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SGA forum highlights ways to accept LGBTQ community

“Some of the views you might actually disagree with, and that’s okay,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs for Student Government David Priest (sr).  This is how he introduced the Student Government Association’s forum on LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer) issues Oct. 8, which was a continuation of the forum held last year.

This forum comes at a critical time when many Christians schools, and specifically schools who join Indiana Wesleyan University in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), are facing legal consequences about their traditional stances against homosexual practices among their faculty and students.

In July, Michael Lindsey, president of Gordon College, signed a petition asking President Barack Obama to add an exemption clause for religious institutions from a pending non-discrimination order.

Gordon is now facing the loss of city contracts and looking over their own policies against “homosexual practices” under pressure from their accreditation board, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Gordon students seem to be on board with the changes. A recent petition, started by a Gordon alumnus, asking for the phrase “homosexual practice” be removed from the Life and Conduct Statement has more than 1,000 signatures at this point.

At IWU, students like Phil Ross (sr) hope this forum will bring a new perspective on the conversation.

“Time and time again we’re called as Christians to enter into the world and to be the light and salt of the earth and to go and be community with those who really need to be reached out to,” Ross said. “This is a group of people that we’ve marginalized and put to the side and ignored over and over again.”

Ross emphasized people don’t have to change their theological perspective to be friends and love the people around them, no matter their sexual orientation.

“Both the church and the LGBTQ community have harmed each other greatly … but we’re called to be the redemptive people that bring healing on the earth,” Ross said.

Indiana University journalism student Suzanne Grossman, an openly gay Christian, gave her perspective on what IWU can do as a community to be more loving to those around it.

“Something they could do for maybe transgender students is incorporate more training in the health center on how to handle certain situations,” Grossman said.

She explained how changing access to legal versus preferred names at IU has helped transgender students so they are not accidentally “outed” while a teacher is taking attendance or they are waiting in the doctor’s office.

“You don’t have to be affirming or non-affirming to accept policies that are more inclusive, such as that,” Grossman said.

George Fox University and California Baptist University have both recently faced lawsuits involving transgender students and their housing policies. Currently, IWU has no policy or precedents for dealing with transgender students.

Ross commented on further ways to build community. He critiqued the counseling sessions, saying they can feel like a “fix it” situation.

“I think a lot of people see it as, well if you’re struggling with this, then go here and you can get help,” Ross said, “Rather, I would love to see what it would look like to have discussion groups on these topics.”

He advocates for groups that can discuss more casually, so people who have LGBTQ friends or family members will also feel welcome to learn more about this debate.

Wheaton College, also a member of the CCCU, recently created a group called Refuge, where LGBTQ students can meet in community. At the moment, this group is only open to LGBTQ students, not to all who wish to discuss the matter, but it is the first time a group like this has been made official on Wheaton’s campus.

However, nine other CCCU schools have rejected applications for club status from LGBTQ groups. These schools will not accept groups that want to affirm gay identity or advocate for gay rights, given their theological backgrounds and code of conduct policies.

As IWU and Christian colleges in general move further into discussions and dealings with sexuality, Professor of Mission and Anthropology from Trinity University Dr. Robert Priest, believes these institutions must take their education on the topic of sexuality seriously.

“We’re not cultivating the kinds of expertise and in-depth understandings that give us even a credible platform to speak into this situation,” Priest said. “We are a knowledge institution. We have no coursework, no curriculum, no sustained year-after-year effort to forge better understandings, but now legally we are trying to come up with an answer.”

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What do Wesleyans believe about creation?

The recent controversy over a Gungor performance may have put the conflict over creation on the front page, but the conversation has been going on for much longer at Indiana Wesleyan University and in evangelical Christian circles.

In fact, the Office of the Dean of the Chapel asked IWU science faculty months ago to lead a week-long chapel series on creation, beginning Oct. 20.

A view of God's creation from the mountains of Golden, Colo. // Photo taken by Hannah Whelchel

A view of God’s creation from the mountains of Golden, Colo. // Photo taken by Hannah Whelchel

While many Wesleyans would profess a six-day creation, it is not necessary for acceptance into the Wesleyan Church.

Wesley Seminary Dean Dr. Ken Schenck said Wesleyan theology accepts a variety of stances on creation.

