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CULTURE DIGEST: Georgetown (D.C.) kicks out campus ministries; Baptists among most obese in nation;


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Georgetown University (D.C.) abruptly kicked out several long-established evangelical campus ministry groups at the beginning of this semester.

“As a result of our new direction for the upcoming academic year, we have decided to not renew any covenant agreements with any of the Affiliated Ministries. This will become effective immediately,” Constance C. Wheeler, a university-employed Protestant chaplain, wrote in a letter to the ministries dated Aug. 14 on university letterhead.

“… Your ministries will no longer be allowed to hold any activity or presence (i.e. bible studies, retreats with Georgetown students, Mid-week worship services, fellowship events, move-in assistance, SAC Fair, etc.) on campus,” Wheeler added. “… Additionally, all websites linking your ministries to a presence at Georgetown University will need to be modified to reflect the terminated relationship.”

A few hundred students in groups including InterVarsity, the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and Crossroad Campus Christian Fellowship will be affected by the move, according to The Hoya, the student newspaper at Georgetown.

Hannah Coyne, a member of Chi Alpha, told The Hoya that the chaplain’s announcement was “incredibly unprofessional and incredibly disrespectful to the students at Georgetown.”

“We found our home here,” Coyne said of Chi Alpha. “I know some students who may not even have come back this year if they had not been part of this group and felt support and love.”


Erik Smulson, a spokesman for the university, told the newspaper the Georgetown’s campus ministry office hopes to create a strong Protestant ministry within the campus rather than relying on outside groups.

Georgetown, now with more than 4,200 students, was founded in 1789 as a private Jesuit university in Washington. Today it is one of the most prestigious Catholic institutions in the nation, though students of many faiths attend.

“While we realize this comes as a great disappointment, please know we are moving forward with this decision only after much dialogue with the Lord,” Wheeler wrote in closing.

Kevin Offner, a staff member with InterVarsity, wondered if Protestant parachurch organizations were being singled out.

“What we want to know is if different religious groups are going to be treated alike,” Offner said, according to an Aug. 30 Scripps Howard syndicated column by Terry Mattingly. “To what degree do Catholic, Jewish and Muslim students on campus have access to national organizations that support them in their faith, while there’s this funny stuff going on with Protestants?”

More than 50 schools, including Princeton and Harvard, have made similar decisions about parachurch groups in recent years, Mattingly noted.

BAPTISTS AMONG MOST OBESE — The Chicago Sun-Times ran a column Aug. 25 deriding Baptists — and especially Southern Baptists — for being guilty of gluttony as they avoid other sins such as drinking and smoking.

“America is becoming known as a nation of gluttony and obesity, and churches are a feeding ground for this problem,” Ken Ferraro, a Purdue sociology professor said, according to a column by Cathleen Falsani.

Ferraro studied the correlation between religious behavior and body mass index, and his most recent study was published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion earlier this summer.

About 27 percent of Baptists, including Southern Baptists, North American Baptists and fundamentalist Baptists are obese, Ferraro found, making them the most overweight group of religious adherents in America.

“Baptists may find food one of the few available sources of earthly pleasures,” Ferraro said, which has led to overeating becoming the “accepted vice.”

Food plays an important social role in most Baptist churches, Falsani noted, drawing from her experience growing up in a Southern Baptist church. From the coffee and doughnuts on Sunday morning to the potluck dinners and ice cream socials, Baptists seem to get their fill of casseroles, pudding, fried chicken and sweet tea.

By contrast, about 1 percent of the Jewish population and less than 1 percent of other non-Christians including Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists are obese. Daniel Sack, a historian and author in Chicago, told Falsani the reason may be that American Christians don’t have any dietary behavior codes.

KATRINA TAKES EMOTIONAL TOLL — Among the 500,000 people who evacuated Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama because of Hurricane Katrina a year ago, about 11 percent now have severe mental illness compared with 6 percent before the storm, according to the first study of its kind sponsored by the federal government.

USA Today reported Aug. 29 that nearly 20 percent of Katrina evacuees said they had mild to moderate mental illness, compared with less than 10 percent before.

About 15 percent of residents of the counties and parishes struck by Katrina have depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of mental illness, USA Today said, which is twice as many as before.

Even so, fewer people reported they were considering suicide than before the storm, the newspaper noted, which may reflect a hope in the ability to start over.

“We did a study in Miami after Hurricane Andrew,” psychiatrist Eugenio Rothe of the University of Miami told USA Today. “The first year, people were busy getting through the day, rebuilding, getting their lives back in order. Then it hits them how much they’ve lost. They start mourning their losses.”

Almost 90 percent of survey respondents said their storm experiences helped them develop a deeper sense of meaning in life, and more than 75 percent said they had become more spiritual or religious.

Joe McKeever, director of missions for the Greater New Orleans Baptist Association, told Baptist Press mental illness is confusing to diagnose.

“If one is depressed for a day, is he mentally ill? How about for a week? And how severe does sadness or the blues have to be in order to be classified as depression?” McKeever asked. “In our city, there’s no question where the floodwaters came because the houses still carry the dirty yellow lines left by silty deposits from the rising water. But the humans do not carry those lines except on their souls. On the outside, we all look like we’re functioning and making it. On the inside, some are whole and some aren’t. But it’s hard to tell.”

McKeever said he reads reports such as the one that appeared in USA Today with a grain of salt because “it’s depressing living inside New Orleans right now.”

“I’m not even saying the numbers are wrong. Just that it’s hard to tell. We’re not talking about an exact science here, but the ever-fluctuating status of people’s minds and hearts. And knowing my own mind, it’s one thing this morning and another this afternoon,” he said.

ANOTHER SCIENTIST DEFENDS GOD — Owen Gingerich, an emeritus professor of astronomy at Harvard University, has written “God’s Universe,” explaining how he is “personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos.”

Referring to German astronomer Johannes Kepler, Gingerich “argues that an individual can be both a creative scientist and a believer in divine design — that indeed the very motivation for scientific research can derive from a desire to trace God’s handiwork,” according to Harvard University Press, the book’s publisher.

“Gingerich accepts Darwinism. But he denies that either Darwinism or modern cosmology makes the existence of God less likely,” George Scialabba wrote in a review for The Boston Globe. “On the contrary, by demonstrating the extreme improbability, the sheer fortuitousness, of cosmic and biological evolution, both Darwinism and cosmology make the existence of a creator more plausible.”