Some Evangelicals Still Have Neighborly Faith, By: Kevin Singer and Chris Stackaruk

The rise of Donald Trump and his allies on America’s social and political Right has brought renewed attention to Evangelical Christians. After all, a poll that made headlines demonstrated that 81% of White Evangelicals voted for the Trump-Pence ticket (Renaud, 2017). It can seem that most Evangelicals are right-wing culture warriors, seeking to “Make America Great Again” in their image (Burleigh, 2017).

While this can be true of some Evangelicals, it is not true of all. Many are shocked at the current state of affairs and are actively working to make a difference. We (Kevin and Chris) recently interviewed a handful of such Evangelicals that are modeling what we call a “neighborly faith” by striving to be good neighbors to people of other faith and non-faith traditions.

We interviewed five Evangelicals in higher education: two professors, a chaplain, a scholar, and a student leader. Each held traditional faith convictions, but were living them out in non-traditional ways when it comes to being a good neighbor.

All Christians highly regard Jesus’s teaching to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Yet, we all know that not all Christians live this out as they should. Evangelicals have been good at doing this in some ways like, for example, caring for disaster victims (Stetzer, 2017). However, many have been slow to adopt this neighborly love to a new multi-religious America. Fears of the religious “other” are common, short-circuiting the benevolence of even the most sincere Evangelical (Baylor Religion Survey, 2017).

The people we talked to are trailblazers that were finding new ways to live a neighborly faith. We were impressed to see the variety of ways they were doing this.

Most of the people we interviewed told us that they lived in a place of tension between their faith-based convictions to proselytize others and to love them. Some of our guests expressed that proselytization is a tad outdated and especially inappropriate for their contexts as leaders in higher education. Instead, they live out their faith by being hospitable to those who are different.

A common theme during our interviews was people’s desire to find public ways of being hospitable–a sharp contrast to the xenophobic Evangelicals we read about in newspapers. All were upset about the current political ethos, and were taking small, personal steps to be a change.

Two of our interviewees who work in administration at public universities voiced something very interesting: that their public offices gave them the opportunity to apologize on behalf of Evangelicals for abuses, either ongoing or past. They are aware that their group is not perfect. However, being a part of this faith, they want to say: “I’m sorry. Tell me your story. How can I change to be a better neighbor?”

These interviews were enlightening and refreshing for us–however, we know they do not represent all Evangelicals. There are things that need to change among us who share the handle. Yet, we remain hopeful that Evangelicals can change course. The primary reason why we started our podcast was to provide Evangelicals with models of neighborly faith that they can aspire to be like. In our experience, we’ve noticed that Evangelicals are the most willing to trust voices and perspectives from within their fold. Our hope is that the podcast will gain traction with persons of influence within Evangelical communities (pastors, thought-leaders, scholars, etc.), because they are in the best position to make a lasting difference.

Launching our podcast with a spotlight on higher education professionals was a no-brainer. Evangelicals working in higher education are playing a formidable role in shaping the next generation, which will likely be more hospitable to worldview diversity. A 2017 Pew Research study found that millennial Evangelicals are more socially conscious and politically progressive than older generations of Evangelicals (Diamant & Alper, 2017). Furthermore, the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS) included 3,200 incoming Evangelical students from 122 colleges and universities across the country. IDEALS found that 82% of respondents identifying as Evangelical felt it was important that their colleges and universities “provide a welcoming environment for people of diverse religious and nonreligious perspectives” (Crandall et. al, 2016). Moreover, 71% scored highly on the IDEALS “Goodwill/Acceptance Scale,” signaling that a majority have positive attitudes toward people with different worldviews and believe that interreligious understanding will make for a more peaceful world.

One of the professors we interviewed was recently invited to join a committee on religion that was organized by the president of their large public university. The purpose of the committee is to support worldview diversity on campus and coordinate activities that promote a pluralistic community. This is how our interviewee characterized their experience on the committee so far:

As a group of students, faculty and staff from all over campus, we’ve had some difficult conversations at times, but we’ve learned to listen closely to each other rather than make assumptions about each other. At the beginning, if you would have asked “What is [the Evangelical] going to think about x, y, or z issue,” I think there would have been a lot of assumptions made. We’ve learned to trust each other, to respect each other, and to not jump to assumptions. It goes to show the value of building relationships in these initiatives (Personal Communication, August 1, 2017).

This testimony is a far cry from those that Evangelicals are used to hearing from polarizing figures like Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr., who made national headlines in 2015 for making flagrant remarks about Muslims at an all-University assembly. Unfortunately, the detailed critique written by student leaders from Wheaton College didn’t garnish nearly as much press, which exhorted Evangelical leaders to take seriously the “opportunity and responsibility to guard our words and protect the pillar of unity and love of neighbor which the [New Testament] gospels command us to pursue” (Heath & Horton, 2015).

