Category Archives: Faith in public life

Probing the Evangelical Mind

The religious historian George Mardsen once defined an evangelical Christian as “anyone who likes Billy Graham.”

A few years later, when the famous evangelist was asked what the term meant, he was at a loss for words. “Actually, that’s a question I’d like to ask somebody too,” Graham said.

Fast forward to 2017, and the definition of the term “evangelical” has become even more clouded. For that reason, I am honored to join with Jay Hein, President of the Sagamore Institute, in hosting a gathering of Christian scholars to discuss what it means to be an evangelical.

Level Mansion

The symposium, “The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections Upon the Past, Prospects for the Future,” will convene September 21-22 at the historic Levey mansion, which houses the Sagamore Institute, in downtown Indianapolis.

The Sagamore Institute, which came to life in 2004, was intentionally located in America’s heartland to avoid the noise and rancor coming from Washington, D.C. The Institute’s mission is to tackle difficult issues with civility and focus on solutions not theology. Before becoming president of the Institute, Hein was the director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives under former President George W. Bush.

Other partnering sponsors of the symposium, in addition to the Sagamore Institute and Indiana Wesleyan University, are Christianity Today, and Excelsia College in Australia. The Lumen Research Institute, a joint initiative sponsored by IWU and Excelsia, is planning the event.

You can find more information about the conference at lumenresearchinstitute.org.

Evangelicalism, however one defines it, finds itself at the intersection of a host of crossroads. After decades of relative prosperity in North America, the churches, universities and seminaries that evangelicals cultivate, populate and depend upon for leadership are wrestling with legal, social and ultimately theological questions on a wide variety of fronts.

For many, the financial challenges that compelled Christianity Today to close Books and Culture after 21 years were tangible expressions of those challenges.

This symposium offers a context in which participants can reflect upon that past but also think critically about the prospects for the future of the evangelical mind.

Confirmed keynote speakers for the event include:

  • Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor Emeritus of History, University of Notre Dame.
  • Jo Anne Lyon, former General Superintendent and current Ambassador for The Wesleyan Church.
  • Timothy Larsen, Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Christian Thought, Wheaton College.
  • Lauren F. Winner, Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality, Duke University Divinity School.
  • James K.A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy and the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview, Calvin College.
  • David Mahan – Executive Director of the Rivendell Institute at Yale
  • Don Smedley – Senior Fellow of the Rivendell Institute at Yale

John Wilson will be honored during the symposium for his long and remarkable service as founder and editor of Books and Culture.

A Day for Renewed Hope

As we begin a new week, our hearts are torn between the pain and sorrow of the horrific events that happened Saturday in Charlottesville, and the hope our community has in Jesus and in the basic good will of our fellow American citizens.

The IWU community unequivocally rejects the white supremacist ideology on display over the weekend. It is not the way of Jesus. And neither is it aligned with the great values of the American dream we have pursued together for more than two centuries.

On this day, we need renewed hope. We need hope that good will triumph over evil. We need hope that humility ultimately wins over hubris. We need hope that we have a bright future together, one in which our differences become our strength and not our defeat.

I remind our university community of the heart of our mission. We are a Christ-centered academic community committed to changing the world by developing students in character, scholarship, and leadership. We take this calling seriously, to be a community committed to the hard conversations, to the challenging work of understanding the times in which we live. We will redouble our efforts to bring hope to our national community through the disciplined use of our minds and hearts under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Today we turn for hope and courage to our faith in Jesus, who took on himself the evil and suffering of this world and made a way for us to see and pursue beauty, righteousness, and goodness.

As for our house, we will follow the way of Jesus.

Response to Election 2016

IWU - Dr. Wright

This morning we awoke to one of the most unusual political events of our lifetimes.  The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of our nation is an event that will be remembered, studied, and retold for many years to come.

This has been a tumultuous and bruising season in the life of our country.  Closer to home, it has been a time of intense debate, strongly held positions, and divisive language for our own IWU community.

From where I sit, I get to see first-hand what a large and diverse community IWU has become.  With 80,000 alumni spread across the world, over 14,000 current students in the United States and 30 different countries, and close to 3500 full and part-time employees, our IWU community encompasses racial, gender, economic, national, religious, and political diversity.

