HCAS Annual Meeting – “The Power of Counter Narratives” with Professor Soong Chan-Rah!
|Date / Day||Saturday, September 18|
|Time||7:00 pm (ET)|
In a chaotic and turbulent world, how can God’s people be a powerful and significant influence in our world? How can Christian witness be strengthened in the context of conflict?Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah is Robert Munger Professor of Evangelism at Fuller Theological Seminary and the author of The Next Evangelicalism (IVP Books, 2009); Many Colors (Moody, 2010); Prophetic Lament (IVP Books, 2015); co-author of Forgive Us (Zondervan, 2014); Return to Justice (Brazos, 2016); and Unsettling Truths (IVP Books, 2019).
Soong-Chan received his B.A. from Columbia University; his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; his Th.M. from Harvard University; his D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and his Th.D. from Duke University.
Rah is formerly the founding Senior Pastor of Cambridge Community Fellowship Church (CCFC), a multi-ethnic church living out the values of racial reconciliation and social justice in the urban context. He has previously served on the boards of World Vision, Sojourners and the Christian Community Development Association.
He has extensive experience in cross-cultural preaching as well as on numerous college campuses. Soong-Chan has been a main stage speaker at the Urbana Student Missions Conference, the Congress on Urban Ministry, the Urban Youth Workers Institute Conference, the CCDA National Conference, the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary National Preaching Conference, the Fuller Missiology Conference, the Justice Conference, and Verge, Catalyst, and Calvin Worship Conferences.
Open Response Regarding the President of Harvard’s Chaplains
Our board read with disappointment the New York Times article “The New Chief Chaplain at Harvard? An Atheist.” Although I personally know and greatly respect Greg Epstein, Harvard’s secular humanist chaplain, this article is characteristic of the inadequate journalism on religious matters. The article fails to explain what role Harvard’s chaplains serve, why a group of religious people would select Epstein as their president, or why this should even qualify as news (besides being splashy and involving our notorious alma mater). It seems written in a way to prompt secular triumphalism and to provoke Christian outrage. We are dedicating this newsletter to providing more answers than questions.
To give more background, there are over 40 registered chaplains at Harvard, who are officially recognized by the university. They are generally not paid by the university, but are a combination of local church (or synagogue or temple) leaders who are funded by their congregations and dedicated campus ministry leaders who fundraise their own support (often through broader national organizations like Cru, Intervarsity, and RUF). The president of this group serves in a minor part time role and receives a small stipend for their trouble. The President of the Chaplains does report directly to the Office of the President periodically; they serve for one year terms which are typically extended to a second year as a courtesy. There is little glory in the role, but they do it as a service to the community of chaplains. The nominating committee selects candidates for different roles in the organization, typically one for each position, and the group of chaplains votes for the entire slate.
Given that Harvard is a multicultural place, there are chaplains representing its different religious groups, including many religious minorities. Previously, Harvard has had chaplains from these other faiths serve in this role – although it was not reported in the media. These varied faith traditions have provided answers to the biggest questions we have in life: what is our purpose? Why are we here? To what or to whom should we devote our lives? These questions are important for all students to ask – especially as they go on to lead in their fields of medicine, law, politics, business, and academia. As Christians, we may lament that Harvard is failing to live up to even the basic motto of Veritas – even if we admit it is unlikely to re-amend its original Christo et Ecclesiae. Within this pluralistic framework, we ought to strive for the goal of ensuring that faithful Christians have a seat at the table in these conversations. For this reason, one of our goals as the Harvard Christian Alumni Society is to “improve understanding of the Christian faith among other communities through interfaith dialogue.”
Greg Epstein is one of the longest serving chaplains, having started the role in 2005. Over the past 15 years, he has made it clear that he believes Christians should have a seat at the table. He has invited Christian chaplains to speak to his group. He has helped co-host debates between Christian and secular students about ethics and metaphysics. He worked with evangelical chaplains to revise the non-proselytization agreement all chaplains must sign, thus encouraging students to try to speak more openly about their beliefs.
As a courtesy to our Christian chaplains (who we do not wish to flood with emails), we are providing some of their comments here on this matter without providing the exact source. “Harvard should celebrate the fact that they have a vibrant community trying to facilitate conversations where people can engage in thoughtful reflection. We appreciate that Greg has been an advocate for interfaith conversation.” Greg was described as a “dear friend,” despite obvious theological disagreements. Another commented that Greg “is working toward the same broad end” of the group of chaplains, namely supporting the spiritual and ethical questions of Harvard’s students. Given the “very independent activity” of the chaplains, they are unconcerned that his election to the role will have an impact on their ministries. One evangelical who served in this same role explained, “Greg is a good choice… Greg’s role as president is to help us organize our work and lead our monthly meetings.”
