In the name of tolerance, colleges are becoming increasingly unwilling to tolerate Christian student groups. In an attempt to “rid their campus of bias,” university administrators have moved against organizations that restrict positions of leadership to believers. For many Evangelical bible study groups, the core belief often stipulated for leadership is typically a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, belief in his divinity and resurrection, and personal commitment to continence before marriage.

The practical consequences of disassociation are not devastating but by no means negligible. A recent article in the Times describes the fallout:

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.

This will likely mean decreased membership and a reduced scope of the mission that many members feel called to. The trend is alarming. To further marginalize Christian student groups (some of which have already experienced marginalization over the marriage issue) seems a great loss to campus life. With administrations moving in their present direction, how can space be created for organizations of this type?

Christian student groups probably cannot gain acceptance on the university administrator’s own terms. The very notions of diversity, tolerance, and inclusion operate selectively. Unfortunately it seems that denominations of Christianity which fall afoul of the contemporary consensus regarding human sexuality, gender, the nature of marriage, etc. are destined to a gradual exclusion from the confines of consensus boundaries. As such, Christian groups which require doctrinal standards for leaders cannot expect to derive much support from arguments of toleration. This is due in part to the very nature of faith claims.

Faith continues to appear to many as bias. For similar reasons that have riven biblical exegesis with scandalous discord in the last 150 years, many today simply do not recognize the validity and merit of vision augmented by faith. Christians have at times contributed to the confusion, as evidenced by the secular fixation on fundamentalism. As a result, the heralds of the age continue to seek grounds for perfect impartiality, all the while denying the presuppositions at work with their own “faith-based” hobby-horses, be they humanistic, secular, anti-metaphysical, or anti-transcendent.

So, with the hand dealt in such a way, what is one to do? It isn’t enough merely to “pick our battles.” Some might argue that the exiled groups could have altered their regulations without much loss of integrity. To admit the possibility of leadership without doctrinal commitment does not per se commit one to the position that faith is unnecessary for reading the Bible. But, it seems that this move would only delay, rather than settle, the deadline for prophetic gestures of non-compliance. And it still leaves unaddressed the question of how to defend rights to the public square even while espousing views in contradiction to the new normal.

Christian student groups need to enunciate their participation in campus life as a good for the university. Most universities see their mission as one of education. In this context, Christian groups could use the administration’s educational theory for their own purposes. If university policy forbids Christian student groups to act publicly upon a central conviction, then the university has failed to provide a space for students to engage with life’s most important questions. For institutions committed to the universal advance of light, seeking, finding, truth, and virtue (to take some words from the mottoes of prominent universities), it seems strange to excommunicate without very grave cause. If administrators truly take their task to be the education of all who cross the threshold, then the expulsion of a Christian student group seems to betray a failure in the system itself. With this reasoning, leaders of Christian student groups may establish grounds to enjoy continued university sponsorship.

Articles by Gregory Pine, O.P.

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