By Charles A. Collins, Jr.
During my teenage years — while the Cold War was still on and the Soviet Union was still intact — I remember reading of Andrew van der Bijl, better known in the English-speaking world as “Brother Andrew,” whose daring missions to take the Bible into countries where it was forbidden or severely restricted were chronicled in his 1967 autobiography God’s Smuggler. One of the phenomena that surprised van der Bijl during his first visits behind the Iron Curtain was that almost all of the churches able to openly operate were those approved by and monitored by the state, proclaiming a message that the government approved. When I read that I found it troubling at the time and it remains a disturbing concept.
Unfortunately a similar trend seems to be growing on college campuses across the United States. In the 2011-2012 school year Vanderbilt University required all campus groups, including campus ministries, to accept all students and forbid them to require that their officers share the “beliefs, goals and values” of the respective groups or risk losing official recognition, which brings many privileges and benefits such as listing with student activities and free meeting space. Among the groups that refused to sign were the Roman Catholic ministry, which moved off campus in a processional and rebranded as “University Catholic” since they were forbidden to use the school's name in their own. More than a dozen Protestant groups, including the Graduate Christian Fellowship, which operated under the auspices of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship — an international evangelical organization that has been in existence for more than seventy years — were also forced off campus
In an essay in the September issue of Christianity Today, Trish Harrison Warren, who had worked with the Graduate Student Fellowship, said that she thought she was the “right kind of Evangelical” in the context of Vanderbilt but that the refusal to remove the requirement that those in leadership — all students were welcome to participate in the group — actually profess the creedal statements of the organization branded her as discriminatory. Indeed the vice chancellor told her that “Creedal discrimination is still discrimination.” She further observed: “I began to realize that inside the church, the territory between Augustine of Hippo and Jerry Falwell seems vast and miles lie between Ron Sider and Pat Robertson. But in the eyes of the university (and much of the press), subscribers to broad Christian orthodoxy occupy the same square foot of cultural space.
“The line between good and evil was drawn by two issues: creedal belief and sexual expression. If religious groups required set truths or limited sexual autonomy, they were bad — not just wrong but evil, narrow-minded and too dangerous to be tolerated on campus.”
Simply put: Accept the doctrine-less orthodoxy of political correctness or you’re no longer welcome.
Nor is the pressure only felt at Vanderbilt — a university that ironically includes a divinity school with historic ties to the United Methodist Church. This summer the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin College in Maine — a private college with historic ties to Congregationalism — found itself kicked off campus due to its refusal to abandon the requirement that leaders affirm core Christian beliefs. InterVarsity Chrisitian Fellowship also found itself removed from official recognition on all 23 campuses of the California State University System for the same reason.
This writer contacted three friends involved in campus ministry in the local area, Willis Webber, the area director of InterVarsity for South Carolina, the Reverend Greg Smith, director of St. Alban’s Chapel at The Citadel and the Reverend Jonathan Williams, a chaplain in the Army Reserve and minister in the Presbyterian Church in America who also ministers at The Citadel. Happily all three reported that they have not faced pressures locally (or, in the case of Mr. Webber, statewide).
South Carolinians can be proud that the politically correct religious discrimination experienced in other places does not seem to be making inroads in the Palmetto State yet, but we should also be vigilant in defending religious liberty on campus from those who seek to water down the faith that groups profess as they seek what the late Reverend Richard John Neuhaus referred to as a naked public square where robust expressions of faith are marginalized or eliminated entirely.
The Reverend Charles A. Collins, Jr., currently serves as vicar of the Church of the Atonement, a Reformed Episcopal Parish in the Anglican Church in North America, in Mount Pleasant. He may be contacted at drew.collins at gmail.com