.Young, Asian American, and Christian

UC Berkeley is home to some of the brightest young minds in the country. And many of them are increasingly drawn to evangelical Christianity.

On a Friday evening in January, UC Berkeley sophomore Jeff Chiu approached the podium in a large lecture hall inside the Valley Life Sciences Building. It was Bible study time for the members of Acts2Fellowship, one of the largest evangelical Christian ministries on campus. The room was full of hundreds of students — nearly all, like Chiu, Asian American. Reading from a piece of paper, the handsome nineteen-year-old told how he’d become a Christian. It was quite a tale for someone who’d never been exposed to Christianity before attending Cal.

Growing up in Taiwan, Chiu was an ambitious student whose main goal was to get into the National Taiwan University Medical School. After moving to Texas at age thirteen, he excelled both athletically and academically. He joined his high school basketball team because he wanted to be “the coolest Asian guy.” And he graduated from high school with a 4.3 grade-point average, he said in a subsequent interview.

The pre-med business major chose Berkeley with his mind set on becoming a doctor. But he also maintained his other passions; his blog lists “sportz, music, books, and girlz” as his interests, and “basketball, swimming, badminton, violin, piano, and girlz” as his “expertise.”

At Cal, Chiu hoped to find his purpose in life. Yet instead, he found himself struggling academically. He stressed out when he scored a B+ on a chemistry midterm, and wrote on his blog that, “Classes aren’t as easy as I predicted.”

Then one day in the dining commons, Chiu met a Bible study leader who invited him to Acts2Fellowship’s student welcome night, during which a variety of skits were performed. In the “mask skit,” a character goes to college and tries to fit in by wearing different masks, but can’t find any meaningful relationships. The scene struck a chord with Chiu. “That’s how I lived my life through middle and high school,” he said, “trying to act cool.”

Berkeley began to challenge Chiu spiritually as well as academically. He started attending Bible study, though he retained doubts about whether its stories were true. “If Jesus didn’t resurrect, then the whole religion would be faulty,” he said. “That was a big thing for me. It seemed mythical and unnatural.” But Chiu’s dormitory floor-mates taught him that the Bible wasn’t just an arbitrary text but a rather a record of history. “I thought Jesus was another pagan god that people worshipped, not a real person.”

Eventually, Chiu took Course 101, a semester-long class offered at Acts2Fellowship’s Gracepoint church. In addition to introducing him to the concept of sin, the class outlined three reasons for the reliability of Jesus’ resurrection. Chiu’s faith started growing, but he still wasn’t a full believer. “I felt like I didn’t need Jesus,” he said. “I didn’t have the mental connection that I needed to be saved.”

In particular, Chiu said he found it hard to believe he was very sinful. Like many Asian students, he said, he was mostly concerned about making good grades and obeying his parents. “I never did anything bad, like kill anyone or do drugs,” he said. But he did start considering how he saw himself — particularly, how proud he was. And he admits that he tended to look down on others who weren’t as good as him academically or athletically.

He began reading the Bible each morning before class — during what is commonly referred to as “DT” or “Devotion Time.” Then one day he ran into his high-school swimming coach, a Christian, who asked if he was ready to accept Jesus.

“I was angry and confused,” Chiu told the Friday night Bible study crowd. “He said if I died I wouldn’t go to Heaven. Now I know he was right.” It was a pivotal moment for him.

On November 3, 2006, Chiu accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. “I felt like a dead person brought back to life,” he told his peers.

Chiu believes God wants him to change the way he lives. “Because of God’s love for me, he wants our relationship to be restored,” he said. Today, Chiu says he’s not as crazy about grades as he once was. And while he used to want a girlfriend to fill his loneliness, now he says he’s focused on his male friendships. “I began to see that my future is secure because God has a plan for me,” he said.

Back at Bible study, Chiu wrapped up his testimony, which was greeted with applause. In a month, he’ll be baptized.

It’s not a story you might expect to hear on a campus more famous for its Nobel Prize winners, tree sitters, and free-speech advocates. And yet, Cal has increasingly become a place where Asian-American students like Chiu are finding God. Their Christian faith is having repercussions on how they approach their studies, how they think about science, and what careers they pursue — perhaps even the future of academia. In some cases, the changes are already underway.

