Tag: colleges

Examining Religions

truthBy Ravi Zacharias

It was years ago when I was speaking at an openly and avowedly atheistic institution that I was fascinated by a questioner who asked what on earth I meant by the term God. The city was Moscow; the setting was the Lenin Military Academy. The atmosphere was tense. Never had I been asked before to define the term in a public gathering. And because I was in a country so historically entrenched in atheism, I suspected the question was both hostile and intentional. I asked the questioner if he was an atheist, to which he replied that he was. I asked him what he was denying. That conversation didn’t go very far. So I tried to explain to him what we meant when we spoke about God.

It is fascinating to talk to a strident atheist and try to get beneath the anger or hostility. God is a trigger word for some that concentrates all his or her stored animosity into a projectile of words. But as the layers of their thinking and experience are unpacked, the meaning of atheism to each one becomes narrower and narrower, each term dying the death of a thousand qualifications. Oftentimes, the description is more visceral and is discussed with pent-up anger rather than in a sensible, respectful discussion. More than once I have been amazed at the anger expressed by members of the atheist groups at one or other of the Ivy League schools in the United States to which I have been invited to speak, anger that I was even invited and that I had the temerity to address them.

In theory, the academy has always been a place where dissent serves a valuable purpose in helping thinking students to weigh out ideas and make intelligent choices. And, dare I say, had I been a Muslim speaker, there would have been no such dissent as I faced. Evidently, being able to instill fear in people has a lot to do with how much freedom of speech you are granted. But alas! For some, at least, civil discourse is impossible. To her credit, at the end of a lecture, one senior officer in one club stood up and thanked me, a veiled apology for the resistance vented before the event. I did appreciate that courtesy.

This unfettered anger on the part of some is quite puzzling to me. I was raised in India where I was not a Hindu and, in fact, never once gave it any serious consideration. For that matter, I’m not sure if I even really believed in God. I was a nominal Christian but never gave that much thought, either. Most of my friends were either Hindu or Muslim or Sikh, with a few others of different faiths. I never recall feeling any anger or hostility toward those who believed differently than me, no matter how ludicrous their beliefs may have seemed to me. Nor do I remember ever being on the receiving end of such anger and hostility because I did not have the same belief.

But the likes of Richard Dawkins are renowned for their bullying and mocking approach toward opposing views, an attitude from an academic that makes one wonder what is really driving such an intense temperament. A questioner at a gathering in Washington, DC, once asked Richard Dawkins how one should respond to a person who believed in God. “Mock them,” he actually replied. “Ridicule them.” When someone at an event asked me what I thought of that response, I reflected that, were Dawkins to practice that same method in Saudi Arabia, chances are he would not need his return ticket. One thing is for sure—he would at least find out that not all beliefs in God are similar and not all imperatives, equal.

Need I add, not all atheists have the same disposition. In fact, many find the hostility of the new atheists an embarrassment. I have met many a cordial conversationalist who is atheistic in his or her belief, and we’ve had the best of conversations. Many have remarked that they have been able to take only so much of Dawkins and his followers and then stopped even reading them. Whatever worldview we espouse, dialogue and debate should take place with civility and courteous listening. But our times make that ideal so elusive. Holding a supposedly noble belief and reducing it to ignoble means of propagation makes the one who holds that belief suspect.

To be sure, many in the so-called “religious” category have provoked strident responses. The pulpit can sadly be a place of bullying people into guilt and remorse and other emotions that make them want to escape from the voice hammering away at them, to say nothing of the anti-intellectualism among Christian ranks that brands even a hint of philosophy or science heretical.

History has taught us to beware of extremists in any camp that sacrifice cordial conversation at the altar of demagogic enforcement. Views and opinions are aplenty in our world of tweeting and Instagram, but civil discourse is rare. And rarer still is the ability to defend one’s beliefs with reason and experience. But we do well to examine the differences among secular belief systems (that are, in fact, also religions). We do well to examine where these differences really lie. I continue to find that the Judeo-Christian worldview has the most coherent answers to the inescapable questions of life that we all have, regardless of our beliefs.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

See RZIM.org

Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy

BRUNSWICK, Me. — For 40 years, evangelicals at Bowdoin College have gathered periodically to study the Bible together, to pray and to worship. They are a tiny minority on the liberal arts college campus, but they have been a part of the school’s community, gathering in the chapel, the dining center, the dorms.

After this summer, the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship will no longer be recognized by the college. Already, the college has disabled the electronic key cards of the group’s longtime volunteer advisers.

In a collision between religious freedom and antidiscrimination policies, the student group, and its advisers, have refused to agree to the college’s demand that any student, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, should be able to run for election as a leader of any group, including the Christian association.

Similar conflicts are playing out on a handful of campuses around the country, driven by the universities’ desire to rid their campuses of bias, particularly against gay men and lesbians, but also, in the eyes of evangelicals, fueled by a discomfort in academia with conservative forms of Christianity. The universities have been emboldened to regulate religious groups by a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that found it was constitutional for a public law school in California to deny recognition to a Christian student group that excluded gays.

