Nine months ago, shortly before the school year began, six evangelical Protestant groups were abruptly de-recognized by Georgetown University and were informed by the Office of Campus Ministry that they would “no longer be allowed to hold any activity or presence (i.e., bible studies, retreats with Georgetown students, mid-week worship services, fellowship events, move-in assistance, SAC Fair, etc.) on campus.” They later backpedaled slightly, stating that students could continue to meet under the InterVarsity, Chi Alpha and other banners, but without official connection to the university. The reason given?
… ongoing difficulties in communication and cooperation with these outside organizations. The result has been fragmentation between student groups and the inability to gather our Protestant students on occasion for ecumenical worship and dialogue while acknowledging distinct theological differences.
According to staff and students of the affiliated ministries, the claims regarding lack of cooperation were simply untrue. In response to the flood of more than 400 letters, e-mails and petitions from concerned students, alumni, and parents in the fall, the university convened an advisory committee of Georgetown faculty, students, campus ministers, and off-campus ministry leaders to explore the matter. Finally, Georgetown announced last week that it would again recognize InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries and other external Protestant evangelical campus ministry groups, accepting the advisory committee’s proposal to re-affiliate all of the ministries and to enhance communications and partnership between the various groups and the Office of Campus Ministry.
This resolution differs from a similar series of events earlier this year at Univeristy of Wisconsin-Superior because no lawsuit was filed against Georgetown. This sets a strong precedent for the use of dialogue instead of court action in settling such matters.
The re-affiliation of these evangelical ministries is also significant because it reaffirms the importance of making room around the table for all voices: If our academic institutions are in the business of teaching students how to think for themselves, then in the spirit of good scholarship, they should promote the free exchange of ideas and expose students to a wide range of viewpoints. As a private university, Georgetown may have the legal right to decide which students groups it will recognize, but along with other private universities, it needs to consider when exercising that right the university may undermine its own mission and values. Georgetown places a high value on interfaith dialogue, diversity, and pluralism – as seen by its support for Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim student groups. Under this framework, it is consistent and necessary to recognize the diversity of expression in the Protestant faith as well.
Reflecting on the situation at Georgetown, InterVarsity staff member Jennifer DeJong commented, “We have seen God answer prayer on many levels; while the advisory committee has been meeting to make the recommendations that would go through official channels, there have been many helpful conversations and steps taken toward reconciliation by students, staff, and chaplains. As staff, we have been encouraged by the many students who have approached these difficult conversations with integrity and grace. Please continue to pray as several of us participate on an ‘organizing committee’ this summer to work on the logistical aspects of the new plan for university affiliation.”
Nancy Chan has served as a volunteer staff member with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Georgetown University since the winter of 2002. She is also a 2006 graduate of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI), and was the cofounder of the GPPI Forum on Faith and Policy, a student group promoting dialogue on issues where faith and policy intersect. Find related articles here. Or, for more information, contact Gordon Govier.