the region. They have good collaboration because of the opportunities we have in Boston to engage with, with outside speakers, outside experts who come into our campus. 

So we never sort of lose the thought that we are fully engaged with our Christian mission and the Christian purpose behind it, but also the full engagement with scholarship and with academic integrity. Those are vital to what we do. 

Todd Ream: Yeah. When engaging with other faculty members serving at other colleges and universities in the area, because there’s no shortage in your neighborhood there, what virtues as expressed by the Christian academic vocation do you think are most important for your colleagues to exercise?

Michael Hammond: Yeah, again, I think that it stands out, and I would say this in my dealings here and what I hear from our faculty, whether they’re dealing with colleagues who are people of faith or not, that virtue of humility, that virtue, which, which again, the best scholars that I’ve ever known, whether they were Christian or not, they were marked by a sense, even if they had accolades and book awards, they were marked by a sense of humility because they believed that the research, that the agenda that they were pursuing, that the value of scholarship was so much more rich than what they could just offer to it. They felt like they were just making that small contribution, even if they were award winning scholars in some ways. 

The best example I can think of, of, of where that was lived out for over 50 years, one of our scholars, Dr. Marv Wilson really became an innovator in the Christian-Jewish dialogue. And so he did most of his research on the interaction between Christians and Jews and published many books. One of which was made into a documentary called Our Father Abraham, which every year the PBS channels will show that documentary around Passover and Easter, because it talks about the commonality of the faith, in a way that incidentally, and importantly had integrity as a Christian. 

So it wasn’t about a sort of syncretism that watered down Christian faith, but really to, to promote this in a way, born out of humility, born out of a partnership between Christian and Jewish scholars. That kind of example still leads to how we do this here at Gordon. 

Todd Ream: With the preponderance of scholars that are in that area what are some of the challenges but also the opportunities for your faculty to engage in work just as you noted by Marv Wilson?

Michael Hammond: Yeah, I mean, one of the challenges, of course, is just time. It’s just time that they have. And so we’ve had a habit here of giving sabbaticals every five years to our scholars. So they have a little more of an edge, a little more of a leg up in terms of their scholarship. But that’s always going to be a challenge at a teaching college, teaching university. The opportunities really come as they get a little more rooted in their work as a teacher and a scholar and they start to make those connections. 

And again, to your point, there are ample opportunities to engage with partners in their discipline within an hour of campus with, within a short drive or a hop on the T and you can get to a T stop and stop in Cambridge or wherever else.

And so, we’ve done pretty well with that. There’s more opportunity for that. And I think as our faculty have more time to engage in those conversations, it’ll just get stronger and richer. 

Todd Ream: One last question then for our time, and you’ve already talked about Gordon’s influence in the Church, but I want to pull this out just a little bit more if I may.

As an interdenominational or multi-denominational Christian college, what relationship does Gordon then seek to have with the Church in New England, across the country, and then around the world? 

Michael Hammond: Yeah, it’s a really rich part of our campus experience. For many of our students, it becomes that entry point to some of the questions you asked earlier about how we live out in a democratic society, how we disagree. So it becomes that first or second week of living on campus and going to a worship service on a Sunday with your roommate, who’s from a completely different Christian tradition. 

And we track this. Our average incoming class has over 50 different denominational backgrounds Protestant, Catholics. We have a growing number of Catholic students on campus. And again, what unites us is that sense that we’re here around our mission, to grow deeper in our Christian faith. And our professional and intellectual outgrowth of that is stronger when our faith is strong. We believe that. 

And so that multi-denominational idea, it means that we are also processing around good doctrinal and theological questions. And this isn’t meant to be a criticism, but we don’t squelch those questions by saying, well, the denomination or the Church has already settled that. It’s already written. We already have that decided. We actually can engage in a pretty good dialogue. 

And that diversity of our students also would be true of our faculty. Our faculty, very rich sense of commitment to our statement of faith, our expectations, our different statements but within that, some freedom to worship differently and to practice their faith differently, that we think is a strength.

Todd Ream: Thank you very much. Very much appreciate it. 

Our guest has been Michael D. Hammond, President of Gordon College. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and your wisdom with us. 

Michael Hammond: Thank you, Todd. And thanks for all you do with the Christian Scholar’s Review. That really serves this mission here at Gordon and I know elsewhere so I really appreciate your good work. Thank you.

Todd Ream: Thank you for joining us for Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. We invite you to join us again next week for Saturdays at Seven.

Todd C. Ream

Indiana Wesleyan University
Todd C. Ream is Honors Professor of Humanities and Executive Director of Faculty Research and Scholarship at Indiana Wesleyan University, Senior Fellow for Public Engagement for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Senior Fellow for Programming for the Lumen Research Institute, and Publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review.  He is the author and editor of numerous books including (with Jerry Pattengale) The Anxious Middle: Planning for the Future of the Christian College (Baylor University Press, September 15, 2023).