Dealing with the Conservative Groups on Campus

I have this document, given to me when I was a student. It’s a front and back document, and recently I’ve been working to convert it into a tri-fold brochure.  It’s title’s simply says “What to do when people are trying to save you.”

This is the beginning of the single greatest challenge I believe in our work.  We have funding problems.  We have access problems.  We have too much work and not enough time.  We have pressures of other church leaders who are giving us expectations that set us (and them for that matter) up for failure.  But nothing compares to the constancy of groups on campus who are Christian, but who live out a faith that isolates, infuriates, and in no way imitates (ok my opinion but I think I have a point) the practice of Jesus.  And when that happens, the privilege of being a Christian becomes a poison…and all we can say is…welcome to campus ministry.

But I want something different from that.  I want someway to overcome this challenge.  The other night, I helped be a staff voice at an interfaith event here on campus.  The student leaders were Muslim and Lutheran, and had approached the other Christian groups about their interest in participating.  While I would have said “duh” about their response, I was reminded that most of the students don’t yet realize the divide that exists.  Several other Christian groups, and I’ll let you figure out which ones, mentioned that they “had no interest in having an interfaith discussion nor did they have any interest ever in understanding people of other faiths.”  Wow!  Jesus incarnate right there.

When conservative campus ministry groups take over the campus, as they have over the past 20-30 years, they create the poison that keeps Christianity from being nurtured on campus.  But how do we engage with them?  Is this even possible?  I mean, the body is broken, at least if we think they are part of the body (and I certainly want to think they are) but when they routinely shut us down when we try to engage, they leave the campus with a sense that Christians are like a club that you can’t get into unless you have the right beliefs.  Furthermore, they emulate a faith that has nothing to do with Jesus’ welcoming of all persons, but instead isolate, estranges, and forbids those with differing viewpoints. And the problem is they are getting the most attention, both because of the outside media and the internal tactics they use to both practice and recruit.

So on your campuses, what do you do to work with these groups?  What do you say when you encounter them?  How do you put yourselves out there to be something different and attempt to reach out beyond the stereotype that is created when Christian groups that are more conservative are permeating the experience of these students?