Baptist State Convention Leaders Say Christian Campus Ministries May See Changes With Religious Liberty Under Attack

With Wayne State, Harvard and the University of Iowa among the latest universities to take action against Christian ministries on campus, some Baptist state convention leaders say Baptist campus ministry may be forced to shift its methods as religious liberty is constricted.

“Our religious liberty and our opportunity to share as openly as we have in the past” at colleges and universities “is under attack,” said Tim Patterson, executive director of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan, where Wayne State is located. Baptists “have to rethink how we do ministry on campus because the campus has changed.”

The Wayne State chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship filed a lawsuit against the Detroit-based university March 6, alleging Wayne State stripped the ministry of recognition as a campus student group in 2017 after university officials deemed “discriminatory” an InterVarsity requirement that student leaders affirm a Christian doctrinal statement.

Since then, the InterVarsity chapter has lost its access to free meeting space and has been forced to pay a total of $2,720 to reserve space on campus for Bible studies and other ministry events, according to a complaint filed in federal court by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit legal organization representing the Wayne State InterVarsity chapter.

InterVarsity is not affiliated with Michigan Baptists or the Southern Baptist Convention.

Patterson told Baptist Press the Michigan convention has stopped funding most traditional Baptist campus ministry in favor of collegiate church plants that will focus on reaching college students but not seek recognition as student organizations. Though the shift was based on evangelistic strategy, he said, it may also become necessary as a safeguard for religious liberty.

Religious liberty “is going to be restricted,” Patterson said, and “we have to find ways to continue sharing the Gospel no matter what the cultural norms might be.”

At Harvard, university administrators placed the Christian student group Harvard College Faith and Action (HCFA) on “administrative probation” for a year after a student leader allegedly was pressured to resign her position following her decision to date another woman, the Harvard Crimson newspaper reported in late February.

A Harvard spokesman told the Crimson “HCFA conducted itself in a manner grossly inconsistent with the expectations clearly outlined” in university policies.

HCFA is not affiliated with the Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE), but there are two Southern Baptist chaplains at Harvard, BCNE executive director Terry Dorsett told BP.

“We are praying that the relationships [that have been] built … will allow us to continue to have a ministry presence on campus,” Dorsett said in written comments.

Still, Dorsett acknowledged, “it is very likely that other colleges and universities in New England will look to the actions at Harvard as a precedent for taking similar action on their own campuses. But we know the Gospel is powerful enough to overcome this cultural attack, just as it did in the first century.”

Dorsett added, “Our culture has moved from being religiously neutral to being religiously hostile. The situation at Harvard is the latest evidence that the radical left is no longer interested in having any form of historic Christianity on campus.”

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Source: Baptist Press