It may be remembered as the week evangelist Luis Palau invaded Mad City. Mad City is what students affectionately call the host community of the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UW). The town and its school are not known for their tranquility. UW was notorious in the late 1960s as one of America’s most agitated campuses. One man was killed in an explosion. Bombings were threatened at the administration building; and on the hillside beneath it, under the stony gaze of an Abe Lincoln statue, collegians demonstrated daily.
Madison remains every bit the eccentric college town. It has a strip of bars and pizza parlors, record shops, and kiosks trumpeting everything from lessons in Buddhistic meditation to lectures on space settlement. An ordinary evangelist repeating a simple, old story could get lost in the din.
But Palau, a 47-year-old Argentinian who has been called the “Latin Billy Graham,” went anyway. For a week in February, Palau headlined a student-organized evangelistic event called Madison ’82. He was intent on touching student needs, addressing such topics as sexuality, loneliness, and the fear of failure. The approach was low-key, soft-pressure, but clear, always culminating in this declaration: “Whatever else you do, student, you must face the claim of Jesus Christ on your life.”
It was, as they say in the South (but probably never in Madison), a hard row to hoe. The results of any evangelistic mission are hard to judge. The numbers at Palau’s talks were less than sponsors hoped for—beginning with 600 on the first night and building to 1,400 on the last night. Fewer than 100 students made a first-time commitment to Christ, according to a tally of “comment cards” available. Still, Palau’s team came away from Madison feeling the mission was a success even if in other, less tangible ways.
At the very least, Madison ’82 may be a pacesetter for a series of campus missions to follow. “Assistant missioners”—counselors belonging to such organizations as Inter-Varsity and Campus Crusade on other campuses—came to help UW students and to observe the mission to gauge the feasibility of a similar undertaking at their universities. Assistant missioners from Stanford University said they are seriously considering a mission there within a few years, perhaps featuring Britons Michael Green or David Watson. (British churchman John R. W. Stott was asked to head up Madison ’82, but declined.) Billy Graham is scheduled to spend a week at the University of North Carolina next fall. And Canadian evangelist Leighton Ford, who is widely considered to have great skills with college audiences, has a deep interest in such campaigns. Pete Hammond, director of Inter-Varsity’s special ministries, believes that mass campus evangelism is again becoming popular after a dormant period during the 1970s.
Mike Moore, a medical student and chairman of Madison ’82’s organizing committee, thinks the week was important in other ways. Christian students, Moore said, became bolder about admitting their faith as they invited friends to Palau’s talks. Also, a bridge was built over the deep rift separating blacks and whites on the campus, he said. Antagonism between whites and the 1,000 blacks (among a total student population of 41,000) was reputed to run high. Thus, Palau devoted an evening to the topic of reconciliation. Gospel singer Danniebelle led a racially mixed audience in some rousing spirituals. Black pastor Crawford Loritts, a Campus Crusade speaker, impressed listeners at a dinner program, “Black and Free.” Finally, Moore said, Madison ’82 drew together 36 of the 45 Christian ministries on the campus. Previously, the most cooperating at any one time was five. In addition, 40 area churches endorsed the mission.
That was not the impression given in the local press. Two weeks before the mission, the Capital Times carried a page-one story with a banner headline blaring, “Fundamentalist crusade splits campus groups.” The mission actually was resisted by one group, the Madison Campus Ministry, which said Palau downplayed intellectual vitality, separated the gospel from political issues, and promoted an “overly aggressive” revivalism. But even that group was apparently embarrassed by the heavy-handed journalism, firing off a letter that disputed nearly every word in the headline. Officials of Campus Ministry wrote that “fundamentalist” and “crusade” were inflammatory and unfair words, and said “there is no evidence that Madison ’82 has split campus groups … nothing that was ever together is now apart.” (The Campus Ministry represents four mainline denominations.)
