By Lori Bredemeyer, Managing Editor
Dr. Fred Aquino teaches at a Church of Christ university, but unlike many of the professors at ACU who have followed that tradition their entire lives, Aquino began his with different religious views.
Aquino, assistant professor of systematic theology, grew up in Niagara Falls, N.Y., with his Italian Roman Catholic family in the ’60s and ’70s. He said although his views on God and religion have changed since then, he continues to allow that upbringing to influence his life and works to balance his Roman Catholic background with his current Church of Christ beliefs.
“For Roman Catholics who become evangelicals or members of the Churches of Christ, the tendency is to go back and basically obliterate everything that you’ve inherited as a Roman Catholic, so there’s this anti-Catholic sentiment. However, I’ve tried to work through this tension with great care, appreciation and patience.”
Aquino, 41, allows his faith to lead his life now, but he did not always have so much devotion to God. In high school, he started to question why things happen and gave up his belief in God.
“I never could make sense of why people who talked about religion were sometimes incapable of giving answers to questions like, ‘Why do horrific tragedies happen in the world?’ And I remember when I was 14 or 15 asking God to explain to me how to reconcile the notion of a good and all-knowing and all-powerful God and the obvious and pervasive aspects of evil in the world.”
Aquino said conflicting morals and standards of living added to his confusion and unbelief.
“I also saw institutionally just hypocrisy-racism, people who claimed to be Christian and were at times no different from the people who didn’t claim to be religious at all,” he said. “So I pretty much checked out and thought, ‘I’m going to find authenticity elsewhere.’
“I tried through sex; I tried through drugs; I tried through relationships; I tried through several avenues, and I still found myself lacking. … There was this longing for wholeness and longing for peace and authenticity.”
Aquino said he continued searching for that wholeness throughout his teens and into the Air Force, where he worked as a firefighter. One time on a flight, his friend, Bruce Cutshall, tried to talk to Aquino about God and gave him a pocket version of the Gospels.
“I remember reading the Gospels for the first time in my life,” he said. “I had heard them in church, but actually reading them I discovered that the figure Jesus could heal broken people. I found that wholeness and eventually re-accepted that.”
Cutshall helped guide him as a new Christian and led him to the Church of Christ, which eventually led him to make a decision about his future-he wanted to go college.
Aquino became a student at ACU, receiving his bachelor’s degree in Biblical studies, his master’s in New Testament Greek and his Master of Divinity. He earned a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Southern Methodist University. Aquino also married Michelle Tucker 13 years ago and has two children, David, 5, and Elizabeth, 1.
When he was still working on his dissertation, Aquino applied for a job at ACU.
“There was a job opening here in the graduate school in systematic theology, which historically has not been a very prominent part of our tradition or our school systems,” he said. “The description of the job really did fit my training. They wanted someone who could provide broader exposure to the Christian tradition. … So I applied.”
Aquino has been teaching on campus for almost seven years, and he said his past experiences help him in his classes.
Dr. Paul Morris, professor of physics and philosophy, is co-teaching a class called Philosophy, Religion and Science with Aquino this spring for the second time. Morris said Aquino’s background does show in class but not overtly.
“He doesn’t teach Catholicism,” he said, “but we all have those influences from where we came from. I would think that he’s kept some of the good aspects of that upbringing.”
Morris said he and Aquino have some of the same students, many of whom are minoring in philosophy, and he usually hears good things from them about Aquino.
“They say he’s a wonderful teacher; he challenges them to think,” Morris said. “He’s a difficult teacher. Students say he’s difficult and yet they still enjoy the classes-that’s a good thing.”
Aquino said he always tries to consider what students might want in a teacher, and he thinks most of his students have a positive view of him. He once received an e-mail from a student thanking him for going out of his way to listen to his classes.
“I try to imagine what it’s like to be a student,” he said, “and if I were sitting in the room, I might say ‘he’s honest, he doesn’t avoid hard issues, he respects-maybe too much-students and allows them to have their own opinions, really cares about what he does, not afraid to be himself, doesn’t hide behind his notes, might chase rabbits occasionally but does it because he cares, and has time for students.'”
He said he also tries to be an example of the qualities he’d like to see in others.
“My perspective now is that I try in my teaching and in my life to be an expression of what I desire,” he said. “So if I desire authenticity, and I desire kindness, and I desire love and desire faithfulness and honesty … I try to be an expression of that in class, rather than sitting on the sidelines and criticizing things that I don’t like.”