What is Going on at Nyack College?

Nyack postcard

The historic evangelical college known for its commitment to racial diversity is trying to sell its campus in Nyack, New York and fend off financial losses from enrollment declines.  I am saddened to see this. I taught as an adjunct in the history department during the 1990s.

As a new evangelical I always looked to Nyack College and The Kings College as the flagship evangelical schools of the New York metropolitan area.  Kings eventually moved from its Briarcliff Manor campus to New York City and redefined itself.  It seems like Nyack will try to do something similar.

As Emily Belz reports at World, Nyack is not the only Christian college facing financial difficulties.  Here is a taste of her piece:

Nyack College, a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) school in the New York City area, received an independent audit in 2017 with an opinion any institution dreads: “substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.”

The evangelical school with a 120-year history in New York was looking at looming insolvency, according to the audit, because of its tens of millions in debt and falling revenues.

Nyack has about $70 million in debt, according to its IRS 990 forms, on which it paid about $4 million in interest in the 2017 fiscal year. The 2017 audit noted that Nyack had to withdraw the majority of the funds from its endowment to cover expenses (some of that has been paid back), stopped paying into employee retirement funds in 2015, and has violated its debt covenants. Still, the school has managed to stay open to offer classes this fall.

“They’re good Christian people dealing with a market that’s gone really south … [but] it’s an ugly financial picture,” said Thomas Bakewell, a CPA and attorney who has consulted with dozens of faith-based colleges and universities on financial issues. He also served for 15 years on the board of Lindenwood University while it went through a major financial crisis. (Bakewell hasn’t consulted for Nyack.)

Since 2010, Nyack has lost across its programs at least 1,000 students in its total enrollment, which was down to 2,315 in 2018. Each year since 2016 Nyack has been operating $6 million to $8 million in the red—huge losses for an institution with a roughly $60 million budget. From a random sampling of 990s, most similar Christian colleges operated in the black even with falling enrollment.

Read the rest here.

Taylor University President Lowell Haines Has Resigned After Serving Three Years

Taylor

Some of you may recall the controversy surrounding Taylor University’s decision to invite Mike Pence to deliver the 2019 commencement address.  We covered the controversy here and here and here and here.

We just got word that Taylor University president Lowell Haines has resigned.  I have no idea if this is related to the Pence controversy.

I did find it interesting that Haines lists, among the accomplishments of his three-year tenure at Taylor, the fact that he invited Pence, Tim Tebow, Christian singer Michael W. Smith, and the head basketball coach of Ohio State to speak on campus.

Here is the press release:

Upland, IN, June 24, 2019 – Taylor University Board of Trustees Chair Paige Cunningham, J.D., Ph.D., announced today that President Paul Lowell Haines, Ed.D., J.D., has resigned from Taylor University, effective August 15, 2019.

“We are saddened by Dr. Haines’ decision, but we are deeply grateful to him and to his wife Sherry for their personal commitment to the vision and historical, evangelical, orthodox Christian mission and purposes of Taylor University and to the institution’s foundational positions and policies. These policies, with the full support of the Board of Trustees, have been strengthened on his watch,” said Dr. Cunningham.

Cunningham added that Dr. Haines’ resignation was neither solicited nor encouraged by the Board of Trustees. He continues to enjoy strong support from the Board and remains supportive of and optimistic about the University’s future.

“It has been the greatest privilege and honor of our lives to serve our beloved alma mater in various capacities over the last 44 years, and especially the opportunity during these last three years for me to lead as President,” said Haines, a 1975 alumnus of the University. “We have been humbled by the faith placed in us, and the love, support and prayers of the Taylor community.” 

Haines returned to Taylor after a long career as a higher education lawyer with the international law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels, during which he served the University for more than 15 years as a member of the University’s Board of Trustees. Prior to attending law school at Indiana University-Bloomington, he served at Taylor from 1977-1987, where he rose to the position of Vice President for Student Development. Haines also holds a doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania.

“My wife Sherry and I love Taylor and the Taylor community, as no other place and people,” Haines added. “We leave with a strong sense of accomplishment, knowing that remarkable progress has been made over the last three years, but also a clear awareness of God’s new purpose and direction for our lives. We will always be grateful to Taylor University and to its people. That will not change. And we stand ready to assist the Board and the University’s new leadership team in moving Taylor forward as it remains true to its founding principles and purposes.”

Under Haines’ leadership, Taylor University received two number one rankings and one number two ranking in the Midwest Region of the US News & World Reportsurvey of America’s Best Colleges, achieved its ten-year reaccreditation following a stellar reaccreditation review by the Higher Learning Commission, and improved enrollment, resulting in the 2018 freshman class being the largest entering class in Taylor’s 173-year history. 

Among many other accomplishments, Haines completed “Forging Ahead Faithfully,” the University’s Strategic Plan. In addition, the University experienced advances in financial and fundraising goals, academic and athletic offerings, leadership diversification, facility improvements and renovations, marketing and communication programs, and Town of Upland initiatives. 

Haines honored, worked with and regularly brought to campus his predecessors as well as a number of nationally recognized personalities and speakers, including author and social critic Os Guinness, Interstate Battery Board Chair Norm Miller, Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, Ohio State University basketball coach Chris Holtmann, GRAMMY award winner Michael W. Smith and Vice President of the United States Michael Pence.

According to Cunningham, the Board will work with Haines and the cabinet to ensure a smooth transition, and will be making announcements about future leadership in the coming weeks. 

“Most importantly, the University’s leadership, beginning with the Board of Trustees, will remain true to the Lord and our calling and will have the resolve, faith and strength of purpose to carry Taylor forward into the future,” Cunningham said. “We look forward to building on the Strategic Plan developed by Dr. Haines and the executive leadership team as we continue to pursue Taylor’s unique position in Christian higher education.”

Did Jerry Falwell Jr. Just Admit That He Is Not Involved in the Spiritual or Christian Dimensions of Liberty University?

falwell-jr

We covered Falwell’s “grow a pair” tweet here.  And then we did a post on his decision to delete the tweet.  But amid all the discussion, I missed an important part of this story.  Here is a taste of a Washington Times piece on the controversy:

Mr. Falwell deleted the tweet after people complained about its crudeness. He later responded to critics by clarifying that he is not a spiritual leader.

“You’re putting your ignorance on display. I have never been a minister. UVA-trained lawyer and commercial real estate developer for 20 yrs,” he wrote. “Univ president for last 12 years-student body tripled to 100000+/endowment from 0 to $2 billion and $1.6B new construction in those 12 years

“The faculty, students and campus pastor @davidnasser of @LibertyU are the ones who keep LU strong spiritually as the best Christian univ in the world,” he added. “While I am proud to be a conservative Christian, my job is to keep LU successful academically, financially and in athletics.”

Interesting.  It almost seems like Falwell is not interested in the links between Christianity and the academic, financial, and athletic “success” of Liberty University.  It sounds like he is excusing his crude tweet by claiming that he is not a minister and thus not  responsible for the Christian culture of Liberty.  If you are a Liberty University faculty member, parent, student, or alumnus, this might be a good thing! 🙂

Ironically, Gordon College’s Vice President of Development Was a History Major

Gordon College

If you are not up to speed on Gordon College‘s decision to end its history major (and a bunch of other majors) get up to speed here and here.

It turns out that Gordon’s VP for Finance and Business Development was an undergraduate history major.

While I hope that Mr. Truschel fought valiantly to keep the history major at Gordon, perhaps serving as the only dissenting voice in the meeting when the cut was made, I have my doubts.

I think it’s fair to say that I won’t be interviewing Mr. Truschel for my “So What Can You Do With a History Major?” series anytime soon.  🙂

Mike Pence at Taylor

Taylor

Mike Pence gave the commencement address earlier today at Taylor University.  Taylor’s invitation to Pence has been controversial.  I wrote about it in a piece at Religion News Service.

