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A very merry non-traditional Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner — but not for everyone. Some students and faculty at Indiana Wesleyan University celebrate the holidays (or don’t) differently than their peers. Here are some of their stories:

James DeffenbaughJames

James Deffenbaugh (fr) never questioned if Santa was real – because his mom told him the truth from a very young age.

“I knew about him, we just knew he was a fictional character,” Deffenbaugh said.

She had intriguing logic behind this. She was worried if her kids were told Santa was real and then later told that he was fake, this could jeopardize their belief that God was real. When he was nine or 10 years old, Deffenbaugh told a few still-believing kids on his swim team the truth about Santa.

“My swim coach told me to stop a few times, and then I had to have a talk with my mom,” he said.

Deffenbaugh does plan on telling his future kids the truth about Santa’s nonexistence.

“I feel like my mom has a valid point. If you tell your kids Santa’s real and then a few years later say, ‘No he’s not’, they could think the same thing about Jesus Christ,” he said.


StephStephanie Lamb

Stephanie Lamb (jr) is celebrating her first Christmas this year with her boyfriend and his extended family. Her parents never celebrated Christmas.

“It’s tied to a pagan holiday,” Lamb said.

As explained by Lamb, when Constantine was spreading Christianity throughout the Roman empire, the pagans had a winter equinox feast where they worshiped a god with pine trees. Constantine decided that by picking winter as the time to celebrate Jesus’ birth, they could extinguish the pagan rituals.

“For my family, there’s nowhere in the Bible that says we should celebrate his birth, and all the gift-giving, the wreaths, the trees, the lights — it’s not biblical at all,” she said. “They didn’t want us to grow up confusing and meshing pagan origins with Christ.”

This is mostly a personal choice by her parents, who met at a church that believed the same. The family attended this church until Lamb was 10. They also don’t celebrate Easter.

On Christmas day, the family always eats dinner at home together. Lamb and her sister started a tradition where they rent and binge-watch library movies, since they had an extra day that the library was closed.

“My family was never offended if someone said ‘Merry Christmas,’ and we would say it back, we just don’t celebrate it,” she said.

She thinks she will probably celebrate Christmas with her future family, but pull back and make it less consumerist.

“It’s Jesus’ day, so we should focus on Him,” she said.


Sameer YadavYadav2

Dr. Sameer Yadav, assistant professor for the John Wesley Honors College, and his wife are raising two young boys: Noah, who is five, and Ezra, who is two. Noah is very inquisitive, so when he started hearing about Santa at school, he had a lot of questions.

“We could tell he was having a hard time distinguishing between what we told him about Jesus’ birthday and the Santa Claus schtick,” Yadav said.

Yadav tried to tell him the true story of Saint Nicholas, but Noah had trouble discerning the truth from the story.

“We put Santa solidly in the fairytale category,” he said. “To this day now we’re having the problem in kindergarten where other kids believe in Santa Claus and Noah is the obnoxious Santa Claus unbeliever.”

What was most important to Yadav was for Noah to be able to understand the difference between real things, fake things and fictional things, which are purposely fake for the intention of describing and understanding truth.

“Santa Claus screws all that up, so I wanted to disentangle it,” he said. This is a concept for a five-year-old, but Yadav thinks he’s getting it. “[Noah] will say things like, ‘Santa Claus teaches us about giving, but he’s not real,’” Yadav said.

While the Yadavs don’t give Noah and Ezra gifts “from Santa,” Noah knows that is what other parents do, and he has asked Yadav to put a present under the tree “from Santa” for him.


LarisaLarisa Kuehn

Larisa Kuehn (fr) and her family celebrate Christmas a little differently, mostly because they do everything a little differently.

For most of her life, her parents were missionaries in Bangladesh, where they ran an orphanage while raising her and her three siblings.

“We’d have this enormous Christmas party, so much good [Bengali food], like 200-300 people, [and] my mom would make like 600 Christmas cookies,” Kuehn said.

They spent Christmas day together as an immediate family, decorating a plastic tree. Although it was never below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the kids would bundle up in their winter jackets and drink hot chocolate.