This would be helpful context to understand why a group of deeply religious people would ask for a secular humanist to represent them to the university. Instead, the New York Times decided to quote many broader statistics about rising secularism. Other news outlets simply parroted much of what the NYT said or introduced even more misinformation. The Daily Mail misrepresented the facts with its statement that “Harvard University has chosen a devout atheist and ‘humanist chaplain’ to lead the Ivy League school.” This was not a top-down appointment but a bottom-up vote choosing one rotating representative from a group of peers. More egregious was Fox News commentary that “the chaplains argue that as a man with no clear religious affinity, Epstein is the perfect candidate to organize the various religious group activities across the campus.” Previously this role has been filled by chaplains of various backgrounds including Christians and Muslims; Greg is not perfect due to a lack of faith. We seriously question why this short-term rotating position earned their attention at all. On the actual ground at Harvard, the secular humanist chaplaincy serves “dozens of students.”
What these media outlets failed to mention is that there are approximately 600 practicing Christian undergraduates on campus, served by the Christian chaplains (including the Catholic priests of St. Paul’s) as well as local churches and other student groups (such as Christian Union’s HCFA). That represents roughly 10% of the undergraduate student body. These students are regularly involved in the campus ministries and often report great spiritual growth during their time at Harvard. There are hundreds of graduate students involved in their fellowships, and many more grad students who choose to focus on involvement with local churches. Of course, this is not “news” – because these numbers have stayed fairly constant through recent memory.
We hope that this newsletter encourages you about the spiritual activity going on at Harvard. Our board remains unruffled regarding Greg Epstein serving in this new role. In our broader context where many seek to cancel or remove those opponents with whom they disagree, we are grateful that the chaplains work together in support of the highest values of the liberal arts: challenging ideas together in a public forum.
If you would like to support the work of the Christian chaplains, we encourage you to reach out to them directly based on your own religious tradition. All of them have emails listed on the chaplaincy website. They do appreciate all of the financial support they receive to continue their ministry to Harvard students.
Peace in Christ,
Jordan Monge Gandhi AB‘12
In conjunction with the HCAS Board Members:
Andrew Grinstead (AB 1997)
Aaron Barth (AB 2004)
Douglas Howard Luke Chin (AB 1988, MD 1993, ScMM 1994)
Lawrence Franko (AB 1963, DBA 1970)
Oriana Li Halevy (AB 1992)
Poh-Lian Yap (AB 1987)
A More Perfect Union: Revealing Christ’s Love Across Political Divides
Professor Richard Parker, Lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School and cofounder of Mother Jones magazine, and Carrie Lukas, President of the Independent Women’s Forum and contributor to National Review, explore how Christians from both sides of the aisle allow their faith to shape their political behavior.
|Date / Day||Tues July 13|
|Time||7:00 pm (ET)|
The Pandemic Is A Portal
In the wake of this pandemic, we stand at a “portal” moment in history through which we can view our moral failings while gazing into a new age that will be profoundly different from the last. In the words of Arundhant Roy, “We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little baggage, ready to imagine another world. And fight for it.” Dr. Diane Moore, Director of the Center for Religion & Public Life, provides a framework for understanding how religion influences how we approach this portal and whether we choose to break free from a “culture of violence” and instead embrace a “culture of peace.”
|Date / Day||Thurs April 22|
|Time||8:00 pm (ET)|
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism
In partnership with the Harvard Clubs and SIGs of Northern CA, HCAS is cosponsoring a talk with Professor Benjamin Friedman on Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. Although the talk is from a secular perspective, Professor Friedman discusses Christianity in a historical and sociological context. One of his theses is that economics has been influenced by religion, and that evangelical Protestantism has been particularly influential upon America’s popular opinions on economic matters. Cohosting events such as this is a way we fulfill our mission to “promote research and scholarship at Harvard University that furthers the understanding, relevance, and impact of the Christian faith.”
|Date / Day||Tues Feb 9|
|Time||5:00 pm PT|
Prof. Poh Lian Yip Discusses Covid19 Vaccination Policy & Strategies
Infectious disease expert Prof. Poh-Lian Lim (Dunster ’87) discusses Covid-19 vaccination policies and strategies. What is the rationale behind national vaccination programs? What strategic thinking underpins global vaccination strategies? Who should be vaccinated and why? Prof. Lim is Director of the High-Level Isolation Unit at that Singapore National Centre for Infectious Diseases and Chair of the Technical Advisory Group for the WHO Health Security Interface for Biothreat Preparedness. Dr. Lim is also a HCAS Board Member and organizer of our semi-monthly online prayer and fellowship group. Prof. Lim is interviewed by HCAS Co-Founder, Douglas Chin (Mather ’88, HMS-MIT’93).
