Thursday, September 19, 2013

Constitution Day at Mount Vernon Nazarene

I spent the last couple of days (actually about 21 hours) at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, OH.  I made the six hour drive to deliver the school's 2013 Constitution Day Lecture.

First things first. I learned that if you type "Mount Vernon Nazarene University" into a GPS you will end up at an office building in Newark, OH (about thirty miles from the main campus) that was the former site of a now defunct MVNU extension campus. Getting lost, however, meant I had more time to listen to E Street Radio and Mad Dog Unleashed) on the SiriusXM radio in my rental car.  Not a bad tradeoff.

Tuesday night I lectured for about 45 minutes on the topic "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?" (surprise!) and then fielded questions for an additional thirty to forty minutes. The 130 students, faculty, and community members who filled Thorne Performance Hall asked some great questions.  One member of the audience even asked me to express my opinion of the work of David Barton.  (You can search this blog for clues as to how I responded to this question).  Following the talk I signed books for some of the students in Professor Bill Wantland's United States history survey course.  They are reading Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? this semester and Bill has been grilling them on the "5cs" of historical thinking. One student who forgot to bring her book asked me to sign the notes she took on my lecture.  That was definitely a first!

On Wednesday morning I taught Bill's U.S. Survey class and Christopher Devine's course on the U.S. Constitution.  In Bill's class I tried to get his students to consider what it might take to answer "yes" to the question posed in the title of my book.  In Christopher's class I spent some time talking about the place of religion in the federal and state constitutions and then fielded the students' prepared questions.  One of the many thoughtful students in the class asked me how Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? has been received by the evangelical left.  I don't think I have been asked this before.

From what I was able to glean in my short visit, Mount Vernon Nazarene University is a place that takes the study of history and politics very seriously. Faculty and students are committed to the integration of faith and learning at a very high level.

It is also a very hospitable place. I stay in a lot of college guest rooms/apartments, but nothing compares to Mount Vernon's "Presidential Guest Quarters." It has the feel of a luxury hotel suite!  Bill Wantland and Chris Devine of the History and Political Science Department were gracious hosts as they ushered me around campus and treated me to dinner at a local Indian restaurant (along with a few of their colleagues) and lunch at a local Mexican establishment.  We even had time to discuss our favorite Springsteen songs. Bill and Chris are both thoughtful Christian intellectuals and excellent teachers who clearly love their students and the mission of the school in which they work.  I was so glad to have made their acquaintance and I hope I get the privilege of returning to Mount Vernon one day.

The Mount Vernon News covered the lecture.  You can read about it here.