I would encourage readers to take a look at a couple of articles from the Anchorage Daily News; a longer one from January [link] and a shorter one from a couple of weeks ago [link]. It’s mostly about a dispute between a local tax assessor and Anchorage Baptist Temple; the church had apparently allowed a number of ministers to accumulate equity in church-owned properties, meaning that the property would be tax-free (because it was owned by the church) and the ministers would own equity in the properties (which would otherwise be taxable) subject to secret agreements. Here are some choice quotes with salient facts from the later article, written by Richard Mauer:
The assessor, Marty McGee, said Friday his decision was final for the two homes in question — the residences of the Rev. Allen Prevo, the church’s lighting technician, and the Rev. Tom Cobaugh, its education minister.
That’s right: the church ordained their lighting technician.
The ruling could be expanded to include the home of the church’s chief pastor, the Rev. Jerry Prevo, Allen Prevo’s father, pending receipt of a sworn statement about whether he too holds an unrecorded interest his property, as he did for several years.
And he’s the son of the church’s head pastor.
Allen Prevo has lived on Banbury Drive in East Anchorage in a 2,650-square-foot, tax-exempt house since 2004. But in 2011, he and his wife were in divorce court. Both testified that he had a secret employment agreement with the Baptist Temple that allowed him to accumulate equity — ownership — in the house as if the church was carrying a mortgage and he was making monthly payments.
- The head pastor has family members on staff. A church is not a family business, and the bigger it is the less likely it is that members of the pastor’s family are really the best people for the job. This is something we see a lot of among prosperity theology folks, and it’s something I’d think conservative folks would steer clear of.
- Complicated business dealings, including complicated real estate, subsidiary business, and tax dealings. Especially cases where organizational changes are made to exploit loopholes in the tax code.
- Divorced ministers. A divorce should disqualify a man for the title of elder; pastors are elders; even if they’re just pastors for business reasons.
It is fairly popular in conservative circles nowadays to do very close readings of Paul the Apostle’s qualifications of an elder as they regard the gender of an elder but to be nuanced regarding the requirements that an elder be the husband of one wife, manage his house in an orderly way, and have well-behaved children. I hear all kinds of exceptions being raised, including single elders, exceptional divorces that don’t disqualify elders, and childless elders. It strikes me as odd that conservatives read a pronoun so closely and wish away Paul’s language regarding wives, households, and children.
Frankly it’s hard to make sense of conservatives getting so worked up about gay marriage when we’ve done such a poor job of dealing with divorce within the church.
By popular demand, here it is:
- 1985 Sen. Bill Armstrong, R-CO
- 1986 Sec. Donald Hodel (Interior)
- 1987 ?
- 1988 Lt. Col. (Ret.) Oliver North
- 1989 W. A. Criswell
- 1990 Pres. George H. W. Bush
- 1991 Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA)
- 1992 Pat Buchanan
- 1993 Dr. James Dobson
- 1994 ?
- 1995 Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX)
- 1996 AJ Clarence Thomas (SCOTUS)
- 1997 Billy Graham
- 1998 Dr. John Borek Jr.
- 1999 John Maxwell (?)
- 2000 Tony Evans (?)
- 2001 ?
- 2002 ?
- 2003 ?
- 2004 Karl Rove
- 2005 Sean Hannity
- 2006 Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
- 2007 Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA)
- 2008 Chuck Norris
- 2009 Ben Stein
- 2010 Glenn Beck
- 2011 Randall Wallace
- 2012 Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)
I’m always looking to fill gaps here; I’ve had no luck tracking down copies of various Liberty publications for the years I don’t have here. Also, I’m always interested in knowing who spoke at baccalaureate various years. I have to admit that while I remember who spoke at my graduation, I don’t remember a thing about baccalaureate that year. I may have skipped it.
I’m a graduate of Liberty University; I did not agree with the university’s decision to invite Mitt Romney as commencement speaker.
Tobin Grant did some analysis at Christianity Today [link] and noted that as a graduation speaker Romney’s not out of line with lots of graduation speakers. He mentions John McCain (2006), George H. w. Bush (1990), Newt Gingrich (1991, 2007), Ben Stein (2009), and Glenn Beck (2010). He didn’t mention Oliver North (1988), who subsequently ran as a Republican for Senate in Virginia, Bill Armstrong (1985), Donald Hodel (1986), Pat Buchanan (1992), Phil Gramm (1995), or Clarence Thomas (1996). He fairly notes that Romney isn’t even the first Mormon, and that Stein is Jewish; he doesn’t delve into which speakers are Roman Catholic (Gingrich; Thomas) and which proclaim no religion affiliation whatsoever (Rove).