As expected, dozens of students and faculty walked out of the room before Pence took the lectern.  The Washington Post has the best reporting I have seen so far.  Read Isaac Stanley-Becker’s piece here.

The Indianapolis Star has published the full transcript of Pence’s remarks.  The speech is very similar to the one he gave last week at Liberty University, but it has a slightly less culture war feel.  Pence did not reference Trump as much as he did at Liberty and he dropped some of the persecution language that I wrote about in this Washington Post piece.  Nevertheless, I stand by my original Religion News Service piece.  (See link above).

Here is the transcript:

Thank you so much. To President Haines, the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, family, distinguished guests: It is an honor for us to be here at the Kesler Center for the commencement ceremony of Taylor University Class of 2019. Congratulations.  You made it!  

And I want to thank you, President Haines. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for those warm words. I only wish that my parents could have heard them. My father would have enjoyed it, and my mother would’ve believed it. But would you all join me in thanking President Haines for the extraordinary leadership he’s provided here to Taylor University? We are all so grateful.

And it’s great to be here with so many friends of ours. Met a lot of them backstage.  It’s always good to be back in Indiana. And speaking of friends of mine, allow me to bring greetings from a friend I just spoke to on the phone on my way over to Taylor, shortly after we landed.  He asked me to pass along his regards.  So allow me to extend congratulations to the graduating class of 2019 from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. 

It is a joy to be back home again here in the Hoosier State with all of you with somebody who is the most special person in my life. You know, I always wait to introduce the highest-ranking official last.  She’s a Marine Corps mom.  She’s a champion for military families.  She even teaches art at a Christian school.  Would you join me in giving one more welcome to the Second Lady of the United States of America, Karen Pence?  

Karen and I are really honored to be back on this beautiful campus.  It really is amazing to think: For more than 170 years, Taylor University has faithfully carried out its mission “to develop servant leaders marked with a passion to minister Christ’s redemptive love and truth to a world in need.”  We heard those themes again from the podium already today.

And the class of 2019 is emblematic of that mission, and you are a remarkable class.  You come from 29 different states, 21 different nations, and I learned on the way here that more than 300 of you are graduating from Taylor University today with honors.  Congratulations to you all.  Well done.  

And among you are scholars, accomplished musicians and artists, and exceptional athletes.  In fact — in fact, I heard that all 18 of Taylor’s Trojan teams have been recognized as “Scholar-Athletes” by the NAIA.  Give yourselves another round of applause. That’s great.   

And behind all of these incredible achievements, of course, are some really special people.  Like a young woman who began her career at Taylor as an education major — but over the course of her time here, she was pulled in a different direction.  She’s gone on several mission trips abroad to minister to children in need.  She’s dedicated her time and talent, alongside her parents, to care for refugees.  And today she volunteers at least three days a week at an afterschool program here in Upland.  And today, she will become Taylor University’s first ever major in Orphans and Vulnerable Children.  Join me in congratulating Rachael Rower on a great academic career.  Where are you, Rachael? We’re proud of you.

And I also was told that Rachael is engaged to be married in just under a month.    So I guess I have to recognize another member of the class her fiancé, Joey Ferguson. Well done, Joey. You outkicked your coverage. God bless them both.

And, you know, I was told there’s another member of the Class of 2019 that I just have to mention, because I’m told he’s left an indelible mark on just about everybody he’s met here at Taylor.  He’s a great student, of course, and apparently a really good soccer player.  Good photographer.  Hard worker.  Clear thinker.  And that, even more than his rich Irish accent, is his deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ.  It’s impressed everybody he’s met.

In fact, this young man is joined today, I’m told, by his parents, who had never been to the United States of America before today, but they just flew in to see this Taylor graduate walk across this stage. So congratulations to Charbel Salako. Where are you?  And to Charbel’s parents: Welcome to America!  What a great day.

And I know this is a great day for all of you in the Class of 2019. And it should be fun — because winners have fun, and you’re all winners today.

And you know that you didn’t get here on your own, though. The leaders here at Taylor University poured themselves into you — this administration, this incredible staff, and, of course, the men and women of Taylor’s faculty.

You know, it’s probably pretty safe to say that these professors didn’t go easy on you.  They pressed you over the last four years.  They challenged you, too.  They made you better.  They made you smarter.  They made you more ready.  So would you join me in thanking all the great faculty here at Taylor University for all they have done for you?  

And while I serve as your Vice President — and before that, as the president said here, I served as governor of this great state — the highest position I’ll ever hold is actually spelled “D-A-D.”  You know, Karen and I are the proud parents of three college graduates and that’s worth a round of applause.  Got them all through. 

So honestly, we understand, on a very personal level, the sacrifices that your families have made to help you reach this moment.  And we understand just how proud they are, as they sit all around us today.  And it’s an emotional day for them, I promise you.  They’re remembering not — not just the times that you were here at Taylor; they’re remembering all those days that led up to it.  They drove you to school, got you to do your homework before you went to bed.  And even while you were here, they encouraged you through late nights before final exams, and — and they wrote a few checks along the way, too.  

And they prayed — I know they did — for each and every one of you, every day that you were here.  So before we go any further, would all the moms and dads who are here — all the parents who are here — would you all just stand up so we can show you the appreciation that all these great graduates feel for all the support and love over the last four years?

Men and women of the Class of 2019, today you will graduate from an extraordinary university. You’ll begin your journey. New careers. New endeavors. And you know, they say timing is everything. And to this great class, I just want to tell you, straight up: You picked a great time to graduate from Taylor University. The America that awaits your energies and ambitions is experiencing a new era of optimism and opportunity.  You’re beginning your careers at a time of a growing American economy and restored American stature at home and abroad.

You know, as Vice President, it’s my honor, more than I can say, to serve alongside a President who has stood so strong for our national defense.  And on this Armed Forces Day, we honor all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard who defend our freedom every day. And to all the veterans who are here with us today, thank you for your service.

And I couldn’t be more proud to be part of an administration that has stood strong on the timeless values that have made this nation great, and stood without apology for the sanctity of human life.

But for all those accomplishments, you deserve to know that your timing really is great.  Because under the leadership of President Trump, we’ve been busy getting this economy moving again. We cut taxes. We rolled back regulation. We’ve unleashed American energy.

And as I stand before you today, the economy that awaits you — businesses large and small — have created 5.8 million new jobs in just over the last two years.  Unemployment is at a near 50-year low. And get this: Today, there are more job openings in America than there are Americans looking for work.  That’s great timing, Class of 2019.  

Not that Taylor grads are going to have any trouble finding a job. You know, I actually heard that 97 percent of Taylor graduates secure work or graduate school placement within the first six months of graduation. It’s a testament to this extraordinary university.

You know, the many Taylor grads I’ve worked with over the years are some of the smartest and most dedicated men and women I’ve ever known.  In fact, I’m proud that we got a Taylor grad serving on the staff of the Office of the Vice President at the White House, even as we speak.

So when you leave this remarkable place, I promise you, you’re going to find an America filled with promise. And I know the men and women of this Class of 2019 are going to thrive. Because you have the support of your families.  You have a foundation of a great and unique education.  And because, here at Taylor, it was all built on a foundation of faith — a foundation that cannot be shaken.

You know, it really is beautiful that, before you leave here today, you’ll be handed a diploma; you’ll also be handed a Bible and a Servant’s Towel.  And I believe these elements hold the keys to the success and fulfillment in the lives that await you.  And I know what I’m talking about.

You know, like many of you, I was raised in a church home. But by the time I got to high school, I lost interest in religion. I was one of those people who still went to church, but I was just going through the motions — you know, holding form of Christianity, but denying its power. 

By the time I went off to college — a little school down south of here — I just went my own way.  But when I went to school, I started to meet people — maybe like you have here — that I could tell where different.  Some people that had something I lacked. And it wasn’t just confidence or an easy familiarity; it was something they had that I knew I didn’t have.  The only way I could describe it was peace and a joy about everything in their lives.

