In the January issue of Hoosier United Methodists Together, one of our readers in a letter to the editor commented that he thought something was missing in a two-page Focus feature about the University of Indianapolis, one of three United Methodist-related institutions of higher education in Indiana. The other two are DePauw University at Greencastle and the University of Evansville.
The reader wrote: “However, nowhere did the article say anything about teaching the students’ course work through the grid of Holy Scripture, nor challenging them to make a commitment to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. There was no direct talk of helping UIndy students to grow in their faith or to become better disciples of Jesus Christ. I did not see anything in the article that distinguished the University of Indianapolis as a distinctly Christian institution any different from a state university with a campus ministry program.”
He further writes, “Some may not see any difference between ‘church-related’ and ‘Christian,’ however this is an issue of degree and of presenting an uncluttered witness and a clear statement of faith. Why is the university and the (United Methodist) University Senate reluctant to boldly proclaim their faith as disciples of Christ?”
In response to the reader’s comments, I believe he is wishing for our United Methodist-related universities and colleges to be something else rather than a church-related institution. In the strictest sense, our church-related colleges and universities are not “Christian” colleges. Students attending our schools are not required or expected to sign a statement of belief, nor are our schools required to mandate students to take religious studies or even to become a Christian.
Even though our related colleges and universities are expected to reflect United Methodist beliefs and principles, their mission is different from that of a congregation. They are first and foremost to provide for academic excellence in preparing students to becoming leaders in their fields of study for the betterment of society.
Our reader said he didn’t see the difference between a United Methodist-related school and a secular state school. But what state school is expected to explore the place of religious belief and practice and, specifically, the intellectual dimensions of Christian faith in all academic disciplines and co-curricular activities (one of the marks of a United Methodist-related university)? State schools can’t. It’s against the law.
One of the purposes of the University of Indianapolis as stated on its Web site is “to gain a deeper understanding of the teachings of the Christian faith and an appreciation and respect for other religions.”
Host of students
The University of Indianapolis, like all our United Methodist-related institutions, sees itself as a host of thousands of students from a variety of religious backgrounds. Our committed Indiana United Methodist campus pastors, whether at a church or state-related school, host hundreds of students from a variety of religious faiths and backgrounds. Unlike state universities, our related schools also provide worship centers, full-time chaplains and a religious studies curriculum. These schools also offer degrees in religion in order to prepare students called to ordained ministry for seminary education. Such students have the potential for becoming the leaders of our church for decades to come, leading students, faculty and other people to faith in Christ.
No, our United Methodist-related colleges and universities don’t make disciples of Jesus Christ, but they provide an environment and hospitality for discipleship to happen. Their campus ministries openly invite and provide a religious community within the walls of the university in which evangelism takes place. Campus ministry is where disciples are made as well as congregations. State-supported schools cannot provide such an environment nor can they provide for a religious community within the university.
The role of campus ministry at both our related schools and at state schools is crucial to reach each new generation of students with the Gospel of Jesus Christ so they can accept an invitation to faith and become members of a faith community, hopefully a United Methodist community.
This month, congregations are asked by both Bishop Coyner and the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church to receive an offering for the support of our related campus ministry programs at universities across Indiana, both related and state schools. This also is a time we can, if we have not done so, connect our congregations to particular campus ministries for their spiritual and emotional support as well as financial support.
Read more about United Methodist-related institutions of higher education at www.gbhem.org. Read more about Indiana United Methodist-related universities online at DePauw University (www.depauw.edu), the University of Evansville (www.evansville.edu) and the University of Indianapolis (www.UIndy.edu) Web sites. See page 8 for more about campus ministry. Welcome.
– Daniel R. Gangler