Today many in our community celebrate this election.  But many others in our community feel sadness and a new sense of vulnerability and fear.

This is the shared reality of our IWU community today.

What will we do about this?

On this day I want to remind our community of who we are, what we value, and what we are called to do.

Who Are We?

We are a Christ-centered academic community.  We take our identity from Jesus Christ – the One who is God with us, the Savior of the world, the Suffering Servant of all, the Redeemer of all the bruised and broken, the one who reconciles us to God and to each other.  Above all else, and despite our differences, the Indiana Wesleyan University community is defined by our faith in, allegiance to, and pursuit of Jesus.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus today, and take our cues for the future from who He is and who He calls us to be.

What Do We Value?

We value each other.  We are an inclusive community that loves and embraces one another despite differences of political persuasion, race, gender, nationality, immigration status, or any other characteristic that people have used to foster division, suspicion, and strife.  While some in our community feel better about the future, others in our community feel less safe, more vulnerable, less included today than they did yesterday.  Let us affirm together that IWU loves and embraces our minority students and staff, those who come from immigrant families, those who are international students, or those who identify with some other group of people who feel vulnerable and pushed to the margins.  I would ask all members of our community to remember and practice those values and virtues of Godly hospitality that represent the very best of what our Lord Jesus Christ taught us.

What Are We Called to Do?

We are called to serve.  A former colleague of mine used to remind me, “David, always remember, we are following the one who hung on the middle cross.”  We are not here to serve ourselves or to seek our own.  We are here to serve our students, our nation, and our world.  Please look around you today and be aware of those who need to be served.  Let us serve by guarding our lips and our actions.  Let me be even more specific about this.  Please join me in affirming that the IWU community does not condone or endorse exclusion of immigrants, violence against women, hatred against minorities, or any other type of language or behavior that dehumanizes our fellow brothers and sisters.  We do this not for any political motivation.  No politician or political doctrine teaches us to serve in this way.  We do this because it is what Jesus modeled, and what he calls us to do.

Friends, today our focus is inevitably on the kingdoms of this world and the power vested in earthly leaders.

But today let us also be reminded of the glory of heaven, a glory that teaches us to pursue more beautiful and lasting ways of living together.  Hear God’s Word.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.  If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (I Peter 4:8-11) 

[In the coming days the university will provide opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to gather to discuss and process the significance of this election and the ways in which it impacts our IWU community.]

Jo Anne Lyon: Bringing Hope and Peace to a Troubled World

Dr. Jo Anne Lyon

People are life’s greatest treasures.  Spend any time at all around Dr. Jo Anne Lyon and you will be entertained and inspired.  Recently she won a very special recognition.  We couldn’t be prouder of or more thankful for our friend and colleague.

Dr. Lyon, who has served as Interim Vice President of Wesley Seminary since June, recently joined a prestigious list of international leaders when she was honored as the recipient of the 2016 World Methodist Council Peace Award, which has been presented since 1977 by the World Methodist Council.

Dr. Lyon is in outstanding company. Previous recipients of the award include former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former South African President Nelson Mandela and former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

While Dr. Lyon’s immediate response was that she did not deserve the honor, others would argue she is more than deserving for her unselfish and tireless work that has taken her to some of the most dangerous and remote areas of the world in an effort to bring hope, peace and justice to a hurting world.

That journey began in 1985 when Lyon traveled to Ethiopia with an ABC news team that was filming a documentary on the great famine. She described the experience earlier this year in an interview with Wesleyan Life magazine:

“One woman got to the gate of the refugee camp with her last surviving child and dropped dead right in front of me. She had four children just like I do. I stepped in a field of 2,000 people that were totally silent, because not one had the energy to speak. They were starving to death. God said to me, ‘It does not have to be this way. There is abundance. Be my hands.’ And I began to see the world totally differently.”

For 30 years, Dr. Lyon’s travels have taken her from the brothels of Cambodia, where she saw children for sale as far as the eye could see, to the White House where she represented The Wesleyan Church on the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Partnerships.

Most of Dr. Lyon’s humanitarian work was done in her role as founder and former CEO of World Hope International, which is based in Alexandria, Virginia. She started the ministry in her home and, in 12 years, grew World Hope to a $17 million global Christian relief and development agency serving in 30 countries and dedicated to alleviate suffering and injustice.