In fact, I was so moved by their example that I started attending a Christian fellowship group on campus.  And I had this friend who ran the group.  He was a senior; I was a freshman.  And we became good friends.  And I talked to him a lot about faith issues.  And he spent a lot of time with me and was very patient.

But I noticed, you know, as I got more involved in the local fellowship group, that I decided I was going to go ahead and get involved.  And he was wearing this really cool little cross everywhere he went.  So I started asking him where he got it — you know, because I wanted to get one, too.  Frankly, I started to pester him about it. It was back then before you had these things that you’re always looking at, and we had these catalogues you order things from — you had to call on the phone. Your mom and dad will explain that to you.

And I kept bothering him about the catalogue. I said, “Hey, be sure and get me that catalogue because, you know, I want to order that cross.”  I said, “I’ve decided to go ahead and do the Christian thing. So, you know, I want to — you know, I want to start wearing a cross.”  

I’ll never forget — John looked at me one day and said some words that I’ll never forget.  I said to him, “Don’t forget about that catalogue.”  And he turned around, and he looked at me, and he said, “Mike, remember: You got to wear it in your heart before you wear it around your neck.”    To be honest with you, I didn’t know what he meant.  But I knew there was truth in it.  I wrestled with those words.

Then a little while later, I found myself at a youth Christian music festival that the group went to down in Wilmore, Kentucky.  We sat on a hillside for two days, listening to some great contemporary Christian music and messages in between.  And it was on a rainy night, sitting on that hillside back in 1978, that I heard some words I’d heard my whole life in Church — but I heard them different.

I’d always heard that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  But on that Saturday night, I heard it different.  Sitting on that hillside, I realized that it also meant God so loved me that He gave His only Son to save me from my sin. And overwhelmed not with guilt, but with a heart overflowing with gratitude, that night I put my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.  And it’s made all the difference in my life.  

So now I want to say, not so much as your Vice President or a fellow Hoosier, but as a brother in Christ: If what you’ve seen and heard and learned in this place has also taken hold in your hearts, I want to encourage you to go from here, and live it out, and share it, and put feet on your faith as you carry and minister over the course of your lives.  Because America needs men and women of integrity and faith now more than ever.

You know, the truth is that we live in a time when religious belief is under assault.  We’ve seen unspeakable acts of violence against religious communities.  Synagogues in Pennsylvania and California.  Mosques in New Zealand.  Churches in Sri Lanka.  And three historically black churches burned to the ground in Louisiana.

And on a much lesser scale, but more prevalent, we see a change in our culture as well.  You know, throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself a Christian — but things are different now.  Lately, it’s become acceptable, even fashionable, to malign traditional Christian beliefs.

So as you prepare to leave this place and build your life on the Christ-centered, world-engaging foundation poured here at Taylor University, be prepared to stand up.

You know, as Dr. Milo Rediger wrote in “Anchor Points” so long ago, he said, quote, “we’re looking for young people [here at Taylor] who are willing to stand up and be counted for God.”  And as you stand up, be prepared to face opposition.

But be confident.  For the Bible says, “God has given us a spirit not of timidity, but of power and love and self-control.”  So go show the world every day that we can love God and love our neighbor at the same time.    Our nation and our world needs it.

And know also that freedom of religion is enshrined not just in the Constitution, but in the hearts of every American.  And I promise you: We will always stand up for the freedom of religion and for the right of every American to live, to learn, to worship according to the dictates of your conscience.  That’s a promise.  

And finally, as you prepare to depart on your lives and careers, I hope that you will take one other piece of that foundation poured here at Taylor University along.  I hope that you will aspire to serve.  To be, as that towel will ever remind you, a servant leader.

You know, I believe public service is a noble calling.  But wherever life takes you, take a servant’s attitude.  Consider others more important than yourselves.  Live your lives as He did: not to be served, but to serve.

And if you need examples, you can just look around the people that are sitting with you.  A lot of young men and women here have already learned:  The fulfilled life is the life of service to others.

Like a public health major who grew up in Illinois who is graduating today.  Like many of you Taylor students, she traveled overseas to give her time and talent to help those in need.  But, as the story goes, during her J-term of her sophomore year, she was serving on a mission trip in the Middle East, and this young woman started to feel what she called “a little tug from God.”

Since then, that little tug has turned into a calling, and a calling that she’s answered.  And after graduation, this incredible young woman will move to the Middle East and serve as a Women’s Health Coordinator for the non-profit One Collective.  So would you all join me in showing our appreciation for the great example of 2019 graduate, Claire Heyen.  Well done, Claire.  We’re proud of you.  

So, Class of 2019, my word to all of you is: Never stop believing, never stop serving, and always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have, with gentleness and respect. Because our nation and our world need that message of grace and love these days maybe more than ever before.

And as you do these things, in increasing measure, I promise you, you’ll be blessed.  You’ll be a blessing to your family, to your coworkers, and you’ll be a blessing to this nation.

You know, America has always been a nation of faith.  As our first Vice President, John Adams, said, and I quote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  So just know, as you strengthen the foundation of faith in your life; as you carry that faith from here, in service to your fellow Americans, you will be strengthening the foundation of America itself.  

So thank you for the honor of addressing you. To all of our graduates, I say: Have faith.  Have faith in yourselves, proven by what you’ve accomplished to get you to this very day.  Have faith in the principles and the ideals that you learned here and the noble mission that has always animated Taylor University.  And have faith that He who brought you this far will never leave you, nor forsake you — because He never will.

Congratulations, Class of 2019. You did it. God bless you. And God bless America.

Commencement at Liberty University

In case you missed it, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement address on Saturday at Liberty University, a school that claims to be the largest Christian university in the world.

Court evangelical and Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr. was the master of ceremonies (Why didn’t he wear a robe like most college presidents?)  At one point in the ceremony he made his wife stand up to model the black and orange flame (as in Liberty Flames)-patterned dress she was wearing.  Falwell convinced her to wear it because she was the “hottest first lady at any college in the country.” Again, context is everything here.

Surgeon and 2016 GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson also spoke. He urged the graduates not to conform to the “forces of political correctness” that “want you to shut up and not express what you believe.”  He extolled the apparent Judeo-Christian founding of the country and told the graduating class that they were our best hope to “save America.”

When Jerry Falwell Jr. introduced Mike Pence, he praised the Vice-President for doing such a great job despite constant attacks from a “hostile press.”  He described him as one of the greatest Vice Presidents of all time.

Early in Pence’s speech some folks in the crowd starting chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A, U.S.A.” This is an odd thing to chant at a Christian college graduation, but there seems to be no big difference between Christian education and patriotism at Liberty University.

Pence wasted no time turning his commencement address into a Trump rally.  He praised the Trump economy, reminded the audience that “America stands with Israel,” talked about abortion, and attacked Barack Obama for his supposed threats to religious liberty.  Like Carson’s brief speech, Pence’s speech was filled with the typical victimization rhetoric and fear-mongering that one often hears from conservative evangelicals these days.  Pence cannot seem to move  beyond the culture wars–this is how he sees the world.  It is “us” vs. “them.”  The crowd loved it.

At one point in the speech, Pence gave a moving testimony about his conversion experience. I appreciated it.  But in the context–both in terms of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s politicization of Liberty University and Pence’s connection to the Trump administration–he seemed to suggest that an evangelical conversion will naturally lead to Christian Right politics and the unrelenting support of an immoral president.  It does not.

A commencement address should be a celebration of the graduates.  A commencement speaker must put down the self and offer words of encouragement and some wise advice about life after graduation.  To his credit, Pence did some of this. But even his words of exhortation to the graduates sounded like a Trump stump speech for 2020 and a warning to watch out for the progressives lurking in the shadows ready to undermine Christian America.  This was a message of fear, not hope.  But that is how they do things at Liberty University.

I am sure we will hear similar things from Pence next week at Taylor University.

