Brown University Let’s the Evangelicals Back In

After telling the Reformed University Fellowship that they wouldn’t be allowed on campus just, well, “because,” Brown University has had a change of heart. But they still haven’t been forthcoming as to why the RUF was banned in the first place.

Yesterday, Ethan Wingfield, president of the Reformed University Fellowship, said he was pleased at the Brown administration’s decision. “I think it is fantastic. It is an absolutely positive step. I’m glad we are back in contact and talking and working on a resolution.”
The campus religious group, which has about 100 members, is affiliated with Trinity Presbyterian Church, an evangelical congregation in Providence.
Restoration of the fellowship’s status as a campus group means that its members can hold meetings on campus, advertise meetings and use campus space for speakers.
While Wingfield said he was pleased with the university’s new tack, he said he is also disappointed because he believes the university wasn’t specific about why the group was suspended in the first place.
“We still haven’t been told why we were suspended,” said Wingfield.
Leaders of the group say they were given different reasons for the action. At first they were told that Trinity Presbyterian, the local sponsor, had withdrawn support, which it had not, according to the Rev. David Sherwood, Trinity pastor.
Then they were told that it was because the group’s former leader had been late in submitting the paperwork required to be established as a campus organization. The third reason given, according to fellowship leaders, was the most puzzling, they said. The Rev. Allen Callahan, Protestant chaplain, asserted they were “possessed of a leadership culture of contempt and dishonesty that has rendered all collegial relations with my office impossible.”
…The Rev. Ms. Cooper Nelson has laid out four steps that the fellowship must take to be reinstated, including filing forms on time and communicating with “full transparency” to the Rev. Mr. Callahan.
Wingfield said the standards set by the Rev. Ms. Cooper Nelson are not onerous and are pretty much what is expected of other campus organizations which seek university sanction and use of university facilities. “All we want to do is be on campus,” said Wingfield, who said the fellowship is looking forward to reinstatement, “as soon as we can get this resolved.”

Kudos to the RUF for sticking it out. If they hadn’t gone public, I think Brown would have been happy to have swept it under the rug. Of course, given this outcome, I now wonder whether it is the RUF or the University that was “possessed of a leadership culture of contempt and dishonesty.”

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17 years ago

There’s no question that Brown would have swept this whole thing under the rug if it hadn’t gone public. Which begs the question–
Does Brown need an independent outside supervisory board to ensure religious tolerance of evangelicals?
If this had been a group based on race or sexual orientation, you can bet that there would be calls for increased oversight. If these students needed to turn to the public to guarantee due process, there is a serious flaw in Brown’s internal processes. Furthermore, they still have not been told why they were banned in the first place. This situation is a textbook example of when external oversight should be implemented.
Given that freedom of religion is a right and was a basis on which this country was formed, you would think that Brown would seek out advice and input from the evangelical community.
I hope the students will demand full due process and the implementation of a structure that will guarantee religous tolerance well after this current group of students graduates.

17 years ago

Ditto to what Anthony said. They got publicly dragged through the mud, but still haven’t been told what they did “wrong.” I’m glad for them getting back in, but the point is, there was never a sufficient reason given to have drummed them out in the first place. If it weren’t an evangelical Christian group, do you think they would have been treated like this? The way that the university handled this was textbook, and not in a good way.
I’d be very interested to find out what the “protestant chaplain” has had to say about evangelical Christians in the past. He doesn’t exactly sound like the type that might be too interested in having “collegial relations” with evangelical or fundamentalist Christians. Maybe he thinks they’re trouble-makers? I just have a hunch that there is a lot more to this than what we’ve been told in the media.

17 years ago

Do a word search on the protestant chaplain’s name, you’ll find an awful lot to consider when thinking of context. The more I think about this, the more I think they were just perceived as an annoyance to be eliminated. I found this tidbit on an AP site:
“In an e-mailed statement, Brown spokesman Michael Chapman said the fellowship had violated guidelines governing campus religious groups.
He did not say how, but another Brown spokeswoman sent an eight-page document listing rules that apply to outside religious leaders who want to minister at Brown. The document lays out a long list of rules that both Brown and outside group leaders must adhere to, including a ban on harassment or proselytizing.
In an e-mail sent to students, associate Brown chaplain Allen Callahan complained the group’s leaders were contemptuous, dishonest and generally wasted administrators’ time, patience and energy. He didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment.
The fellowship subscribes to a denomination that believes in Calvinism, opposes ordaining women and gays and holds the Bible as the inerrant word of God. Its members split from a southern Presbyterian sect in 1973 because believers perceived a liberal drift in the parent body.”

17 years ago

Will’s post did it for me. I think Brown needs more oversight. Aside from this case, how can Brown prohibit proselytizing without violating a student’s right to free speech and to practice their own religion?
“Many Christians consider it their obligation to follow what is often termed the Great Commission of Jesus, recorded in the final verses of the Gospel of Matthew: “Go to all the nations and make disciples. Baptize them and teach them my commands.”
The preceding quote was taken from Wikipedia under the term proselytism. Is Brown using a different definition?
I’m sure Callahan thought the group was an annoyance. I’m not an evangelical Christian. I try to avoid Jehovah’s Witnesses like the plague when they ring my doorbell. But I don’t deny their right to TRY spreading their religous beliefs even though they annoy me. That’s called tolerance.

17 years ago

Thank you (see, we can agree on some things). I guess that was the part that struck me as intolerant, too — “…including a ban on harassment or proselytizing.”
What got me thinking about that was a very vaguely worded thing in the paper today about the group “agreeing to adhere to school policies” (implying that they weren’t previously doing so) or something to that effect. To say the least, it sounded intentionally vague. What exactly constitutes harassment — offending someone who doesn’t agree with you? Is asking someone to join your campus group then considered proselytizing? I’m curious if the Hare Krishna’s passing out flowers is considered to be too much? By definition an “evangelical” would be bound by a commitment to spread the “good news.” I’m curious if they received any anonymous complaints that members of the group were “proselytizing” or “harrassing” anyone, but were too chicken to just come out and say that was the reason for giving the RUF group problems?
It’s sadly ironic, but also sadly not surprising, that a university that was founded for the education of ministers on the premise of religious freedom acts this way now. While private universities are permitted fairly wide latitude to do whatever they please being privately owned, because they receive federal funding (both directly and indirectly), as well as a federal non-profit designation, they should be held accountable to uphold the most basic Constitutional rights, such as the freedom to worship and assemble.

17 years ago

Perhaps Brown can fund a chapter of Conversio Virium, Columbia University’s school-funded student S&M society? OK, maybe not just students, it’s apparently open to faculty, too. What a great way to get back at that prof. who gives you a C!
Yes, while Brown is kicking evangelical Christians off campus, another Ivy, Columbia is providing space in Earl Hall/St. Paul’s Chapel for the promotion of bondage–
I wonder if the Romans ever went that far…?

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