After leading World Hope for 12 years, Dr. Lyon was elected and served eight years as the General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church – the only woman in the 175-history of the denomination to hold that position.

On June 6, Dr. Lyon retired as General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church and was immediately named to the newly created position as Ambassador, so that the denomination could continue to benefit from her international network of colleagues and partnerships.

A day later, she received her first ambassadorial assignment at Wesley Seminary, an institution which she played a key role in establishing. And so, for the next year at least, Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, Acclaimed International Peacemaker, will use her life’s story to help seminary students “begin to see the world differently,” just as she did three decades ago in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.

(Alan Miller and David Wright)

The Brain Kitchen: A Recipe to Address Childhood Trauma

The creativity and commitment of our IWU faculty never cease to amaze me.  Here’s a story Alan Miller wrote for me about the brainchild of Dr. Amanda Drury.

When Amanda Drury walked into Frances Slocum, the IWU professor immediately noticed the hand-written notes from children posted on the entryway wall. The notes, expressing the children’s dreams, were products of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day project.

Here is a sampling:

  • I wish I could learn the whole Spanish dictionary. I’ve already started!
  •  My dream is to be a smart girl, and my job is to be a scientist.
  •  I want the whole world to be made of ice cream.
  • I dream that people who cuss won’t have to.
  • I want to grow up to be a good kid.
  • I would like to get a tarantula for my 10th birthday.
  • I wish poor people were not poor.
  • I wish my Mom and Dad would stop fighting.
  • I have a dream that I could move to third grade, so I could be smart.

“I can’t do anything about many of these dreams—I can’t buy a child a tarantula for his birthday, but some of these dreams we could actually work toward,” said Drury, who teaches in IWU’s theology and ministry division. It was with those dreams in mind that The Brain Kitchen was born.

“The Brain Kitchen is an afterschool program with two primary components: there is the homework piece, and there is the cooking piece. A child coming to The Brain Kitchen would meet up with a mentor to help complete school work, and then he would be brought into the kitchen where he would learn how to make soup and bread. And by making soup, I’m talking about buying a chicken and using every single part of it, including boiling the bones to make broth.

“The children would work on the soup incrementally during the week, so that on Fridays they would go home with a vat of soup and three loaves of bread. One loaf they save, one they eat and one they give away. This meets a particular need within the community in that many children are provided with government breakfasts and lunches, but weekend food can be a bit more tricky,” Drury said.

The IWU community became more intricately involved this past spring when the Muncie-based Ball Brothers Foundation awarded the school $17,400 to transform The Brain Kitchen into a “trauma-informed space”.

This trauma-informed approach to education addresses the effect of trauma on children and learning.  It is estimated that one-half to two-thirds of children experience trauma, which is defined as negative events, which surpass the child’s ordinary coping skills.

In layman’s terms, the grant will be used to establish a community teaching kitchen with homework space to serve low-income children in the Marion community. “We are starting with a small group of students, between 10-15, and we hope to expand significantly as we get a sense of the kind of permanent space that we need,” Drury said. The Brain Kitchen is currently meeting in a small house owned by College Wesleyan Church while the program looks for a larger, more permanent space.

Drury has recruited IWU colleagues to help develop the project and oversee the Ball grant. Wendy Puffer, who teaches in the art department and is overseeing the new Design for Social Impact major, is looking at ways to create an environment that is conducive to learning. Katti Sneed, who heads the IWU social work program, is writing trauma-related curriculum that will be used to train volunteers. Missy Khosla, who has a doctorate in occupational therapy, is looking for ways to imbed brain-development exercises into the program.

“We have a lot of pieces working together now to create The Brain Kitchen,” Drury said. “Our hope is that these children will get something more than just homework help. We want their brains to actually look different after participating in this program. We want them to return home on the weekend with the confidence that they have a meal to share. And we want this to be done in a way that every single child knows he or she is loved by Jesus, because no one should hear about the love of God on an empty stomach.”

A Christ-Centered Community’s Response

These have been days of great sorrow, anger, and confusion as we have had to face yet again the terrible effects of racial injustice and conflict.  Words seem cheap at moments like these.  But what we say does matter.  What we do matters even more.