Reid Wilson, left, and Zackary Suhr, who have graduated, were part of the group.CreditKatherine Taylor for The New York Times

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. And at Vanderbilt, more than a dozen groups, most of them evangelical but one of them Catholic, have already lost their official standing over the same issue; one Christian group balked after a university official asked the students to cut the words “personal commitment to Jesus Christ” from their list of qualifications for leadership.

At most universities that have begun requiring religious groups to sign nondiscrimination policies, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have agreed, saying they do not discriminate and do not anticipate that the new policies will cause problems. Hillel, the largest Jewish student organization, says some chapters have even elected non-Jews to student boards.

The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith — in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.

“It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard,” said Zackary Suhr, 23, who has just graduated from Bowdoin, where he was a leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship.

The consequences for evangelical groups that refuse to agree to the nondiscrimination policies, and therefore lose their official standing, vary by campus. The students can still meet informally on campus, but in most cases their groups lose access to student activity fee money as well as first claim to low-cost or free university spaces for meetings and worship; they also lose access to standard on-campus recruiting tools, such as activities fairs and bulletin boards, and may lose the right to use the universities’ names.

“It’s absurd,” said Alec Hill, the president of InterVarsity, a national association of evangelical student groups, including the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship. “The genius of American culture is that we allow voluntary, self-identified organizations to form, and that’s what our student groups are.”

Some institutions, including the University of Florida, the University of Houston, the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas, have opted to exempt religious groups from nondiscrimination policies, according to the Christian Legal Society. But evangelical groups have lost official status at Tufts University, the State University of New York at Buffalo and Rollins College in Florida, among others, and their advocates are worried that Cal State could be a tipping point.

The Bowdoin group has about 45 people on its mailing list, including 25 regular participants, on a campus of 1,800 students. The group notes that its participants, young people still figuring out where they stand on many subjects, have varying views on issues like same-sex marriage.

Around the country, a number of colleges and universities are asking all student groups to agree they won’t discriminate, on any basis, in the selection of their members or leaders. Evangelical groups are balking, saying they have to be able to demand Christian faith of their leaders.CreditKatherine Taylor for The New York Times

A few weeks ago, the Bowdoin group gathered for a final dinner at the Center for Multicultural and Spiritual Life at the college, thanking not only the graduating seniors, but also Robert and Sim Gregory, who volunteered with Bowdoin for a decade but are no longer recognized as advisers.

The students, who plan to meet informally in the fall and may seek an off-campus site for worship, are bewildered by the turn of events. “We can’t discriminate on religion, and we’re a religious group!” exclaimed Olivia Cannon, 18, a Bowdoin student.

Reid Wilson, 23, a leader of the group who has since graduated, rued the turn of events. “It’s hard socially to find people on this campus who make faith a strong part of their identity — people who really understand me and who I can really be open with,” he said. “This group has been a tremendous resource for me.”

Bowdoin officials say they, too, are disappointed.

“I want them on campus, because it’s a sanctuary for many of our conservative evangelical students — Bowdoin has accepted these students, and they need a place, and they need to have their faith challenged,” said the Rev. Robert Ives, a United Church of Christ minister who is the director ofreligious and spiritual life at Bowdoin. “But every organization has to be open to every student, and every position of leadership has to be open to any individual, without discrimination.”

At Cal State, evangelicals are facing a similar conundrum. “We’re not willing to water down our beliefs in order to be accepted,” said Austin Weatherby, 20, a Cal State Chico student. He sometimes leads Bible study, and said he had to agree that he believes in the Holy Trinity and the Resurrection to do so. “Anyone can join, but if you want to lead a Bible study, you need to believe these things,” he said.

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.

At Vanderbilt, the decision to push groups to sign antidiscrimination policies was prompted by a Christian fraternity’s expulsion of a member who came out as gay. About one-third of the 35 religious groups on campus have refused to sign and are no longer recognized by the school; they can still meet and recruit informally, and the campus Hillel has even opened its building for meetings of one of the Christian groups.

“I am hopeful for a better future, but I’m not naïve, there are some issues that are irresolvable,” said the Vanderbilt chaplain, the Rev. Mark Forrester, who is a United Methodist minister. “This is a larger social and ethical struggle that we as a society are engaged in.”

Religious Freedom on Campus Under Attack

By Chris Lawrence  

Mark Scott knew that starting a campus ministry would be a tough project at Montclair State University, the second-largest public college in New Jersey. The campus had a reputation for being sarcastic and caustic concerning spiritual things.

But rather than fail to attract interest from students, the staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ faced a different kind of hurdle: the student government.

They denied Campus Crusade status as a student group, citing concerns about the group’s leadership, their views on homosexuality and the negative connotations of the word “Crusade.” As a result, student government said that Mark and others with Campus Crusade couldn’t advertise, seek membership, have an office or hold meetings on campus.

“Because we weren’t recognized, we were completely cut off,” says Mark. “We weren’t able to function at all on campus.”

