Acton Institute Powerblog

Let’s ‘Derecognize’ Colleges That Discriminate Against Christians

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university-analysis-1To be a Christian requires, at a minimum, that a person subscribe to certain beliefs (such as that Jesus is God). For an organization to be labeled Christian would therefore imply that the members (or at least the leaders) also subscribe to certain beliefs. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) is, as the name implies, a Christian organization, so it isn’t surprising that it requires it leaders to subscribe to Christian beliefs.

Sadly, it’s also not surprising that some people are offended a Christian organization would expect its leaders to be Christians. That’s why it is not altogether unexpected (though still disconcerting) that California State University schools has “derecognized” IVCF. As Ed Stetzer says,

IVCF has been derecognized because they require their leaders to have Christian beliefs.

It’s not just InterVarsity that will be impacted. Following the same logic, any group that insists on requiring its leaders to follow an agreed upon set of guiding beliefs is no longer kosher (irony intended) at California’s state universities. This will impact many other faith-based organizations with actual, well, faith-based beliefs. Presumably, even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would have to allow Oscar Meyer to lead their campus chapters.

Only in a modern American university would this make any sense.

Now, it’s not persecution. Christians are not banned. People can share their faith. But, now, what we once called “equal access” has taken another hit—people of faith do not have equal access to the university community, like the environmentalist club, the LGBT organization, or the chess club.

The university system has decided that speech with beliefs that undergird it—and shape how it is organized—has to be derecognized.

Greg Jao, IVCF’s National Field Director and Campus Access Coordinator, explains what it means to be “derecognized”:

Loss of recognition means we lose 3 things: free access to rooms (this will cost our chapters $13k-30k/year to reserve room). We also lose access to student activities programs, including the new student fairs where we meet most students. We also lose standing when we engage faculty, students and administrators.

Stetzer adds:

And while they still have freedom to request a meeting spot in some buildings, they no longer have the status when other officially recognized groups request the same spot—even though they are, well, fee-paying students in a facility owned by the people of California.

Losing campus privileges isn’t exactly persecution. But it makes it almost impossible for a group to carry out its intended mission. Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest whose campus Christian group at Vanderbilt University was similarly “derecognized”, explains the impact it has on Christian groups:

. . . some deregistered groups are still meeting on campus, at this point, more or less because the chaplain is letting it happen out of kindness. But in terms of policy, we have no right to meet on campus so that could be revoked anytime (because of that most ousted groups are meeting off campus.). Ministry is made more difficult there mainly because it’s harder to meet students (we can’t go to new student fairs or advertise on campus, we aren’t listed on the religious life site online and can’t use Vanderbilt’s name) and because we can’t sponsor events on campus (For instance my group worked with the Veritas forum to try to bring respected Christian academics like John Lennox or NT Wright on campus, which we can’t do under the new policy). For some groups not being able to reserve rooms is a real problem because they have 100+ students involved so they can’t really just find a spare room. But the main thing lost wasn’t particular university privileges, but an ability to be a devotional community that is part of campus life on a pluralistic campus–we don’t just want stuff from the university, we love the university and can no longer participate fully in university life or the university community. As we say on our website to explain the main reason we want to remain on campus: We love the university. We want to be citizens of the university. That’s why we are here in the first place. We believe that religious beliefs of all sorts deserve a seat at the table of ideas, and that religious orthodoxy ought not be excluded from campus. We are grateful that we’ve been able to be part of campus life—some of us for decades—and we want to continue to be part of the dialogue, joys, and challenges of university life.

(By the way, most religious groups at Vanderbilt do not receive funding from the university so this wasn’t about money…Although the 1,400 students in deregistered groups still have to pay activities fees to the university).

That last line holds the key to how Christians should respond. Colleges and universities are businesses that exist in a competitive educational market. A free market solution is to refuse to support the business’ “product.” In other words, Christians should refuse to attend schools in which their beliefs are “derecognized.” Similarly, alumni should refuse to provide donations to support a college or university that considers our faith not welcome on the campus.

This is not to say that Christians should abandon the schools entirely. We should still treat the campuses as mission fields, worthy of our charity and evangelism. And we should continue to use whatever legitimate means are at our disposal to change their anti-Christian policies. But we can and should refuse to hand over our cash to schools that consider our beliefs so repugnant as to not even be worthy of recognition.

Christians on college campuses may be required to pay a price for their beliefs. But that price doesn’t have to include tuition and student fees. If a college wants to be free of Christians beliefs, then we can accommodate them by showing what it would mean for them to be free of Christians.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Cliff

    Once again a Chriistian acts in a way that gives an unbelieving world yet another reason to despise us and the Gospel. No, “we won’t abandon the campuses”, we’ll just let 3 InterVarsity workers try to reach 10,000 students. Let’s ignore the kind of evangelism that can only happen in the library while pulling an all-nighter or in a dorm suite or in a team room after practice. If you won’t play our way, we’ll tell our students to wash their hands of you. Now that you’ve really proved that you’re in need of a Jesus encounter we’ll remove a significant way for you to have that Jesus encounter; to see the Gospel lived out even when Christians don’t get their way. And, by the way, what are we teaching Christian students through actions like this?

