Dear President Williams, Board of Trustees, and staff at Cairn University,
At first I was going to share the story of what led me to Cairn and how God spoke to my heart while on a tour of Heritage Hall dorms. I was going to share part of my testimony of how I struggled with my identity and found my calling at CU, etc. Instead I decided that it would be more beneficial for you to hear the difficulties of being a “Christian” social worker, and why having a Christian social work program matters in 2021 more than ever.
Before college, I knew that I wanted a career where I would get to serve people. Like many of the social work majors at Cairn, I began my journey in the Urban Ministry program. God used this year to challenge me and open my eyes to hurting people groups and made me realize things I would have never realized on my own. Did I agree with everything being taught? Absolutely not. Did I challenge my Professor many times? Of course. I learned that I did not have to agree 100% with the teachings in order to fully respect and appreciate the teacher–something I had to continuously learn throughout my years as a student. The same Professor I disagreed with eventually became one of my greatest mentors, and still to this day, we disagree on theology and ideas.
I entered the social work program blindly–not knowing what to expect. I was challenged and stretched out of my comfort zone in internships and in the classroom. I remember being taught from the book, Social Work Practice with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People, and, at first, feeling uncomfortable with the idea of working with these type of individuals but knowing that God calls us to love. I currently work for a Christian agency that recently changed its policies to allow ALL families to foster/adopt children in need–I struggle with this decision now and am conflicted because these children deserve a safe and loving home, and I see the need for families. A question I ask myself is, if I was a counselor at Cairn and one of the students I was counseling opened up to me about their struggles with identity/homosexuality, would I stop counseling them because of it? Or would I be grateful that they trust me so much to walk alongside them in that journey? I have to constantly remind myself that loving a person is not agreeing or saying their actions are right. Loving someone is Jesus.. the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Who am I to play judge?
Homosexuality is not the only battle we face as a Christian social workers. Let’s not forget about “critical race theory” and other hot-topic social justice issues. How about having to deal with constant bashing of conservative views and perspectives… Yes, there are conservative social workers out there.
There are many “worldly” ideas that I do not agree with, however, if I did not become a social worker, I would not be in the position I am in now. Because of this path, I have the privilege of walking alongside hurting, broken, children and adults, desperately in need of a Savior. Because of three letters (BSW) after my name, that I received from Cairn, I have the opportunity to go into hard places to do hard work, working with hard people. Because of my degree I get to be light in a dark world, and I get to maybe be the only Jesus-following believer they’ll ever encounter. I get to love people everyday and am able to support my family doing it. Social work is not easy. It’s not your typical 9-5 job and it requires much flexibility, patience, compassion, and so on. It’s only by the strength of my Lord & Savior that I get through each day.
When I first heard there was no longer going to be a social work program at CU, I felt as though I was being told, “You are not a good Chrisitan and your career choice was a mistake.” I realize more than ever now that this work matters to the Kingdom, because it matters to Jesus. The people groups social workers have the privilege of serving are ones Jesus desperately wants to come running into His arms and set free. That is why I pursued social work–to build the Kingdom and do mission work in my own backyard. Unfortunately you took away a program that sends out these types of Christian social workers, and it’s disheartening to know the university will not be a part of this mission-driven work any more.
Like others, Cairn and it’s administration caused me pain in ways that I am still healing from. I worked in four different departments on campus and had the privilege of meeting countless individuals. I heard their stories and learned how God brought them to Cairn; I was consistently blown away by how God moved in their lives. God taught and revealed to me more than I could write down in this email… Today, regardless of the hurt, I am incredibly thankful for my time there, the friendships made, and most importantly, for how God moved on campus. I hope you find encouragement in knowing that many individuals spent late nights praying for your leadership and authority. One of my most treasured memories were the times spent in prayer and worship with my peers in the classrooms, dorms and hallways; hearing their hearts for the students, the lost, and the broken world we live in.
I am speaking on other’s behalf when I ask the administration and leadership to think of God’s will for the university, and reevaluate the “fruits” being produced. God, myself, and others, want to see this campus flourish–because His name is on it. It’s only when we surrender our ways, pick up our cross and die daily, that we will see His fruits in our lives. Shutting down the social work program speaks for more than just the program itself…there is a deep history rooted within Cairn U, that I’m sure you are all aware of. It’s hard for me to believe that God would allow individuals such as William Leroy Pettingill, a man who only received a 4th grade level education, and Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, an alcoholic politician who left his wife and two daughters, to co-found Cairn years ago. Being that we are only on President #5, it was not that long ago that this work began.
In 1963, Dr. Furness began serving as a consultant at PCB to develop a Bible Social Work program and came on faculty in 1965. By 1966, over 100 students at PCB were involved in the Social Work program. The program continued to grow and in 1974, the Bachelor of Social Work degree was approved by Pennsylvania and accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Dr. Furness witnessed as the social work program flourished in fewer than 10 years…
I do not believe God is done with Cairn University and it has been heavy on my heart that I could no longer ignore the issue at hand. I know there were social workers on campus that stirred up some things and challenged administration throughout the years, and I want to apologize on their behalf if they have ever caused frustration among leaders and staff. I want to apologize if I, myself, have ever caused administration hardship. However, I also know there have been far too many hurts that have come out of this university and it’s leadership, and my desire is to see more good in the years to come, and overall, more grace extended by both sides. (Here are some of the hurts I am referring to: https://www.instagram.com/cairnunplugged).
We are praying for you and thank you for your role in the work that God is doing at Cairn University. Please know the extent of influence you have on the students that come through your door–it’s an immense responsibility that God has graciously presented to you and I trust that God’s plan is at work because I have witnessed it first-hand.