Palau, meanwhile, stoutly resisted getting into partisan politics, always insisting that Madison, with its 80 percent unchurched population, needed to hear the “pure gospel” first. Speaking privately, the Latin evangelist wondered if he was the man for campus evangelism, since he is not an intellectual.
Yet his student listeners seemed disarmed by Palau’s transparent honesty and spontaneous humor. He spoke all five nights in UW’s Stock Pavilion, a place permeated with an odor that testified its inhabitants were more often cattle than people. Palau good-naturedly used a potential stumbling block to evangelistic advantage, emphasizing that the building “may be an old cow place, but you can meet the living God here.”
Addressing sexuality the next night, Palau admitted at the outset that he was no expert in biology, then reeled off a series of anecdotes that demonstrated “even an old man like me has temptation.” The students were then ready to hear out biblical views on the subject, including strictures against permissive sex. By Saturday, Palau abandoned the topical approach altogether and gave a straightforward exposition of Matthew 24. When he finished, the largest audience of his five nights offered a standing ovation.
Palau now says he is not sure if he will do more campus missions, but is glad he went to Madison. He is sure of one thing: someone should evangelize at the universities. “Now is an opportunity, while there are no hot issues,” he said. “Why not create an issue? The gospel should become an issue on campus.”
North American Scene
The United Methodist Task Force on Language Guidelines has found two new “isms” to eliminate from worship: “ageism” and “handicappism.” The task force is working to eliminate sexist, racist, and other kinds of language from UM liturgies and hymns. The group says its changes will be limited to “God language” and will not “change, revise, or distort Scripture.” But it is concerned to stop what it calls “ageism,” the unfair treatment of children. In some churches, the task force laments, children are not permitted to partake of Communion. “Handicappism,” the task force said, is evident in such phrases as the invitation to the congregation to “stand up and sing like good Methodists.” That excludes those whose physical conditions make them unable to stand, the task force said.
“Belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is a denial of the living God,” according to an important United Presbyterian official. G. Daniel Little, executive director of the denomination’s General Assembly Mission Council, said the concept of inerrancy represents a “calcifying” of narrow, outdated views. Little said lobbying to include creationism in public school curriculums “must be combatted.” Just the same, he thinks the creationists should be included in the denomination. Little’s remarks were made during a series at Baltimore’s Brown Memorial Church.
Moral Majority is “vastly overrated by the press,” according to Pat Robertson, president of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Writing in a television business journal, Robertson said the Moral Majority would have “enormous influence” if it spoke for all moral Americans. Instead, he said, “it speaks for one narrow segment.” Robertson disassociated himself from the religious New Right in 1980, when he resigned from the conservative Religious Roundtable. He emphasized that his organization has no “real interchange” with Moral Majority.
Highly educated Americans are tolerant of all groups except religious fundamentalists. That was the conclusion of a recent Gallup poll, which found that college-trained respondents were more willing than their less educated counterparts to tolerate Cuban refugees or Latins as neighbors, but less likely to welcome fundamentalists. Fifteen percent of the college-trained respondents said they would not like fundamentalists as neighbors. Nine percent of the respondents with less than a college education listed religious fundamentalists as the least-wanted neighbors.
United Methodists have topped their $10 million fund drive. The money was required as part of a court-ordered settlement of lawsuits stemming from the bankruptcy of the Pacific Homes retirement centers, which are connected to the Southwest and Pacific conferences of the Methodist church. Currently, 1,766 persons live in the retirement homes. They bought lifelong housing and medical care, but the homes went under financially, and bankruptcy proceedings began in 1977. The success of the fund drive ensures that obligations to the residents will be met. In all, the church must pay $21 million to the Pacific Homes Corporation, now supervised by an independent board of 15.
The federal government is attempting to balance the budget “on the backs of the poor,” Senator Mark Hatfield told Christian students at John Brown University (Siloam Springs, Ark.). The Oregon Republican said, “When some of my colleagues hear of waste and fraud and abuse in food stamp programs, they say ‘abolish the program.’ But we tolerate overruns in military procurement in excess of the total budget of some of the social programs.”
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