Spring Convocation 2012: Gathering in a Time of Change

Rev. J. Brent Walker

“Politics, Pulpit, & the Press: Faithful Leadership in the Public Square” was the theme of this year’s convocation, tying into the inescapable air of a presidential election year.

Following a worship service led by Rev. Mary Luti, speaker Rev. J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, delivered a keynote address titled “Use and Abuse of Religion in Politics” touching on his view of the relationship between church and state and what boundaries religious bodies must work within as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

For example, Walker said, churches can and indeed should speak out on moral issues. “However, electioneering — supporting or opposing candidates for office — is completely banned,” he noted. “So the watch words are issues, yes! Candidates, no!” Walker is a Baptist minister and an attorney who has practiced before the United States Supreme Court.

In a political climate in which some voters believe the incumbent president is a Muslim and his presumptive challenger is a Mormon, Walker also suggested that, “It is important always to ask the ‘What difference will it make’ question.” Examples included how a president from a peace church might respond to a military attack on the country, or how an Orthodox Jew would react if a crisis arose on the Sabbath. It’s the same question John F. Kennedy faced in 1960, of what a Catholic president might do when the pope condemns American policies.

Spirit of the Hill

Spirit Plaque The Spirit of the Hill Award was presented to Rev. William Cunitz (’74) during Thursday’s luncheon. Cunitz is president and CEO of Pilgrim Place, a senior community for Christian leaders in Claremont, CA.

Graduates of the class of 1962 who attended convocation were presented with matted prints of their senior class’s commencement photo.

Thursday afternoon saw the first of two panels on religion and the media. Moderated by Rev. Dr. Sharon Thornton, the panel included Andover Newton President Nick Carter, Rev. Dr. Nancy S. Taylor, Senior Minister & CEO at Old South Church in Boston, and Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City sharing their experiences in dealing with the news media and offering advice to other church leaders.

The main advice: Don’t react immediately to a request for a quote; tell a reporter that you’ll need time to reply, and start researching the issue immediately. Cultivate relationships with reporters before a crisis happens, so they’ll know you can be reached when it does happen. And build relationships with other people so that you might point a reporter toward the right source in areas where you’re less than an expert.

A reception in the garden outside the President’s House was followed by a cruise along the Charles River to cap off the first day’s events in a relaxed atmosphere.

Friday morning saw a panel offering a look at some of the same dynamics from the perspective of the media. Speaking were Andover Newton Media Center Director Bob Craigue and two alumni, Rev. Eric Anderson (’88), Minister of Communications and Technology for Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ, and Rev. Steven Savides (’06), Senior Minister of The Congregational Church of West Medford (UCC) and a former reporter for the Christian Science Monitor.

They echoed much of the same advice from the previous day, while also branching into the topic of social media and even a pastoral response to violent video games.

A buffet lunch followed, with tables set up on the quad for those wishing to enjoy the sunshine and look for their names or those of friends on the brick walkway between Noyes and Dabney Halls. A high tea, including a celebratory toast for alumni/ae of years ending in -02 or -07, concluded the convocation events.