|Date / Day||January 23 (Saturday)|
|Time||10:00 am (ET)|
Division, Decadence, & Renewal
On Friday, January 22nd in partnership with The Institute for Human Ecology, the Harvard Christian Alumni Society, and the Catholic Information Center, the Trinity Forum is delighted to welcome author and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. In Douthat’s book, The Decadent Society, he provides an enlightening diagnosis of our modern condition which, he says, has been characterized by decadence. Douthat argues that many of today’s discontents and derangements reflect a sense of futility and disappointment—a feeling that the future is not what was promised. Almost a year after its original publication, we are keen to hear from Ross on what the events of the past year have revealed about our condition and how we might serve as agents of renewal in a divisive and decadent time.
|Date / Day||January 22 (Friday)|
|Time||1:30 pm (ET)|
How Do We Follow a God of Justice & Courage? + Annual Meeting
Gary Haugen ’85, founder and CEO of the International Justice Mission, will be doing a Q&A with HCAS Board Member Poh-Lian Lim Yap ’87 about his work ending global human trafficking.
Before founding IJM in 1997, Gary was a human rights attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he focused on crimes of police misconduct. In 1994, he served as the Director of the United Nations’ investigation in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. In this role, he led an international team of lawyers, criminal prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and forensics experts to gather evidence that would eventually be used to bring the perpetrators of the genocide to justice. Gary has been recognized by the U.S. State Department as a Trafficking in Persons “Hero” – the highest honor given by the U.S. government for anti-slavery leadership. He is the author of several books, including Good News About Injustice (Intervarsity Press) and, most recently, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence (Oxford University Press).
Following this event, we will be hosting our annual meeting to discuss the progress HCAS has made in the past year. Please join us for an update from our president Andrew Grinstead ’97!
|Date / Day||Sept 12 (Saturday)|
|Time||10 am (ET)|
|Meeting number (access code)||166 723 6810|
|Meeting password||Veritas (8374827 from phones and video systems)|
|US Dial In||(650) 215-5227|
Prayer and Fasting + Recommended Resources
Open Letter to Our Community
Dear HCAS community,
Like many of you, we have been deeply shaken by the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and the underlying problems of racial injustice they represent. Statements issued by many organizations, as well as protests in different cities, testify to a widely perceived need to address systemic injustice. The Harvard Christian Alumni Society exists to “connect God’s people to do God’s work.” We join with the broad community of believers in speaking out against racism as sinful, seeking an end to specific and chronic injustice against people of color, and desiring Christ-like reconciliation.
As disciples of Christ, we are called to actively engage the issues of our time. Apathy is not an option. How relevant is the Gospel to a watching world if the body of Christ does not help shine His grace and truth during times of crisis? As we seek to respond with Christ-honoring words and deeds that are thoughtful, prayerful, and reflect God’s command to love our neighbors, we would like to share a few thoughts and invite yours.
As Christians, we share an understanding that all humans have equal dignity and worth as persons created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28), that Christ died on the cross to redeem people from every nation, tribe and tongue (Revelation 5:9), and that we are accountable to the Father for how we treat one another (Ephesians 6:9). We also share an understanding that seemingly intractable societal problems, including hatred, injustice, greed and oppression, are deeply rooted in the brokenness caused by human sin, but Jesus’ life, death and resurrection also offers to every person His call to repent, His command to be reconciled to enemies, and His power to live a new life (Ephesians 2:14-16). Further, the God whom we worship clearly condemns injustice and oppression. God sees the troubles of the afflicted, listens to their cries, and intervenes on behalf of the oppressed (Psalm 10:14-18). Based on these understandings, and recognizing that many of us may already be responding through our churches, affiliated institutions, and communities, HCAS would like to offer three next steps for moving forward as a Christian alumni community.
First, we will be hosting two Webex Prayer and Fasting sessions. We have been meeting weekly for prayer since March as the COVID-19 situation worsened. It has meant a lot to connect with Christian students, faculty and alumni across 5 continents, to pray for each other, for Harvard and for the needs of the world. Let us come together as a body of Christ, to humble ourselves, to mourn and confess our sin as a country, and to seek God’s face in a special way. For those who feel called to participate, fasting is one of the ways we may choose to wait upon God in prayer.