The growth of a movement

Asian-American evangelical Christians have become commonplace at elite universities across the US. The trend started in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and increased as the presence of Asian Americans on campuses grew — specifically East Asians of Chinese and Korean descent. By the 2000s, it had become a phenomenon meriting research papers, books, and articles.

Although Asian Americans only make up about 4 percent of the US population, they constitute about 15 percent of the students at Ivy League colleges, and more than 40 percent at schools like UCLA, UC Irvine, and UC Berkeley, according to a 2007 article, “Asian Americans for Jesus: Changing the Face of Campus Evangelicalism” by Rebecca Kim, an assistant professor of sociology at Pepperdine University. And yet their numbers are disproportionately higher in campus fellowships, sometimes as much as 80 percent.

It’s hard to get an exact number of how many Asian Americans are involved in Christian ministries at Cal, or how many Christian groups there are. UC Berkeley’s Office of Student Life reports more than half of the 62 self-identified religious student groups are Christian, though some put the figure closer to fifty or sixty.

Relatively speaking, they’re still in the minority. There are more than 800 student groups at Cal. And in recent surveys by the Office of Student Research, between 11 and 13 percent of undergraduates or incoming freshmen have identified as “Born-Again Christian” from 2004 to 2007.

But why are so many collegiate Asian Americans embracing Christianity?

For one, many already come from church backgrounds. “In some ways it’s a class-based phenomena; more suburban kids are going to these elite universities,” explained Russell Jeung, an associate professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and author of Faithful Generations: Race and New Asian American Churches. “Their parents come as professionals and move to the suburbs and there aren’t many ethnic institutions in those suburbs — and the churches become ethnic places. Kids grow up there and then when they go to elite universities, they join ministries.”

Often, students are scoping out ministries before they arrive at college. Youth group leaders will advise high-school seniors of which fellowships to look into. “There’s an already-made group of people,” said Collin Tomikawa, East Bay area director of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. “We can recruit people that way even before they come to campus, whereas those networks aren’t as strong in the Caucasian world.”

In the ’90s, most Berkeley members of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship were Caucasian. Today, InterVarsity is composed of four ethnic-specific groups: the Black Christian Fellowship; La Fe, which caters to Latino students; Kapwa, for students of Filipino descent; and Cal Christian Fellowship, the largest, which boasts 250 members, 200 of whom are Asian. “I can’t figure out how to actually reach white folks,” Tomikawa lamented. InterVarsity has tried starting a Greek ministry, he said, but hasn’t had any success.

While campus ministries ramped up their efforts to recruit Asian members, local ethnic churches sought ways to fill their thinning congregations. These days, many of the fellowships have developed a pretty marketed approach — just try walking through Sproul Plaza during Welcome Week. Fellowships perform as a cappella groups, give away candy or gift baskets to incoming freshmen, and stage skits.

Culturally, Asian-American students may relate to the Christian mentality easier than others, scholars say. “A lot of the Asian Americans are very committed, and that makes them more evangelistic, too,” Jeung adds. “Part of their higher zeal and commitment is that I think a lot of the fellowships call for total dedication, total sacrifice, self-sacrifice. I think these Asian students understand sacrifice and giving back. They see their parents sacrifice a lot. I don’t think that ethic and understanding of sacrifice is as understood by nonimmigrant groups.”

In addition to the spiritual component, fellowships provide a much-needed social network and support group, especially at a large university like Cal where students can often feel lost, said Kim, author of God’s New Whiz Kids? Korean American Evangelicals on Campus. Members of the fellowship help others study, run errands, and even cook for them during finals week, she noted. Fellowship web sites display pictures of students bowling, sightseeing, playing games, performing skits, and other social activities.

Perhaps most importantly, fellowships preach a message of acceptance. For many Asian-American students who face intense pressure from their parents to succeed academically, Christianity provides a shelter.

“Asian-American students … feel like they can never really meet up to their parents’ expectations,” said Jeung. “But Christianity offers a Father who extends grace and mercy to their followers.”

