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Influencing the influencers

Charity | Hoping for cultural transformation at Ivy League schools

Matt Bennett is founder and president of the Christian Union, an organization attempting to recover a vital Christian expression on the eight Ivy League campuses-seven of which began as explicitly Christian colleges. (Cornell is the exception.)

Bennett is unapologetic in proclaiming that as the Ivies go, so goes America. After all, those colleges have produced a disproportionate number of U.S. political and legal leaders, including President George W. Bush and eight of the nine current members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bennett says only about 7 percent of Ivy League students are involved with Christian ministries on their campuses, and his goal is to be part of a movement to increase that number to 20 percent by the year 2020. Christian Union's strategy is to create ministry centers, brick-and-mortar facilities that can be epicenters for CU's ministry but also available to other like-minded campus ministries as well.

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Currently, CU has a ministry center at Princeton (the ministry's headquarters), Cornell, and Brown. It has ministry teams at Princeton and Harvard, with plans to launch at Yale in 2009.

Is yet another parachurch ministry focused on college campuses necessary? Bennett says yes. "We believe in the indigenization of the gospel to the culture, and the Ivies are a unique culture," he said. He hopes that the impact of the Christian Union on future Ivy League graduates might also be unique, restoring the spiritual impact of Ivy alums to a level that matches their economic and cultural impact.

Christian Union at a glance

Mission: "The mission of the Christian Union, by God's power and the help of other ministries, is to change the world by bringing about sweeping spiritual transformation at the Ivy League Universities, raising up godly leadership for all sectors of society."

Founded: 2002 by Matt Bennett, Cornell '88, MBA '89

Annual Budget 2008-09: $3.2 Million

Full-Time Staff: 20

Main Office: Located in Wilson House in Princeton, N.J.

Website: Christian-Union.org

Also at the Ivies

Some other Christian activities on Ivy League campuses:

Rivendell Institute adopts Yale University's motto, "Lux et veritas," and calls itself "a place of light and truth" at Yale. Its mission is "to bring Christ and his gospel to bear on all the life and labors of the University." Its base of operations is a restored Victorian home on the edge of campus where it holds seminars, debates, and other events.

Veritas Forum was founded in 1992 by Kelly Monroe, the author of Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians. Veritas Forum now operates on 80 U.S. campuses, including all the Ivy League schools.

Campus Crusade for Christ has Ivy chapters with a variety of names: The Campus Crusade chapters at Harvard and Dartmouth are called "Christian Impact," the Princeton affiliate is "Impact," the one at Brown is "College Hill for Christ," and Yale has "Yale Students for Christ."

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, The Navigators, and Reformed University Fellowship also have some Ivy chapters. Brown University in 2006 suspended RUF for refusing to have non-Christians in leadership roles; Brown later reversed its decision.

The Dartmouth Apologia is a "journal of Christian thought" run by faculty and students at Dartmouth. A recent cover story: "Can We Trust The Gospels?"

Rusty Leonard and Warren Cole Smith
Rusty Leonard and Warren Cole Smith

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