Thurston receives CU Leadership Award for his leadership and service

Thurston receives CU Leadership Award for his leadership and service

Oct. 23, 2014

For Immediate Release

Dr. Stephen J. Thurston, third from left, senior pastor of New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill. receives Campbellsville Universities Leadership Award during a weekly Chapel service that he spoke at. Presenting the award is, from left: Dr. John Chowning, vice president of Church and External Relations and executive assistant to the president; Dr. Joseph Owens, chair of CU's Board of Trustees; Thurston; Dr. C.B. Akins, pastor of First Baptist Church Bracktown in Lexington, Ky. and moderator of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky; and Dr. Frank Cheatham, senior vice president of Academic Affairs. (Campbellsville University Photo by Rachel DeCoursey)

By Drew Tucker, communications assistant  

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – “Let me share a very interesting perspective related to race, related to racism, and what’s related to what I believe is the fundamental foundation for many of the inequities that we face in this day and time,” Dr. Stephen J. Thurston said at Campbellsville University’s Dialogue on Race chapel service Oct. 15.

Thurston speaking at chapel.

During the chapel service, Dr. John Chowning, vice president for church and external affairs and executive assistant to the president; Dr. Frank Cheatham, senior vice president for academic affairs; Dr. Joseph Owens, chairman of the Board of Trustees and pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky. and Dr. C.B. Akins, pastor of First Baptist Church Bracktown in Lexington, Ky. and moderator of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, presented the Campbellsville University Leadership Award to Thurston for his service to race relations.

Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector described in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 19, made an impression on Thurston, he said.

“He was a great man,” Thurston said. “He was identified as the chief among publicans [tax collectors] or the director of the Internal Revenue Service in Jerusalem. As a result of his competent tax collecting, he was rich, and he sought to see Jesus.”

Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus due to the crowd, Thurston said, and ran to a tree to climb it. Jesus saw him and told him to come down immediately so he could stay at Zacchaeus’ house. The crowd around said Jesus was going to stay in the house of a sinner.

“Zacchaeus told Jesus, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my goods I will give to the poor, and if I’ve cheated anyone, I will restore four-fold,’” Thurston said.

Thurston said the wealth gap in America keeps getting wider and wider.

“It is a tool of separation in America,” he said. “The wealth gap is widening by ethnicities. It continues to breed economic racism and gender racism, where a woman will work the same job as a man but get paid less.”

He said the wealth gap continues to widen, even as the base of discrimination of those who have ethnic-African backgrounds. He said slavery was fueled by economic inequities and injustice that gave to slave owners free labor from millions of Africans who were brought to this country in slavery.

“I believe very firmly that until the wealth gap is brought closer together or eliminated,” he said, “we will never have the kind of equity, in relation to living, that this country will ever see, brought together.”

Money is not the root to all evil, Thurston said, “The Bible says the ‘love’ of money is the root of all evil.”

He said Zacchaeus gave half of all he had in exchange for a right relationship with himself before God.

“The power of Christ made him separate his love for money into his love for Jesus Christ, but what motivated Zacchaeus? What made him run?” Thurston said.

Thurston said he was running “to get to the place where Jesus was. When he couldn’t see him and climbed the tree instead, he thought, ‘I won’t be able to touch him, but if I can just see him, maybe he will change my life, and I’ll be changed.’ That’s what happened in that man’s life.”

“That’s what must happen to every American who proclaims that Jesus Christ really lives on the inside of men,” he said. “He changes you. He changes your heart. He changes your soul.”

He said we must literally become like what was described in Matthew 25, where we feed the hungry, minister to those who’ve done wrong, and tend to those in suffering.

“It all happened because a man named Jesus came into Zacchaeus’ life,” Thurston said. “Does Christ really live in you? That’s the question we raise to every mayor in every city, every governor in every state, every congressman and woman in Washington D.C., every senator and to the president of the United States of America.”

Dr. Beverly Ennis, associate professor of Education, also spoke about the importance of the Dialogue on Race series, and asked those in attendance to read CU's mission statement on the back of the program, particularly, “The university prepares students as Christian servant leaders for life-long learning, continued scholarship, and active participation in a diverse, global society.” She emphasized “diverse, global society” and said this was a very important part of the mission statement.

Thurston has served as senior pastor of New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church of Chicago, Ill., since 1979. He previously served as the president of the National Baptist Convention of America Inc. for more than a decade.
Special music, “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” was sung by the CU Chorale and led by Dr. Tony Cunha, dean of the School of Music.

Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university with more than 3,500 students offering 63 undergraduate options, 17 master’s degrees, five postgraduate areas and eight pre-professional programs. The website for complete information is

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