Not your parents’ church

If the ethnic churches of their parents’ generation were conservative, insular places, the second- and third-generation Asian-American churches aim to be everything they’re not: young, hip, multi-ethnic, and relevant to the issues of their lives.

Locally, nondenominational churches such as Regeneration in Oakland and Church Without Walls in Berkeley have tried to reach out to a younger, more racially diverse crowd. But few appear to be as successful as Gracepoint Fellowship Church.

Founded in 1981 as the Korean-American, college-oriented Berkland Baptist Church in Oakland, Gracepoint today operates out of Willard Middle School’s auditorium near the Cal campus and teeters on the brink of mega-church status. Just in the last year, its weekly attendance has grown from about 700 to 1,000. It now has churches in San Francisco and Taiwan, and sister churches at UC Davis and in Silicon Valley.

Though it bills itself as multi-ethnic, 90 percent of its members are Asian American — about 40 percent Korean American, 50 percent Chinese American, and 10 percent other, according to Acts2Fellowship’s pastor. Most are members of its three campus fellowships — Acts2Fellowship, Koinonia, and Kairos — but it also has ministries for singles, couples, and youth.

Acts2Fellowship’s pastor says the church’s growth has less to do with more Asian students on campus but rather “more hunger for spirituality.” He calls Asian-American culture “mindful of God’s love,” and says that with their increased outreach has come multiplicative growth and “the power of sheer numbers.” A recent introductory course on Christianity offered by Gracepoint drew 140 people, forty of whom had little or no Christian background.

Its popularity may have something to do with how the church markets itself — a combination of cutting-edge and highly personal. On its web site GracepointOnline.org, a splashy, MTV-style music video shows entertaining skits, youth programs, women preparing food, men barbecuing meat on enormous grills, and a big buffet after the service. The video ends with close-ups of Asian, white, and black college students smiling, laughing, mingling, and hugging one another.

But popularity can have its drawbacks. Acts2Fellowship’s 38-year-old pastor would only consent to be interviewed if he could remain anonymous because he was wary about press coverage since the fellowship was once mentioned in a Daily Cal article about cults. As it turns out, there are several blogs online by former members that accuse the parent church Gracepoint, its former entity Berkland Baptist Church, and church Pastor Ed Kang and his wife Kelly of being manipulative, controlling, and power-hungry.

That didn’t seem to have deterred any of the hundreds of congregants gathered there on a recent Sunday. Although the service’s official start time is 11:45 a.m., by that time Willard’s huge auditorium was already packed with people in mid-song. Folding chairs were arranged elbow-to-elbow to the back of the building. Its weekly handout revealed just how successful they’ve become — a tally of donations from the prior week totaled $23,917.

A main attraction of Gracepoint’s service is its music. An attractive young male lead singer on stage led a full band in modern-rock-sounding songs about self-sacrifice. With colored lights and a giant screen scrolling the lyrics, it felt like a Coldplay concert where everyone sings along.

During Pastor Ed’s lengthy sermon, he warned the students not to let their academic ambitions get in the way of faith. “Some of you are very ambitious,” he said at one point. “I think that’s great. … But you understand the word of God is authoritative. Before you come before the Lord, you have to let go of all your desires.”

While this might seem like a curious message to preach to students who got to Cal on the strength of their test scores, it appears to be a message many students are eagerly embracing — as video testimonies during the church’s baptism service later that day revealed. Sophomore Brian Jue said that since arriving at Gracepoint, he’s learned that he no longer needs to participate in the rat race. “Just trusting in God was enough,” he said. “He’d provide the rest.”

Sunny Zhao, a senior who grew up in China, was taught in school that there is no God, and she thought anyone who believed otherwise was superstitious. But at Cal, a friend invited her to join the Kairos fellowship. She took Course 101, and during winter retreat she learned that in order to enter the Kingdom of God, she needed to be Born Again. “Grades are not important compared to Jesus dying on the cross,” she said.

Jennifer Dong says she’s “thankful I no longer have to place my life’s worth in how well I do in school.”

But the acceptance also comes with feelings of unworthiness for some.

Senior Cindy Wu said she picked business as her major because of its competitive academic environment. But her roommate told her that God doesn’t expect you to be perfect. Wu said she is still “learning to love God and accept his love without feeling guilty.”