    This same thing happened when churches (in droves) kicked Boy Scout troops totally out of the church rather than welcoming the opportunity the live out the Gospel in front of those who need the Gospel and are looking at the church and Christians to see if there really is something to this Jesus.

    1 Timothy 3: 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

  • Leigh

    Maybe it’s the constant evangelizing…which is a huge part of IVCF’s mission…at CSU that has worn out its welcome. This does start to become very tiresome after being accosted time after time if one has been “saved” and “you’re going to hell!” if you’re not saved.

  • JL Schafer

    Did Jesus say, “Do unto others as they have done unto you?” I think Christians can do better than this.

  • DougH

    Sounds right to me. If the liberal elitists continue to refuse to accept believing Christians as part of polite society, then it’s time to create our own elite society.

    • Leigh

      Liberals have no problem accepting believing Christians as part of a polite society. It’s believing Christians who have a problem accepting anyone who does not believe as they do. But if you want to create your own society, be my guest.

      • DougH

        This article and the suppression of Christian groups at other universities, says otherwise.

        • Leigh

          And I already asked the question why they MIGHT BE suppressed. The answer is that one of their main activities on campus is proselytization. Here’s a hint: many folks don’t LIKE Bibles waved in their faces and screeches that they’re going to hell if they don’t “accept Christ.” Accept Christ all you like. Just don’t try to force others to. But most Christians don’t understand that.

          • Marc Vander Maas

            So in your view, speech that is unpopular is not protected by the first amendment?

          • Leigh

            If you are thrusting your Bible in my face, sir, and hollering that I’m going to hell because I refuse to kowtow to your beliefs, that is not free speech. That is assault. And no, it is NOT protected by the first amendment.

          • Marc Vander Maas

            Well, I suppose if a person were actually to “thrust a Bible into your face” in an aggressive manner and “hollering” at you, that might constitute assault, yes. Is this something that you’ve experienced before? If so, that’s a shame, and I think that’s a lousy way to treat people. However, I have my doubts as to whether the individual or individuals who engaged you in that way were trained to do so or affiliated in some way with Intervarsity or other similar campus ministries.

            What about if the person just stood with their Bible in a public space and calmly tried to engage you in a conversation about the Gospel, out of a genuine concern for what they believe to be your eternal disposition? Is that protected by the First Amendment? Is rude speech protected by the First Amendment? Under the First Amendment, is a person allowed to tell you that you’re going to Hell?

          • Leigh

            If a person just “stood with their Bible in a public space and calmly tried to engage me in a conversation about the Gospel,” and my “not interested” didn’t work and they continue to harangue me, then they are intruding on my private airspace. If they can yell at me that “I’m going to hell,” then can I not yell back at them that their religious beliefs are idiotic and fodder for fools? Lawsuits have been filed by fanatics for speech like that directed at them. They feel their “beliefs” aren’t being respected. I say captain your own ship, and let me captain mine, please. But no. They are not happy unless you believe as they do, by force if necessary. THAT is inexcusable, sorry.

    • Cliff

      Really ?!? Do you really think that the term “elite” has any place in the dialogue of a Christian??? Do you think that Jesus would term it that way?

      • DougH

        You have read the harsh words Jesus had for his own culture’s elitists, haven’t you? You might check out the tirade repeatedly showcasing the phrase, “Wo unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites!”

        • Cliff

          You’re confusing the (perhaps) elite decision makers with the thousands of students who may not hear the Gospel as we “Christian elites” abandon a fertile field of young people at a time when they are making substantial life decisions. Do we really want to play tit for tat just to be smug or are we willing pay a cost to reach souls who desperately need to hear the Gospel? And, seriously, can you really say “[Christian] elite society” without cringing?

  • Cliff

    A quote from C. S. Lewis: A man may have to die for our country: but no man must, in any exclusive sense, live for his country. He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself.

  • Cliff

    My bad. Ignore my last post from a moment ago. However, it is a great quote.

  • Leigh

    Political parties don’t thrust a religion’s holy book in your face and scream that you’re going to hell if you don’t obey. At least, I’ve never encountered a party who did that. Have you?

    • Marc Vander Maas

      Why would it make a difference if the group is religious or not?

      • Leigh

        When I’ve had political operatives knock on my door for a candidate, a polite “not interested” was all they needed to go away. This did not work on the religious fanatics. Once, I even closed the door in the person’s face and they had the stones to knock again! Another time, outside a rock concert, I was accosted by a kook screeching that everyone who attended the concert was going to hell. When I asked what made him think Jesus would disapprove, he threw his Bible at me.

        You now have your difference.