I have to admit that I’m disappointed in the choice of Romney, for a couple of reasons. One is that I think it sends a message that someone should be held in high esteem by Liberty graduates regardless of their religion so long as they’re Republican. Here Liberty seems to be following the trend we see at other historically Christian but practically secular universities, where the religious or spiritual speaker speaks at baccalaureate and the aspirational speaker speaks at graduation. I think it’s more a question of “isn’t there someone from within our movement, whatever it is, who is worth inviting to speak?” rather than “why are we paying a Mormon to speak at our graduation?”
And finally, I have to admit that I don’t think this bodes well for Romney’s chances in the fall; with Santorum and Gingrich having suspended their campaigns Romney is as they say the presumptive nominee, so by now he should have solidified his popularity with the traditional Republican base and “moving to the center” to court the 20-40% of so-called undecideds. The fact that he’s speaking at Liberty suggests he hasn’t won over his base yet. This reminds me of 2008, where John McCain got almost to the party convention without having won over the so-called values voters, and we all know how that ended.
One of the many perils of visiting someone else’s church, compounded when only visiting a church once, is the hazard of being (in a metaphorical sense, mind you) one of the pagans on Mars Hill, endlessly classifying, never engaging, and always wanting to hear something new. It’s a pitfall, and one I try to always be aware of. Most of the time I hear familiar passages of Scripture interpreted in familiar ways, and I sometimes waste the opportunity to hear a sermon trying to predict which of a small number of standard interpretations a preacher is going to use.
So I have to admit I was blown away when I went to church this past Sunday and I heard something that hit me where I live. We were in Lynchburg for Liberty University’s Homecoming weekend, and on the invitation of an old family friend we visited One Community Church [link], a relatively young church that shares a building with a ballet school on Kemper St, in one of the older and less fashionable parts of downtown. And I was blown away when the pastor started his sermon on 1 John 1:8-2:2 thus:
The Word of God will not change your life unless you are willing to confess.
I come from a tradition that takes the assurance of salvation so seriously that we are light on confession (and rarely repent). And one of my great crises of faith can probably be best stated like this: I don’t understand how someone who has been a dedicated, active Christian for a long time, who may even be a professional Christian of some sort, and spends lots of time and effort reading and studying Scripture, can still be a cold/hard/heartless/petty/flat-out evil person. I don’t understand how someone who is supposedly Spirit-filled and has an active prayer life could remain unconvicted about a pattern of sin that causes great and probably permanent damage to other people. And the pull quote above is as good as any I’ve heard so far; confession/repentance is a habit and has to be cultivated.
Because the church is located in a willfully funky downtown location and is stuffed to the rafters with college students, many of them sporting a grunge look, some of them still wearing sock caps in the heat of a Central Virginia Indian Summer, I was expecting some variety of hipster Christianity, for better or worse. Hipsters, lest we forget, tend to be post-ironic authenticity-seekers. They’re a funny mix of studied earnestness and referential irony; and I have a real soft spot for them.
The music was loud but the lyrics were surprisingly unrepetitive and theologically sound. The sermon was thoughtful, practical, and sound. It followed a basic Law-and-Gospel pattern but it didn’t make it sound like algebra. There was a community involvement segment, a music video that fit the sermon thematically, and Communion by intincture.
I really liked this church, and I wish the folks there all the best. It’s tough to sustain a church full of Liberty students, as many of them have been churched to death; they have no money; and they are in town for roughly twenty-eight weeks a year for four years and then they’re gone. So this church more than most will probably face a serious Pareto problem, with a very small fraction of the people contributing the overwhelming majority of the time, effort, and money required to keep the church afloat.
If I ever find myself back in Lynchburg on a Sunday I’d love to visit again; I’d be curious to see where and what they are a year or more from now.
A reader was kind enough to point me to a recent Washington Post profile by religion writer Michelle Boorstein of Liberty University vice president, campus pastor, political operative, and first-time author Johnnie Moore [link]. Readers with memories longer than a year may remember Boorstein’s article on Ergun Caner’s demotion [link] that more or less served as the official history of the Caner situation outside the community of interested parties.
I am inclined to read the Moore profile as a sort of birth announcement for Moore’s political career, mostly as an idea leader or vote-deliverer for the young evangelical vote. It also appears to be part of the publicity push for Moore’s book Honestly.
Here are a few pull quotes:
From this lofty perch, he has come to two conclusions about American evangelicals.
