Evangelicals Not Welcome

It’s been a long time since most public and private universities and colleges in the United States desired the active presence of evangelical Christians in their midst. After the YMCA/YWCA and the Student Volunteer Movement backed away from their evangelical roots, groups such as Inter-Varsity, the Navigators, and Campus Crusade for Christ filled the vacuum. While some mainline Protestant ministries shrank in the wake of the sixties cultural revolution, evangelicals demonstrated new visibility and growth on many campuses.

As I discuss in Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ, that visibility and growth generated opponents from the start. Mainline Protestant ministries often complained to administration about the evangelistic tactics of Campus Crusade, partly because parachurch organizations attracted some of “their” students. Universities likewise sought to limit or block the participation of non-student evangelical advisers on campuses, and they took issue with the fact that evangelical students and staff proselytized in dormitories and cafeterias. Nothing worse than having a bad meal — universities didn’t cater to their students quite as much back then — interrupted by the Four Spiritual Laws. For the most part, however, evangelical organizations successfully defended their right to participate in the marketplace of campus religion, and they staked out substantial territory in locker rooms, Greek houses, and dormitories.

By the 1990s, however, private university administrations began finding or placing themselves at odds with evangelical ministries. Tufts, Middlebury (my alma mater), and a number of other institutions clashed over the fact that evangelical campus organizations wanted to restrict positions of leadership to — shockingly — evangelical Christians.

Recently, the New York Times detailed the latest developments in this ongoing struggle. Bowdoin College has derecognized Bowdoin Christian Fellowship. This means that non-students can no longer advise the group in any official capacity, and the fellowship cannot apply for any student funds. The same has happened to a dozen Christian ministries at Vanderbilt. Now, Cal State is preparing to derecognize a host of evangelical organizations:

At Cal State, the nation’s largest university system with nearly 450,000 students on 23 campuses, the chancellor is preparing this summer to withdraw official recognition from evangelical groups that are refusing to pledge not to discriminate on the basis of religion in the selection of their leaders… Cal State officials insist that they welcome evangelicals, but want them to agree to the same policies as everyone else. “Lots of evangelical groups are thriving on our campuses,” said Susan Westover, a lawyer for the California State University System. However, she said, there will be no exceptions from the antidiscrimination requirements. “Our mission is education, not exclusivity,” she said.

The Times article correctly observes that the Cal State situation is a tipping point. Instead of a small private college, we’re talking about a massive public university with many campuses. It is uncertain whether or not the groups in question have any legal recourse. In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court upheld a California law school’s actions against an evangelical organization that denied membership to groups that could not sign a “Statement of Beliefs.” In particular, the case hinged on the fact that CLS excluded gay and lesbian students who were open about their sexual orientation and practice. The issue currently at hand is narrower. Should leadership positions in all campus organizations be open — at least in theory — to all students? Perhaps the Court would view leadership differently from membership, but my hunch is that Cal State would prevail.

This strikes me as an entirely unnecessary and unwise fight from several angles. For starters, conservative evangelicals now find their position on homosexuality anathema on public college campuses. More broadly, conservative evangelicals have lost in the realm of public opinion and in the courts on same-sex marriage and related issues. See Philip Jenkins’s recent post on that subject. It seems unwise for evangelical campus ministries to risk their futures on their ability to exclude any students from contending for leadership positions. One presumes that the members of these organizations still possesses the right to actually vote for their leaders, and one can safely presume that most evangelicals will choose fellow evangelicals. From my vantage point, campus ministries play an absolutely vital role in retaining and nurturing younger generations of evangelicals. They should not risk the viability of their ministries. I don’t believe it would compromise those ministries’ integrity to play by the rules of the game as defined by many private and some public universities. Yes, ministries should defend their principles, but they should defend them wisely.

The decisions of some campus ministries may be unwise, but the actions of university administrators are downright Orwellian. One cannot further diversity by adopting policies with the full knowledge that their primary effect will be to drive evangelicals — and a few Catholic groups — off campus or underground. This is remarkable. Regardless of their intent, universities are adopting policies that marginalize a single religious group. Can you imagine the outcry if a university policy undermined or drove out African American or Muslim groups? Typically, when policies and laws have the obvious effect of burdening a particular religious group, the courts view them with great suspicion (see, for instance, the recent district court decision on Utah’s law targeting polygamy and cohabitation).