When I cannot understand these terrible events, when my heart is flooded with grief and my thoughts are consumed with anger and blame, I have found that I find direction by affirming the bedrock values and commitments that anchor my life.

So what are those bedrock values and commitments for our university?

At the heart of Indiana Wesleyan University is our love for and commitment to Jesus Christ.  Here is what we say about ourselves.

IWU is a Christ-centered academic community committed to changing the world . . .

 IWU is a truly great Christian university serving the world.

 IWU is unapologetically Christ-centered.

 How should a Jesus-centered academic community be present in a nation threatening to tear itself apart over racial conflict and moral confusion?

We must be a community of compassion. Our immediate impulse is often to ask why, to seek an explanation, to defend, to criticize.  But in times of great tragedy and injustice the first response of the people of Jesus should simply be one of compassion for those who suffer.

If this is true, let us say without equivocation that we care deeply for the well-being of our colleagues, friends, and neighbors who are black Americans and who suffer from the awful legacy of racial injustice.

We care deeply for our law enforcement officers who are usually the first to deal with the aftermath of suffering.

We would be horrified if one of our students was shot dead during a traffic stop, if one of our faculty colleagues was killed during a police encounter.  We would be devastated if one of our campus security officers was shot dead as they sought to protect and serve us.  As a Christ-centered community, perhaps our first duty is to affirm that we cannot accept an America so broken by racial injustice, misunderstanding, and conflict.

We must be a community of redemption.  If we cannot accept an America so broken by racial conflict, then we must seek to heal it.  We must drink deeply at the well of hope that the God of redemption can redeem what to us seems hopeless.

We ourselves are being redeemed – bought back from the precipice of our misguided ways by the love and grace of Jesus.  Our words, policies, and actions toward our black neighbors have at times been anything but exemplary of the love and grace of Christ.  We have experienced grace and forgiveness.

A redeemed people must be redeeming people.  We, in turn, must look for ways to pull our relationships and our communities back from the abyss of perpetuated injustice, misunderstanding, and conflict.

We must be a community of self-sacrifice.  Jesus is the ultimate example of self-giving, self-sacrificing love.  He did not seek his own.  He emptied himself of his privilege and power.  He entered a world of hurt, confusion, misunderstanding, and injustice.  And so must we.  As Timothy Keller and John Inazu have written, “There is no principled legal or theological argument that looks only to the good of Christians over the interests of others.”  We must seek the good of all, and we must seek it in the good news of God’s will for our lives and our communities.

We must be a community of engagement.  Jesus did not withdraw from the messy and painful reality of life in first century Palestine.  He touched those whom others would never touch.  He ate with those whom others shunned.  He rescued those condemned by others.  In fact, there were no “others” with Jesus.  And so there must be none with us.  We dare not hold ourselves aloof from the pain of our neighbors, from our own pain.  We must engage in the struggles for dignity, for wholeness and holiness, for justice, for well-being.

So let me finish by telling you about two ways that I hope we will engage in coming weeks.

First, I have asked President Alex Huskey, President of Ivy Tech in Marion, and Dr. Brad Lindsay, Superintendent of Marion Community Schools to join IWU in hosting a Marion Summit on Community Safety and Well-Being.  They have agreed.  We will announce the dates for this Summit very soon.

Our local paper has reported more shootings and injuries in our Marion community than ever before. Other communities are being torn apart by shootings of police officers, and by shootings of unarmed black men.  We all have a huge interest in living in a community that is safe.  We need to do all we can to ensure that we don’t suffer the fate of other communities.  I believe together we can make this a topic of discussion and action among ourselves our community members who are stakeholders. We have wonderful resources in our leaders, and by facilitating conversation, knowledge, and possibly action items, we can take a pro-active position for Marion and Grant County.

I want to work with Mrs. Audrey Hahn to ask how our Regional Education centers can do similar things in the other cities throughout Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana where IWU serves.

Second, within our own community, we are going to continue to educate ourselves on how to live together well as a diverse community.  In October we are going to invite Dr. Lorna Hernandez Jarvis and Dr. Deirdre Johnston from Hope University to bring their Intergroup Dialogue and Diversity Education Institute to IWU to train over 30 of us in the unique skills needed for effective intergroup dialog.  They will help us learn how to reframe conflict as an opportunity for Christian ministry.