Although they heard about Santa, being in such a different culture, they didn’t fall quite as easily for the stories.

“We didn’t have a chimney, so how could he get in?” she said.

She spent a few Christmases in Germany with her dad’s extended family. In Germany, most everyone Kuehn knew celebrated three days of Christmas, attending Christmas plays at a Lutheran church and visiting German markets. Her German Christmas in fifth grade was her first time seeing snow.

Now her parents are in China, so they spend Christmas in Thailand. They rent a bungalow, decorate palm trees and make sand snowmen.

“We always have a really big seafood lunch on the beach,” she said.

A Thai tradition, they light floating lanterns on the beach with locals. They also have a gingerbread house-making competition and vote amongst themselves to find the winner.


Adrian HowkinsonAdrian

Adrian Howkinson (so) and her family also don’t celebrate Christmas.

“Jesus was born, but it definitely wasn’t during this time, and the fact that we don’t celebrate that is because Christmas is actually a pagan holiday,” Howkinson said. “We don’t try to make it what it’s not.”

They spend intentional time with their immediate family, and her mom makes Christmas candies for all the neighbors.

“What every kid likes about Christmas is the presents, and we still did that, just probably not as much as most families,” she said.

The Howkinson family also has a special Christmas tradition of their own: “We go see a movie on Christmas Eve at the movie theater because there’s never anyone there,” she said. “Lately, it’s been ‘The Hobbit [1 and 2].’”

She’s not sure if she’ll celebrate Christmas with her future family.

“I understand the fact that we don’t have to do [a traditional Christmas] just because everyone else does,” Howkinson said.

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SGA forum stresses personhood of immigrants

Written by Sarah Dougan and Sara Williams

The Student Government Association’s panel on immigration issues Wednesday, Dec. 3 encouraged system reform and action from the church, with panelists emphasizing the personhood of immigrants.

“Immigration is an issue, but immigrants are people,” said panelist Dr. David Drury, who is the Chief of Staff to Dr. Jo Anne Lyon in the General Superintendent’s Office of the Wesleyan Church.

Later on in the forum, Drury added, “I don’t know a lot of people who know people who are undocumented and do not have compassion for their situation.”

Dr. Brian Fry, a panelist from the Sociology department, also said change must be made because people are coming, and will continue to come “so long as you have economic disparity between the United States and Mexico.”

The average wage for a worker goes from $6 to $8 when workers move from Mexico to the US, according to Dr. Tom Lehman, an economics professor here at IWU who also served on the panel.

Fry went on to say, “As someone builds a 10-foot wall, people build a 11-foot ladder.”

According to Dr. Tom Lehman, 10 percent, (around 30 million people), living in the U.S. are foreign-born. Of these foreign-born U.S. residents, 10 million are undocumented, and of these undocumented individuals, 5.6 million are Mexican.

Panelists also brought up how immigration is not only a problem in the U.S. but also in other countries, including Mexico. In Mexico, as many people are leaving as are coming in from other South American countries, according to Drury.

Both Fry and Lehman said with immigration, the benefits on the economy outweigh the negatives. Lehman said most of the jobs Americans are either under or overqualified for are taken by immigrants.

Panelist Raleigh Macon (so) stated there are only 5,000 low-skill visas issued by the U.S. for the entire world per year. Lehman pointed out even though immigrants don’t pay income tax, they do still pay other ones, such as sales taxes and property taxes.

The common statement toward immigrants of “they should just wait in line along with everyone else” was also discussed by the panel members.

Fry said the waiting list for legal migration can take more than 35 years. Macon added, “This morning as we were in class” the visa applications reviewed were from 1991.

Because the waiting list for legal immigration is so long, immigrants are willing to risk more dangerous means of arriving in the US, hiring coyotes who can charge thousands of dollars to smuggle immigrants illegally, according to Macon.

She also stressed how undocumented immigration through any means, using coyotes or otherwise, is very dangerous. An estimated 1,500 to 3,000 die in the U.S. each year, though the exact number is not known, since many bodies are lost or unidentifiable.

Though many panelists agreed the system is broken — or “antiquated and outdated” according to Liz Dong, Assistant Field Director at Immigration Table for World Relief — there were some disagreements as to what these changes should be, specifically concerning how tightly the border should be secured.

