For people of faith, it can seem like things in our culture are going downhill in every conceivable way. We see inflation that makes it hard to afford things that are important to us – whether that means necessities like groceries, or special events like a family trip to the beach. We see injustice and the unraveling of our civil liberties – whether that means Christians being shouted down on college campuses or ethnic minorities living with the double worry of inadequate and/or unsafe law enforcement. We see kids at risk in heartbreaking ways, brutal wars overseas, security threats, and domestic issues that have no easy solution.
And in the middle of all of that, we see divides growing in politics, on social media, and even in the church. The prospect of reasonable solutions seems to diminish as anger, personal attacks, and even hatred rises. It would be so easy to lose hope.
All those concerns are very real. But so is our great God. As Jesus put it, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” (John 5:17, NLT)
I want to share a powerful glimpse of the truth that God is working, via what happened last weekend at Harvard University. I think it’s so important that I am postponing my usual equipping blog this week to share this encouragement instead. First, a little background.
The challenge of Harvard (and most universities)
Jeff and I met in grad school at Harvard; I was getting an analytical master’s degree and he was at the law school. We were both followers of Jesus and found (as many others have) that this elite and supposedly enlightened environment could be a very, very difficult one for people of sincere faith. We observed firsthand how radically our leading universities have changed – and how they have led our overall culture in that change.
Harvard and many other universities were founded to honor God and equip Christian leaders to pursue and advance His truth and love in the world. Harvard was our nation’s first university, founded in 1636, and its motto for hundreds of years was “Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae” – Truth for Christ and the Church. But today as purely secular institutions, our universities have an almost institutional backlash against things of faith. It is as if many college leaders and students feel that the expression of our Judeo-Christian foundation is harmful, so they feel compelled to curtail or extinguish it. Today, Harvard’s motto is simply “Veritas” – truth in a vacuum. In prior generations, true debate among divergent viewpoints was viewed as essential for learning. Today, as with so much in our culture, true debate is shut down because certain viewpoints are viewed as illegitimate or even dangerous.
So Jeff and I did indeed find all those challenges on campus. Yet we also found something else: a vibrant Christian community. And among those young men and women who clung to God and leaned on each other in the various Christian fellowship groups, our faith grew in astounding ways. We realized we had a choice. We could hide our faith under a rock and simply try to endure the next few years, or we could live our authentic lives as Christians in public view and try to be a light in what was often a dark place. Sometimes that was easier than others, and we didn’t always do it well. Sometimes, in fact, we did it pretty badly. I know I’m not the only one who thinks back with some shame on times when I responded to class debates and the ridicule of others with cutting words or anger instead of love, patience, and kindness. I’m embarrassed by the many times I didn’t claim the name of Jesus because I didn’t want classmates or professors to think less of me. (A few years after I graduated, I even wrote a novel set at Harvard – a spiritual thriller called The Veritas Conflict – that included some of that history and environment in the story.)
Yet in the middle of all that, everyone was still praying. And for generations, people have been praying for Harvard and so many other schools. Because, as the saying describes, “As go our elite universities, so goes the nation.”
In all that time, God has not somehow been absent. He has heard those prayers. He has watered the seeds that so many have been planting – for example, via rich Veritas Forum networks of Christian thinkers at hundreds of secular universities in the last few decades, or via the recent revivals at Christian schools like Asbury University that have spread to others in the last few months.
Which brings me to recent events.
God is working!
A few years ago, one of our close friends from grad school received a call from the dean of Harvard Law School. Originally from Nigeria, our friend is a woman of great faith and prayer, and was a professor at another school. The dean essentially said, “We would like you to come to be a tenured professor here and start a Program on Biblical Law and Christian Legal Studies at Harvard Law School.”
If that had been me, I would have assumed it was a prank call.
But it was real. Our friend picked up, moved back to Boston, and started the program. She invited trusted leaders onto an advisory board (Jeff being one of them). She invited leading Christian speakers to share at small events on campus. She and others began teaching classes that explored the biblical foundations of the law – courses that were flooded with so many non-Christian students that they had to add more capacity. She connected with the rich networks of Christian students, professors, and student-ministry chaplains on campus, and helped create others. And they all kept praying.