More Thoughts on Gordon College’s Decision to Drop the History Major

Gordon College

I remain saddened at Gordon College’s decision to bring an end to its history major. We had some good discussion last night on my Facebook page.  Here are some of my random reflections:

What strikes me is that Gordon College is not simply consolidating three departments for the purpose of saving administration costs. This is the consolidation of THREE MAJORS–three different disciplines that offer different ways of understanding the world.

I spent over an hour yesterday with a very bright “undecided” student. I was trying to sell her on the importance of humanities, the liberal arts, and, yes, the study of history. The skills and ways of thinking that one learns from the study of history are not something that can happen in a few courses as part of an “integrated major” like Politics-Philosophy-History.  In over two decades of teaching at Christian liberal arts institutions I can attest to the fact that a historical way of seeing the world–one informed by contextual thinking, the understanding of contingency, the complexity of the human experience, a grasp of causality and change over time–is something that is cultivated through a deep dive into the discipline. You can’t come to an interdisciplinary or “integrated” conversation without grounding in a discipline.

I can’t stress the formation piece here enough–especially at a Christian college in the liberal arts tradition. (I don’t care if it is evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant, etc.) Research universities and big regional public institutions are sometimes different animals since faculty do not often have the sustained engagement with undergraduates.

How are we forming our Christian students intellectually if we don’t give them the opportunity to dive into a particular discipline–a particular way of seeing the world with its own set of thinking skills? When a Christian college stops supporting the humanities (and now I am talking more broadly) it sends a message that it no longer believes that opportunities for this kind of formation are worth defending.

This, of course, raises the question: What kind of formative experiences DO Christian college believe are worth defending? At this point, a Christian college administrator might enter the fray and say that his or her school has a robust general education curriculum. Fair enough. I will be the first to defend strong Gen Ed Cores and I did so early in my career as a member of my colleges’s Gen Ed committee. But a cafeteria-style Gen Ed, while essential, does not allow for a deep formative dive into a particular way of thinking.

I also realize that some Christian college administrators might be skeptical about at my idealism. “We need to keep the doors open and no 18-22 year-olds want to study history any more.” I understand the dilemma, but if this is indeed the case, let’s just redefine our Christian colleges as professional schools where you will also get a Gen Ed Core and let humanities faculty decide whether or not they can work in such an environment with integrity.  It pains me that students no longer want to come to college to study the humanities. It pains me even more that some of our finest Christian liberal arts colleges will no longer give those who DO want to study these topics an opportunity to do so in a sustained way. So yes, I am really shaken-up by the news from Gordon.

In the meantime, as I prepare to weather the coming storms, I will and continue to cling to the arguments I made here:

Why Study History

Interpreting the Billy and Helen Sunday Home

BillySundayHome

 Billy and Helen Sunday Home, Winona Lake, Indiana

Since Messiah College started the Digital Harrisburg Initiative a few years ago, I have developed a real appreciation for digital and public history projects at small colleges and universities.  In 2011, I spent a day at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana.  I was there to deliver a lecture, but I also spent some time touring an on-campus museum which would eventually become the Winona History Center.

Winona Lake was a popular vacation resort and Bible conference for evangelicals and fundamentalists in the 20th century largely because it was the home of the revivalist and former baseball player Billy Sunday.  The nation’s most popular preachers and speakers passed through Winona Lake every summer, including William Jennings Bryan and Billy Graham.

Recently, Grace College and the Winona History Center won a grant to create an interactive digital tour of the Billy and Helen Sunday Home.  Here is a taste of InkFreeNews’s coverage:

WINONA LAKE — The Winona History Center in Winona Lake, was one of 18 libraries, schools, and museums to receive grants from Indiana Humanities and Indiana Landmarks this spring. The History Center, which is owned and operated by Grace College, has received an Historic Preservation Education Grant of up to $1,700 to create an interactive digital tour of the Billy and Helen Sunday Home for those unable to access the building.

“Funding a wide range of thoughtful and creative programming that connects so many Hoosiers to the depth and breadth of the humanities is core to our mission,” said Keira Amstutz, president and CEO of Indiana Humanities. “We are encouraged every year by the innovative programs proposed by the grantees and the opportunity to touch the lives of residents all over Indiana.”

The project, which is being developed by museum director Dr. Mark Norris and museum coordinator Karen Birt, will produce an interactive map on an iPad of the layout of the second floor of the Billy and Helen Sunday Home, making it accessible to the mobility challenged. Users will be able to click on the artifacts pictured in each room and receive an audio, visual or textual provenance of the artifact.

The project will allow Sunday Home visitors to interact with the home, which is located at 1111 Sunday Lane, about four blocks from the Winona History Center in Westminster Hall on the Grace College campus.

Read the rest here.  Congratulations!

More on Mike Pence’s Upcoming Commencement Address at Taylor University

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Emily McFarland Miller of Religion News Service spent some time on the Taylor campus.  I was happy to contribute to her report.  Here is a taste:

Like most Americans, students at Taylor University have strong feelings about President Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence, as well as the relationship between religion and politics.

So when news broke last month that Pence would speak at Taylor’s upcoming commencement, reactions were mixed.

Some students love the decision. Some hate it.

Others see the whole thing as divisive, according to students discussing the announcement in Professor Alan Blanchard’s Advanced Media Writing class April 16 at Taylor.

“I think that for years we have been in a school that’s very open to conversation, and I think the last couple of months — last year — has just kind of been a battle for who’s right,” said Lexie Lake, a senior in the class.

The controversy over Pence’s visit is not the only recent disagreement at Taylor.

Earlier this year, a Taylor professor started a petition against a planned Starbucks on campus because of its “stands on the sanctity of life and human sexuality.” And last year, an anonymous conservative publication popped up on campus with complaints the school had become too liberal.

Like so much of evangelicalism in the United States, the Christian liberal arts school — which always has prided itself on welcoming diverse Christian perspectives — has in recent years found itself engaged in a battle for the soul of the movement.

“It’s now pitting Christian against Christian: Who’s more Christian? Who loves God more? Who’s doing it right?” junior Tiffany Rogers said.

“Who’s doing Christianity right?”

Read the entire piece here.

A Distinguished Taylor University Alumnus Speaks Out on the Pence Invitation

Taylor

Mike Pence will be the 2019 commencement speaker at Taylor University.  We wrote about this yesterday.

This morning Steve Long, the Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics at Southern Methodist University and a Taylor alumnus, sent us these thoughts and gave us permission to publish them.  -JF

I went to Taylor University from 1978-1982. I grew up thirty miles from it. As an Indiana kid, I went to its basketball camp. My church went on spring break trips led by Taylor students. I’ve had doctoral students who were TU grads. I have been back only a few times since graduating, but I was invited by some faculty to be part of a symposium for the inauguration of TU’s new president. Little did I know that his vision for TU was to make it look like Liberty University. I am ashamed.

I’m saddened and disappointed by this commencement invitation, but not surprised. I was surprised in 2016 when midwest evangelicals enabled the Trump presidency. I thought I knew them. I was wrong. I remember a different Taylor University and a different kind of evangelicalism. 

Here is what I remember: When I was at TU, we were less interested in state power and more interested in mission. Many were reading Ronald Sider’s “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.” I spent my last semester at TU working in a medical clinic in Haiti and was encouraged to do so by faculty and fellow students. Most of us wanted to do something about poverty and global inequality. I was first confronted with nonviolence at TU when we read Mark Hatfield’s “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” in a Chemistry class. He was a Republican who because of his faith came out against the Vietnam War. It was that book that prepared me well to hear Stanley Hauerwas when I went to Duke. I remember a TU and an evangelicalism that was vibrant, concerned with issues of poverty and violence. I was also there during the transition from the Carter to Reagan presidency and I think that Reagan’s cooptation of evangelicals, like Trump’s, set the rot in the evangelical movement. Reagan and Trump said to evangelicals, “Come let us build a (Trump) tower to the heavens and make a name for ourselves.” Evangelicals said, and are still saying, “Yes.” 

