Christian college groups forced to admit non-Christians; why it might be a blessing in disguise

Recently, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of Christian campus groups, after a lower court forced them to open up their membership and leadership ranks to anyone, regardless of their religious affiliation. Now, FCA, Cru (Campus Crusade) or any other Christian student organization could be led by a Jew, a Muslim or an atheist.

By the same token, a straight person opposed to homosexual marriage could run the gay group. A conservative Republican could be the next president of the College Democrats.

It is an entirely asinine ruling by the lower court and refusal by the Supreme Court based on some vague concept of fairness and equal rights. Instead of protecting freedom of speech and freedom of religion, they have required sameness.

This is not equality. Equality is allowing atheists, Christians, Muslims and any other group of students to form their own group. Sameness is refusing to acknowledge differences that obviously exist and will continue to exist regardless of who leads what group.

While the legal case is clearly a blow to religious liberty, the ramifications may be such that Christianity and the faith of those college students most effected will be strengthened. How can this possible be a good thing? It can help to correct false ideas about where college students should find their Christian fellowship, support and service.

Personal photo from Bolivia at a university in Santa Cruz

Too often, though not always the case, Christian campus organizations become de facto churches for many college students. They can be greater sources of encouragement during a period of great transition and possible trials and temptations in the life of a young believer away from home and their parents for the first time. They most definitely have a role and function to play in Christianity, particularly in America with the culture of college the way it is.

The problem arrises when campus ministries, with the best intentions, begin to function as a church, drawing students to commit much of their free time to the ministry. Many have weekly meetings, with exciting and relevant speakers to match intense and uplifting worship times. Some even join together and do even more explicitly church functions like the Lord’s supper and baptism.

You may ask what is wrong with that. The answer – they are not a church. I’m reminded of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as I so often am, and why Mr. Beaver believes the White Witch to be so evil. She looks human, but she does not have a drop of human blood in her. She is only pretending to be human to suit her evil goals. He tells the children:

“There may be two views about humans (meaning no offense to the present company). But there’s no two views about things that look like humans and aren’t. … in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that’s going to be human and isn’t yet, or used to be human once and isn’t now, or ought to be human and isn’t, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet.”

Obviously, I don’t believe Christian campus organizations to be evil, but I do believe they are often trying to be something they are not and in doing so they hamper the growth of the Christian students involved in their ministry and the local church who would benefit from the gifts of those students. They are not a church. There is no pastor or elders. There are no deacons. There is no accountable membership. Biblically, they have not been given the responsibility of baptism and the Lord’s supper. They are, by their very nature, transitory and constantly changing. To put it simply, campus ministries are not the body of Christ.

Students, intentionally or not, are often taught to devalue the church. “I don’t need to go to church Sunday morning, I went to FCA Thursday night.” “I can’t help with the children’s ministry at church, I’m too involved with my Cru leadership team.” “I would go with the church on their mission trip, but BCM is taking a team and I’d rather go with them.” All of those things substitute good for the best. It is good to be involved and doing those things. The best, however, would be to do those things in the context of a local church.

Christ has established, empowered and enabled the Church to be His agent in the world, not parachurch organizations like those on college campuses. Besides, a campus ministry is bringing together mostly people from a similar life perspective. A church should unite people across barriers that are not an option on the college campus.

The student who spends his entire college life only asking his unmarried friends about what it will be like to be married and have kids, will not be as prepared as one who has been able to learn from the wisdom of older church members. There can be no Barnabas-Paul-Timothy relationships, only a bunch of Timothy’s talking about how much better they will do things when they are out, married and leading the church. Except, they’ve just spent the last four years saying with their actions how unimportant church is to them.

I wanted to close with a positive example of a campus organization doing things right. When I served for a week with Cru (then Campus Crusade) in Bolivia, I saw how they leveraged their ministry at the local universities to help their church planting work. They wanted to connect with those college students, get them involved in the ministry and then have them involved in local church plants. The campus ministry was serving the church, which is how it should be.

As to the court ruling, I find it troubling for religious freedom, but I’m hopeful than an unintentional consequence is that more college students will be forced to find church at the place they should have been finding it at – church.

1 Comment

  1. linda janssen

    please help by sharing this petition to get prayer back in school..

About Author

Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.