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Religious Freedom Testimony

As Christians, we live in a fallen world and deciding how best to navigate that reality and live out our convictions, is one of our greatest challenges.  That task is made harder by an administrative state that continues to push into every dimension of our lives.

Yesterday I took part in testimony at the Indiana Senate regarding a bill that would seek to safeguard the religious freedom of institutions like ours.  Let me explain why I testified.

IWU, like all religious institutions in our state, faces a constantly increasing gauntlet of regulations and administrative actions from local governments, from the state, and from the federal government.  The bill discussed yesterday in the Indiana Senate is an early version and may change (hopefully it will be amended to have even greater protections for religious freedom). The reason it may be helpful is that it seeks to provide strong and reasonable religious freedom protections for the Christian schools, social service agencies, adoption agencies, churches, and universities of our state.

As it stands, the bill gives religious organizations assurances about how to proceed in a world where the courts and private litigation have created considerable risk.  In many instances, when a state legislates and includes exemptions and a court later imposes a new civil right, the state that legislated has more protections than its sister states who waited–precisely because it included protections for religion in its positive law.

It is not inconceivable that the courts will force a sexual orientation nondiscrimination regime on our state.  But the very real possibility that they might means that there is prudential value in setting the terms of that legislation.

Religious exemptions in state laws also give faith communities protections that municipalities have not given.  Nearly 40% of Hoosiers live under a checkerboard of local ordinances that already give civil rights protections to members of the LGBT community without granting religious freedom protections.  The bill put forward in the Senate would bring those ordinances into line with any state protections, including religious freedom protections.

My understanding from the hearing is that this measure would give unprecedented protection to small businesses open to the public to refuse to do wedding services when doing so violates a religious conviction.  No other state has done that in its public accommodations law.   This law would have protected our IWU alumna who was sued because her conscience would not let her provide photography for a gay union ceremony.  Where conflicts do arise the bill would provide protections against frivolous or unfounded accusations of discrimination.

The bill would align Indiana law with federal law by allowing religious organizations to contract with the state without having to abandon or deny their sincerely held religious convictions.  This is a crucial provision for any religious institution that contracts with the state, including private Christian schools whose students benefit from school vouchers.

As president of a Christian university owned by a church that holds very traditional views on sexuality and marriage I find that we are increasingly under pressure from legal, regulatory, and administrative actions that threaten our identity and  our values.

We serve a diverse student body with respect and good will.  We serve all of our students with the love Christ as we provide a high quality university education. There does not appear to be any perfect way to create the legal space we need to remain true to the values and convictions that shape our identity while respecting those who disagree with us.  Nevertheless, I believe it is imperative for us to do whatever we can today to provide safeguards for the religious freedoms that we have enjoyed for generations.

MLK and Our Potential for Greatness

These are days when it can be hard to remember our better selves.  Awash as we are in daily reminders of mean spirits, vulgar and base pursuits, and the depths of inhumanity of which we are capable, we struggle to remember the dreams that have ennobled our personal and societal aspirations.

Can we ever be great people?  Can our nation ever make any legitimate claim to moral greatness?  How would a great people address the many forces that seem to pull us apart, to entomb us in a casket of anger, hatred, and despair?

While reflecting on these questions recently I came across a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that shed some light in the shadows.

“Everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.”

As he so often did, Martin Luther King, Jr. once again both calls us to greatness, and reminds us that it is within our grasp.

If we are willing to take the Christ-like way of serving.

On this day when we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., my prayer is that we will rediscover the greatness that comes from serving others.

Student Support Services: Your Federal tax dollars put to good use

The next time you’re looking for a reason to feel good about paying your Federal income taxes, check out a program called Student Support Services (SSS) that is a vital part of campus life at Indiana Wesleyan University.

SSS spends your Federal tax dollars on real people with real needs, all of which produce real results that help change lives.

The program provides a multitude of services to college students who have educational or financial challenges. Specifically, SSS students must be a first-generation college student, come from a low-income family, or have a documented disability. Almost half of the 160 IWU students served by SSS meet more than one of those criteria.

IWU, which has provided SSS services for 35 years, is one of just three private colleges in Indiana to participate in the program. IWU recently received a $1.398 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to continue the program for another five years.

Continued funding is based on previous results, and, by any measure, IWU’s performance over the past five years has been outstanding. Here are the standards for SSS students at IWU:

  • Required persistence rate:  70 percent. IWU’s rate: 89.37 percent. (The rate is based on the numbers of students who return to campus each year.)
  • Required good academic standing: 80 percent. IWU’s rate: 99.37 percent. (Based on grade-point averages.)
  • Required graduation rate: 50 percent. IWU’s rate: 55.55 percent. (Based on students who initially enrolled at IWU in 2009.)


