Our Vision for the Future
Editor’s Note: Below is the transcription of portions of Dr. Gerson Moreno-Riaño’s speech that was delivered at the Inaugural Gala on Saturday, Oct. 23 at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. His speech addressed faculty, staff, alumni, board members, donors and other members of the Cornerstone University community who attended. The plans he shared in the speech were discussed and fervently prayed over by the board of trustees of Cornerstone and campus leadership.
When I first arrived at this wonderful university I was asked, “What would happen to the world if Cornerstone University wasn’t here?”
That’s one of the most fundamental questions we can ask ourselves, amen? And that’s what I want to ask us to think about tonight. Why Cornerstone, among all the other universities that exist? What kind of university do we need to be as we continue to build off an incredible legacy of 80 years and the work that has been done over the last decade with Dr. Stowell, the incredible work of the board of trustees, the beautiful campus and the beautiful location? What kind of place do we need to be? The reason the world needs Cornerstone University is because Cornerstone University is an institution where Jesus Christ has been, is and will be central in all its doings. That’s why we speak about an institution where we graduate influencers for Jesus Christ.
And, ladies and gentlemen, may that always be the case. I always speak about Cornerstone in the last three months as being and becoming the destination of choice in Christian higher education. That’s a high goal, right? I want Cornerstone to be top of mind for every family in our country. My vision—our vision—for this wonderful, great university called Cornerstone University is a graduate in every household of America. That’s big. It’s bold, but we have a great big God for whom nothing is impossible. So what I want us to do is think through that together. Cornerstone is the destination of choice, the place that far outranks any other institution in the country. That when individuals think about Christian higher education, they’re thinking, “That’s the place we want to go.” That when the 35 million adults that have not completed their education look at this institution they say, “That’s where we want to go.” That those who are looking for a seminary education and for education in ministry think, “That’s the place we want to go.”
What must we do to continue to build on our great legacy to arrive at that place? What kind of institution do we have to be to become that destination of choice? I want to lay out a number of things for us to think about. First, we have to be an institution of great moral courage, courage being the ability to discern what is right and wrong—what is true and what is not true—and defend it with our very life. That’s what courage is and the kind of institution that our country needs, that our churches need and that our homes need. It needs an institution like Cornerstone University that can educate men and women to have great courage.
This is one of the things we must continue to be—to demonstrate great moral courage of the incredible faith that has been given to us. The faith of Jesus and the gospel. We must be fearless. Our culture right now is being torn apart by fear and anxiety everywhere you go. I’m sure you remember, during the first few weeks of the pandemic, how terrifying it was. I would drive the streets of our home in Chesapeake, Va., and it really literally looked like a zombie film. I remember sitting in my home literally for four weeks and feeling like the world was falling apart. It’s fearful and it’s anxious out there, is it not? And yet amidst this, we must remain completely fearless and have incredible courage and great faith and trust in God. I remember when my children were young, I would say to them, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding … and He will direct your path” (Proverbs 3:5-6). It’s easy to say, is it not? It’s much more difficult to do.
And for our university to be the destination of choice, to be the place where men and women come to acquire a world-class Christian education, we must be men and women of courage and not yield to fear and anxiety. Not because we have the strength in ourselves, but because God is our rock; He’s our refuge, a very present help in trouble. He is the one who covers us with favor as with a shield; it is He who makes His way straight for us where there seems to be no way.
We must also be a beautiful community that mirrors the kingdom of God. This means Cornerstone must be known as a place of great hospitality, a place where everyone is welcome, a place where everyone wants to come and wants to remain and wants to graduate and wants to come back. A place where no one feels left out because of how they look or where they come from or their economic background. That’s what we must be because that is what the kingdom of God is and that’s what Jesus has done for us. He didn’t just die for some; He did not just love some. He died for all, and He loved all.
And we must endeavor and labor daily to commit our hearts, to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors. This is hard work by the way, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve realized that one of the virtues of God that we seldom ever talk about is God’s great humility. The fact that God reaches down and continually pursues us nonstop every day. And yet, it’s so easy for us to forget that, to stiff arm God and to neglect the duties that His grace places on us. It’s hard work. God, help us. We have an incredible obligation and incredible opportunity for our university to be not just the destination of choice, but the place that everybody wants to come to.
Oftentimes in the last few days, people have told me, “You’re the first minority president of Cornerstone University.” I sometimes say, “I’m just glad that I made it to be president.” And I’ve sensed a great outpouring of love from day one on this campus. But we can do more. I had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Julián Guzmán, president of the Urban Church Leadership Center, the other evening with a number of African American and Hispanic pastors in the community. By the way, I’ve used my Spanish more here in Michigan in the last three months than I have in 40 years in this country. And after that meeting, some pastors came to me and a number of them said to me, “Help us have our children in your school.” And we’re going to do it. We’re going to do it in great ways.
I say that because as a minority, as a Hispanic, it has been God’s grace and goodness to me that has brought me to this point and the goodness of people of all walks of life who’ve invested in me. Next week, I celebrate 41 years in this country. Now, the LORD blesses me with the opportunity to serve as president of a wonderful university. It’s only by God’s grace and dozens of people—African American, black, brown, white, American, European American—you name it, whom the LORD brought into my life and influenced and poured into me and helped me.