Fry said he believes in a regulated border, but a better, more organized and open system. He thinks this is better for everyone, including immigrants.

In response, Lehman said “I want the borders as open as possible. I want to go back to the Ellis Island days,” citing Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus,” which describes the U.S. as not only for the “best” immigrants, but also a beacon of hope to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The panel members also discussed the religious implications of immigration within the church.

Dong said over 80 percent of immigrants are believers and “brothers in Christ.” Macon said, from personal experience, most of the undocumented immigrants she knows are driven by 1Timothy 5:8, which says: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (NIV)

Fry said 40 percent of immigration is in some way family driven.

According to Macon, only around 1 in 10 people in protestant churches are making an effort to reach out to the immigrant population. She went on to say she believes reaching out immigrants is part of the Great Commission. She said the church was sent to the nations, but now the nations have come to the American church.

During the talkback portion of the panel, students asked ways in which individuals and the church can become involved in the issue of immigration.

Dong called for unification in the church about helping immigrants by saying, “If our laws are causing people to live in shadows … we should care about that.”

Dr. Drury mentioned the Wesley Seminary is hosting a class in May 2015 aimed at the issue of immigration and how the church can become an advocate for change.


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Box Office break-in

When the operations manager of the Box Office, Hannah Oberlin (alumna Dec. ‘12), came into the office for work at 9 a.m. Dec. 3, she found the Christmas setup in the Phillippe Performing Arts Center lobby destroyed, according to Chrystal Beard (jr), box office manager.

Of the four trees that were originally there, one was completely gone and another was lying on the ground in the space between the interior and exterior doors.

The Christmas setup in the main lobby of the PPAC before the break-in. // Photo by Chrystal Beard

The Christmas setup in the main lobby of the PPAC before the break-in. // Photo by Chrystal Beard

Several ornaments were scattered on the ground and some were thrown into the trash, along with one of the tree-topper angels, Beard said.

The set was cleaned up and the Christmas trees were moved around so it looked better with three trees instead of four. When Beard came in for work at 10 a.m., she re-hung the ornaments that had been thrown into the trash back on the trees.

“I just tried to spruce it up a little bit,” Beard said, “because it looked super sad.”

Beard said they didn’t know if it happened Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, or if students or Marion locals committed the act, because there was a children’s choir performance in the PPAC Tuesday night. The choir consisted of elementary and middle school students from the community, whose parents came to watch them. Beard said they also don’t know how the guilty party broke in.

“It was just really sad, because we put in so much work to put all that up,” Beard said. “We have an entire Christmas party set up around decorating. So it was just really sad today.”

An official investigation is currently underway, according to Beard.


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President Wright speaks on new LGBTQ policy

On the heels of two Student Government Association forums on LGBTQ issues, a task force by Indiana Wesleyan University President Dr. David Wright is brainstorming a new policy to clarify how the school handles these issues.

A staff writer for The Sojourn sat down with Wright in his office to discuss the new policy, which he plans to present to the Board of Trustees in March. Below is the transcript of the interview, lightly edited for clarity.

President Wright sat down with The Sojourn for the first time as president in the fall of 2013. This year, he is working on a new policy concerning LGBTQ issues.

President Wright sat down with The Sojourn for the first time as president in the fall of 2013, pictured above. This year, he is working on a new policy concerning LGBTQ issues.

Q: What’s the process of creating this policy?

A: We share governance of the university with the faculty, so it’s important for faculty representatives to have a say in the formation of policy like this. Ultimately, it’s the board’s say, but administrators will bring forth our ideas and manage the process of creating the policy. There are a number of people here who care about these issues, so I want several voices to be able to speak into the creation of this policy.

We wanted the students to have a say, we want the faculty to have a say, we want the administrative team to have a say, on student life, the people who deal with student conduct, they need to have a say. We’ve structured the task force in such a way to bring those voices to bear on our current policy and to suggest the framework that we can use going forward.

