Thursday, September 24, 2015

What can we Learn about the State of American Christianity from the Pope?

The visit of Pope Francis to the United States encourages me because of the overwhelmingly positive reception he is receiving, even from those with no affinity for organized religion.  How people are responding reminds me that a "God-shaped hole" exists in all of us.

An AT&T vice president said the papal visit is equivalent to 15 Super Bowls.  All the cellular carriers are upgrading their system capacities in New York, Philadelphia and Washington where the pope is visiting.  Six thousand additional police officers will be deployed when he arrives in New York City tonight.  Two million are expected to gather to hear the pope in Philadelphia Saturday.
 
Perhaps faith is not dead in the United States after all?

Pope Francis, in remarks to President Obama yesterday, said Catholics are committed to building a tolerant and inclusive society.  But the pope then gave a warning:

"With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty.  That freedom remains one of America's most precious freedoms."

In that moment, the pope articulated the concerns of many.  In the name of tolerance, religious liberty is under attack; it is being redefined by lawmakers and justices.  Do we have the liberty to practice our faith outside the church walls?  Will we retain the liberty to worship through our daily work in our everyday workplaces? 

In Christian higher education, we seek religious liberty and respect.  We ask for freedom to make hiring decisions consistent with our faith.  We seek to create a Christ-centered community of voluntary membership that teaches Christian virtue along with the arts, humanities and sciences.  We ask government to honor our concerns for offering only those employee benefits consistent with our faith.

In a nation built on the shrine of individual liberty, I should acknowledge two freedoms that people of Christ do not enjoy.  We are not free to react with fear and disregard when others around us are disagreeable.  Instead, we are called to relationships built on love, even when that love is unearned.  Likewise, Christ followers do not have the liberty to ignore the Holy Bible and the ancient wisdom of our faith.

I pray that many in the crowds attracted to Pope Francis this week are seeking hope and meaning in their lives - hope that we know is only available from God through Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we have good news for those who seek.




Thursday, September 3, 2015

Poverty Conference Coming to LETU

I've been thinking about poverty this week.  The struggle is a daily routine for many of our campus neighbors.  In the 70 years LETU has been in existence, our society has advanced in many ways.  Think of how the technology of today compares to 1946!  Yet, when it comes to poverty, has our society really made any progress?

Poverty steals hope.  It robs this and the next generation of a brighter future. And poverty engenders violence.  Right here in Longview, we read headlines of increasing violence and shootings in our community. It is a complex problem but one important key to combat poverty is education. 

This week, we've been planning our part in an upcoming conference.  LeTourneau University is proud to be one of the sponsors of the Junior League of Longview's October 15 Poverty Conference, featuring Dr. Geoffrey Canada, who will speak on "The Crisis Facing Our Youth: What Adults and Communities Can Do to Save Our Children."

An educator, author and social activist, Canada is renowned for his work in education in Harlem, where poverty strikes deep.  He knows poverty personally.  He grew up in the inner city.  New York's South Bronx district was his home, as the third of four sons being raised by a single mom.  In his mid-teenage years, she sent him to live with his grandparents to get out of the inner city.  Reports say he understood his calling at an early age.

Canada went on to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology and sociology from Bowdoin College and a master's in education from Harvard Graduate School of Education.  He has been prominently featured in the award-winning 2010 documentary on education titled "Waiting for Superman."  He has also been featured on TED talks and on the CBS News' 60 Minutes for the revolution in education he has begun in Harlem, New York, which is called the Harlem Children's Zone to increase high school and college graduation rates among students there by providing social, medical and educational services. 

The impact of his school has grown from a neighborhood to nearly 100 square blocks, reaching an estimated 10,000 inner city students, providing hope and a future.  His school has a 95% college matriculation rate. Fortune Magazine named him in 2014 among the World's 50 Greatest Leaders.

He is quoted as saying that these inner city children succeed because they get what middle-class and upper middle-class students get:  safety, structure, academic enrichment, cultural activity and adults who love them and are prepared to help them succeed.

The Poverty Conference is for anyone who has concerns about how poverty and crime are affecting our area, from educators and church members, to business leaders and elected officials, to parents, friends and community volunteers.  Canada will speak in the morning, with breakout sessions in the afternoon, on topics including community revitalization, economic impact and local opportunities for engagement.  Some of our own LETU professors will be involved in leading some of those sessions.

LeTourneau University has a stake and a part to play in the well-being of the Longview community.  I hope you will encourage those you know to attend.  For more information and to register for the conference, visit thepovertyconference.org.