Of course, my memory is kind. Some of the rot was already there and I was not paying attention. I double dated with an interracial couple during my time at Taylor. I think they were the only one on campus. I recall how devastated he was when he received an anonymous letter telling him that interracial dating was against God’s law. I thought it was a fluke and did not take it seriously. I was not paying attention. I did not know that the origins of the Religious Right that has now taken over the administration of TU and most of evangelicalism was its opposition to the Civil Rights legislation that required Bob Jones to permit interracial dating. The Reagan administration sided with Bob Jones. Cal Thomas, who was an early leader in the Religious Right and close associate of Jerry Falwell Sr., later left the movement convinced that the seduction of power had led it to abandon truth. He wrote, “Christian faith is about truth, [and] whenever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.” Pence has proven himself immoral in so many ways since joining the Trump administration, but the one thing that stands out most prominently for me is his willingness to be complicit in the bold deceits emanating daily from the White House. Who is the “father of lies?” Have evangelicals forgotten?

I had a friend who came out as gay. We dared not tell anyone. There was a cruelty to gays back then that is slowly receding. (I am grateful to see that some TU alum will hold an alternative “Gay Bash” during the commencement). Has TU and evangelicalism drastically changed in the 37 years since I graduated? I don’t know. Maybe my memory is too kind. I’m encouraged that so many students, faculty, and alums have spoken out against president Haines’ invitation that makes TU complicit in the racist, homophobic, xenophobic and cruel Trump administration. But in the end, we know, donor wealth and political power will trump mercy and kindness.

Taylor University and Mike Pence

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As some of you have heard, Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college in Upland, Indiana, has invited Mike Pence to be its 2019 commencement speaker.

Not everyone is happy about Taylor’s decision. Taylor alumni have started a Change.org petition claiming that the Pence invitation makes “our alumni, faculty, staff and current students complicit in the Trump-Pence Administration policies, which we believe are not consistent with the Christian ethic of love we hold dear.”

Chris Smith, a Taylor graduate and founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books (which is based in nearby Indianapolis), wrote a piece at the Sojourners website condemning the Pence invitation.

Amy Peterson, an author, evangelical missionary, and adjunct professor at Taylor, also condemned the decision.  Her piece at The Washington Post provides some context and quotes students and alums who are unhappy about Pence’s upcoming address.

Back in March 2018, several disgruntled Taylor employees, including a philosophy professor, a biblical studies professor, the men’s soccer coach, and the university marketing director started an underground newspaper with a mission to expose what they believed to be Taylor’s move in a “liberal direction.”  At the time, Taylor president Lowell Haines condemned the anonymous publishers for “sow[ing] discord and distrust” and “hurting members of our community.”  We wrote about this incident here.

Peterson’s Post article notes that the Taylor faculty voted 61-49 on a motion to dissent at Pence being invited.  (At least two Taylor sources I have consulted confirmed this vote).

Progressives are going to condemn Taylor for inviting Pence because, among other things, the Vice-President holds a conservative position on marriage, condemns homosexuality and has recently mixed-it-up with gay presidential candidate and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg.  But this kind of criticism lacks nuance. Most evangelical schools have traditional positions on marriage and believe that homosexual practice is unbiblical. Progressives are going to need to deal with the fact that a significant portion of the United States population share Pence’s views in the area of sexual ethics.  I hope they will see the need to work with evangelicals to cultivate a more inclusive and pluralistic society in which deeply held religious beliefs are respected.  Both Pence and many progressives seem unwilling to take on this project, preferring instead to dig in their heels and continue to lob grenades in the culture war.

The real issue is Pence’s willingness to carry water for Donald Trump.  He has stood behind a president who is a liar, has paid hush money to an adult film star, has faced dozens of charges of sexual harassment, has separated children from families at the Mexican border, disrespects American institutions, boasts of his materialism, understands religious liberty as something that only pertains to his evangelical base, seems incapable of seeing anything beyond himself, inspires white supremacists, and has generally governed our country with no moral core.  Pence has defended or remained silent about nearly everything Trump has done.  Trump has used him as a pawn to win white evangelicals and keep them in the fold.

Gabby Carlson’s piece at the Taylor University student newspaper, The Echo, quotes both Taylor Provost Michael Hammond (a historian who studies evangelicalism and the Civil Rights movement) and Alan Blanchard, associate professor of journalism.  Hammond said:

Commencement is a special day for Taylor University…Above all else, we want to honor our graduates with their diploma and towel. There is always something to be gained from listening, even when we do not expect to find agreement with the speaker. This is an opportunity for our community to hear one another, working through our opinions and differences together.

And here is Blanchard, referencing what he said at the faculty meeting in support of the Pence invitation:

I suggested a benefit exists from listening to people speak on our campus with diverse views. Even if we do not see eye to eye, and even if the person speaking is the vice president of the United States…It’s a hallmark of our country to foster the idea and the ideal of free speech. I think our faculty meetings generally are a testimony to our ability to speak freely, agree or disagree on issues, but at the end of day show respect and love for one another.

I am fully on board with campuses inviting all kinds of people, of all kinds of political persuasions, to speak.  (I visited Taylor University on the Believe Me book tour last Fall and the students and faculty welcomed me and gave me and my message a warm reception).  But there does seem to be something different about a commencement address, especially at a Christian college.  The choice of a commencement speaker at a small Christian college like Taylor University reflects the beliefs and ideals that animate life at such a college.  Commencement speakers send a message–to graduating seniors, to alumni, to parents, to donors, and to the larger community–about what a school values.  A commencement address should not be a venue for displaying a school’s commitment to a “free marketplace of ideas,” nor is it a place where a school shows its commitment to ideological diversity by hosting speakers with controversial political and social views.  Taylor University had the entire 2018-2019 academic year to show its commitment to diverse viewpoints on campus.  Commencement is a time to celebrate a Christian college’s Christian mission.  Does Mike Pence, the chief water-carrier for Donald Trump, represent Taylor University’s mission?

I find it ironic that president Lowell Haines, who decried “discord” back in March 2018, has decided to invite Pence.  Haines is fully aware that many in the evangelical community, most of his own faculty, and many of his students, see Pence as a morally problematic figure.  He had to know that the invitation would provoke a firestorm on campus.  Yet he invited him anyway.  Indeed, as Provost Michael Hammond noted above, “commencement is a special day” for Taylor graduates and the larger community.  Then why invite Pence?  If Pence does end up speaking, Haines and his staff, who I assume care about the campus climate, will be forced to spend the next several years trying to heal a self-inflicted wound.

Or here is another way we might look at this. Perhaps Lowell Haines and his staff are fully aware of the fact that the choice of commencement speakers always sends a message about the things that a Christian college values and cherishes. And perhaps this is exactly why he invited Pence.

Several of my sources at Taylor University view the Haines presidency, and the invitation of Pence, as an attempt to solve some of Taylor’s financial woes by taking a more pronounced turn to the Right.  One alumnus, writing on a private Facebook page, described a phone conversation he had with one of Haines’s right hand men, Vice President for University Advancement Rex Bennett:

For some reason, Rex Bennett (VP for University Advancement) actually took my call, and we talked for nearly 30 minutes.  We actually could have talked longer, but I needed to get off the phone and help my with some things.  During this phone call, Mr. Bennett was respectful to me and did listen to my concerns, but he also, sadly, confirmed that Taylor wishes to actively exclude and marginalize the LGBTW and immigrant/refugee communities.  He also stated that he does not expect a situation in which Taylor will reconsider the Pence decision.  After this conversation, I learned that Mr. Bennett is actually a very close friend of Pence.