Yan Hui Zeng grew up atheist in China. “Jesus Christ died on the cross, but what did I do in return?” she asked. “It’s time for me to return to God as a prodigal daughter.”

Don’t let studying get in God’s way

Even non-believers might understand the attraction of Acts2Fellowship’s Friday night Bible study session. It’s part concert, part stand-up comedy, part lecture, and part therapy session. And everyone’s incredibly friendly.

Before it began, as this Korean-American reporter sat alone, it only took a few minutes before several young women introduced themselves and asked my name, year, or who I was friends with. Even after learning I was not a co-ed but a reporter, they were eager to find out more and share their stories.

Two Korean-American students told of how they rebelled against their Christian upbringing as teenagers, but felt free to choose Christianity for themselves at Cal. Another said that her family initially feared her coming to liberal Berkeley would corrupt her morals, but that, upon arriving, she found it wasn’t difficult to find like-minded conservative Christians like herself. All spoke of finding Acts2Fellowship through friends or roommates.

By the time it began, the 429-capacity room was nearly full.

They started the evening singing contemporary Christian rock songs with reaffirming titles such as “Salvation Is Here,” “Everlasting God,” and “You Are God Alone.” The Korean-American pastor, dressed in blue jeans and a V-neck sweater, led the students in song with his acoustic guitar, flanked by a student band and backup singers. Hear the sound of the generations, making loud their freedom song, they sang, clapping their hands and swaying back and forth, reading lyrics displayed on a screen with images of floating clouds and sunsets. On a nearby wall hung a giant poster of the Periodic Table of Elements.

When the pastor began his lecture, the students dug in their backpacks bringing out notebooks and Bibles. He reminded them of the key verse of the year: Philippians 3:8. “Did anyone memorize it yet?” he asked.

A few raised their hands. He called out the first name of a male student sitting toward the back, joking about his engineering major. The student stood and recited the passage from memory: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

“It’s impossible to earn our way to heaven,” the pastor told the students, as they jotted down notes. “The only way to heaven is through the cross of Jesus Christ.”

Interspersed throughout his explanation of the passage, the pastor kept things lively by relating things to students’ cultural experiences. He likened the Apostle Paul to the “guy in the Korean newspaper” who “your mom points out, who goes to Harbard,” he said, laying on a thick Korean-mom accent. Later, he compared God’s power to that of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, when the white-haired wizard releases King Theoden from the spell of the evil wizard Saruman. “God releases you and you can be healed,” he said.

Then he got serious again. “What is life all about?” he asked. “The one thing that’s certain about everyone’s life here is that we’re all going to die. We’re all sinners, and we’re all going to die and face our God one day.” He acknowledged that this might sound harsh to some. “I’m not trying to be a morbid prophet, I’m not trying to scare you,” he continued, adding, “Shouldn’t we try to find a way to salvation?”

One way to achieve that, the pastor said, is by not letting too much studying get in the way of your faith.

“We have to evaluate the worthiness of your goals,” he said. “I’m not saying to drop out of school. But if you place a high value on these things that lead you away from God, that’s foolish. Those things don’t last. Wouldn’t it be better to make an eternal difference? You’ll have an eternal relationship with God and can give that to others.”

Later, he clarified his motive: “My goal wasn’t to get people to stop studying,” he said. “Some people have a hard time seeing that. … I’m trying to get them at balance. As Christians we should do our best at workplaces and at school, but GPA isn’t everything.”

In his talk, he assigned the students a goal: “To get to know Jesus a little more this year than I did last year.” Knowing God isn’t about intellectual knowledge, he said. You can’t know God by Googling, he added, but rather through experiential and personal knowledge.

Finally, he gave them two tips: Confess who you are and what you’ve done, and walk as Jesus walked. “God wants a relationship,” he urged.

When it ended, nearly two hours after it began, it was clear his message hit home. A girl next to me sobbed softly.

Then the students went and got ice cream together.

Changing career goals

While Christianity has spread on campus, students still encounter plenty of negative attitudes toward their faith. But some fellowships are trying to challenge that.