Tim Scurlock is the student representative as President of SGA; Lisa Dawson is the official faculty representative as president of the Senate; Andrew Parker is there as representative of student development and the student life team; Neal Rush is there as our representative [for the] legal framework and compliance work for the institution. I’m going to ask two board members to sit [in] on the task force as well. They can speak on behalf of the board members, but also they can be there to talk about the process when I present this to the board. Karen Hoffman, I’ve asked to chair this. Karen is a very experienced administrator. She’s used to working with policy and applying policy both for faculty and for students. She’ll do a great job shepherding the task force.

We’ve got a list of about 20 other people, faculty and others, who have expressed either an interest or a special expertise in this area to give feedback or to serve as resource persons for the task force. Rather than [me] sitting down and writing policy or any one administrator going in their office and shutting the door creating policy, what we want to do is gather together the best for our community.

Q: Why do you think LGBTQ issues are issues we need to focus on at IWU?

A: Well, we have gay and lesbian students here, and we have the responsibility to treat them in a way that makes them feel loved with the love of Christ, in a way that makes them feel safe so that they aren’t subjected unnecessarily to demeaning behaviour or in any way threatening behavior. This is just what Jesus would do.

At the same time, all of us — students, faculty, administrators — now live in a society where gay and lesbian persons are a part of life. It’s not a hidden part of our society like it used to be. It’s a public and accepted part of society. When you go out and get a job, you’re very likely going to work with a gay or lesbian person, or a transgendered person. I believe that every one of our students needs to know how they live their faith out in their work setting with that person and how they treat that person. Do they feel comfortable enough to befriend that person and show them the love of Christ while not compromising the things we believe the Bible says are true about a Christian lifestyle?

The question isn’t what do we believe is true, it’s “knowing what I believe is true, how do I live with my neighbors who may have different points of view on this or who may have different identity than I think Christ approves of? How do I live that out?”

I think all of us have to recognize that that is the world we live in now. And what better place than a Christian university that honors the Bible, that welcomes Jesus into our campus every day, that asks the Holy Spirit to be present, what better place than this to tackle these hard questions, and to talk through what it means for us to be believing Christians, faithful Christians in the society we live in? That’s why I don’t think we can sweep this under the rug or act like it doesn’t exist.

Q: What will this policy address?

A: There’s some things that aren’t up for discussion. One is the authority of Scripture. We aren’t discussing whether Scripture is the authority for our lives, that’s a given for us. We’re not questioning our church’s statement on these issues, that’s a given.

What’s up for discussion is that we may believe that, but [we] have gay and lesbian students among us that we are called to love. If we have that belief, how do we ask them to honor their commitment in the same way that we would honor our commitment, and how do we do that in a way that’s winsome, that’s loving, that’s kind, while still recognizing that we have to say we can’t affirm that kind of lifestyle?

Q: How do you think this policy will create reconciliation in our community?

A: When I first started dealing with gay and lesbian representatives back in 2005, we were going to get ready to host an equality ride on the campus where I was serving, in California at the time, and we were preparing for this group of activists. … I started to wrestle with the fact that, when I sit down across from somebody who says, “I believe that God made me this way, I believe this is who I am and for you to not recognize that is unChristlike and unloving; you should affirm who I am,” … I had to really wrestle with that and question, “Well, is that true?”

So I came to ask this question, “What is the most loving thing that I can do for someone whom I respect?”

For me, part of it is to be honest about who I am and what I believe. I would like us to be humble and careful, not dogmatic in the way we do this. But at the same time, [I would like us] to say honestly, “I am a part of a faith community that for generations has believed that this is the way God created us, this is what God intended for sexual relationships between human beings.” I think being honest about that shows dignity to people who may disagree with me. Secondly, if I really truly believe that God created us male and female and that His intention for our best well being is for us to express our sexuality in that way, that’s the most loving thing I can do for anyone is to say, “Don’t pursue sexuality promiscuously heterosexually [and] don’t pursue sexuality in a gay or a lesbian way because ultimately your best well being will be to live that part of your being out in a way that God intended. …

“I will hold out my hand of love to you. I embrace you; I’ll be friends with you. I don’t want you to be mistreated, but at the same time, I will be a witness to what Scripture teaches in these areas.”

Q: At this point, what do you think students and staff need to know about the policy?

