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Faculty forum talks pandemic

Miss Solomon shares her opinion on the difficult task journalists have to tell stories. Photo: Andrew Pledger

Dr. Gary Weier, the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, spoke in the faculty forum, “Medicine, the Media, & Politics,” with chair of the Division of Health Sciences Amy Hicks, journalism and mass communication faculty member Betty Solomon, and department head of the engineering department Bill Lovegrove on Nov. 10.

These four professors brought different perspectives and expertise to the current issues of today, providing information and insights for BJU students in the forum that was moderated by communications studies department faculty member Jeanine Aumiller.

“The big idea is why is a pandemic so political, why is it covered in the media this way, and why has it become such a polarizing issue,” Weier said. The panel focused on the politicization of COVID-19 and the issues that naturally follow, including where Christians should turn for reliable information on the virus. The main goal of the faculty was to teach students discernment in relation to COVID-19 and the political unrest of today.

The panelists themselves were chosen based on their variety of relevant expertise. “One thing we hope the students took away from the panel is a lively discussion,” Weier said. “Even among the panelists, there are some diverse viewpoints and insights. I don’t think every panelist sees this the same way.”

“All of the panelists are bringing a different expertise and a different point of view to this subject,” Hicks said. “We want students to be able to respect the fact that there are going to be different opinions, and people respond to things differently.”

Hicks highlighted the Christian responsibility from James 1 to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. “As Christians, we need to cultivate the discipline of listening to other people as opposed to shouting our opinions . . . We respect the people no matter what their beliefs are,” Hicks said. The forum revolved around the ideas of biblical discernment and respect amidst controversy.

Throughout the panel, the faculty members emphasized that data is real, but it becomes challenging to find true facts when we look to other people for information. “We want students to understand the need to listen to both sides of a debate,” Hicks said, “but to realize that there are actual scientific facts.” The faculty focused on the reliability of sources and who to turn to for information. “The loudest voices are always going to be heard the best on social media, but that does not mean they are the most reliable,” Hicks said. The faculty discussed the value of paying for reliable news sources in order to access quality work by professional journalists.

“We criticize journalists a lot, but really they’re facing tremendous difficulties to get it right,” Solomon said. “I really do believe that most professional journalists want to get it right,” Solomon said one of the challenges in finding reliable information is that in today’s technological age, anyone can publish anything.

“Journalism is a profession [just as] being a surgeon [or] an attorney is a profession,” Weier said.

The overall message of the panel can be traced to one big idea. “Ultimately, we want students to gain biblical wisdom and discernment about how to process current issues and how to handle differences of opinion, specifically as Christians,” Weier said.

This faculty forum was the third in a three-part series. The preparation for the panels began this summer. “I had a few topic ideas we could discuss this semester based on the social unrest taking place,” Weier said. “I met primarily with Linda Abrams, a professor in history and political science, and Doug Garland, who works out of my office to direct and develop curriculum . . . and the three of us are responsible for planning the panels.”

Weier, Abrams, and Garland worked hard to develop topics that would interest students and be relevant to their daily lives. “Our overall desire is to help all of us think through issues biblically,” Weier said, “and to show students how to deal with issues as Christians that can be divisive in our culture.”

The hour-and-a-half faculty forum ended with a question-and-answer session.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the forum was limited to BJU students, but other interested parties can gain access to the recording upon request.