On an unseasonably warm day in February, Sproul Plaza buzzed with activity: students eating lunch and on their way to and from class, and groups from various causes vying for their attention with fliers or Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Members of InterVarsity’s Cal Christian Fellowship, armed with clipboards, were stopping passersby with the question, “What are your issues with Christianity?” In a couple weeks they planned to discuss the responses in the dorms — ground zero for recruiting.

Behind their folding table, pinned on clotheslines, were some of the answers:

“Too strict.”

“People try to convert you.”

“‘Taking over’ developing world.”

“Institutionalized religion.”

“Fear of the abyss.”

“Overly zealous Christians.”

“People who claim to be Christian but don’t act it.”

“How do you know God is the supreme one?”

“People rely so much on the Bible but fail to realize that it was written/translated by white men who forced people of other races to conform.”

Such strong opinions seem antithetical to InterVarsity’s activist, ethnic-studies-oriented approach. Twenty-year-old third-year student Andrew Tai, a business and social welfare major, was attracted to InterVarsity for this very reason. In fact, part of the reason he chose to attend Berkeley was because he liked the passion people here have for their causes.

Founded in 1941, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is the oldest Christian fellowship on the UC Berkeley campus and has more than 560 college groups nationwide. It also was one of the first Christian ministries to actively recruit Asian Americans to its ranks.

An important part of InterVarsity’s outreach is its focus on issues of social justice and racial reconciliation, meaning “acknowledging that there is racism and racial preference and that it actually colors the way that we approach the gospel,” said Jennifer Hollingsworth, InterVarsity’s associate area director for the East Bay.

Recently, at InterVarsity’s “Jesus, Justice, and Poverty” conference, students went into San Francisco’s Tenderloin district to sleep out on the streets among the homeless or on church floors. Tai worked in the soup kitchen at Glide Memorial.

It’s these experiences that InterVarsity leaders hope will have a profound impact on students. During his freshman year, Tai went on an “urban plunge” to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. When he got back, he decided to pursue social welfare in addition to business. “I was all about becoming an investment banker and making money,” said Tai, who grew up in Irvine. “Now I want to figure out how to help people.”

Hollingsworth said such changes aren’t uncommon among their members. “It’s part of our discussion usually with students, what is God gonna do with your major versus I’m just doing this major, it’s a means to an end,” she said.

While Tai still plans on pursuing business, he says he no longer believes in cutthroat competition. “My belief is that if God is in control of my life, maybe it’s less important how much money I make,” he said. “I hope to be ethical and do things ethically. I couldn’t work for Philip Morris.”

Though Tai’s parents approve of his fellowship involvement, they don’t like it getting in the way of his studies. Now that he’s a leader in the group, he spends up to fifteen hours a week officially, but with outreach and ministering, it adds up to more than that, which Tai said can be overwhelming. “They always tell me no matter what, don’t spend more than five hours per week,” Tai said. “I try not to bring it up.”

Such attitudes are common among parents, says researcher Rebecca Kim, even if they’re also Christian. While they want their kids to pick up Christian values, they don’t want them to get too involved or cut back on study time. “I’ve seen conflicts,” she said.

Similarly, Matt Huang was pursuing a medical career at Berkeley when his involvement in InterVarsity caused him to think otherwise. During his senior year at Cal, Huang volunteered to become the leader of InterVarsity’s social justice Bible study group, although, as he now admits, he didn’t know anything about what social justice was.

Huang was raised in the suburbs of Fremont, in a “very homogenous neighborhood” of mostly churched folk. His family attended the Chinese church Home of Christ 3. Though Huang intended on becoming a doctor, he felt as if something was missing.

At Cal, after shopping around for a fellowship where he could grow spiritually, Huang settled on InterVarsity, drawn to its community activism. Compared to his upbringing, InterVarsity offered the chance to interact with a more diverse crowd, and in a way acted as a buffer for race relations. “It’s a diverse group of people and we come from different backgrounds, and coming from a diverse fellowship of people, you get to experience a lot of walks of life, people from urban neighborhoods and suburbs, but they have different ethnic perspectives on Christianity,” Huang said.

Exploring further, he took an internship at Cal Corps Public Service center, leading a student-run class on promoting civic engagement among college students. That’s when he began to seriously rethink his career. “I don’t want to be at school for so long,” he reasoned. “I wanted to impact my community now. And I realize that there are other ways to help people besides health care.”