Let’s presume that the evangelical groups in question believe that homosexuality is sinful and that they do not want gays or lesbians to have positions of leadership in their organizations. [And I think it's fair to presume that in many instances, evangelicals at universities and colleges -- especially in decades past -- have articulated hurtful opinions about gays, lesbians, and transsexual students]. It is hardly discriminatory for evangelical groups to restrict positions of leadership to like-minded evangelicals. How does it further these institutions’ stated missions of inclusion and diversity to deny funding to evangelical fellowships? Evangelicals make up a tiny minority at institutions like Bowdoin. There are certainly far more evangelicals at Cal State, but the Golden State hardly needs to ensure their further marginality. The net effect of such policies will be the decreased visibility of evangelical Christianity at such campuses, less expression of evangelical ideas and beliefs, and, in the end, fewer evangelicals on campus.

Perhaps it is time for university administrators to drop their charade and include a simple statement in their brochures and on their signs: Evangelicals not welcome.

  • Philostratos

    “Typically, when policies and laws have the obvious effect of burdening a particular religious group, the courts view them with great suspicion (see, for instance, the recent district court decision on Utah’s law targeting polygamy and cohabitation).”

    So now evangelicals don’t have a problem with activist judges striking down laws against polygamy. As long as it’s based on the “religious freedom” scam, which will give them the privileges they want.

    Guess what: no privileges for bigots. If evangelical “universities” can expel students who are atheists, it must be granted that Cal State has every right to derecognize bigoted student groups, and to expel evangelicals.

    • Preston Garrison

      Bigotry is about hatred. It seems that you hate evangelicals. The pot and the kettle and all that. It is possible to disagree with someone, and not hate them. Try it.

      • Philostratos

        I have the exact same attitude towards evangelicals as I do towards members of the Aryan Brotherhood, or any other bigoted group. I don’t hate anyone who disagrees with me, although most evangelicals do… foaming at the mouth and screaming “baby-killer” and “pervert” at anyone who believes that women and gay people should have rights.

        But the hatefulness is just what you would expect from religious fundamentalists, who deny reality and science, and who have no morals.

        • LynnW

          Interesting that Philostratos has such a small circle of evangelicals he knows exacerbated only by those highlighted in the media. My circle of friends includes many evangelicals who have great compassion on those abortion-minded and though may disagree with the homosexual lifestyle do not hate gays and often have deep friendships with them. It’s a shame your opinions of evangelicals are shaped by a small minority who embarrass the rest of the Christian community. Additionally, my son happens to be a nationally recognized award-winning scientist who is an evangelical Christian. So is his scientist sister. They were both involved in Christian organizations on their elite campuses. Hmmmm. Christians–not believe in science? Hogwash. Many, many evangelicals take science very seriously. None of this info about their backgrounds is to brag. It’s to show how narrow is your focus. Of course, they also were fortunate enough to attend colleges with a president of Jewish heritage who takes his faith very seriously and is not about to stand in the way of the practice of anyone’s faith. (They happened to have the same president at two different colleges.) Why not do more research instead of painting everyone with the same brush?

          • Philostratos

            “My circle of friends includes many evangelicals who have great compassion on those abortion-minded and though may disagree with the homosexual lifestyle do not hate gays”

            No one ever admits to hating gay people. Just like racists don’t admit to hating blacks. Every last segregationist (most of them fundamentalists) proclaimed that he “loved” blacks. But guess what… people who oppose legal equality for a minority are bigots.

            “It’s a shame your opinions of evangelicals are shaped by a small minority who embarrass the rest of the Christian community.”

            It is not a minority, and it most certainly is not small. It is a small minority of Christians as a whole, but anti-gay bigots and creationists make up a majority of evangelicals. Not that I recognize evangelicals as Christians. No one could be further removed from the teachings of that man named Jesus.

            “Additionally, my son happens to be a nationally recognized award-winning scientist who is an evangelical Christian.”

            Pleasure to meet you, mother to Dr. Francis Collins. However, Francis Collins is in a very small minority of evangelicals… who accept evolution and support embryonic stem cell research. His saving grace was that he was a learned man before he became an evangelical, and the evangelicalism failed to stamp out the learning that he had.

            “Of course, they also were fortunate enough to attend colleges with a president of Jewish heritage who takes his faith very seriously”

            And thus someone who evangelicals believe is going to hell. A deserved fate, I admit, for taking his “faith” seriously.

            “Why not do more research instead of painting everyone with the same brush?”

            Not everyone, just the vast, vast, vast majority. And even those who do accept science, and who do not hate gay people, if you are one of them, instead of denouncing the Pat Robertsons, Jerry Falwells and Phil Robertsons of the world, you get very defensive whenever they are criticized. Why is that?