And this past weekend … wow.
The program’s small staff, alumni, and volunteers convened an unprecedented conference on the campus of Harvard. Faith & Veritas 2023 was a gathering of hundreds of Harvard’s Christian alumni from around the world. From Thailand and Scotland, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Leaders from the right and the left. There were C-suite executives of household-name companies, founders of high-flying startups, government leaders, and brand-new graduates. Great leaders of the faith – and those just trying to hold on – packed the seats.
And tears were in our eyes as we joined in worship of Jesus in spaces where He is often ignored or ridiculed (often asking one another, “Can you believe this is happening?!”). We listened to challenging talks about living as followers of Jesus today, and honored the small local churches and often-exhausted pastors and church lay leaders who have humbly served students and the Boston community year after year, often with limited resources, many of them wondering if their work was even making a difference.
One of those pastors baptized me, two months before I graduated.
In life after life, those faithful, loving men and women have made an eternal difference.
Which brings me to the theme that came out of the gathering last weekend.
A call for unity and love among the Body of Christ
It wasn’t planned. But in talk after talk, God brought the same theme forward: The deep, vital need for unity and love in the Body of Christ. The need to let nothing hinder the light of Christ in these shadowlands. The need to respond to the challenges of our day in love and action, but never in fear, harshness, or a quest for power to “make things right.”
As several speakers emphasized, it is tempting to look at the challenges, injustices, and deeply disturbing problems of today and feel like the only answer is to fight back, even if we have to use harsh methods to do it. But we cannot use worldly methods to accomplish the aims of Jesus. We cannot become that which we hate in order to build what we love.
We have to love. And that includes loving one another even when we sharply disagree. Yes, there are vitally important things worth fighting for today – and sincere followers of Jesus may find themselves championing opposing solutions as they walk out the words of Micah 6:8. “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” But as one speaker put it, doing Micah 6:8 in a way that honors God requires placing those three things in the reverse order: To be humble, first. To recognize that we will not be 100% right, 100% of the time. To be willing to listen to our opponents. And then to be firmly committed, always and only, to methods of kindness and love as we pursue justice – those things that matter to us.
As Bob Goff once put it on social media, that space where we are most tempted to be snarky or angry instead of loving, “Love does not dishonor others. The way we treat the people we disagree with the most, is a report card on our faith.”
The gathering of hundreds of Christians at Harvard last weekend is only part of what God is doing in our world – just one visible and amazing example of His hand at work. Over and over again, unplanned, Isaiah 43:19 was referenced: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
I wrote about this conference this week to encourage you with this one thought: In all the challenges you see in front of you, and in this culture: You can trust our God. He is working. As The Chronicles of Narnia put it, “Aslan is on the move.” So let us all work with His ways, as loving, vibrant examples of Jesus, and be a part of what He is doing in the world.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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Rob McKee says
Very interesting & encouraging news, Shaunti. My wife came across it & just shared it with me. I’m Harvard AB 1975 Social Relations (class of 1974), then a career with Wycliffe Bible Translators that included 19 years in Africa with SIL International & has me finishing now as senior faculty at Dallas International University. I’ve taught cultural anthropology courses here at DIU, having gotten my MA 1985 & PhD 1995 in Anthropology at the University of Rochester to serve as an anthropology consultant in SIL’s work in ex-Zaire & also Africa more broadly. I’ll pray for the success & impacts of this new part of the law school. I’ll also share this article with several Harvard classmates I’ve kept touch with. My one big concern you’ve identified pretty well, that we’ve got a Christian house that’s dividing against itself for some very good reasons (& also for some dumb ones). YES we need love & humility, but I think also what permitted Jesus’ “Get behind me, Satan!” (STRONG words) to Peter. May God have mercy on & help us in this regard. Very best regards.
Michael Bresciani says
This is truly wonderful news – let it sweep the nation.