Last week I was privileged to attend the Annual Ecumenical Service of Indianapolis Black Expo.  It was held at the great Light of the World Church in Indianapolis.  Pastor Jeffrey A. Johnson of Eastern Star Church spoke powerfully about the experience and hope of black Americans.  It was a deeply moving experience to be present among a body of fellow believers as they faced their reality, celebrated their strength, comforted themselves in their grief, confessed their anger to one another and to God, and challenged themselves to persevere and overcome all that threatens their wellbeing.  My own heart was stirred and strengthened.

When we read about and consume images of violence and grief we can be left without hope, twisted by anger, frustrated by our inability to change.  When I sat in the presence of my brothers and sisters as they worshipped in the midst of their pain and anger, these wonderful neighbors, friends, and colleagues proved themselves to be stronger than their pain and grief.  I was challenged and strengthened to work for the good of the communities we serve.

Together we are stronger than the sinful legacy of injustice.

O Christ, in whom the fullness of God dwells,

You are deep within our lives and all life,

You are deep within this place and every place.

In this place and this time and in the depths of our own souls

We draw from the inner well of your love

That we too might be filled with the fullness of God

And that you might do within us and our world

Far more than we could ever ask or imagine. (J. Philip Newell)

Prayer for Orlando Victims

 

It is with heavy hearts that the IWU community expresses condolences to the family and friends of the victims of the Orlando shooting.

We join other faithful Christian communities in our strong and unequivocal condemnation of this reprehensible act of violence.  No matter what its motivation may have been, it was a tragic and senseless act that has no place in civilized society, and serves no redemptive purpose.

Our prayers go out to all who have been bereaved, injured, as well as those who have been driven closer to the dark precipice of despair by this manifestation of hate.  May all who need him find the love of Christ to be their comfort, and the love of family and friends to be their source of strength in their time of need.

“O Lord, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help.” (Psalm 22:19)

Christians in Public

These days Christians whose work calls them to engage in the public arena face conflict and potential penalty, not only from non-Christians but from our own brothers and sisters in Christ.  Engagement in the public square can be a dangerous proposition.

And yet, here at IWU we are dedicated to the mission of making the world a better place by engaging the world as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

We refuse to withdraw.  We refuse to accommodate our witness to the winds of cultural change that do not accord with God’s Word.

Instead, we prepare ourselves to engage faithfully, irenically, graciously, with a heart to serve the greater good.

This commitment raises questions that we need to consider.

What does faithful engagement in the public square entail?  What does it feel like to do this?  

How do we engage faithfully when our culture no longer values our witness?  

How do we decide what constitutes faithful action when Christians do not agree with each other? 

How should we treat those with whom we sincerely disagree?

These aren’t idle questions.  In recent days we’ve been called upon to remove Dr. Ben Carson as a member of the IWU Society of World Changers because of a position that he took in the political arena with which some members of the IWU community strongly disagree.

Now, several members of our community have expressed grave concerns about our invitation for Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence to speak at an IWU commencement ceremony.  They strongly disagree with his and the Indiana Legislature’s decisions on several political issues of the day.

I value the authentic, respectful way in which these concerns have been expressed to me.  As president of a university as large and diverse in viewpoint as IWU, I am almost never in a position to make decisions that satisfy everyone.  But I do value and wish to give an honest hearing to all who raise such concerns with me.  I am intent on creating a culture at IWU that is both faithful to Biblical truth, and gracious with all who make up our community.  Listening carefully and respectfully is one of our strongest expressions of these commitments.

In both cases, these two men, and other women and men like them, are living their Christian lives in public.  Their work requires them to take positions and make decisions that bring intense scrutiny and criticism.  In our current polarized social and political climate, it can be hard to know how to relate to people whose decisions we view as wrongheaded and even harmful.

Is it possible to stay in relationship with them even if they are fellow believers?  

Is civil discourse itself a form of compromise? 

Here are four principles that I believe should guide the relationships our IWU community takes with fellow Christians who are seeking to engage in faithful action in the world.