This is precisely why we’re so excited to share the testimonies of our interviewees through our podcast. There are Evangelicals that are seeking the welfare of their religious and nonreligious neighbors, and they are hoping for opportunities to contribute positively to the religious and nonreligious diversity on their campuses. This may require some campus gatekeepers to set aside their presuppositions about Evangelicals, like the president’s committee on religion that invited our interviewee to participate.

We recognize that this is easier said than done. Many of the reservations that people have about Evangelical Christians are completed warranted. However, we hope that our podcast can dispel the myth that all Evangelicals are as described in the first paragraph of this article. We’ve met some that are poised to be good religious neighbors, and are eager to display neighborly faith. If you are interested in listening to our interviews, please check our website: NeighborlyFaith.org. We are releasing them this Winter and would enjoy your feedback.

Kevin Singer
Pronouns: He, His, Him
PhD Student, North Carolina State University (Higher Education)
Graduate Assistant, Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS)
Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies, College of DuPage and Waubonsee Community College
Co-Founder, Neighborly Faith
Contact: Kcsinger@ncsu.edu, Twitter: @kevinsinger0

Chris Stackaruk
Pronouns: He, His, Him
PhD Student, Theology, University of Toronto (St. Michael’s College)
Co-Founder, Neighborly Faith
Contact: Christian.Stackaruk@gmail.com

 

REFERENCES

Burleigh, N. (2017, October 06). Does God believe in Trump? White evangelicals are sticking with their “Prince of Lies”. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from http://www.newsweek.com/2017/10/13/donald-trump-white-evangelicals-support-god-677587.html

Crandall, R. E., Snipes, J. T., Staples, A., Rockenbach, A. N., Mayhew, M. J., & Associates. (2016). IDEALS Narratives: Incoming Evangelical Students. Chicago, IL: Interfaith Youth Core.

Diamant, J., & Alper, B. A. (2017). Though still conservative, young evangelicals are more liberal than their elders on some issues. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/04/though-still-conservative-young-evangelicals-are-more-liberal-than-their-elders-on-some-issues/

Findings from the Baylor Religion Survey Wave 5: American Values, Mental Health, and Using Technology in the Age of Trump. (2017). Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.baylor.edu/baylorreligionsurvey/doc.php/292546.pdf

Heath, N., & Horton, C. (2015, December 10). Opinion | Why we, Wheaton College students, are condemning Jerry Falwell Jr.’s remarks on guns and Muslims. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/12/10/why-we-wheaton-college-students-are-condemning-jerry-falwell-jr-s-remarks-on-guns-and-muslims/?utm_term=.9917ca0fb150

Renaud, M. (2017). Myths Debunked: Why Did White Evangelical Christians Vote for Trump? | The University of Chicago Divinity School. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/myths-debunked-why-did-white-evangelical-christians-vote-trump

Stetzer, E. (2017). Remember teachings of Mr. Rogers and the Good Samaritan in Harvey relief efforts. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/08/31/harvey-relief-efforts-remember-teachings-mr-rogers-and-good-samaritan-ed-stetzer-column/615904001/

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The Hidden Messages in Leadership Theories, By: Daria-Yvonne J. Graham

Leadership, as a concept, is not an unusual topic in higher education; it is often referred to in multiple ways and areas within colleges and universities. Marketing materials, student affairs programs, and academic courses often refer to leadership development as a learning goal or learning outcome. The concept of leadership varies greatly and is presented through multiple models and theories that refer to positionality, skills, abilities, and preferred human characteristics. Admittedly, most leadership frameworks seem constructive and claim necessary qualities and steps to being catalysts for positive social change and progress, but in order to validate these claims, an assumption must be accepted that the formula for “good” leadership is universally applicable across social identities. Popular leadership theories, such as Servant Leadership (Greenleaf, 1977) and the Leadership Challenge (Kouzes & Posner, 2012) offer guidelines that name behaviors such as being of service to others, gentleness, and challenging the process as necessary habits for good leadership. Similarly, Gallup’s StrengthsQuest (Clifton & Schreiner, 2006) and Transformational Leadership (Bass, 1990) are leadership approaches that are situated as foundations for understanding leadership styles and the implications on organizational health and individual influence.