HCAS in Prayer (Webex)
• June 27 Saturday @ 10:00 am (Eastern), 7 am (Pacific), 10 pm (Singapore)
• July 25 Saturday @ 10:00 am (Eastern), 7 am (Pacific), 10 pm (Singapore)
Webex Link: https://hcas-fuy.my.webex.com/hcas-fuy.my/j.php?MTID=mef3eebb64356fd2fb8ca4f5c746a7f4e
Meeting number (access code): 916 270 078
Meeting password: Veritas (8374827 from phones and video systems)
US Dial In: (650) 215-5227
Second, with the publication of this open letter on our HCAS website, we invite members to engage issues through reflection, prayer, discussion, deep listening, and the prayerful discernment of God’s call. We are in the process of planning a future HCAS Connect conversation on the subject of racial injustice. Please follow our Facebook page and visit our website, where we will update HCAS members as details become available.
Third, as we come together to pray, reflect, and listen deeply, many of us will feel called to action. Our intention is to be constructive, rather than divisive, to listen more than explain, and to mutually discern rather than debate. Recognizing that there is a wide range of viewpoints shaped by social and cultural milieu, our hope is to focus on our common faith and the One we serve. We offer (annexed) some practical resources for consideration and welcome other suggestions you may have. Updates to this list will be posted on the HCAS website.
As we embark on this journey together, we believe and declare that Christ is able to redeem and transform the brokenness of our communities, nations, and the world. We affirm our commitment to love, pray, speak, learn, and act as Christ-bearers where we live. The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi expresses this well, and we share it as a closing reflection.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness joy
Harvard Christian Alumni Society
Board of Directors
Jordan Monge Gandhi
Oriana Li Halevy
Poh Lian Lim Yap
As Christians, we commend the study of Scripture as a foundational resource for our approach to the fight against injustice. We also invite the HCAS community to recommend other readings relevant to the issues. For example, some of our board members have found the following books helpful in their journey:
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Bryan Stevenson)
Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community (Charles Marsh & John Perkins)
Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores (Dominique Gilliard)
We welcome other suggestions you may have, and offer some practical steps for your consideration:
Engage in conversations with friends, family, colleagues, or churches, to listen deeply to the experiences of black & Latino communities.
Sign 2020 Statement
Sign the AND Campaign’s 2020 Statement (https://andcampaign.org/2020)
We advocate for non-violent resistance against evil. Peaceful civil protests can serve as a public call for change. To be meaningful and effective, they should be combined with sustained advocacy for change in policies & systems.
Local Criminal Justice Elections
Get involved in local elections and connect with criminal justice candidates (judges, prosecutors). Make clear that criminal justice reform is an issue you consider when you vote. Advocate for legislative reforms.
Police and Community Relations
Encourage police officers seeking to engage their communities in healthy ways. Write and meet with the local Police Officers Association to hear their concerns. Let them know that your community’s support includes accountability for standards of conduct that protect all of the community they serve, including different racial groups.
Reunion Virtual Meeting
We will be hosting a virtual reunion on Saturday, May 30th at 11am PT / 2pm ET. We invite everyone who would be attending reunions this year to join us.
|Date / Day||May 30 (Saturday)|
|Time||9 pm (ET)|
|Meeting number (access code)||919 411 870|
|Meeting password||Harvard (4278273 from phones and video systems)|
|US Dial In||(650) 215-5227|
We are organizing a monthly event series, called HCAS Connect. These are planned as 1-hour real-time gatherings by Webex video-conference which HCAS members across the world can attend using an internet connection.
|Date / Day||June 13, 2020 (Saturday)|
|Time||10:00 am (EST)|
|Speaker||Professor Tyler Vanderweele|
|Session Title||Religious Community and Human Flourishing|
|Description||Tyler J. VanderWeele, Ph.D., is the John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Director of the Human Flourishing Program and Co-and Director of the Initiative on Health, Religion and Spirituality. He will be speaking to us about his recently published research that found religious attendance is linked to lower rates of “deaths of despair” (suicide, drug overdose, and alcohol poisoning).|
To register for this event, please fill out this form.
Global Networking Night
On January 15, HCAS co-hosted a number of HAA-sponsored Global Networking Nights, including in Boston, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley. Thank you for everyone who helped out!
Open Letter to President Bacow Regarding Pusey Minister Search
As some of you may know, Harvard recently formed a Search Committee for the next Pusey Minister to replace Rev. Jonathan Walton. As part of our mission to strengthen Christian communities throughout the University, we want to support them in this search.
We ask you to join us in praying for the Search Committee, that they would promptly identify a suitable replacement to serve as a professor of Christian morals to shepherd Harvard’s students.
The search information can be found on the Memorial Church website here. Thoughts and nominations on the search can be addressed to President Bacow by email to memorialchurchsearch@harvard.
Here is the letter from our board to the search committee encouraging them to seek out a minister of genuine Christian faith. If you know anyone who qualifies for the position, we encourage you to nominate them. If you wish to be considered for the position yourself, please let us know and we may arrange a nomination. As always, we welcome questions and input to contact@