First, as a Christ-centered academic community, rooted and grounded in God’s Word, faithful to our own identity in Christ, we offer Godly hospitality to people who hold positions and beliefs different from our own.

Second, within our own IWU community and across the body of Christ, we recognize that faithful Christians hold genuinely different convictions and positions on many of the political questions of the day.  For every IWU person who may be uncomfortable having Governor Pence speak at our commencement ceremony, there will be several others who will look forward to hearing his testimony.  As a Christ-centered academic community, we listen to each other’s opinions, evaluate our own positions critically, and offer our thoughts to each other honestly and charitably.  In the end, we submit ourselves to the authority of God’s Word.

Third, as a learning community we remain open to learn from our brothers and sisters who are living their faith as servants of the public good, even though we may disagree with them on particular issues.

Fourth, in all these matters we hold ourselves accountable to act in ways that make Christ-centered civil discourse not only possible, but enjoyable and beneficial.  We do not use our convictions to bully, jeer, or berate those who differ from us.  Instead, we pray for Divine wisdom and the grace of God’s Spirit to help us win the hearts and minds of those we believe are in the wrong.  Our goal is not to rid ourselves of enemies.  Our goal is to gain brothers and sisters.

Let me say just a bit more about our invitation to Governor Pence.  Governor Pence and his wife are genuine followers of Christ who have visited IWU on numerous occasions.  I invited him to speak at IWU almost a year-and-a-half ago.  I have met with him twice in recent months, and have interacted closely with a number of people who work and attend Bible study with him.  I am asking him to speak about his journey of faith, and about the way he lives out his calling as a public servant who is a faithful follower of Jesus.

Serving in the public arena is difficult work.  Engaging requires us to make decisions and take positions that open us to criticism and attack by both the world and the church.  There are times when particular conversations, or conversation partners, may be difficult and even hurtful for us.  It is never our goal to create hurt or offense.  But it is our goal to learn and grow.

This is what we are called to do.  IWU is a Christ-centered academic community where we are all learning each day how better to follow Christ, to understand truth, and to prepare ourselves to help make the world a better place.

My Testimony

Several people have asked if they could see my testimony at the Senate hearing.  Here is the text of my testimony.  Time was severely limited so I was not able to share all of this.  I have provided this written text to the Senate Committee.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM/CIVIL RIGHTS TESTIMONY

January 27, 2016

Indiana Statehouse

It is a privilege to be able to contribute today to the deliberation that might lead to the creation of the laws that govern our common life.

My name is David Wright.  I serve as President of Indiana Wesleyan University, a private university owned by The Wesleyan Church, a denomination of about 800,000 adherents headquartered here in Indiana.  IWU is one of five colleges and universities owned by our Church in the United States and Canada.

IWU serves a student body of about 15,000 students at our main campus in Marion, at our 17 regional education centers in the Midwest, and in over 40 states and 26 foreign countries.  We have over 80,000 alumni and 1100 full-time employees.  We serve a student body that is highly diverse in race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, faith, nationality, and political persuasion.

IWU is a Christ-centered university that pursues the best traditions of academic inquiry and teaching while remaining grounded in the rich intellectual and spiritual tradition of the historic Christian faith.  For 95 years our university has served the public good of our state and region by graduating exceptional citizens who serve as some of our region’s best teachers, nurses, counselors, business people, pastors, and scientists.

We do not exist for the purpose of proselytizing people to our denomination though we are happy when our students find their faith strengthened and made more meaningful in their lives as a result of studying with us.  Instead we exist to serve the public good.

Here is our mission:  Indiana Wesleyan University is a Christ-centered academic community committed to changing the world by developing students in character, scholarship, and leadership.

So I come today to offer you reflections on the current intersection of civil rights, public and private moral values, and religious freedom from the perspective of a deeply religious, conservative, yet irenic and hospitable university community.

First, I wish to call our legislators to safeguard the right of Indiana’s many religious institutions and social service providers to continue serving the public good while maintaining the deeply held religious convictions that give us our unique identities and out of which we serve the public good of our state and country.