  • Daniel Lee Fee

    At least some key part of this ongoing dilemma among us must stem from our evangelical believer legacies of ‘evangelizing’ gays by being free to trash talk nearly anything and everything we supposed true about the basket of hot button sin topics through which believers were so often encouraged to construe any and all gay folks: …..homosexuality, choosing sexual orientation to thumb your nose at God, forbidden yet sleazy sex thrills about which many narratives hinted if not counting on those connotations, tons of dodgy comparisons with anything else that was considered a life problem = being gay is like ……[fill in the blank? .... alcohol/drug abuse, incest, beastiality, tilts towards child molesting as a 'recruitment' strategy? ..... really the limits were far flung indeed].

    Once empirical hypothesis testing from the past six to seven decades after World War II provided a foundation for re-positioning same sex orientation and related sexual minority differences inside the functional framework for normal human living …. believers including evangelical believers have failed to understand gays as a predictable, stable small percentage of any sufficiently large human family. How do you proclaim sexual orientation as sin? …. or how do you vividly describe dirt or damage or danger which our legacy traditions have strongly informed us were innate to same sex phenomena in human life …. while also respecting the huge significance of empirical testing which has disconfirmed orientation as a disorder? ….

    my guess is that a lot of cross-informed homework is still not being very consistently done. At the very least, people who consider themselves spokespersons or leaders or pastors or teachers ought to have been reading their scriptures in one hand and reading the accumulated empirical research in the other? …..

    Just my two cents. drdanfee.

    • John Turner

      I think you can make a reasonable argument that evangelicals are reaping what they have sown on this issue. In fact, you could argue that they are reaping far less than they have sown. Still, as I suggest in the post, I don’t think the actions of university administrators are wise to use diversity policies to make their campuses less diverse.

      • Philostratos

        If allowing bigotry is how you define ‘diversity’, let’s allow groups to discriminate on the basis of race.

        Evangelicals are reaping far less than they have sown, but there’s still time.

  • Preston Garrison

    It all points up the fact that there is no such thing as universal tolerance/non-discrimination. It is ridiculous that university administrators think that that is what they are standing for. If they would think for a minute, they would see that they discriminate (as we all should) against serial killers, serial rapists, pedophiles, etc. So, the question is not, who discriminates, but what is appropriate to discriminate against in what circumstances? College is supposedly about learning, working your way to the truth, but how can a kid do that if he/she is immediately confronted by hysterical fanatics (students or administrators) saying, in essence, agree with us or be excluded completely?

    • Philostratos

      “If they would think for a minute, they would see that they discriminate (as we all should) against serial killers, serial rapists, pedophiles”

      I am not sure that evangelicals do, though. There are a lot of serial killers in the Bible, and evangelicals tend to worship them. Not the least of which is the ‘god’-character. Moreover, pedophiles like Phil Robertson and Ted Nugent get a lot of support from evangelicals.

      But your point is well-taken. You can’t attack someone for who they are (like being black, or gay, or a woman). But you can criticize someone and discriminate against him for immoral choices, like murdering, or choosing to be an evangelical.

      “College is supposedly about learning, working your way to the truth, but how can a kid do that if he/she is immediately confronted by hysterical fanatics (students or administrators) saying, in essence, agree with us or be excluded completely?”

      You can say the same thing about anti-racist policies, and evangelicals have historically done exactly that. “Agree with us that blacks don’t suffer from the “Curse of Ham”, or be excluded completely.”

    • Barb

      I watched a 30 minute Ravi Zacharias interview the other day regarding this very issue. He described it as “rabid secularism.” It’s to the point of insanity, to say the least. But sadly, most of them are too blind to see it. Like Philostratos below, they vehemently decry evangelical moralizing, while they simultaneously call them ‘religious fundamentalists, who deny reality and science, and who have no morals.’

      Can you spell H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-S-Y?

    • Sally Strange

      True. The principles of non-discrimination and tolerance have gotten somewhat simplified over time.

      There is good discrimination: discriminating against people who choose to harm other people, because they make that choice, is fine. Discriminating against people because they have certain characteristics that harm nobody is wrong.

      There is bad tolerance: tolerating people who refuse to tolerate others on the basis of characteristics is bad. Therefore in order to practice racial tolerance, one must refuse to tolerate racists.

      The Evangelicals are making a choice about whether to abide by their university’s policy or not. A University discriminating against people or groups who choose not to follow University policy is the kind of discrimination that’s okay.