I’ve often stood back and said, “Only your grace, oh God.” And that’s what we need to be doing too. When I speak about a beautiful community that’s diverse and that represents every walk of life, I often equate it to living in a family. Life is beautiful, but family life requires work and humility. It requires that we roll up our sleeves and pray and listen. It’s hard work. It doesn’t come naturally to anybody. Cornerstone has a tremendous history of doing that. And yet, we can do more. And we will do more together to ensure this university continues to magnify the name of Jesus and represent the kingdom in all of its beauty, to continue to be the destination of choice.
I think our university must also continue to ensure that we’re committed to truth and not ideologies. There’s a significant blurred line between those two things in today’s culture. What is ideological and true, and what do we, as Christians, pursue and give our lives to and defend? This dawned on me two years ago, working through Matthew 4 and the temptations of Christ. It dawned on me looking at the chapter that two of the three temptations that Jesus Christ faced were to misuse His identity as the Son of God for personal gain.
I think that is the great temptation that we face in the church and in Christian universities today. I think there’s a great temptation that we face to misuse our identity in Jesus. In John 14, when Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well, it’s an incredible conversation where identity comes up in a central way. Who truly worships God: Jews or Samaritans? There were two central ideas—identity and worship. And what did Jesus say? The Father is looking for “the true worshipers who worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). That’s what we must endeavor to do. The truth will set us free. It’s the truth that students come to our university for. Praise God that our university has stood over 80 years, committed to truth and committed to the centrality of the gospel. We must also be a university committed to what I call moral formation, spiritual formation and character formation.
It’s wonderful to hear our speakers tonight speak about the beauty and power Christian education. I discovered that as a little boy in Bogotá, Colombia, where my mother and father enrolled me in Colicchio Berea. There was chapel every day. And I remember the importance of biblical education as a child because it was in third grade in that school that the principal preached a sermon that called for an invitation. As I bowed my head, the LORD spoke to me and said, “You do not know me.” I’ll never forget that day.
I began to understand Christian schools are really good. Christian schools magnify the LORD. Christian schools teach and preach. Christian schools help you to think about what is good and what is bad and right and wrong. I understood that Christian schools are also a place that’s safe to learn, to be challenged, to be prepared.
Then I went to Cedarville University and encountered the beauty and power of spiritual formation through the gospel—through Christ, through faith-learning integration—and realized the beauty and importance of coming to a Christian university where students are thinking about Christ in a community of learners and having their character and their hearts shaped by the LORD through the love of faculty and staff.
I’ve had the privilege and blessing in the last three months to meet lots and lots of students. And I can share this with you, ladies and gentlemen, that almost every single question that I’ve been asked by these students has been a question about spiritual formation. They asked me about academics. They want to ask me about the latest theory in sociology or biology, or they want to know, “How do we live?” I had one student say, “I have five siblings, and we don’t get along. Can you help me? Can you give me advice on how to be a good sister?” I had another individual, a student in the Kingdom Scholars program ask, “What is your favorite attribute of God and why?”
That’s profound. These students come to Cornerstone for the wonderful education we provide to them. The wonderful degrees we offer, the incredible experiences. But I will tell you that at the end of the day, a lot of these students are wanting to know the answer to this question: How do we live? What does it mean to be a good human being—a good mom, a good dad, a good spouse, a good man, a good woman? Many years ago, Stanley Fish, a higher education scholar, wrote a book on this issue of formation. And he said that’s not the job of universities. That’s not right.
For many years, the Pew Research Center has run studies on higher education and asked this question to parents and to adults. Do universities teach the most fundamental, important things about life? The answer is that a high percentage of Americans don’t believe they do. Ladies and gentlemen, praise God that for 82 years, our university has been doing spiritual formation, and my prayer is that it continues until the LORD returns. As we give students great academics, great faculty experience and great laboratory experiences, those individuals are going to leave, and they’re going to live their lives out as a particular kind of human being.
A destination—the destination of choice—university is one that has great courage grounded in God, grounded in trust in our LORD, grounded in great humility, grounded in great love for one another and grounded in incredible commitment to truth and a humility to pursue it, to defend it, to share it with love and compassion but also with conviction. That destination of choice university is also one that believes and cares for the most important, fundamental questions of life that our students are asking and have nowhere else to go, but they come here seeking those answers. And, ladies and gentlemen, I pledge to you, that is who we’re going to continue to be.
But lastly, it is not something that I can do alone. It’s something that requires all of us to do together. It’s something that will require incredible amounts of collaboration, incredible amounts of prayer. There is no other way. It is going to require an incredible amount of prayer—deep prayer, serious prayer. When we call on God and ask God to pour His spirit on us, to transform our hearts and minds, to give us wisdom and to give us help. We don’t have it on our own.
I’ll never forget one day being at a large church, which shall go nameless. I was sitting in the pews and the pastor came up and said, “Our church is so good, so well-organized and so well-planned that if the Holy Spirit went on vacation, we’d do just fine.” The temptation for us is to think that our planning and our organizing are going to lead the way to a great future. It’s not going to happen. God has to be central to us. That’s the beauty of this institution committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The task that is before us—to build on a great foundation, to move forward to a great future—is going to require an incredible amount of prayer.
I call on all of us to pray like we’ve never prayed before for our wonderful university. That God will protect it. That God will guide it. That God will bring great resources to our university. That God will help us to remain humble and diligent, full of courage and full of love. And that’s why I want to ask our Cornerstone family, friends, alumni, faculty, staff and board members—let’s commit ourselves to prayer.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your support. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your hospitality to my family and to me. Thank you for your love for this wonderful university called Cornerstone University. More than anything, thank you for your faithful commitment to Jesus Christ. To Him belongs all honor and all glory and all praise forever and ever. Amen.