Students and Self-Determination

This fall the Cal State system will be without its InterVarsity groups. This is  no accident, but one of policy, part of a deepening movement at a variety of higher educational institutions (see this report from The New York Times on similar policies at the highly selective Bowdoin College)

While it is easy to think of this as one more outpouring of anti-Christian (or better, anti-evangelical) animus, the bitter fruit of the gay-religious traditionalist battle, structural considerations also seem to be in play. Two stand out.

First would be  the particular form of American para-church ministry. Para-church is an offshoot (I suspect, fundamentalist offshoot — another story) to the civil religion of the mid century and its ecumenism. Structurally, the para-church does not have any other authority it can appeal to except itself. This autonomy is its great strength, but leaves it open to institutional actions, as it is both “within” and “without”. By contrast RUF do not have this problem since leadership is locked in with the ordained leader.

Secondly, there is the more philosophic question as to how any organization maintains its mission. How does it guard against missional drift? All kinds of organizations, secular and religious, have a vested interest in preserving their internal mission; campus provides one setting, but one can see the same phenomena with other NGOs in society e.g. foundations.   The Cal State position assumes that such preservation is associational in nature rather than structural. Campus groups are whatever they decide to be; this aligns with present-day libertarian and public choice ethos. Groups are what we decide them to be. Period. Practically, this reduces the horizon for any campus group to the school year, but of course, any number of groups plan for longer term since their mission is broader than simply that of student chocie.

Student organizations especially (but not exclusively) represent not only choices, but finally commitments. