Coercion? No, compassion.

Russ Carlson photo

Professor Russ Carlson could not understand why so many messages awaited him when he returned to his hotel while at an academic conference in Texas.

A voice message from a reporter with the Atlanta Journal Constitution alerted him that he was accused in a University of Georgia Faculty Senate meeting of coercing and intimidating students to believe in Christianity. The president of the university had called for a thorough investigation. The story was front page news.

Actually, Russ Carlson was the one being intimidated by false accusations and innuendo. But, remarkably, the persecution only seemed to steel Dr. Carlson to follow Christ no matter where He leads.

For nearly 20 years, Dr. Carlson has been a leader of the Faculty Commons ministry at UGA. Known for his exemplary character, kind countenance, and vibrant faith, he is soft spoken but always ready to talk about his love for Christ.

Dr. Carlson makes his faith story available to students online and welcomes the opportunity to interact with them. He travels to campuses as near as Georgia Tech and as far away as Poland to encourage and equip other Christian professors.

It is so unusual at a secular university for a biochemistry professor to be an evangelical Christian that student groups invite Dr. Carlson to speak about how he can be a Christian and a scientist at the same time. But he also has the same discussions in his research center where as many as 20 academics from 10 countries have responded to his invitation to interact.

Each semester, Dr. Carlson invites his biochemistry students to his home for dinner and conversation about science and Christianity. From 15-30 students will show up for spaghetti and meaty interaction. Ironically, the university encourages professors to pursue this type of interaction with students. Yet for this Dr. Carlson was under investigation.

Interestingly, both non-Christian and Christian colleagues rallied to Dr. Carlson’s defense with letters to the editor, interaction with the UGA president, and internal memos. After a lengthy investigation, Dr. Carlson was fully exonerated, with a caution not to include the invitation to his home discussions on the back of the class syllabus.

To which Dr. Carlson replied, “Okay, but I was just trying to save paper,” and began planning his next dinner discussion.

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