Christian colleges are faced with difficult choices in these days of divisiveness and fear.  One type of Christian college will defend Christian orthodoxy (yes, even in the area of marriage), respect the civil rights of all Americans (including those in the LGBTQ community), support creative solutions to defend religious liberty in a pluralistic society, welcome the stranger, respond to the culture with a posture of hope, and pursue the common good.  These schools will provide a prophetic voice against the kind of America that Donald Trump and his court evangelicals (including Mike Pence) want to create.

Another type of Christian college, which seems exemplified best by court evangelical Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (Pence will also speak at its commencement this Spring), is to defend orthodoxy, reject creative attempts to defend religious liberty in a pluralist society, and support (at least at the level of the administration) what I believe to be the anti-Christian policies of Donald Trump.  After the Pence invitation, I will now need to be convinced that Taylor University is not following this path.

As I once wrote in The Washington Post, we are starting to see new alignments in American Christianity.

A Day in the Pacific Northwest

Whitworth

Last night the Believe Me book tour made its one and only stop in the Pacific Northwest.  Thanks to Dale Soden of Whitworth University‘s Weyerhauster Center for Christian Faith and Learning for inviting me to speak at this excellent Christian college in Spokane.

Dale even gave me a quick tour of the Gonzaga University campus. We drove past “The New Kennell,” home of the Gonzaga Bulldog basketball team on the evening they received a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  I also learned that Bing Crosby’s boyhood home is on Gonzaga’s campus.

It was good to see my old friend Arlin Migliazzo (recently retired from Whitworth’s history department), touch base with Elise Leal (a very promising faculty member in early America who just joined the department this year and recently won the Sidney Mead Prize from the American Society of Church History), and meet so many of Whitworth’s outstanding history students.  I also got to chat briefly over lunch with Jerry Sittser, author of The Will of God as a Way of Lifea book I once taught as part of Messiah College’s first-year CORE.  Whitworth seems like a great place to work and study. It has been one of my favorite stops on the Believe Me tour.

I think it is fair to say that the audience response to my lecture was generally positive, but there were a few outliers.  Students from the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Whitworth were out in force.  I know most of them disagreed with the central premise of my talk, but they were polite and respectable.  (The Whitworth YAF chapter is reeling in the wake of a recent controversy surrounding an invitation to conservative commentator Ben Shapiro).  Another student (I am not sure if he was part of YAF) wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat and then waited patiently after the lecture to tell me I was wrong about Trump.  We had a nice conversation and I asked him if he would read my book if I sent him a copy.  He said he would. The book will be in the mail soon.

The Q&A session was spirited, but that is how I like it.  Whitworth was a great host and the students and faculty who came to the lecture modeled civil dialogue.  I hope to come back to campus one day!

Off to Greensboro College in Greensboro, NC on Thursday.  See you there!

The University of Providence is the Latest School to Cut Liberal Arts Programs

Providence U

The Catholic (Sisters of Providence) university in Great Falls, Montana has closed the following liberal arts programs:   Art, English, History, Sociology, and Theology.  The university also cut programs in Accounting, Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Special Education, Health and Physical Education,  and Theater and Business Arts.

If I am reading the university website correctly, the school will now offer the following majors:  Addictions Counseling, Biology, Business Administration, Chemistry, Computer Science, Criminal Justice, Education, Forensic Science, Exercise Science, Math, Legal and Paralegal Studies, Psychology, RN-BSN Completion, and Applied Science in Surgical Technology.

Here is the press release:

After hours of conversation and extensive consideration of all the factors involved in a decision of this magnitude, the University of Providence Board of Trustees voted yesterday to approve the recommendation to close several of the university’s programs. As a result of the decision, the following programs will close: Accounting (including the graduate program), Art, Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Special Education, Health and Physical Education, English, History, Sociology, Theater and Business Arts, and Theology. All students in the affected programs will be given the opportunity to graduate from their program and their scholarships will be maintained. Students and faculty are already engaged in teach-out plans, which are individualized transition plans utilizing existing faculty, adjuncts, resources at other universities, and independent studies.

Recognizing these program changes will affect the future of the university, the Board also committed to lead a substantial and collaborative process among faculty and other campus stakeholders to map a clear vision for the university moving forward that is grounded in the mission and values of the Sisters of Providence. The plan is for this process to begin as soon as possible with final consideration by the Board of Trustees at their May meeting.

“Our goal is to remain a viable, thriving Catholic liberal arts university to serve the changing needs of our community,” says Tony Aretz, president. “We have to think strategically about our offerings. Although we have had to make difficult decisions concerning our under-enrolled programs, including some humanities majors, the university remains committed to offering a strong liberal arts education.”

The faculty’s recent redesign and strengthening of the liberal arts core curriculum, Lumen de Lumine, is evidence of this commitment. The core curriculum is grounded in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the liberal arts, and includes requirements to take theology, philosophy, English, Fine Arts and history courses, in addition to other liberal arts courses. While some majors are closing, many of the disciplines will still be actively taught in the core.

“Students enter UP with the same questions all college students have,” says Aretz. “What’s unique about UP is that students explore these questions in our core curriculum through the lens of faith and reason, leading them to not just a successful career, but truly a life-long vocation. Although some faculty positions will be eliminated going forward, we remain committed to having adequate full-time liberal arts faculty to teach the core curriculum.”

In addition to this enhanced core curriculum, another unique UP strength is that it is a ministry of the Providence St. Joseph Health care system, the largest health care system in the western United States, founded by the Sisters of Providence. While the university sees the opportunity for growth in its School of Health Professions, it will continue to explore opportunities for new programs and growth in the School of Liberal Arts on the Great Falls campus.

“Focusing more on programs with strong enrollments is part of this process,” says Aretz. “The partnership with the health care system also provides unique opportunities for new programs in Great Falls. In fact, the history of the Great Falls campus began with the introduction of a resident nurse (RN) program at Columbus Hospital that eventually contributed to the founding of our university.”

The rich history that precedes UP lives on not only in new programs, but in the strong remaining programs. Investments will be made in the remaining programs in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences including, but not limited to, business, legal and paralegal studies, the sciences and criminal justice. The decisions that are being made to both strengthen existing programs, and sunset other programs, is part of the university’s strategic plan, which launched a program reprioritization process in which each of the university’s programs were evaluated by criteria developed by a multi-disciplinary faculty committee.

Matt Redinger, the provost and vice president of academic affairs, formed a Program Prioritization Advisory Council (PPAC) comprised of faculty from each division within the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences to guide the process. Redinger and the PPAC established criteria, and from that criteria Redinger formed initial recommendations to the president. The criteria included the programs’ numbers of majors, student demand, market competitiveness, operating costs, and contributions to the university’s other programs and to the liberal arts core curriculum.

“The decision to recommend these program closures was very difficult, however, program reprioritization was necessary for the university to progress,” says Tony Aretz, president. “We are one of many universities across the state and country having to make these difficult decisions. These program closures, while difficult, help strengthen our financial health as an institution. This will position the university as one of Montana’s leading healthcare universities and one of the state’s premier Catholic, liberal arts institutions.”

While the university is making strides to grow their remaining academic offerings, the campus community is aware of the hardships these decisions have on faculty, staff and students.

“We are sensitive to the impact these decisions have on our university community, their families and the wider community,” says Aretz. “Our faculty’s dedication to our students is a key differentiator for UP, and we continue to honor that legacy.”

The School of Liberal Arts and Sciences is working to build new innovative interdisciplinary programs to capitalize on UP’s Catholic heritage and relationship with Providence St. Joseph Health.

“Some have questioned why we are eliminating programs but still building on campus and adding other academic programs,” says Aretz. “We recognized that it was necessary to update and improve basic infrastructure to attract and retain students – the renovated Student Center and new University Center are part of that process. At the same time, the university needs to invest in the state-of-the-art academic and athletic programs that will yield the greatest outcomes for students and result in financial sustainability.”