  • Chris Candide

    “In particular, the case hinged on the fact that CLS excluded gay and lesbian students who were open about their sexual orientation and practice.”

    This is not accurate. They didn’t allow LEADERS who refused to abide by the statement of belief on sexual behavior. The prohibition on sex outside marriage applied to all.

    • Gregory Peterson

      In other words, it’s about petty and crass legalism to justify creating dangerous minority stress for Gay Christians. How so very white of them.

  • RustbeltRick

    I don’t see the part in Cal State’s anti-discrimination requirements where it talks about leadership requirements. It would be odd for a campus group to elect a leader who is not a group member; for example, the campus Harry Potter Club is going to elect a leader who has attended the meetings and who is viewed as active and supportive of the group. They will not choose a non-member who hates Harry Potter. Does Campus Crusade believe that hostile people will be forced on them as leaders? That doesn’t make sense, but then again I may be missing the issue here.

    • Greg Jao

      As InterVarsity’s point person for campus access issues, I’d be happy to answer that question. The language in EX1068 states, “No campus shall recognize any fraternity, sorority, living group, honor society, or other student organization that discriminates on the basis of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, color, age, gender, marital status, citizenship, sexual orientation, or disability.” The university has interpreted the “discriminates” language to mean that religious groups may not have any rules which define leadership to include a belief or religious requirement.

      • ortcutt

        OK, we all get the policy, we just don’t understand what the objection is to the policy. Why should a university allow rules that limit leadership by a belief or religious requirement? Are you worried that the atheists/Muslims/Unitarians are all going to join the group in order to elect an atheist/Muslim/Unitarian club president? I just don’t understand what the objection is.

  • Gail Finke

    It’s not just Evangelicals. It’s a movement that strikes whatever nail is sticking out, and in these cases they’re Evangelical nails. But in other cases, it’s other groups. As long as whatever you believe is purely personal and makes no difference in the world, you’ll be allowed to believe it.

    • Doug Goodin

      But this is not about belief, it’s about compliance with university rules governing student organizations. No organization can or should expect the rules to be rewritten for it, regardless of what it “believes.”

  • Andrew Dowling

    “Regardless of their intent, universities are adopting policies that marginalize a single religious group.”

    That’s not true . . .they would affect ANY student group that didn’t have an open door policy for membership. You reasonably state that an evangelical group allowing non-evangelicals to vie for leadership positions wouldn’t be a big deal as they simply wouldn’t get the votes (and how many non-Muslims/non-Catholics/non-evangelicals are really going to waste their time joining those groups anyway?)

    So where’s the beef? The groups should just adhere to the school policy and stop whining.

    • Lark62

      Yes, I can’t see how this singles out christians when the secular alliance, black student groups, etc. all have to live by the same rules.

    • R Vogel

      My thoughts exactly – in fact it seems the very opposite is true – they are no longer allowing a single religious group to be exempt from rules governing every other sanctioned organization. If he showed me that the policies are not being equally applied to ‘African American or Muslim groups’ he might have a beef, otherwise this just screams of lamenting the loss of privilege.

  • John C. Gardner

    The legal issues are interesting. The Supreme Court has rules that administrators may require all campus groups to open offices to all comers. This may be constitutional but it is not wise. On the other hand, a Christian college can establish limitations on non-Christian groups. Both Christians and others have taken bigoted positions at times regarding others. How would this work for a minority group that was required to allow the KKK to run for offices in the organization? Tolerance for all means respect even though one may disagree fundamentally with the othe’rs position. The first amendment protects speech and freedom of religion but not behaviors which endanger others. May God bless all here.

  • ortcutt

    If an on-campus group can limit their leadership positions, as a matter of policy, to people of one religion, what is to stop the Chess Club, the Rowing Club or even the Secular Humanist Club from doing the same. I don’t understand why this idea of openness to all comers regardless of religious affiliation for school-sponsored groups is such a bugbear for evangelicals. In practice, the leadership of an Evangelical group will be Evangelicals because that is who the membership will choose as leaders.

    • R Vogel

      Because loss of privilege = persecution in certain circles

      • http://heathenhof.com Xander Folmer

        YES. THIS.

    • EVA-04

      Restricting the leadership to those who are aligned with the group’s values ensures the organization is true to its own stated goals, which it should be completely free to do so.

