July 28, 2011
By Justin L. Mack
Joe Micon, second from right, Lafayette Urban Ministry executive director, explains on Wednesday in Lafayette through a translator the mission of the St. John?s/LUM Food Pantry to a group of 30 visiting Chinese scholars. (Photos by Brent Drinkut/Journal & Courier)
A group of international scholars was given an in-depth look Wednesday night at Lafayette Urban Ministry.
The ministry, in conjunction with Purdue University's Center on Religion and Chinese Society, hosted about 30 visiting scholars from China who are spending a few weeks in Greater Lafayette to observe how American religious groups impact communities through social service.
Joe Micon, executive director of LUM, said that this is the first time the organization has hosted this type of visit, and planning for the event started about three months ago.
"The (Center on Religion and Chinese Society) asked if we would be interested in hosting an evening with some 31 scholars, primarily sociologists of religion who are from China, to learn about the role of the American Christian church in providing services to needy individuals," he said.
"We're just looking forward to putting the welcome mat out and having a good cultural exchange with some of our friends from China, and we're very excited about articulating why it is that we do what we do."
Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology and director of Purdue's Center on Religion and Chinese Society, said the group has been in town for about 10 days and is in the middle of a monthlong workshop.
Most of the group's time is being spent on Purdue's campus where they attend speeches, seminars and classes, he said.
On Wednesday night, the scholars began by touring LUM's facilities and learning about its programs.
They also ate a meal at the ministry's shelter, exchanged gifts with officials and listened to a presentation from James D. Davidson, professor emeritus in sociology of religion.
Davidson talked to the group about the history of LUM and delivered a presentation called "LUM as a Manifestation of the Church's Call to Serve."
LUM is an organization of 42 Christian churches that help families throughout Greater Lafayette through social service. Its programs include nutrition, housing for the homeless, free tax filing and a Christmas gift program.
During his speech, Davidson distinguished between theologies of "good fortune" and "social justice," and explained how the differences between these two theologies are reflected in the actions and policies of religious groups. He said while most American churches are likely to emphasize good fortune, LUM's ideals fall in line with social justice.
"There are denominations, there are congregations and there are individual people that have a more social justice oriented theology," he said. "They like to address the issues in the society that create problems for people and (the issues that) stifle the spiritual well-being of people.
"These are people who want to produce a more just and equal society, and Lafayette Urban Ministry came to be a resource for those people."
Yang said the group's connection to Greater Lafayette will not end when the workshop is over. He said they are slated to return in the next few months.
"Hopefully we can develop this into something annually," he said.