A Pastoral Perspective on Trevecca Nazarene University, Mae Beavers, and Islam

in trevecca •  last year

Recently some may have heard about the canceling of an event that was to be held at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN on January 25th by GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Mae Beavers. The title of this event is "Homeland Security Summit." It's important to note outright, that this event was NOT sponsored by the university merely hosted on its campus. The university does have a long track record of allowing political candidates of both political parties use of the campus facility, however news articles indicate that after receiving notices from several alumni concerning the event and its speakers, school officials conducted research and judged them to be inconsistent with the values and goals of the university and thus withdrew its facility for use by Beavers.

This post however is not meant to rehash what the news has already wrote on. It's been covered by numerous outlets such as the "The Tennessean," "Inside Higher Ed," "The Tennessee Star," and others to which I will let you read. The concerns of this post however are of a more pastoral nature, a glimpse behind the administrative and biblical aims that is the Church of the Nazarene and Trevecca by extension.

Several of these news organizations cite Beavers criticism of the withdrawal of the university as a venue as "'caving to Islamic pressure," and her assertion that the university has "'abandoned Biblical principles in order embrace [sic] political correctness and promote the interests of those who deny Christ.'" It is my belief that this is anything but the case, largely due to huge and glaring misconceptions surrounding Islam, politics, the university system, the mission and vision of the school, the Church of the Nazarene, and theology in general.

Sadly, it is near impossible to cover each and every area in a single blog post, but I do want to present an alternative view that perhaps the news has not picked up on, and that is of a pastoral concern. While I cannot argue with the reality that we do indeed face some perceived, even realized, threat from radical Islamic extremist and that the speakers of this Homeland Security Summit have significant words of truth to convey, I still hold reservations. If I were Dan Boone, the president of TNU, at the forefront of my mind as the president of a Nazarene university and/or a member of its leadership teams, it would be the mission and vision of the school and the denominational name it bears and those associated with it. Ironically enough, I would also be concerned about the safety and security of those either associated with our school or our denomination.

Creative & Restricted Access Areas

In the context of Christian mission work, there are two categories known as "creative access" or "restricted access" areas.

Creative Access as defined by Keith E. Eitel in the Evangelical Dictionary of World Mission:

Sovereign governments, regimes, or territories that deny, or severely limit, long-term presence for foreigners engaging in Christian missionary or evangelistic activities. Such countries have one or more large population segments that are historically resistant to Christianity. Laws restraining Christian activities reflect the controlling influence of religiosocial groups antagonistic to Christianity. Especially suspect are Christian endeavors done with or by foreign mission agencies. The sociological causes for such restrictive measures are numerous. Yet perceived threats to historic religious practices, distinct ethnic identities, or nationalistic reactions to Western colonial encroachments help explain some of the prohibitions. - A. Scott Moreau, Harold Netland, and Charles van Engen, Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Baker Books; A. Scott Moreau, 2000), 240.

The reason for these hostilities is vast and complex, but needless to say that our Nazarene schools and the Global Church of the Nazarene has a presence in many of these areas. Students studying to be missionaries may spend semester abroad in one of these areas and, as the name suggest, means that they will have to be "creative" in their ministry due to the hostile climate they are to work in. For some, that means living in a neighboring country that is friendly to the Christian faith and traveling regularly for the work they perform into that restricted area. When one places themselves in the place of a parent, they would want the school to ensure their child's well-being while they are there. Additional sentiments might be said for those who live full-time and serve in these areas.

So where is the connection to this event? Simply enough it's the security aspect, but it's one that campaigning often neglects or turns a deaf ear to in considering these matters and what they might mean for that context. Let's take this a step further to another concern, the actual evangelization process to peoples in these countries and/or those living here in the US.

We're all familiar with those disclaimers before TV shows or infomercials about something not being a view held by that network. That gets much more complicated with a university campus and live event, especially given the liberties that modern technology can allow should an event get recorded and posted online. Simply to say, the school or denomination shouldn't be associated and/or be presumed to endorse views by the mere permit of use of a building. Leadership 101, after all, is all about perception, though this is not the time or place to argue if this is right or wrong it is a present reality. The mere fact that CAIR and SPLC, despite what you might think of them and how much that might actually be valid or true, labels certain individuals and groups as anti-Islam and Islamophobic and that carries weight with many people groups.

Let's say that I have a class of students in a creative access country that is dominated by Islam, the last thing I would want is to jeopardize their safety on the chance the government or terrorist find out who they are and what they are up to, risking them losing their lives. Equally so for professional missionaries. The very fact that CAIR labels speakers that used that school for a third-party event as anti-Islam and, allegedly, are known Islam bashers, would be reason enough to execute them despite official policy or views put out by the school or denomination. Right or wrong, mere perception is enough to sway someones judgement and/or action.

On the other side of the coin, the same might be said for evangelization right here in the US. In Muslim dominated cities or mere association with a Muslim with this same perception could easily endanger a person, if not make that follower of Islam adverse to hearing anything from anyone associated with that school or denomination because it carries the label of being against Muslims based on allowing a third-party to use a facility for a non-school sponsored event. The fact that Trevecca Nazarene University is located in downtown Nashville, might carry a bit of weight to these concerns too.

I'm not saying these speakers are good or bad, they're probably great people. This school theologically and practically, very likely agrees with much these speakers might say at the end of the day. However, it's very selfish to think that ones mere agreement with statements equates to a license or endorsement and/or guarantees use of a venue for a third-party event to accused Islam bashers on a campus has very real and very wide reaching potential repercussions. I've only scratched at one or two ideas and potential pitfalls that could be taking place here, and certainly it is not exhaustive, but you get the idea.

Needless to say, I'm very disheartened and appalled at the comments made by Mae Beavers concerning TNU. They are unfounded, hurtful, naive, and narrow minded with the only end goal being to win the governors seat and not caring who gets hurt in the end. This matter is not about political aspirations or cultural appropriateness, nor an endorsement of Islam, but it is about the mission of the Church, and she will stand against any tyrant trying to strong arm it for causes that would hurt its witness to its King.

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