“Some people may not consider a 55 percent graduation rate to be a significant achievement” says Karen Newhard, the SSS program director. “However, many of our students have financial and educational challenges that place them at a higher risk for leaving college before graduating. We are proud of how our students face these challenges and persevere.”

Heather Allen, assistant director of the program, notes that a portion of their students are among the highest-risk students at IWU for educational or financial reasons.

“In addition to the three main criteria for being admitted to the SSS program, our students also have to demonstrate a need for support, which is measured in a variety of ways such as low admission test scores, need for support to raise a grade in a required course for their major, or lack of educational or career goals,” Allen says. “We have several pre-declared students in our program who may otherwise be academically prepared.”

Some of the services offered to SSS students include one-on-one tutoring, study skills training, time management training, conflict resolution, personal encouragement, academic major exploration, disability support and interpersonal skills training. Students also are required to take an online course in personal finance to learn tools to manage money and school debt effectively.

“Many of the students we serve don’t know how to get their questions answered or don’t know what questions to ask,” Allen says. “One of our jobs is to help them navigate college.”

Newhard, Allen and other staff members at IWU’s Center for Student Success work diligently each day to be good stewards of your Federal income tax dollars. The results they are producing in the lives of at-risk students indicate they are worthy of your trust.

Local students benefit from Community Foundation and IWU scholarship support

We have the will to make Marion and Grant County better places to live and work.  It isn’t easy to know where to start.

I’ve become convinced there’s no better place to start than by investing in our children and young people.  For this reason I am excited about a new collaboration between The Community Foundation and Indiana Wesleyan University.

Grant County does a great job graduating our young people from high school.  As reported by the Indiana Youth Institute Kids Count, Grant County has an above state average graduation rate of 91.7 percent.

Now we need to make sure they can go to college.  If we can keep them close to home through college, chances are they will stay and invest their skills close to home when they graduate.

Providing Grant County students an affordable, local education for the purpose of cultivating and maintaining a healthy community is a goal both the Community Foundation and IWU share.  Together we’ve identified scholarships that will combine to provide local students the opportunity to receive a quality college education at a lower cost.

IWU - Community Foundation

The Community Foundation is committed to connecting people, resources and causes to promote a better Grant County. One of the ways the Community Foundation does this is by providing Grant County students with more than 130 donor-funded scholarships totaling over $500,000 every year.

“Our hope is that by students attending a local university like IWU, they will get a local job and continue to better Grant County,” said Cassie Fleming, grants manager at the Community Foundation. “It really gives students an opportunity to succeed and pushes them to pursue higher education.”

In addition to the Community Foundation’s opportunities, IWU provides a variety of scholarships dedicated to local students. The Triangle Scholarship provides each recipient between $2,000 and $4,500 annually, and the Emerging Leaders Consortium ensures each recipient’s tuition is fully paid. Grant Count students and their parents can also benefit from IWU Near You, a pre-college program that helps participants navigate the college search environment successfully.

I am glad to partner with the good folks at the Community Foundation.  I’m even more excited to pool our resources to invest in Grant County young people.

The Community Foundation scholarship application deadline is Jan. 31, 2016. Apply here. Application deadlines for IWU scholarships vary. Call 765-677-6507 to speak with an IWU Admissions counselor for more information.

Dr. Ravi Zacharias chosen as IWU World Changer

Indiana Wesleyan University has chosen author and Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias as the 2016 inductee into the IWU Society of World Changers.

Zacharias, an Indian-born American citizen, is a renowned evangelical speaker and author. For four decades, he has spoken at scores of universities and international prayer gatherings. His venues have ranged from the White House to the Lenin Military Academy in Moscow, and he is an advisor to key leaders in American government. Zacharias has appeared on CNN, Fox and other international broadcasts. He is the author of numerous Christian books including the Gold Medallion winner “Can Man Live Without God,” and his weekly radio program, “Let My People Think,” airs on nearly 2,200 outlets worldwide.

Zacharias is also the founder and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). Passionate about theology and evangelism, Zacharias founded the Atlanta-based organization with the mission to reach and challenge those who shape the ideas of culture with the credibility of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Dr. Ravi Zacharias is one of the world’s most respected voices for Christianity”, said IWU President Dr. David Wright. “We are thrilled to honor Dr. Zacharias, whose name adds great distinction to the Society of World Changers.”

Zacharias’ induction will take place at the 13th annual Society of World Changers Convocation on March 30, 2016 at 10 a.m. in the Chapel Auditorium.