Today, 22 and recently graduated, Huang is unemployed and looking for a job in the nonprofit or government sector. His parents weren’t too happy about his decision.

“It was very difficult,” he said of telling his parents the news. “I need to prove to them still that it’s workable, it’s doable. … My parents come from a generation where it’s important to prepare for the future, to prepare for a job, family, things like that. Whereas my generation is more concerned with, what am I doing here?”

Matt’s mom, Dora, said that while she was hoping for her youngest child to become a doctor, she also just wants him to be happy. She’s not opposed to her son’s religious involvement — to the contrary; her eldest son is studying to become a pastor. But she’s realistic about the income of a social worker.

“Right now I’m okay,” she said by phone. “I have to give him some time and some space to figure out what he wants to do. I want him to be happy to do what he does, not because of me. It has to come from himself. But he has to be able to support himself. … Maybe one day if he can’t find a job maybe he will find something else or go back to grad school,” she added hopefully.

Jeff Chiu’s parents, who are atheists, also have struggled to accept their son’s newfound spiritual pursuit. “They’re always trying to discourage me from spending too much time in church and to study more,” Chiu said.

But slowly, that’s changing. During a recent mission trip to Taiwan, where he said less than 2 percent of the population is Christian, he introduced his mom to his church leaders. He says she’s a lot more open now. “They thought I was getting sucked into this crazy unknown thing.”

It’s not an uncommon tension that arises for some Christian students. “For many whose parents are immigrants, their kids are their IRA,” explained InterVarsity’s Collin Tomikawa. “So if I get them off the med school route, I’m totally threatening their future. When I talk to kids, I’m also talking to parents and grandparents.” Researcher Russell Jeung says that in some seminaries, a third of the students are Asian.

Tomikawa admits he’s intentionally trying to get some of Berkeley’s liberalness to rub off on his students. “A lot of our students at Cal are from Chinese churches in the Bay Area, which I would stereotype as more conservative, socially and politically,” he said. “Because the whole Bay Area politically is such a liberal scene, it galvanizes the more conservative [folks], and I think that’s happened in the Chinese church, and then I get their offspring. I hope to challenge or begin to unravel some of that stuff.”

Clearly, with Huang, the tactic worked. “I think Asian Americans are looking for more than just what they’re doing in their life,” Huang said. “They’re looking for more than just what their parents brought with them from China or other Asian communities. That looking for more has translated into looking for God. I think a lot of Asian Americans, their moms and dads found suburbia and privilege. And a lot of Asian Americans who grew up in privilege realize it’s not enough. We have a nice house, two cars, food in the refrigerator, but there’s still something missing. When we go to UC Berkeley, we want to know what’s out there. We want to experience more.”

Faith and science

Religion and academia are increasingly mingling at UC Berkeley. One area in which this can be seen is among the campus’ faculty. Chemical Engineering Department Chairman Jeff Reimer leads a faculty Christian ministry group sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. The intention isn’t to stage rallies or convert the campus, but rather to offer support.

“Our fellowship not an ‘activist’ group, and we largely confine our activities to reading books and discussing the tenants of the Christian faith as expressed in literature,” Reimer wrote in an e-mail. “The group also forms a support network for Christian faculty who themselves struggle with the day-to-day expression of their faith in a … complicated … environment.”

“For some in the group,” he continued, “identifying themselves publicly risks tenure and promotion.”

But perhaps the topic discussed most often — or at least the most controversial one — revolves around matters of faith and science. Many Christian students say it’s a hot topic among their peers — especially because many are science majors — although their fellowships aren’t necessarily taking vocal stances.

In February, the Veritas Forum — which brings top Christian thinkers to university campuses — sponsored a high-profile talk by Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project and a devout Christian. The event packed Wheeler Hall, plus two overflow lecture halls. Collins eschews intelligent design arguments in favor of a more science-embracing notion of “theistic evolution,” or what he calls “BioLogos.” In essence, evolution happened but God started it all.

