- - Thursday, June 4, 2015

Can anyone improve the degraded culture on college campuses today? Matt Bennett has. Ten percent of the Princeton University students today are in deep dive voluntary bible study, and it already has improved the college atmosphere. The idea for a Sex Week at Princeton modeled on the one started at Yale was a non-starter at Princeton. What has happened at Princeton is now happening at all Ivy League colleges and soon Stanford and MIT.

Christian Union was founded by Matt Bennett in 2002 to help prepare future leaders, initially from the eight Ivy League campuses, and to hopefully ensure that future leaders in business, law, politics, academia, and other career avenues to be honest, ethical, and develop unquestioned integrity. These traits would be based on fundamental biblical principles and values and ultimately signify that our nation and society will be the ultimate beneficiary, especially inasmuch as these universities, in their mission to educate and fulfill the intellectual curiosity of their undergraduates, sometimes fail to equip talented young people with the basic true and time-tested fundamentals of leadership. This was a gleam in Matt Bennett’s eye and I remember discussing the proposed Christian Union with him when he came to my office in 2001 to “test market” his theories. It is amazing 14 years later to see the incredible progress that has been established on the Ivy campuses and even now expanding to other campuses, such as MIT, Stanford, and other educational institutions known to produce future leaders.

The purpose of Christian Union involves giving permission to undergraduates to openly practice and pursue their faith, as well as to influence others on campus so that, years after graduation, they will be authentic role models by their decisions and examples of leadership.

At Princeton University, the bellwether of Christian Union’s efforts, 350 students now attend weekly bible courses and 200 students attend Friday night worship services sponsored by Christian Union. These students not only influence other undergraduates, but faculty members at the university have also taken notice of this great awakening and have participated to varying degrees in the activities and services provided by Christian Union. The persistence and perseverance of Christian Union, and personally of Matt Bennett, have resulted in growing numbers and in light being shone into dark corners. I would argue that the success of Christian Union has been a major plus in attracting even more applications of bright and talented high school seniors to these institutions.

It is important to remember that a number of Ivy League colleges were initially founded/established to essentially train and produce ordained ministers and pastors, which is reflected in their mottos, such as Yale’s, Lux et Veritas (Light and Truth), which motto has endured to this very day.

The goal is that future graduates of these institutions will possess a higher moral fiber and righteousness which would otherwise not be realized. The Christian Union, while based in Princeton, has the potential to reach “all ends of the earth” and equip its members with the “armor of righteousness” so that future leaders, including Presidents and Supreme Court Justices, as well as other politicians, scientists, business leaders, and, yes, religious leaders, can be fortified and strengthened.

In my view, we would all benefit if we paid more attention to the faith-based origins and beginnings of our nation, and while the Christian Union has a world view focused on Jesus Christ, it can certainly inspire those of other faiths and lead to more godly people benefitting our population and society as a whole.

Matt Bennett, himself a graduate of Cornell (‘88) and having received an M.B.A. from Cornell (‘89), now oversees an organization with 70 employees, which is expanding not only to other universities, but also to some graduate schools, having already planted a flag at the Harvard Law School. Christian Union in a sense proves that intellectual curiosity is not at all inconsistent with the Christian faith and shows that the joy and peace derived from the belief in Jesus Christ is contagious. The hope is that the crisis of ethics which exists in many quarters of our society today will be combatted effectively by upcoming leaders who have learned to be bible-based and Christ-centered, as they grow into leaders in their chosen professions.

Most colleges today are secular institutions—educating students by providing knowledge and perhaps satisfying their intellectual curiosity—but in many cases one can spend four years in an environment virtually devoid of basic, fundamental principles and values. This void is being filled by Christian Union, which is equipping the leaders of tomorrow, while at the same time enriching their undergraduate experience.

• Hank Higdon is a Partner at Higdon Partners.

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