Evangelical scholar reflects on role of faith in public life
RM: Typically, the students coming to Fuller are more globally aware. Many of them have traveled abroad so they are concerned about issues like human trafficking, the environment, poverty. This isn’t about getting into left-wing causes. It’s a deep sense that to be a follower of Jesus is to care about these things. They are not always sure we are doing the right things on these issues, so they are really struggling on what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the present world.
But there is also a younger generation of evangelicals who may not be liberal on things, but they resent the highly judgmental, homophobic spirit of some of the older generation. Not that (the younger evangelicals) disagree theologically or morally, but they know people who are gay or lesbian and they don’t want those people to think that if they are evangelical means they are hateful, spiteful people. They are really struggling with this and how do we exhibit a kinder, gentler spirituality without sacrificing our convictions.
DN: In addition to your interfaith outreach, what would you say were other major accomplishments during your 20 years as president of Fuller Theological Seminary?
RM: We took on a major project of interfaith theology and the arts. As a part of that, we started a program called Reel Spirituality and developed a strong ongoing relationship with Christians in Hollywood. We brought together screenwriters, producers (and) actors with pastors and just talked about how does Hollywood tell stories. How can we learn from Hollywood to better communicate the gospel to the youth culture? ... Now, we offer a lot of classes on theology and film. We have a woman who evaluates scripts for Disney studios and has a master's degree from Fuller because she wanted to be guided by Christian concerns in discerning good from bad scripts in terms of Christian values.
We have also done a lot with international relations. I started going to China at least once a year since 1994 to build relationships with the government there and to build up churches. We now have 21 approved seminaries that are part of the government-approved system. We just try to work with government officials and gain a better understanding of their situation and form partnerships.
DN: Describe what is taught in the seminaries in China.
RM: Fuller has three schools: theology, a missions faculty that does a lot of anthropological and intercultural study and clinical psychology. There is a lot of interest in our psychology program. When talking early on with government officials in China in charge of religious affairs, they said they didn't have a mental health system that could help with problems such as divorce, intergenerational conflict, suicide and addiction — four big problems that have surfaced with the growth of a market system in China. They asked if Fuller could help churches learn how to counsel people.
So we bring about 30 Ph.D. psychology students to China for three-week periods to help in that.
This is a wonderful time for faith-based communities in China to be moving out of their sense of martyrdom and persecution and into an active engagement and even partnerships, trying to be a resource and partner wherever we can.
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