IWU established the Society of World Changers in 2003 to recognize role models who have exemplified the concept of being a world changer and whose lives can serve as an inspiration to future generations. Previous inductees include television producer and author Robert Briner, neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson, author Frank Peretti, Hobby Lobby CEO David Green, founder of Joni and Friends Joni Eareckson Tada, gospel musicians Bill and Gloria Gaither, and former U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole. The most recent inductee is John Maxwell, New York Times bestselling author, successful businessman and speaker.

Students at IWU Say Thank You

Happy Thanksgiving! As we approach this Thanksgiving season, my heart is filled with gratitude for your financial support of Indiana Wesleyan University. It is making an IWU education possible for today’s students, students who will become tomorrow’s world-changing alumni. Thank you!

But I am not the only one who is grateful. Our students are, too! Many recently took an opportunity to express their gratitude, which we captured in the following video:

I thank God for our students. They each bring unique gifts to IWU. But one common gift I see is their recognition that people like you make a difference in helping them become the man or woman God wants them to be.

Washington Monthly magazine recently published an article entitled, “A Bitter Pell,” which recognized IWU for having the third-largest increase of Pell Grant-eligible students in the nation. The financial need of our students is real. Your giving enables us to serve them with a quality, Christ-centered education.

Thank you again! May you have many blessings to count this Thanksgiving season. I sure do!

Is Faith Under Attack?

I recently accepted an invitation to serve as a panelist for a community forum in Indianapolis that promises to address some difficult issues that have been central to our state’s recent debates about civil rights and religious freedom.

Questions such as: “Does religious freedom necessarily conflict with LGBT rights?” “How should people of faith handle rapid social change?” And, “Can the church help a diverse society find ways to live in harmony?”

The forum is titled “Is Faith Under Attack: A Conversation about Civil Rights and Religious Liberty.” It is the second in a series of forums related to the #RightsForAll campaign, which is being sponsored by The Indianapolis Star and the Desmond Tutu Center for Peace, Reconciliation, and Global Justice, which is based at Butler University.

My fellow panelists will be Dr. Kevin R. Baird, field director of the Indiana Pastors Alliance; Dr. Matthew Boulton, president of Christian Theological Seminary; and Rev. Andrew Hunt III, senior pastor of New Life Community Church. Tim Swarens, the opinion editor and columnist for The Star, will be the moderator.

The forum will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 2, at Shelton Auditorium, Christian Theological Seminary, 1000 W. 42nd Street, Indianapolis.

The event is free but guests need to register because seating is limited to 400 people and tickets are expected to “sell out” quickly. You can register here.

There also will be a live webcast of the forum on The Indianapolis Star website.

Fulfilled Alumni Dream Left Me Speechless

The phone call brought back hazy memories from our shared college days.  I hadn’t known Francis Mustapha well in those days.  But I knew he had an interesting story coming from Sierra Leone in the 1970s to attend Marion College.

We hadn’t spoken much over the years so when he asked to meet with me I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The story he unfolded for me, and the pictures he showed me, left me speechless.

IWU - Madina Village School

Bobbie Mustapha conducts a workshop for teachers at Madina Village School.

Francis and his wife, Bobbie, graduated from IWU in the 1970s and both taught school for 30-plus years – mostly in the Fort Wayne public schools. During his career, Francis received several national and state honors for teaching – including the prestigious Milken National Educator Award.

In September 2013, the Mustaphas fulfilled a life-long dream of opening a school in the village of Madina, Sierra Leone, where Francis was reared. At least once a year, Francis and Bobbie travel there to help get the school year off to a good start.

Here is a report on their most recent trip to the Madina Village School:

“Our trip was the shortest ever, but in three and a half weeks we were able to experience the school full of children and to hold in-service training for teachers on topics such as using Big Books, writing in the reading program, efficiency of time in the classroom and even the first basic lesson in how to use a computer.

“To do the computer session of the workshop we had to string power cords from a generator and had lights in one room of the building for the very first time. It brought great satisfaction for us two ‘techno-idiots’ to have had 20 staff members on nine computers for the evening without anything breaking down!

“Someday we hope to have solar panels on the roof to power some technology for the school. That is a project still in the dreaming stage.”

How much do the people in the small village appreciate the Mustaphas? Read on.

IWU - Mustapha

Francis and Bobbie Mustapha greet children at Madina Village School in Sierra Leone.

“The school held a surprise assembly welcoming us back. It was especially moving for Bobbie, who was presented with a special handmade gown and given a new name, Munjei (pronounced moon-jay), which means ‘our mother.’ The children all began using that name immediately, so now it feels like having 300 sons and daughters.”

Improved technology is not Sierra Leone’s most critical need, however.

