(Originally posted on The Sojourn’s website on September 20, 2014)
Controversy over the near cancellation of Christian music group Gungor has prompted Vice President Dr. Keith Newman to establish a new committee, which would decide whom Indiana Wesleyan University should host in future events.
Recently, lead singer Michael Gungor found himself in the middle of controversy with some blog posts expressing his belief that the early Genesis stories shouldn’t be taken literally. The Christian Post interpreted those posts as Gungor undermining God’s Word.
Many churches and organizations have refused to host Gungor as a result of these posts. IWU needed to make a decision whether it was going to allow them to come.
Q90 FM, a radio station in Wisconsin, pulled out of covering a concert on air because Gungor was scheduled to perform. According to the station, it “cannot support a concert venue by lending our name and giving free air time to promote such a blasphemous stumbling block to our young people.”
Peter Khosla, former IWU student body president, approached current Student Body President Tim Scurlock this summer about having Gungor perform at IWU, to which Scurlock immediately said yes. Khosla has been a music promoter and has ties with Gungor.
“I thought it would be a good idea because Gungor is super popular now,” Scurlock said. “There seems to be a genuine student interest there.”
Scurlock and other Student Government Association members continued to work out the logistics for hosting this event, such as lighting and location.
Director of Conference Services Keith Brakel suggested they get the approval from Dr. Jim Lo, dean of the chapel, to allow Gungor to perform at IWU.
When Lo reached out to faculty, staff and students, he received negative feedback because of the articles regarding Gungor’s blog. This led him to think maybe IWU should not host Gungor. Scurlock, who disagreed, contacted IWU President Dr. David Wright and Newman.
Articles that claim Gungor doesn’t believe in Scripture don’t understand “the broader and philosophical issue that Gungor is trying to address,” Scurlock said, which is that Scripture can be interpreted in different ways.
After Scurlock and the residential cabinet spoke with Wright and Newman, Newman made the final decision to allow Gungor to perform on campus. Newman thinks IWU can be more open to other theological interpretations.
If people still criticize IWU’s decision to host Gungor, Lo now says they have the research to back up their thoughts on the situation.
“Christian colleges and universities need to be places where you can hear a dissenting voice or where you can hear somebody speak,” Newman said. “That may not be in complete harmony of what the Wesleyan church believes.”
Because of this situation, Newman plans to create a committee of about six to seven people that will examine “those rare occasions” when the school isn’t sure about hosting someone. The members and name of the committee have not yet been decided.
Newman said he did not want people to look at Lo negatively because of his thoughts on this situation.
“Dr. Lo wasn’t blocking this. … I would hate for him to be characterized in this manner,” Newman said. “In the past we have asked Dr. Lo for an opinion because he is the dean of the chapel, and he is somebody we look to for direction and value his advice.”
“The whole description of my job is that I am kind of the theological gatekeeper for this campus,” Lo explained. “My job is to come along and raise concerns saying, ‘This is something you have to be concerned about,’ because if you invite [Gungor] on campus … you have to worry about what the constituency would say.”
Lo hopes that people do not think of him as a “mean ogre” because of his hesitation on this event.
Newman said he was the one who reviewed the articles Lo gave him and had a discussion with the residential cabinet.
“The truth is … if there are people to be upset, then I am the one to be upset at,” he said.
Newman is glad this happened because he thinks that, as a staff, it will be better at “figuring this stuff out in the future.”
“What Gungor did for us was help us realize that we have put the Dean of the Chapel in a really awkward position,” Newman explains. “Because if he becomes the one who says yes or no, he’s either got people that love him or he’s got people that hate him.”