“It’s important to believe that the Bible is inspired; the Bible is not a mistake. It’s important to believe that God directed, however it happened, but the Wesleyan Church doesn’t have an official statement saying you can’t believe in theistic evolution or you have to believe these were 24-hour days,” Schenck said.

“We believe the Bible is inspired, the text is not an error, but we allow for some spectrum of interpretations of Genesis,” he said.

The Articles of Religion for the Wesleyan Church states that God is “Creator and Preserver of all things” as well as “the Source of all that exists, whether of matter or spirit.”

The absence of a definite Wesleyan theology on the “how” of creation allows students the freedom and comfort of retaining the views of their specific denomination, while unifying the church in the truths they hold as foundational.

“Indiana Wesleyan is a place that is very friendly to literal six-day creationists. In fact, most of our students would agree with them,” Schenck said. “But we aren’t going to kick out anyone for believing otherwise.”

The Sojourn conducted a poll of 150 students at McConn and Baldwin, asking if students believed in a literal, six-day creation, a different method of creation or if they were undecided.

Fifty-one percent of those polled stated that they believe in a literal reading of the beginning of Genesis — six, 24-hour days of creation and one day of rest.

“I believe in a Young Earth creation because when you look at scientific evidence on both sides of the issue, there is no ‘proof’ of evolution that has not been refuted properly and sufficiently,” John Mason (fr) said. “The Old Earth perspective and the theistic evolutionist perspective stretches Biblical Hebrew much too far for my comfort.”

Of the remaining students, 19 percent do not believe in a literal reading of Genesis and 30 percent chose the third option – that they are still pondering the question or have decided that the specifics of creation aren’t as important to their personal faith as the truth that God created everything.

While not all of the students at IWU are Wesleyan, the freedom that the church doctrine allows can present a challenge for Bible and Natural Science professors when teaching Genesis and creation.

Professor of Biblical Studies Dr. Stephen Lennox aims to unite his students, showing them that neither a six-day creationist view or a theistic evolution view is unchristian or impossible to be supported biblically.

“My main goal is to try to say, ‘Where do we draw the line?’ in terms of what’s an acceptable and an unacceptable view,” Lennox said, “then to help students understand that the argument is really a family argument.”

According to Lennox, by showing his students the metaphorical nature of books like Psalms and encouraging them to read the text in its ancient cultural context, he hopes to show them “people who don’t hold a highly literal view aren’t denying the authority of Scripture, and there may be other ways to embrace the authority of Scripture other than taking a highly literal view of it.”

This disagreement between denominations is something IWU faculty have also encountered.

“We have some professors who would believe in a very literal Genesis [creation], and we have some professors who would believe that God directed the process of evolution,” Schenck said.

Other colleges, such as Cedarville or Liberty University, have their faculty sign a doctrine of faith or hold a statement professing a belief in a six-day creation. Bryan College recently lost nine faculty members over enforcing a more literal doctrine.

According to Lennox, IWU has a more cooperative approach to the diversity held in creation beliefs.

“I think what [professors] share in common is not to dismiss–not to dechristianize each other–because they all believe in the Bible,” he said.

In the book “Common Ground,” written by Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy Keith Drury, he emphasizes what Christians must believe about creation.

“Christians insist on rejecting any theory of creation that leaves God out, but we are open to discussing any theory that confesses God as Creator,” writes Drury.  “How he created is interesting but is not relevant to our core faith.”

Stephen Conrad, Associate Professor of Biology, uses similar methods to Lennox as he teaches about creation. He brings up many different theories, all rooted in the creator, such as Literal Creation, Progressive Creation, Theistic Evolution, and Historical Creationism.

“We talk about what the different views say, the big proponents of each one, what you’ll have to reconcile with each one, and whether or not they are compatible with naturalistic science,” Conrad said.

While he presents a wide range of ideas, he maintains that none of them are completely secular.

“None of them are compatible with naturalistic science. Because naturalistic science says there’s no God. And we’re starting with a God,” Conrad said.

He hopes through the presentation of multiple theories, instead of one concrete answer, his students are challenged to develop their own faith.

“This is definitely something that everybody needs to wrestle with. Everybody needs to come up with an answer on their own,” Conrad said. “I think that’s the way to do this discussion is to make sure that students know that it is a bit controversial and it is something that you need to figure out on your own.”

However, like Drury, he recognizes that this is not the most important question.