Thoughts:

  • Can a Catholic school really claim to be a “thriving liberal arts university” without majors in Art, English, History, and Theology?  The University of Providence should probably stop calling itself a “liberal arts institution” and start calling itself a professional school with a liberal arts core curriculum.
  • Ironically, Provost Matt Redinger is a historian. He has a Ph.D from the University of Washington.  He is the author of American Catholics and the Mexican Revolution (2005).  He has been on the job at the University of Providence since July 2018.
  • I would like to know what role the faculty played in this decision and if they are satisfied with that role.

The National Association of Evangelicals and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Adopt a “Fairness for All” Motion

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The National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities have endorsed “Fairness for All,” a legislative initiative to protect religious liberties alongside liberties for the LGBTQ community.  This means that these organizations are endorsing so-called Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) laws, or laws that add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classifications.  The NAE and the CCCU believe that the support of SOGI laws is the best way of protecting religious liberty for their institutions.

Shirley Mullen, the President of Houghton College in upstate New York, authored the NAE motion.  Mullen is a Christian historian with Ph.Ds in History (University of Minnesota) and Philosophy (University of Wales) and a former president of the Conference on Faith and History.

Here is the motion:

Motion

That the National Association of Evangelicals support principles calling on Congress to consider federal legislation:

  • We believe that God created human beings in his image as male or female and that sexual relations be reserved for the marriage of one man and one woman.
  • We support long-standing civil rights laws and First Amendment guarantees that protect free religious
    exercise.
  • No one should face violence, harassment, or unjust discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or
    gender identity.

Background Overview of Fairness for All and Possible Future Legislation (Based on principles)

Written by Shirley Mullen (President of Houghton College and member of NAE board & executive committee)

Cultural Context

While the United States of America was founded on principles that sought to provide both freedom from a potentially coercive established state religion (“separation of church and state”) and freedom for the flourishing of religious activity according to the conscience of individuals (“free exercise” clause) this balanced tension has been difficult to preserve in practice. This framework of pluralism where multiple perspectives on religion — and other matters of worldview — are fostered and legitimized in the public square has been much more difficult to imagine and to realize than either the alternative of a dominant religious tradition or the alternative of secularity.

Though there was no established religion in 18th and 19th century America, the dominant cultural religious tradition— for historical rather than legal reasons — happened to be Protestant Christianity. For a range of reasons, including perceived tensions between science and religion, increased immigration from non-European contexts, the growing politicization of religion around particular ethical issues, this consensus changed in the 20th century. (For a fuller analysis of this transition, see Robert Putnam, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” 2010). Increasingly, religious conviction is considered a matter of private conscience leaving the public arena dominated by the assumptions and the “faith” of secularity.

This cultural shift has, so far at least, left institutional churches protected under the legal tradition of “religious freedom.” It has resulted in the narrowing of the notion of “free exercise” of religion especially as this relates to institutions that carry on non-religiously explicit tasks but are nevertheless motivated by faith and informed by faith. These tasks\ include higher education, in addition to humanitarian organizations, adoption agencies and rescue missions, to mention just a few.

For example, in the past five years alone, Christian colleges and universities have faced challenges from the government to their right to accept state financial aid grants, legal challenges to their right to hire faculty and staff based on considerations of faith, limitations in their opportunities to post jobs in the bulletins of professional organizations or in certain online contexts, opposition to their prerogative to claim exemptions to Title IX legislation in the context of NCAA — and this trend shows every sign of continuing.

Timing

We believe that now is the time to take deliberate action to reclaim the space for religious freedom that was intended in the founding of the United States. While religious freedom is no longer a noncontroversial bipartisan issue as it was in 1993 when Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, there is likely to be more sympathy for protecting religious freedom in a Republican Congress than in a Democratic Congress. The Equality Act, which would undermine the provisions of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and significantly threaten the ability of religious organizations to hire according to their faith convictions, has gained increasing favor each time it has been reintroduced in Congress. It is also heavily funded by a range of lobbying interests.

Strategy

Despite the challenges of passing legislation in today’s partisan environment, we strongly believe that this religious freedom is best secured in a legislative context rather than by executive order or rulings by the attorney general —both of which have expiration dates and can be undone by subsequent presidents and attorneys general. There is strong evidence that the Supreme Court supports religious freedom protections much more readily when these are grounded in specific legislation and not just appeals to the First Amendment.

While there is some legislative support for the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), this support is less than the support for the Equality Act. Since the Hobby Lobby decision in 2014 and especially since the Obergefell decision in 2016, it has been easy for legislation supporting religious freedom to be seen as simply permission to discriminate.

As Christian higher educators, we are increasingly persuaded that the most viable political strategy is for comprehensive religious freedom protections to be combined with explicit support for basic human rights for members of the LGBT community. (These rights include basic legal and human rights related to housing, credit, jury duty and employment — and do not imply affirmation for particular lifestyle or moral choices.)

This proposed legislation known as Fairness for All, in no way argues against FADA, but seeks to offer an additional legislative option — one that we believe can garner bipartisan support.

As you can see from the material provided from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, this proposed legislation seeks to secure basic human rights for the LGBT community at the national level in exchange for strong and perpetual protections for religious freedom. The fact that these basic human rights for the LGBT community are already secured for nearly 60 percent of the country at either the state or local level suggests that the window for this exchange of protections at the national level is narrow There is an opportunity in this moment that is not likely to last.

Critical Need to Support an Expansive Vision of Religious Freedom

While the explicitly religious work of the denominations of the National Association of
Evangelicals is not currently under threat from opponents of religious freedom, the work of the Church in the United States has never been seen as narrowly confined within the walls of church buildings. Churches have been vital to the volunteerism that created and sustained the humanitarian and charitable spirit in this country long before welfare was considered the work of the government. This is the moment when we as the NAE must stand up and affirm those who would advocate for a large vision for religious freedom — one that allows for one’s daily life to be informed by one’s fundamental spiritual and moral convictions, one that allows for religious conviction to be part of legitimate dialogue in the public square, and one that allows our society’s institutions to be seasoned by the motivations and insights of religious perspectives.

The very nature of the Protestant tradition with its many branches means that there is no central focus of authority or legitimacy within evangelicalism. There is no obvious circle of support for the work of Christian higher education in a moment like this when its very core mission is threatened. As one of the associations that seeks to secure the place of evangelical faith in our culture and in our world, it is in the NAE’s interest ultimately to secure the work of our colleges and universities so that they may continue to partner with the work of churches in preparing young men and women to serve as gospel salt and light in our world. 

Evangelical Witness

It is a matter of strategic importance to support the CCCU in their work of securing space for religious freedom in our time. But that may not be the strongest argument for supporting this motion. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to imitate his example of creating hospitable and surprising spaces in the world where the Holy Spirit can be at the work of drawing people to repentance and discipleship. We have often as evangelicals been more associated with judgment than grace-filled hospitality. We believe that Fairness for All legislation offers the best opportunity to create a civic society that secures freedom of conscience for all individuals and space for the grace and power of the gospel to be at work.

You can find this document here.

So far the best reporting on this development comes from D.C. Derrick at World Magazine.

Not all evangelicals are on board with this idea. Back in December 2016, a group of Christian leaders (mostly evangelicals and conservative Catholics, 68 male and 7 female and a small number of people of color) signed a statement opposing the support of SOGI laws.  Some of the signers of that statement included Daniel Akin (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), Ryan T. Anderson (Heritage Foundation), Robert Benne (Roanoke College), Charles Caput (Archbishop of Philadelphia), D.A. Carson (Gospel Coalition), Jim Daly (Focus on the Family), David Dockery (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), Tony Evans (Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship), Robert George (Princeton University), Timothy George (Beeson Divinity School), Franklin Graham (Samaritan’s Purse), David Lyle Jeffry (Baylor University), John MacArthur (Grace Community Church), Eric Metaxas (Christian radio host), Al Mohler (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Russell Moore (Southern Baptist Convention), Paige Patterson (formerly of Southwestern Baptist Seminary), R.R. Reno (First Things), Samuel Rodriguez (National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference) , Justin Taylor (Gospel Coalition), and George Wiegel (Ethics and Public Policy Center), Thomas White (Cedarville University).  According to Derrick, Samuel Rodriguez is the only NAE board member to sign this statement.  Seventeen signers are affiliated with CCCU institutions.

