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Campus politics

Religion | Northfield officials balk at Christian school’s plans for donated site

Issue: "Divided we stand," Dec. 1, 2012

Grand Canyon University has decided not to accept a $20 million Northfield, Mass., campus granted to them by the Green family of the Hobby Lobby company. As WORLD reported in May, the Greens purchased the former site of the Northfield Mount Hermon School (originally founded by evangelist D.L. Moody) in 2009 with plans to donate its 217 acres to the C.S. Lewis Foundation, which would establish a new college there. The foundation struggled to raise necessary funds, however, and the Greens opened a search for a new recipient.

In September, the Greens awarded the facility to Grand Canyon, a for-profit Christian school in Arizona that Forbes recently ranked as the No. 2 small company in America. Grand Canyon officials said they eventually hoped to house as many as 5,000 students at its new eastern campus. A little more than a month later, Grand Canyon backed out of the arrangement, citing unexpected expenses and difficulties in working with Northfield town officials. 

According to Religion News Service, Grand Canyon president and CEO Brian Mueller lamented that “we were willing to make a $150 million investment, but we really had trouble with the city of Northfield.” The town “was concerned that growing the campus to 5,000 students would alter the basic culture and the basic feel of the area,” he said. Jerry Pattengale, a representative of the Green family, stated that while many towns “roll out the red carpets for new businesses … many in Northfield basically shut doors or tried to.” 

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Earlier this year, some Northfield residents protested when it appeared the Greens might give the property to Liberty University, a Christian school that disgruntled Mount Hermon alumni called a “homophobic and intellectually narrow institution.” While several Christian schools and organizations remain interested in the campus, the Greens estimate that selecting another recipient may take a year.

Young missions

Associated Press/Photo by Laura Seitz/The Salt Lake Tribune

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), or the Mormon church, recently announced it would lower the minimum age of missionaries to 18 for men (down from 19), and 19 for women (down from 21). Observers expect the move will significantly increase the total number of LDS missionaries, especially female ones. Early signs indicate great enthusiasm for the new rules, as applications from prospective missionaries shot up 471 percent in the two weeks following the announcement. More than half of the new applicants are female. Women have ordinarily made up less than a fifth of the worldwide Mormon missionary contingent, which currently numbers about 58,000.

Rodney Stark, co-director of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, and author of The Rise of Mormonism, told me that he thinks the change is significant, but not for reasons one might expect. His research suggests that LDS missionaries actually convert very few people to their faith. Most converts become Mormons through the influence of LDS friends or relatives (Ann Romney, for example, converted after she began dating Mitt Romney). Missionaries mainly “provide religious education for new converts,” Stark says. “But the missionary experience has hugely beneficial effects on the missionaries. It is a cliché in the Mormon community that ‘kids go out on missions and adults come back.’” Serving as a missionary often galvanizes young Mormons’ faith, regardless of whether they convince many people to become part of their church. 

The reduced age for females likely means that it will become more typical for LDS women to delay marriage so they can go on missions. For men, it will mean that 18-year-olds can take their two-year assignment prior to starting college. —T.K.

Thomas Kidd
Thomas Kidd

Thomas is a professor of history at Baylor University and a senior fellow at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. His most recent book is Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots. Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasSKidd.

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