A: They need to know what our basic beliefs are and that whatever policies we create are going to be within that broad framework. They need to know that we’re going to do our best to find ways to express those policies in ways that are clear and help people understand what our expectations are for each other in this place and how we will live those out with each other.

If they want to have a say, the students should speak to Tim [Scurlock] and the SGA cabinet. If they’re in the student life area, they can speak to Andrew [Parker]. Faculty can speak to Dr. [Lisa] Dawson, so if they want to have a say in that way, these are their representatives to the group.

Q: Is there anything else people need to know on this topic?

A: It’s a very polarized discussion. It’s very hard to have this discussion in a way that’s productive without making people afraid, either that we’re going to be too harsh or that we’re going to be too compromising. What I would ask is that we all enter into this discussion with a loving heart — that we recognize the authority of Scripture over our lives, that we most of all seek relationships with Christ and seek to have Christ shape our lives and thoughts in these matters, and that we have a manner of confident humility to speak clearly about what we believe but to do that in a way that welcomes people into the body of Christ, not sends them out or sends them away.

This is my hope and prayer for us as a community because ultimately, studies show that perhaps 5-8 percent of the population in our society would choose a gay or lesbian identity. … Not everybody you meet will choose this identity for ourselves, but all of us will interact with people who do.

What I want us to do in a Christian community like this that honors Christ — that honors the Scripture — is to say, “I want to learn to be the presence of Christ in that person’s life, so I’m not intimidated by, frightened by, angry at that person, but I can be a redemptive presence in the life of my neighbors.”

That’s what I think we’re all trying to do, is be more faithful Christians, and that’s my desire for us as we make our way through this.

Q: What is your role in policy formation?

A: As president, I’m given the responsibility to operate the university on behalf of the board of trustees. The board has final say on all of our policies and on our mission, on the way we use our funds to achieve our mission, they have final authority on operation of the institution. However, they’re not here to run in, so they hire a president. The administration operates the university within those policy framework. My role then is to make sure we’re living within those policies.

Q: Why is new policy needed at IWU?

A: As the laws have changed, and as the way the laws are interpreted has changed, our policy statements have to be in accordance with that changing legal compliance framework and so what we’ve discovered as we move forward is that some of the issues we don’t even address. For example, we have no policy that mentions how we treat transgenders persons; it’s just not touched on in any of our policy language at all.

Meanwhile, the title compliance, what we’ve learned and seen as that law has evolved, gender identity and gender expression are protected statuses within Title 9, so it’s not just male and female, it is whatever gender identity someone wishes to be known for is a protected identity. So clearly we need a policy that responds to that in some way, and we just don’t have it. That was the primary motivator, for changing and for seeking a richer, fuller policy statement to address the issues rising that we just didn’t have years ago.

In terms of gay and lesbian issues, we only have one statement in our documents that refers to “homosexual behavior” and over the years what we’ve learned as we’ve had these conversations is that can be a pretty ambiguous term. People ask, “What does that actually mean?” and “How do you apply that policy to a student? How do you apply it to male and female students or lesbian and gay students, and how do you apply that to faculty?”

It seemed like an opportune time for us to dig down a little bit and try to understand how do we take the positions that our university takes on these issues as a Bible-believing, evangelical Christian university. What do we believe is right about that, and how do we take that and translate that into policy that is fair to everybody, that treats people with dignity and respect, that creates an environment, that leads to redemption and wholeness in people and in our community.

Q:What internal factors incited this new policy?

A: I’ve had conversations with students who share with me that they have not felt safe at IWU and that they don’t find this to be a particularly welcoming environment. Maybe to some degree that would be inevitable.

If you’re living in an environment which says that that kind of lifestyle is not ultimately pleasing or for your best well being, that will probably always be interpreted in some sense as a form of rejection. But at the same time, we can’t have an environment here where gay and lesbian students feel threatened or where they actively are having to defend themselves against epithets or jokes that are demeaning or statements that deepen their sense of depression or anxiety about these issues.

We need to hold to what is true but to do that in a way that is life-giving and wholesome and caring. I want us to find a way as a community to hold those two things in tension.

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