“WHAT A MOMENT you have brought me to,” belted a massive gospel choir of nearly 100 mostly white students and faculty at Cedarville University’s G92 Immigration Conference in Ohio in October. Led by several African-American and white students and staff, the choir swayed, clapped, and worshipped, pressing through years of tradition, partisan loyalties, and cultural isolation.
Founded 125 years ago, Cedarville is rooted in a fundamentalist worldview, which is not generally associated with justice efforts in the social sphere. Carl Ruby, Cedarville’s vice president for student life, said in a recent interview: “I grew up hearing about the dangers of the ‘social gospel.’ The social gospel was always presented as something antithetical to sharing the need for personal salvation. I don’t view it that way anymore. In fact, I think if we approach issues of social justice appropriately, it lends credibility to the gospel message that we want to share. I think we need to both tell the gospel and do the gospel.”
At Cedarville, according to Ruby, a transformation was sparked for faculty and students by the 2007 book UnChristian, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. “They outlined the way that people outside of the church tend to view, particularly, conservative evangelicals as being pushy, hateful, disconnected from issues that matter, backward culturally,” Ruby explained. “I want to see us change those perceptions by providing solutions to real-life problems.”
The following year, Ruby tried to bring Shane Claiborne, cofounder of The Simple Way community and author of The Irresistible Revolution, to campus to lecture. The backlash from bloggers and alumni was so great that Ruby canceled the event.