The first is that they have become too callous[...] Moore says evangelicals have cared too much in recent decades about building massive megachurches for the upper-middle class and too little about getting their hands dirty serving the poor.
His second conclusion is more Falwell-esque: Evangelicals are becoming too liberal about their faith. To Moore, if you say you believe in the Bible as literal truth, but privately believe it’s a metaphor, you’re a phony.
Moore sees his fellow young evangelicals as highly emotional and “entitled” — but idealistic. They don’t trust organizations or traditional political activism (which is why he thinks they don’t identify with the tea party), but they want to be a part of causes (which he believes Obama convinced them they were).
[Rev. Samuel] Rodriguez, the Latino evangelical leader, says evangelicals like Moore will eventually merge in America with ethnic minorities and be a massive force.
“Some of these other groups have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy about their Christianity; it’s sort of clandestine, they kind of dilute it. But Johnnie would say: Why can’t we be both sold out to Christ and addressing issues like sex trafficking?”
There are bits and pieces of this that give me hope; I’m always hopeful that those of us who share the legacy of the Moral Majority will someday acquire a social conscience that is expressed in more than just a handful of issue check boxes. On the other hand, I have a sneaking suspicion that Moore represents just another generation of sellouts who express mature, high-sounding personal values while helping persuade young conservative Christian voters to vote for candidates who ultimately don’t share those values, much less express them as policy. I guess we’ll see.
Over the summer Liberty University announced that it is terminating some 50 programs of study in favor of 23 new programs, reducing the number of programs from 290 to 263 [link]; I don’t really have an opinion on this: universities do this from time to time, etc. and I can’t guess whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing without a list of the programs that have been eliminated. Unfortunately the Liz Barry article at the link above doesn’t include lists; doing so in the print edition of the News-Advance would be something of a typesetter’s nightmare anyway.
While looking for the lists of new and sunset majors I stumbled across a press release from Liberty meant to set the record straight on a number of things, including how much public money it receives and what it does with it [link]. This quote jumped out at me:
Liberty has also built a unique artificial ski slope – the only one of its kind in North America – that is used by Liberty students as well as ski enthusiasts from Central Virginia and around the country.
This is a reference to the Snowflex Centre [link]. It dominates the peak of Candler’s Mountain, and is visible from almost anywhere in Lynchburg; if you’re in the neighborhood I’d recommend seeing it from a connector road called Simon’s Run, near Wards Ferry Road, where you can see it framed by woods on both sides. Sadly I didn’t have time on my most recent visit to snap a picture for posterity.
When Liberty installed the Monogram [link] several years ago I didn’t think anything could be more hideous. The monogram isn’t just gaudy; it’s lopsided, and if my eyes don’t deceive me it isn’t aging well; its white background appears to be turning beige, meaning that at some point in the future it will need to be repainted or Liberty will need to change its colors to red, beige, and blue. But I digress.
I realize lots of universities have big ugly things on their grounds, and they’re treated with a mixture of kindness, nostalgia, embarrassment, and contempt, but I am tempted to suggest that the Monogram and the Snowflex Centre are the sorts of things Charles Foster Kane might have had at Xanadu [link] if he’d had less time, less money, and less taste.
I was in Lynchburg over the weekend for Liberty’s Homecoming weekend. I was traveling with a toddler, so I didn’t do much in the way of Homecoming events: I caught up with some professors, I ran the Deep Hollow 5k, which goes from Camp Hydaway to the Snowflex parking lot and back, and I took in part of Friday’s Convocation. When I was an undergraduate, attending football games required a hike over to City Stadium, and even then I considered the football team something to be ashamed of rather than something to be prized, so I rarely made the trip. Needless to say this weekend I didn’t do the alumni tailgate or go to the game, where Liberty beat Coastal Carolina.
Visiting with family and friends I got another take on the Asa Chapman situation, one that makes sense even if it doesn’t cast Liberty in a very pleasant light. It goes a little something like this: Chapman is the only Liberty player with even the slightest chance of being drafted in the 2012 NFL draft. Preseason he was sometimes projected as a late 7th-rounder [e.g. link]; I have no idea where ESPN draft experts project Chapman as their mock drafts are behind the ESPN paywall.
Lest we forget, Chapman has been charged with possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana. He initially plead not guilty and got his hearing scheduled for December, well after Liberty’s season will have ended [link], even if they manage to make the NCAA FCS playoffs and win a game. My source suggested that Chapman will plead guilty, get probation and/or community service, and will be done with this career-threatening episode in his life in time for the NFL Scouting Combine in February 2012, where teams will in principle be able to discount this arrest as part of their assessment of Chapman. Well, provided he stands out in the tests and evaluations and has a clean drug screen.