It is understandable why many of the programs and topics of higher education are connected to the goal of producing leaders.  By infusing leadership concepts into multiple aspects of universities and colleges, students are called to academic excellence, reminded of the importance of self-care, and the effect of their behavior on others. In referring to leadership as a foundation, universities can point to the importance of congruence, center living and working as a community as a value, and challenge faculty, staff, and students to work together towards a common good.  With such selfless and productive concepts at the core of the messaging and structure of colleges and universities, it is no wonder why leadership models and theories are not better interrogated before they are espoused and bolstered. Like most things in life, there is another perspective to consider.

When considering the role that social identities play in society, the assumptions that prescribe leadership concepts as universal is faulty. Social identities and the intersection of those identities have multiple effects on individuals’ experiences, and prescribed responses and plans of actions could likely have dire consequences. One population to consider would be women of color who work in higher education.  While 55% of higher education faculty and staff are women, members of underrepresented populations represent only 21% in upper administration (Chronicle, 2016).  Due to the demographics of our institutions and the social identities of those in positions of power, expectations for behavior and meaning-making typically reflect the race, gender, culture and value systems of those in senior leadership. Indicators of “good” leadership are often coded for “White, heteronormative, misogynistic, hegemonic, cisgender, and financially privileged”. Leadership tenets such as “anticipating the unknown” or healing others before healing self (Greenleaf, 1977) must be considered within the United States’ historical context of White privilege, genocide, and slavery. The residue of the history of the United States is evident as there continues to be acts of violence motivated by hate (https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/02/10/post-election-bias-incidents-1372-new-collaboration-propublica), the statistical representation of Black and brown men in incarceration (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/299788997_The_New_Jim_Crow_Book_Review, and the lack of people of color in upper administrative roles, particularly at private White institutions (https://nau.edu/COE/eJournal/_Forms/Fall2013/WolfeandFreeman/). Leadership theories cause harm by erasing the historical context for underrepresented populations, by denying the harm that may result when a leadership tenet reaffirms a racial or gender stereotype, and by increasing feelings of taxation for those who see leadership tenets as methods of survival.  For example, as part of the Servant Leadership model, Greenleaf (1977) states that leaders must use the tenet of withdrawal from a situation or relationship as a tactical defense or prioritization process. By strategically withdrawing and re-entering, leaders are able to rejuvenate, reassign resources, and take time for self-care. Members of underrepresented populations experience taxation because of their inability to see the tenet of withdrawal as an optional strategy.  While members of majority populations can be mindful of this tenet as a tool when appropriate, the act of withdrawal by some individuals will be (mis)interpreted as shows of anger, hostility, disconnection, indifference, hostility, a disinterest in collaboration, or at minimum a lack of investment. Society has inherited a perspective that believes members of underrepresented populations should work despite the need for rest and to do so with minimal complaint for as long as necessary to complete the task at hand.  Withdrawal is not a viable option for a “good” leader who has marginalized identities.  This discrepancy illuminates one example of how Greenleaf’s (1977) prescription for “good” leadership is not universal as power and privilege make blind application problematic.

Some consider executing leadership techniques as welcomed opportunities for growth, but others, particularly members of underrepresented populations, interpret a university’s leadership message as reaffirming a historical posture of servitude.  With such dire possibilities for members of the university’s community, it is incumbent upon faculty, staff, and students to critically examine leadership theories that are often written by White men and from a White perspective.  By silencing a possible counter narrative on leadership – through ignoring the counter narrative or negating it – the use of popular modern theories can negatively impact individuals and the institutions for which they “serve”.

 

Daria-Yvonne J. Graham (she, her, hers, herself) currently serves as the inaugural Director for the Office of Student Leadership Programs and as an adjunct faculty member for the department of sociology, anthropology and social work at the University of Dayton (UD). The Office of Student Leadership Programs supports the leadership development of all students by providing support, programming, and leadership tools.  Daria has been affiliated with UD for over 27 years, where she received her bachelor of science in business administration, her master of science in education and allied professions, and anticipates completing her Ph.D. in higher education in May 2017. Her dissertation study uses the experiences of black women in student affairs to interrogate leadership theory. She has presented on social justice, diversity and inclusion, collaborative strategies and initiatives in higher education, and mission-informed practices in higher education. She is a member of ACPA – College Educators International and served as a directorate member for the Coalition for Women’s Identities from 2010 – 2013.

 

References

Bass, B. M. (1990). Bass and Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York, NY: The Free Press.

Clifton, D. O., & Schreiner, L. A. (2006). StrengthsQuest: Discover and develop your strengths in academics, career, and beyond. (G. Organization, Ed.) (1st ed.). Washington, DC: Gallup Organization.

(2016, August 19). Gender, Race, and Ethnicity of College Administrators, Faculty, and Staff, Fall 2013. Chronicle of Higher Education. p. 16.

Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The Leadership Challenge (5th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.