Here is more from Derrick:

Critics argue that any legislation in the mold of Fairness for All would protect explicitly religious entities, such as churches and Christian schools, but not Christians in the secular marketplace—including florists, bakers, and other professionals who have faced litigation and fines under SOGI laws….

We will try to do more coverage of this issue here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

The President of the Master’s University and Seminary Speaks About His Poor Accreditation Report

Master's

Earlier today I called your attention to a Chronicle of Higher Education piece on the WASC Senior College and University Commission accreditation report on The Master’s College and Seminary, an evangelical institution run by megachurch pastor John MacArthur.  Read it here.

After a three-day study of MacArthur’s school, the reviewers hired by the accrediting agency concluded that Master’s has “a pervasive climate of fear, intimidation, bullying and uncertainty.”  Their report noted that “reports of lack of leadership ethics and accountability” were “unmatched for members of this review team.”

MacArthur responded to this negative report in an August 2018 speech to the students enrolled in the Master’s Seminary.  The Chronicle of Higher Education obtained a copy of the speech. (It is currently behind the paywall).  Here are some of themes:

  • He tells first-year students that they have arrived at The Master’s Seminary at the “best time ever.”
  • MacArthur calls this an “apostolic moment” for him and compares himself to the Apostle Paul.  He tells the student body that the attacks on him and his ministry (and by implication his university and seminary) are similar to the kind of attacks that these future ministers will face in their churches and ministries one day.
  • He takes a shot at Fuller Theological Seminary for not upholding a belief in the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.  (Read about this history here).  I am not sure why this is important in this context, but he takes the shot nonetheless.
  • MacArthur says that the chair of the accreditation review committee told him a week before the team’s visit that he expected everything would go well.
  • After the visit, the chair of the committee came into MacArthur’s office and told him, “you are under attack.”
  • When the report said that Master’s had a climate of bullying, intimidation, and fear, MacArthur said he was “puzzled” by this.
  • The attacks, MacArthur claimed, were “on me personally, not the seminary.”
  • MacArthur claims that the attacks came from people “outside the university and seminary” who the committee spoke with during their study of the campus.
  • MacArthur implies that some of the people from outside the university and seminary who spoke negatively about him to the accreditation committee were former disgruntled employees.  (He also seems to say that there are disgruntled current employees as well, but I can’t make out that part of the recording).
  • There was much in the accreditation report that was untruthful and “completely unrelated to reality.”
  • MacArthur said the Master’s University and Seminary has responded to the negative assessment with a “full report.”  The accrediting agency eventually “praised” this report.  MacArthur is confident that Master’s will not lose their accreditation.
  • He compares disgruntled employees at Master’s to NFL players kneeling before the National Anthem.  Both, he says, are disrespecting their employers.
  • MacArthur says that the college needs to do more “spiritual shepherding” to get disgruntled employees in line.
  • MacArthur alludes to the possibility of a “coup” going on at Master’s.  It is led by people “with ambition.”
  • MacArthur then moves into his ongoing critique of “social justice.”
  • MacArthur does not believe that WASC is “adversarial” to Master’s.  The review committee just responded to the things they were told during their visit to campus.  MacArthur believes these things were untrue.

What is Going on at The Master’s University and Seminary?

MacArthur

John MacArthur, president of The Master’s University and Seminary

The Chronicle of Higher Education is calling the WASC Senior College and University Commission’s report on The Masters University and Seminary, a conservative evangelical Christian institution in Santa Clarita, California, “one of the most scathing accreditation reports in recent memory.”  As some of you know, the founder and president of the school is evangelical clergyman John MacArthur.  Here is a taste of the piece at The Chronicle:

Over the summer, students at Master’s University and Seminary found out their institution had been placed on probation by its accreditor. To quell the controversy, the college’s president did what he does best. He preached to them.

During an hourlong address, the Rev. John F. MacArthur warned seminarians that the accreditor’s action was the result of an attack “orchestrated, if not by any humans, by Satan himself.” The Chronicle has obtained a recording of the speech, which was delivered in late August.

MacArthur downplayed accreditors’ concerns and alluded to unnamed enemies who coveted his authority. “If somebody wants your position, somebody wants to make the decisions that you’re making, it’s not the ground troops that start those things,” he said. “It’s people with ambition.”

As he spoke, he railed against social justice and compared those who complained about the university to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. And he told students that the accreditor, the WASC Senior College and University Commission, didn’t understand places like Master’s.

Plenty of small private colleges have religious affiliations, usually through a Christian denomination. Those colleges can present a particular challenge for accrediting agencies, which must apply a broad set of secular standards to the institutions while respecting their religious missions. That challenge is raised to a whole new level at Master’s. The college is linked to a single, independent church and its pastor, MacArthur, whose strong personality and influence have benefited the college — but have now put it at risk.

In a report to the accrediting agency, a group of reviewers acknowledged that Master’s is doing some important things right. Under MacArthur, they said, the institution has engendered deep loyalty from faculty, students, and donors. At the same time, the report depicted Master’s as an accreditor’s nightmare: an insular and oppressive institution where loyalty to the president and his church has sometimes trumped both academic and financial concerns.

Officials at the accrediting agency declined to comment. But using the kind of blunt language rarely found in an accreditation report, the reviewers wrote that Master’s has “a pervasive climate of fear, intimidation, bullying and uncertainty.”

“The related reports of lack of leadership ethics and accountability that emerged was unmatched for members of this review team,” the report said. “It seems this has been part of the operation for so long that it is practiced without question.”

Master’s is unlikely to lose its accreditation, which it must maintain to be eligible for federal financial aid dollars. Very few colleges do. But the situation is an uncommonly acute test for both the accreditor and the college. How far can the accreditor push a singular college to change to meet its standards? And how much will that college be willing to change?

Read the entire piece here.

Young Evangelicals and Climate Change

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Jeremiah 29:7: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

What might the application of this verse mean for the evangelical role in fighting climate change?  How might creation care and environmental justice help the “welfare” of the cities where live and work?  For me and many others, this is a “life” issue.  It is something that churches must address as part of their missions.

The college students behind Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA) agree.  Check out Meera Subramanian’s profile of this group at Inside Climate News.  A taste:

Climate science isn’t questioned at Wheaton College the way it often is in the wider evangelical community. The school is a brick-and-mortar rebuttal to the myth that science and religion must be at odds with each other. When Wheaton students step into their-state-of-the-art science building, for instance, they are greeted with signs stating that a “sound Biblical theology gives us a proper basis for scientific inquiry,” and a display featuring locally excavated Perry the Mastodon, which carbon dating shows to be more than 13,000 years old.

The school is not alone in intertwining commitments to love God and protect the earth, often referred to as “creation care.” The Cape Town Commitment, a global agreement between evangelical leaders from nearly 200 countries, includes acknowledgement of climate change and how it will hurt the world’s poor (and it is required reading for Wheaton freshmen). Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University and an evangelical, has been an outspoken advocate for climate action. And in addition to YECA, there are numerous groups active in this arena, including the Evangelical Climate Initiative, Climate Caretakers, Care of Creation and A Rocha.

In late 2015, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—the biggest umbrella group of evangelicals in the country, representing 43 million Americans—issued a statement accepting climate change, acknowledging the human contribution to it and encouraging action. YECA’s advocacy helped bring that statement, called “Loving the Least of These,” into being. In it, NAE argues that Christians should be compelled to care about climate change as a matter of social justice, equating those without the resources to adapt to failed farming or dry wells or rising seas as the modern-day equivalents of the widows and orphans of Jesus’s day.

Read the entire piece here.