Across the country, there has been increased pressure on college campuses to quiet Christians about their beliefs. The challenges come on many fronts — restrictions on evangelism, “speech codes” (rules about what to say about sensitive topics like religion or sexual preference), and about the teaching of evolution as the only acceptable view in science classes.

But the latest trend, like at Montclair, threatens Christian groups’ very existence on campus.

After nearly two years of runaround and red tape, Mark contacted Dennis Kasper, general counsel for Campus Crusade, who approached the university. “Religious groups are entitled the same rights as any registered group on campus,” attorney Kasper says. By quieting Christians simply because of their beliefs, every person’s freedom of speech is threatened.

Yet Christian groups around the nation have been asked to compromise their mission in order to stay on campus.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Christian fraternity was recently denied recognition because it would not agree to open its membership to students of different faiths.

Because the mission of Alpha Iota Omega is to train Christian leaders, lawyers for the fraternity say UNC’s action violated the fraternity’s rights to freedom of association, freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

“They are saying that you can’t use religion as the reason for how you select the officers or leaders,” says Jordon Lorence, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a nonprofit Christian legal group.

Attorney Lorence points out that a vegetarian group on campus holds similar membership requirements, and logically so. “In order to be part of the club, you have to agree that vegetarianism is good and eating meat is bad,” he says. “If they find out that you go home and secretly eat pork chops and Big Macs, they’ll kick you out.”

Likewise, the argument against the fraternity is illogical, he says. “They are saying the gospel itself can get you kicked off campus.”

At Rutgers, the largest university in New Jersey, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship got the boot because they wouldn’t open up their leadership to non-Christians. Eventually IVCF threatened to sue, and the university reinstated them.

“We have had more challenges to our basic right to exist on campus settings during the past two years than in the previous 55 combined,” said former IVCF president Steven Hayner in an article on lifeway.com.

Attorney Lorence says the problem stems from a growing obsession with “diversity.” The commitment is so extreme that it sometimes tramples rights and freedoms, he says.

According to David French, president of The Fire (a public advocacy group), Christian groups are considered “religious” whereas Muslim or Hindu groups are considered “cultural.” As a result, the bulk of legal problems fall on the Christians, he says.

At the University of Washington in 1994, Campus Crusade came under fire during gay-pride week.

They hosted an informational table on campus, where one student approached them and asked a number of questions about Christians’ beliefs, including about abortion and welfare. At one point he also asked, “Would you allow a gay student to be a leader in your organization?”

A Campus Crusade student leader politely answered that, because of biblical standards, anyone living a sinful lifestyle of any kind would not be qualified for leadership.

The next day, the student newspaper ran a lengthy, front-page article with the headline: “Christian group won’t allow gay students to be leaders.” Later, a few professors even wrote guest columns asking that Campus Crusade be kicked off campus.

As a result of the attention, many students stopped coming to the meetings. “[Because of all the negative publicity,] a lot of students didn’t want to be associated with Campus Crusade anymore,” says Brian Ricci, who has been a staff member at UW for 21 years. “But it really increased the faith of the ones who stayed.”

Not too long after, the administration tried to not only make the Campus Crusade student group sign a statement saying  they’d allow homosexuals in their leadership, but also said they could not discriminate based on religious beliefs. That’s when Brian called Dennis Kasper, who helped resolve the issue.

“Lately things have been pretty quiet,” says Brian. “But I’m waiting to see what’s over the next hill.” 

Most of the time, disputes arise on campus because people don’t understand the law, says attorney Kasper. So far, Campus Crusade has been fortunate; all incidents have been settled outside the courtroom.

Brian says it is crucial that believers handle the confrontations in a Christlike way. “Who knows? The people you go up against may be the very people you need to share the gospel with,” Brian says. 

But there’s a balance, he warns. You need to know your rights, and act if a dispute goes too far. “We finally decided to take legal action when the gospel was being stopped,” Brian says.

Back at Montclair, Mark Scott’s action caused the university to overrule the student government’s decision, approving Campus Crusade as a student group. This fall Campus Crusade held its first meetings there, and student attendance jumped from two people to 12 — a promising start for the year. As for the future, “I have high hopes,” says Mark.

Know Your Rights

Across the country, religious rights on the college campus can vary significantly. “We have to evaluate each college and its location to determine the scope of those rights,” says Dennis Kasper, general counsel for Campus Crusade for Christ.

For example, there are significant differences between private and public schools, he says: “Public schools are subject to all of the constitutional rights guaranteed by the U.S.

Constitution and the constitutions of the states where they are located. But private colleges, depending upon the state where they are located, are not.”

Nonetheless, it pays to know your rights. For free legal advice call the Alliance Defense Fund at 1-800-TELL-ADF. This legal alliance, founded in 1993 by five Christian ministry leaders including Bill Bright, aggressively defends religious liberty (Campus Crusade workers should contact the general counsel’s office).

Courtesy of http://www.ccci.org/ministries-and-locations/ministries/campus-ministry/religious-freedom-attacked.htm