Awaken Church, the evangelical congregation with five San Diego County campuses, announced over the weekend it’s launching a university.
According to social media posts, Awaken Leadership University will open in January 2023 with only a “one-year leadership and discipleship program.”
Other details are scarce.
Awaken Church didn’t respond to questions about where the school would be based, what degrees or certificates are offered and who would lead and teach.
The politically extreme church founded by Jurgen and Leanne Matthesius — which attracted wide attention in March after hosting a right-wing event with Eric Trump, Michael Flynn and Roger Stone — already offers K-8 classes under the name Awaken Academy.
Unlike traditional universities, Awaken hasn’t applied for a license from the state’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education. Awaken is exempt under state law.
Matt Woodcheke, a spokesman for the California Department of Consumer Affairs, says BPPE hasn’t received an application for licensure from Awaken Leadership University.
“Per California Education Code section 94874(e), an institution owned, controlled and operated and maintained by a religious organization lawfully operating as a nonprofit religious corporation may be exempt from bureau licensure requirements,” he said via email.
It’s also unclear whether Awaken U will seek accreditation from the likes of the Christian College Accreditation Commission International or the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.
A religion expert at the University of Southern California sees Awaken U as part of a long history of evangelical and Pentecostal groups starting training schools — sometimes called colleges or universities.
“This is one of the latest that I’ve heard of,” said the expert — Richard Flory, executive director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
Flory, co-author with Brad Christerson of “The Rise of Network Christianity,” says Awaken isn’t included in their book because he didn’t learn about the right-wing church until last spring.
“But the kind of church, ministry and training models they are developing are right in line with the groups we studied,” he said. “They’re all part of the same umbrella movement that we call Independent Network Charismatic — or INC — Christianity.”
Students at Awaken U will pay $2,700 and face strict rules.
According to its online application, applicants are expected to obey a Code of Conduct:
- No excessive drinking or illegal drugs.
- No sex or living with partner outside of marriage.
- And no swearing or derogatory language.
“As an Awaken Leadership University student, you would be representing not only yourself but Awaken Church, our leaders and the program,” applicants are told.
Questions put to would-be students include ones about being in a “committed relationship” and whether that includes children. Also their citizenship status.
- Are you currently taking any medications? (Please list current medications.)
- Are you currently in counseling? (Please describe the nature of your counseling.)
Can a university ask questions like these?
“As a private institution, I believe they can,” BPPE consultant David Pinnell of Los Angeles told Times of San Diego.
A yearlong commitment (6-9 p.m. Tuesdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays) includes serving at two services and attending church once a week. Also attending a men’s or women’s prayer group and helping at “certain required Awaken Church events.”
Awaken U, says its introduction, “exists to activate you in your calling and to accelerate the vision of Awaken Church.”
The church has offered seminars and plans other conferences.
Most recently, the church’s El Cajon campus offered a presentation by Kevin McGary, president of Every Black Life Matters, “the Organization Countering BLM.”
McGary on Saturday spoke on “Awakened to be Woked — Get equipped to stand against Wokeism!”
It was based on McGary’s book “WOKEd UP!: Finally putting an ax to the taproot of white supremacy & racism in America.”
Meanwhile, Awaken Church’s youth academy boasts a “comprehensive curriculum and variety of instruction styles,” where “students will develop critical thinking skills in both CORE and enrichment classes.”