We believe that the quality of life and the economic competitiveness of our state are greatly enriched through the many services provided by Indiana’s rich network of faith-based organizations – including hospitals, child service providers, community development organizations, and universities.  The right of these organizations to maintain their unique identities has long been recognized through religious protections afforded by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Executive Order 13279, which amends Section 204 of Executive Order 11246.  We believe that any law passed by our state legislature must align Indiana’s religious protections with those long established constitutional protections also upheld in federal law.

Second, I wish to commend those of you who, under exceedingly difficult and contentious circumstances, are seeking ways to wisely balance the civil rights of all of Indiana’s citizens, while also safeguarding the religious freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

We are in the midst of a time when our social fabric is stretched close to the breaking point over these intensely contested questions of sexual orientation and gender identity. As a university president I am afforded an unusual perspective as I listen to the concerns of our students, faculty, trustees, donors, and friends.

I am struck with how often fear and anger are the subtexts of the conversations.  Fear and anger are present on all sides of these debates.  Unfortunately, when we are fearful and angry we easily forget our better selves.  Our debates become centered on the question: How can I be sure to win?  We use the metaphor of warfare to describe our interchanges with our fellow citizens.

If we are intent on following the metaphor of warfare to its conclusion, this means we will be locked in combat until one side dominates or destroys the other by force.

But I ask you, how can we embrace a trajectory of warfare that leads us to seek the destruction of our enemies when our enemies are our neighbors?

Should we not at least entertain the question: How might neighbors who hold strong and divergent convictions create a framework in which to live together peacefully?

With that in mind, please allow me to be transparent about both the convictions and the desires of our community.

We do not believe that gender and sexuality are self-defined human constructs.  Instead, we believe that human beings are created in the image of God.  God took great delight in creating human beings as men and women.  We may choose different ways to live with our gender and sexuality, but we are not and never will be anything other than women and men intended by God to live in fruitful and enjoyable partnership with each other.  We believe that we will find our greatest personal satisfaction, and social well-being, when we accept and live according to our God-given identities and relationships.  It is our sincerely held belief, a belief that we have held generation after generation after generation that encouraging one another to view our gender and sexuality as fluid and self-defined constructs will ultimately lead us to experience confusion, isolation, and unhappiness.  We cannot be in favor of any legislation that would require us to capitulate, abandon, or be silent about these things we hold to be true.

In America, it is our right to hold these convictions, to speak about them, and to participate in public life while holding such sincerely held beliefs.  Indeed, we believe that any society that takes away its citizens’ right to the religious freedom that informs these convictions ultimately will remove all other rights as well.

By the same token, our religious convictions also call upon us to honor the dignity and worth of our fellow citizens who, for their own good reasons, disagree with and choose to live in ways contrary to our convictions.  In fact, in this intensely conflicted debate about sexual orientation and gender identity, most of us who hold the religious convictions I have described know, care for, serve, and associate with persons who are either uncertain about their sexual orientation or have come to the settled conviction that their personal happiness lies in the pursuit of a life different from the one we would choose.

What do we want for these friends and neighbors of ours?  We are not at war with them.  We are in conflict with their understanding of the pathway to personal and social well-being.  But we do not view them as enemies to be ridiculed, bullied, punished, or persecuted. They are the neighbors whom Jesus has called us to love as we love ourselves.

They are men and women just like us who are doing their best to find their pathway to well-being and happiness.   Our love for them means we cannot affirm a pathway that we sincerely believe is mistaken, but neither do we want them to be denied the basic human rights that are their due as fellow citizens.

We believe all of us who live together as law-abiding citizens of this state must enjoy the basic protections of the law.  To deny one person the protections of law is ultimately to lay the groundwork for denying all persons the protection of law.

In summary, then, we believe that our laws must honor the fundamental rights of freedom of religion, of conscience, and of peaceful coexistence granted us in the constitutions of our state and our nation.  If we abandon or curtail the right to sincerely held religious convictions, peaceably pursued among fellow citizens, we will in time deny all other rights as well.

We commend you for attempting to find wise ways to protect the legal interests of all Hoosiers.  Above all, we call upon you, in the midst of this intense moment of social conflict, to safeguard the right of Indiana’s many people of faith, and of Indiana’s many excellent religious institutions and social service providers, to continue serving the public good while maintaining their deeply and sincerely held religious convictions.

Thank you.

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.