Christians on campus vary in their beliefs on science and religion. But the consensus is that the two are not mutually exclusive. InterVarsity’s Jennifer Hollingsworth says that while it does come up among students, it’s not an obstacle to their faith. Student Andrew Tai says some students in InterVarsity take a literal reading of Genesis, while others believe in theistic evolution. On his part, Tai leans more toward the latter.

But there are others on the opposite end of the spectrum. Initially, when asked, Acts2Fellowship’s pastor said his church doesn’t take a position on intelligent design versus evolution. “We do study it because we know it’s important for people,” he said. “The Bible’s not particularly clear about those kinds of things. The Bible’s goal is to know God. … The fact is, God created. Evolution is just a process. To think something came out of nothing, the probability of that is zero.”

Yet the church’s web site tells another story. Under its “Resources” are links to numerous PowerPoint presentations on science and God. One, labeled “Evolution and God,” puts forth arguments for intelligent design, stating that “microevolution,” or “small changes (coloration, height, etc.),” is “feasible,” while “macroevolution,” or the process that would give rise to new species, is “under question.” It even went so far as to state that Darwinism acts as a shield for racism and rape.

In response, Acts2Fellowship’s pastor called the PowerPoints “study aids for people to know the arguments for intelligent design.” “But we’re not very doctrinal,” he added. “We don’t hold these things to be certain. … Intelligent design is ultimately something out there that’s a theory, but we’re not saying it’s absolutely certain.”

Jeff Chiu has questioned evolution since high school because he thought it was “too simple.” Certain things were missing, he felt, such as the explanation of what makes humans different from animals. Although he says it’s not something he brings up in his classes, he does discuss matters of faith and science with his peers.

Today, he said, “I feel like Darwin might be wrong,” although he noted that he’s still studying evolution and doesn’t want to falsely interpret it. While Chiu is convinced that certain species may have adapted through evolution, he said he doesn’t think it’s logical to conclude that humans themselves are a product of evolution.

Kevin Padian, a professor of Integrative Biology and curator of the Museum of Paleontology who teaches classes on evolution, says students who don’t believe in evolution typically don’t identify themselves. “I think the general pattern is that students don’t make a big deal out of this in their classes — for several reasons: they don’t feel it’s relevant, or you teach me science and I’ll believe what I want to believe.”

But he stressed evolution’s importance as a theory — the strongest construct in science and not the type of loose conjecture the public associates with being unproven as fact. “Without a knowledge of evolution, antibiotics would make no sense; imunology would have no basis,” he said. “We could not explain anything in the history of geology or of life on earth; comparative anatomy would make no sense; neither would embryology, physiology, or virtually any other area of biology and related sciences.”

Whether some Christian students go on to question evolution in their studies or careers remains to be seen. Yet it seems certain that Christian students will incorporate their faith into their careers in more visible ways, whether that means changing fields or taking a more altruistic approach to their jobs.

“These are the people who are going to be the future doctors and lawyers and politicians or faculty members at universities,” notes Brad Fulton of Campus Crusade for Christ. “So places where there hasn’t been as large of a Christian representation … there’s just going to be an increase because a lot of these students have academic aspirations.”

No going back

Darkness envelops Willard’s cavernous auditorium. Jeff Chiu’s face appears on a large screen. He tells his story of accepting Jesus. It was “heartbreaking for me to see God suffering to save a wretch like me,” he says. “My life has been a miracle.”

The screen goes dark. Then a stark, bluish spotlight glows down on a hot-tub-sized pool, set up on the left side of the auditorium floor. Pastor Ed and another male leader are already in the tub, as Chiu, dressed in a dark T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, gingerly steps in. A microphone is just outside the tub.

“I, Jeff Chiu, profess that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior of my life,” he says into the mic.

“Let’s pray,” says Pastor Ed, as he and the other man grip Chiu’s hands. The pastor lays his other hand on his shoulder, and they close their eyes and bow their heads. “Jeff, you’re our brother in Christ. Upon confession, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

The two men hold his hands, as Chiu leans back and fully dunks his head and body underwater.

He comes back up, breathes, and exits the tub behind a screen. The audience cheers.

Later, Chiu describes his baptism as “really exciting and nervous as well.” He adds, “There’s no way of going back.”


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