Day of Prayer for religious freedom in American universities

By July 14, 2014
(Photo Kendall Administration Hall at California State University, Chico, courtesy Wikipedia)

(Photo Kendall Administration Hall at California State
University, Chico, courtesy Wikipedia)

USA (ICF/MNN) — While college students across the country are enjoying a break from classes this summer, some Christian students at the largest four-year public university system in the country are wondering if they will be allowed religious freedom when they return to campus.

Greg Jao with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is National Field Director for the Northeast. He says, “The California State University system decided a year and a half ago that religious groups were no longer permitted to use religious criteria in leadership selection. That meant that InterVarsity and other religious groups couldn’t require that the worship leader be a Christian or that the Bible study leaders be Christian.”

In 2012, the outgoing chancellor of the California State University system issued a new policy that requires recognized student groups to accept all students as potential leaders. Last August, the new chancellor, Timothy White, graciously granted religious groups a one-year exemption for the 2013-14 school year. That time period is rapidly coming to a close. Jao says, “We went back to the university and said that ‘we know that you want to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere on campus for all students. But by choosing this course of action, we think you’re actually undercutting your goals. To be a welcoming, inclusive place means that you take religious groups seriously as religious groups and that means their leaders need to be religious.'”

Greg Jao is a National Field director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (Photo Courtesy of InterVarsity)

Greg Jao is a National Field director for
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
(Photo Courtesy of InterVarsity)

During the dialogue, Jao says, they offered a compromise. It’s not unlike other compromises InterVarsity has been offered at other campuses. “They’ve all suggested, ‘Can’t you just have a knowledge based test? Do a Bible quiz?’ We said, ‘You can know a lot about Scripture without actually committing yourself to know and serving the God that gives us the Scripture.’ It’s that belief commitment that’s important to us.”

The California State University system is the largest four-year public university system in the United States. InterVarsity has chapters on 19 of the 23 Cal State campuses. The potential for influence is huge. What’s more, Jao explains, “As our culture becomes looser and looser about what it defines to be Christian, it helps us to have something that anchors us so that we’re faithful to who we’ve been in the past and we can be faith messengers of the Gospel in the future. Because we have that in our constitution, the universities have decided that is impermissible.”

Under the religious leadership criteria scrutiny, are student groups that are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or atheist held to the same standard? Not always. InterVarsity is much more bold in its purpose at the outset. “The other religious groups often have not caught scrutiny in part because as one Muslim student leader told me, ‘It didn’t occur to us that we had to specify that the Muslim student association had to be a Muslim, but maybe we do, now.'”

For 70 years God has enabled InterVarsity to engage students and faculty with the gospel. (photo courtesy of InterVarsity)

For 70 years, God has enabled InterVarsity to
engage students and faculty with the Gospel.
(Photo courtesy of InterVarsity)

“Ultimately, this is a spiritual issue, and therefore, in part, a spiritual battle,” Jao notes. That’s why “InterVarsity’s president, Alec Hill, has invited everybody concerned about campus ministry and access to campuses to spend some time on July 14, Monday, in concerted prayer about the campus access situation–particularly at California State University, but really, in all of the universities.”

The staff remains focused. “Inter Varsity student leaders are busy at work right now, preparing Bible studies, designing new student outreach activities, and preparing to do ministry on campus. So, we’re praying that they be encouraged. God is sovereign. While losing easy access to campus is discouraging, it will not stop what God is doing on campus.” Jao explains, “Part of what InterVarsity is doing is listening and planning thoughtfully and prayerfully to determine that if we can’t get access to campus through traditional means, how will we still be a witnessing presence on the campus afterwards?”

Pray that dialogue remains open with the administration. “Pray that the Holy Spirit would work in the administrators and change their minds. We don’t think of the administrators as our enemies: these are people who are part of our mission field. We would love for them to meet Jesus as part of this.”

For more information on how to pray for this situation, please click here, or for details on InterVarsity’s call for a Day of Prayer, click here.

2 Comments

  • Have Christians been trying to be leaders of other religious groups? Wouldn’t this be a good way to bring the Gospel to them?

  • I’m praying! Praise God for this challenge which tests your faith and produces endurance, according to James 1:2-3. God always has a plan, even in difficult circumstances. May He bless all involved. May His will be done. May the harvest glorify Him.

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