“Ultimately how I leave it is: it’s great to think about, it’s great to debate, but the real question you want to get right is not, ‘How did God create the earth?’ but ‘Who is Jesus and what did he do for you?” Conrad said.

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Dr. Wright introduces Three-Year Pilot Program at town hall meeting

Indiana Wesleyan University President Dr. David Wright announced a new program to curb the university’s declining enrollment numbers at the town hall meeting in IWU’s Philippe Performing Arts Center Oct. 6.

Wright began the meeting with news that IWU’s undergraduate enrollment at the Marion campus has declined over the last three years enough to cause concern among the administration. In the fall of 2011, IWU had just over 3,300 students enrolled at the residential campus. This fall, there are just over 2,900 undergraduate students taking classes at the residential campus.

Wright expressed his concern about this decline and announced a plan to fix the issue called the Three-Year Pilot Program.

One aspect of the program is an update to the church-matching scholarship. The previous ruling of the scholarship stated that IWU will match a scholarship granted from the student’s home church up to $900.

The update states that students of the Wesleyan denomination can now earn up to $1,500 to match and all other non-Wesleyan denominations can now earn up to $1,000.

“The Three-Year Pilot Program will let us aggressively promote the residential campus to the public and to our key communities from which we want to recruit students,” Wright said.

Wright also stressed there will be some major advancements in a few of the university’s current programs.

First of all, the university’s board of trustees approved a new Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree, which will launch in the summer of 2016.

Along with the advancement in the ministry program, some other developing initiatives for the Three-Year Pilot Program include International Recruitment and an Ivy Tech Partnership.

The Board of Trustees will be making major advancements in the health sciences department between now and 2025. The university plans to add 24 new programs to the health sciences department, including Doctor of Physical Therapy, Biomedical Sciences and Doctor of Optometry degrees.

Over the last five years, the addition of programs–such as Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Music Therapy, Master of Public Health and Health Care Administration–have increased enrollment, with just over 400 students enrolled in the 2014 fall semester.

“We clearly have gotten enrollment that we would not have gotten otherwise [due to new programs],” said Wright. “The key is to build these programs so that we capitalize on the links that are possible between undergraduate programs and graduate programs.”

Wright believes IWU will be seeing many more “three-plus-two” programs where students complete three years of undergraduate school and two years of a master’s program.

IWU proposed many new educational options at the meeting. The university is taking advantage of its many options to improve to move forward academically.

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Facilities Services to take down fountain

By Angelica Huffman and Brandon Stilabower, contributing writers

The fountain outside Jackson Library has been an IWU landmark for more than a decade. It will be removed later this fall.

The fountain outside Jackson Library has been an IWU landmark for more than a decade. It will be removed later this fall. // Photo by Lauren Dafoe

The fountain outside of the Jackson Library in Eastburn Plaza, a campus landmark for more than a decade, will be disassembled and removed for good in the coming weeks, according to Assistant Vice President of Facilities Services, Don Rowley.

“Probably after Grandparents Weekend, you’ll see us disassembling it,” Rowley said.

The fountain, which was installed about 12 years ago with the completion of the library, is made of fiberglass, rather than concrete. Several cracks and dips are now visible, due to years of wear.

The lifecycle of fiberglass is about 10 to 15 years, Rowley said.

“We’ve done what we can and we’re really at our limits as far as making repairs,” Rowley said.  “There’s a lot of band-aids behind the scenes that people don’t see that we’ve put on to make it last this long.”

Sitting and walking on the fountain has contributed to its current state, Rowley said. Students’ soaping pranks have made no impact on the basic structure, though they have led to the replacement of several pumps.

But Rowley doesn’t place the blame on students.

“Everything has a life expectancy. This one is at its life expectancy,” Rowley said. “There’s no blame to be cast on any students.”

This discussion is at the cabinet level of the institution now, involving Indiana Wesleyan University President David Wright, Dr. Keith Newman and John Jones, who is the Vice President of Operations.

The group is hoping to bring another iconic item to campus, in place of the fountain.

With a statue, Rowley suggested, there is less opportunity for mischief to occur. But even the hallowed John Wesley statue has been subject to various kinds of mischief—underwear placed on its head, receiving a lei around its neck, and, in recent days, a pumpkin splattered on its form.

“With any feature, there’s going to be a level of mischief associated with it,” Rowley said.

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