“A nation is hanging in the balance,” Francis wrote. “There is a battle raging for the very soul of the Nation of Sierra Leone and many countries in Africa for that matter. We cannot lose the battle. It has to be fought on all fronts.”

As we navigate our way through the technology-dependent world in which we live, it is heartwarming to celebrate the accomplishments of Indiana Wesleyan University alumni toiling in areas of the world that are devoid of even basic technology.

We thank God for alumni such as Francis and Bobbie Mustapha who are serving on the frontlines.

National Science Foundation Scholarships Will Directly Impact Grant County Area

When I took office as President of Indiana Wesleyan University in July of 2014, one of the first goals I announced was to expand the footprint of the University in the Marion and Grant County community.

My commitment received a major boost earlier this year when we learned that IWU had received a $623,337 grant from the prestigious National Science Foundation to provide scholarships for students interested in the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The grant will be used to provide four-year scholarships to 18 academically talented but financially needy students to pursue undergraduate degrees in biology, chemistry and physics. While the scholarships are open to all IWU students, special effort will be made to recruit minorities, women and under-represented groups in the greater Grant County area.

In coming months, IWU representatives will be working with science teachers and guidance counselors at area high schools to begin identifying and recruiting candidates for the scholarships.

The first nine scholarship recipients will begin their studies at IWU in September of 2016. Five of the students will receive $9,000 annually, and four will receive $6,000 annually. A second group of nine students will start classes in September of 2017 with the same financial assistance.

IWU - Natural Sciences

IWU also will offer a Science Spotlight Day on November 20 to give prospective students an overview of the IWU Division of Natural Sciences. The program will include a special information session geared toward potential candidates for the National Science Foundation scholarships.

Click here to register for the Science Spotlight Day. The registration period ends November 19.

This is not the first National Science Foundation grant that IWU has received, but it is by far the largest. Almost as important as the money is the fact that IWU has joined the ranks of some of America’s top research universities.

The simple title of the grant proposal, “Scholarships for Boosting the Scientific Workforce in Rural Central Indiana,” doesn’t quite capture the excitement of what it means for IWU and the greater Grant County area.

Here’s how the owner of a high-tech business, located just a few blocks from the IWU campus, reacted to the announcement of the grant: “This means that someday I may be able to hire the kind of people I need just down the street and keep more Grant County students living and working in Grant County.”

In coming months and years, I look forward to seeking additional ways to expand IWU’s involvement in our local community.

IWU Extends Its Service to Caribbean Island

Indiana Wesleyan University diplomas now hang on the walls of 77 new alumni in the island nations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Two IWU administrators, Dr. Brock Reiman and Dr. Bob Brumley, traveled to the Caribbean nations in early October to present the diplomas.

When I was 28 years old, and just starting my career, God led Helen and me to serve in Haiti.  I was given the privilege of working with Haitian and American colleagues to reopen a Bible college in Petit Goave.  It was one of the great ministry experiences of my young career.  After all these years it is especially rewarding to see IWU serve church and school leaders in this part of the world.

Sixty-four students in Haiti graduated, 29 of them with Master of Education degrees and 35 of them with Master of Theological Studies degrees.   Thirteen students in the Dominican Republic received Master of Education degrees.

Dr. Bob Brumley (left, front) and Dr. Brock Reiman (right, front) traveled to the Dominican Republic to present IWU Master of Education diplomas to 13 students.

Dr. Bob Brumley (left, front) and Dr. Brock Reiman (right, front) traveled to the Dominican Republic to present IWU Master of Education diplomas to 13 students.

“There were about 200 people in attendance at the ceremony in the Dominican Republic, and the atmosphere was electric,” said Dr. Reiman. “The students’ gratitude was readily apparent, and the linkage IWU can have for future generations of teachers and schools there was undeniable.”

About 400 people attended the graduation ceremony in Haiti. “The pride, thankfulness and appreciation were palpable. These degrees truly are a means of bringing empowerment and hope to people who have to struggle daily with tremendous adversity,” Dr. Reiman said.

Dr. Reiman is Vice President for Academic Affairs in IWU’s College of Adult and Professional Studies. Dr. Brumley is Director of Global Academic Programs at IWU.

About 400 people attended an IWU graduation ceremony in Haiti where 64 students received diplomas.

About 400 people attended an IWU graduation ceremony in Haiti where 64 students received diplomas.

The two administrators gave each graduate a card bearing IWU’s verse for the current academic year:

As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10)

“Graduates, you have been gifted to serve. You have been given great gifts from our Heavenly Father to serve others for his purposes,” Dr. Reiman told the students. “So my challenge to you today is to go out with the gift of your education and know that as Indiana Wesleyan University world changers, you have been gifted to serve.”

Indiana Wesleyan University is a global Christian learning community.