It’s an interesting if cynical theory. If it’s true, and Chapman gets drafted, it will suggest that Liberty is an attractive option for borderline football talents with other-than-clean police records and relatively minor (by NFL standards) character issues. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader whether this is on balance a good thing or a bad thing for any Christian university.
The Virginia Tobacco Commission will be giving Liberty University $12 million for its health sciences school, scheduled to open as soon as Fall 2013. See e.g. WHSV [link] and WDBJ [link]. The latter link is the better one.
It’s a matching grant; the total $24 million will be a big chunk of the budget for the planned $40 million facility. Most of the money is earmarked for supporting an osteopathic medicine program.
I’m surprised to discover that the tobacco commission is interested in osteopathy; it’s not a connection I would have suspected. It looks like that from the university’s perspective this is just another day at the office: with no big television ministry backing the university they have to find money somewhere, and they’re putting their best business people into the grant-writing business:
Falwell thanked Liberty’s administration and staff for their hard work in preparing the grant proposal.
“Dr. Ron Godwin (Provost), Dr. Ron Hawkins (Vice Provost), Dr. Emily Heady, Dr. Ben Gutierrez, Dr. Kevin Corsini and Mr. Larry Shackleton, along with other team members, spent months working on the grant proposal and did an outstanding job of explaining the plans for the new school to the Tobacco Commission members,” Falwell said. “Liberty University is blessed to have such competent academic leadership and we deeply appreciate their fine work on this exciting project.”
I’m not over-thrilled to see tobacco money being donated to Liberty University; last time I checked tobacco was primarily used as a recreational drug, albeit a legal one (like alcohol; unlike marijuana), and I would think Liberty as a Christian university with a fundamentalist heritage would consider tobacco money dirty money. Evidently not.
I’m not going to suggest that Liberty’s 27-24 loss to Lehigh this past Saturday [link] was God’s judgment on the football team for reinstating defensive lineman Asa Chapman following his arrest for drug possession. That would be presumptive of me.
They probably just ran into a better team; Liberty is unranked in the NCAA FCS top 25; Lehigh is #14 in this week’s coaches poll [link].
As even the most casual reader of this blog is well aware I am a graduate of Liberty University. I first became aware of Johnnie Moore during the Ergun Caner episode, where Moore was responsible for press relations as a University spokesman during the period of time that it was becoming clear that Caner had misrepresented his personal story as a convert to Christianity from a Muslim background [e.g. link]. That’s probably the most polite way I can put what happened and Moore’s role in the controversy. A less gracious way to put it would be to say that Caner lied, Liberty prevaricated, and Moore was on occasion the public face of that prevarication.
So let’s just take it as read that I connected the dots here between Moore’s involvement in the Caner situation and the title of his new book.
Moore is the campus pastor at Liberty. It’s a difficult job to be a campus pastor anywhere and not many people do it well. This is Moore’s first full academic year in the position; he replaces Dwayne Carson, who left in the spring to be an assistant pastor at a church in Ohio. I honestly couldn’t tell you who the campus pastor was during my time as an undergraduate there in the late Eighties; he might have been Gary Aldridge; I’m not sure. I worked most Sundays and rarely attended church on campus, and we had so many guest speakers at church and at chapel it would have been difficult for anyone to have engaged in real pulpit ministry in the position at the time. I’m hoping that in the interim there have been changes, etc.
I have to admit that I’ve got pretty modest expectations for Moore’s book. Here’s the bio from his Amazon page [link]:
Johnnie Moore is a twenty-something Christian who is also the vice president and campus pastor of Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian university (with more than 70,000 students). He is a popular speaker, a professor of religion, a communication advisor to educators, preachers, and politicians. He is on the board of trustees of World Help, leads North America’s largest weekly gathering of Christian young people (10,000 students) and has led hundreds of students on humanitarian and missionary excursions to more than 20 nations.
Turns out Moore is 28. If he graduated college at 22 that means he’s been in the workforce for 6 years; it looks like he’s spent most of that time communicating, advising, and speaking. Perhaps he’s been on some sort of arduous spiritual journey that doesn’t show up in the blurb above; perhaps he’s wise beyond his years; perhaps God has singled him out for some sort of special purpose I can’t imagine. All these things are possible; I might humbly suggest they’re all unlikely.
Regardless, the book is currently reasonably priced as a Kindle e-book at only $2.51. At that price I’m willing to give it a try.