      To take your example, say there was a Chess Club but during a meeting where club officers were to be elected suddenly there came a group of students who weren’t really chess players, but perhaps just wanted to control the group’s allocated budget funds from ASB, or perhaps they had a juvenile beef with the club itself. Nonetheless these non-chess playing students outnumbered the regular ones in this meeting and got themselves voted in as the leadership. The new group promptly ejects the old members and then re-writes the group charter, they also now control the money given by ASB and whatever rooms or facilities they also get.

      It’s called a Club Coup or Club Trolling and it does happen more frequently than you’d think, especially if the club in question gets university support. This actually happened to a group I was member of while in college and basically there was little we could do about it.

      • Andrew Dowling

        “It’s called a Club Coup or Club Trolling and it does happen more frequently than you’d think”

        I call BS.

      • ortcutt

        OK, the university has decided that groups that want to be affiliated with it must not discriminate on certain characteristics, including religion. If a club wants to restrict officers in the Chess Club to those rated expert and above, the University has decided that they are free to do so, but if Chess Club wanted to only allow only Black officers, Christian officers, or Native-born officers, the University has made a policy that it doesn’t want such a group affiliated with itself. The risk of Club coup seems grossly exaggerated, but if such an fantastically unlikely event did occur, the original members are more than able to start a new organization. It’s certainly not a consideration that would militate against the value of a non-discrimination policy.

  • Sally Strange

    How does it further these institutions’ stated missions of inclusion and diversity to deny funding to evangelical fellowships?

    By demonstrating that all affiliated organizations and institutions share that same mission. In order to practice inclusion, it is in fact necessary to exclude those who reject the principle of inclusivity.

  • Jim

    It’s about time university administrators started strictly enforcing their anti-discrimination policies. If you want official recognition, you abide by the official rules. That’s simple. Nobody’s an exception including evangelicals no matter how much they may think that they’re special and that Jesus has granted them immunity from secular regulations and impunity to do whatever they please. Don’t like it? Too bad. Them’s the rules–for everybody!

  • Livin

    The new diversity is everyone thinking the exact same way….Others will be sent to re-education camps….

  • cken

    When you apply to a liberal or state run college, if you want to be sure you get in, lie and tell them you are a black Muslim. It won’t matter what your grades are you will get in. Liberals support and encourage lying so you won’t get in trouble for such a minor deception. I mean come on how do they know you don’t have a drop of black blood and carry a prayer rug. Then you join the Christian group and the school can’t complain. It’s OK to lie for God isn’t it.

    • Gregory Peterson

      Oh, nothing like the acrid smell of the politics of privilege and resentment, right cken?

    • Vinaigrette Girl

      Let’s see: you want us to believe (on faith, as you have no data) that two large categories of higher education institutions have no robust methods for fact-checking applications; that minority applicants have an unfair advantage over majority applicants (again, no data); and that all “liberals” and minorities wish to and can justify “lying for God” (again, no data).

      I’ve read essays written by eighth-graders with more robust and well-supported assertions, and you need to repeat a year or two to catch up with them. Shame on you.

  • Gregory Peterson

    My understanding is that it’s not really about restricting leadership in campus Evangelical groups to evangelicals, but restricting Gay Christians from leadership roles…not to mention that some Evangelical organizations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, forbid women from being ordained…etc etc etc. It’s about preserving privilege and power though discrimination. Why should groups which won’t abide by simple anti-discrimination rules claim University credentials?

  • Russ Dewey

    Over a period of two decades or so, “Reverend Bob” (as he was known) would stand at the student union, at Georgia Southern, and yell at passing students about how they were fornicators destined for hell. He got lots of attention.

  • Vinaigrette Girl

    I don’t see why any institution receiving taxpayer funding should permit official recognition of discriminatory groups. Taxes come from gay people, Muslims, evangelicals, atheists, agnostics, women (over half America’s’s kids are in households where the chief or sole breadwinner is female), you name it, they’re contributing in some way to the public coffers – not to mention whatever fees they pay.

    As long as evangelicals promote hate and/or discrimination and also don’t run their groups as open-to-all groups with leadership criteria to match (and this includes *all faiths which evangelise) then they shouldn’t be fostered as official on-campus groups.

    Here’s a thought: here in the UK the Scouts have been very supportive of the LGBT, humanist, Jewish, and Islamic members of the Scouting community. Result? We have a lot of community work getting done, a great choice of leaders, and excellent chances for young people to get to know each other outside their schools or faith groups. Open leadership is critical to effective outreach. Closed-door groups have stuff to learn – which is *why we send people to university*.


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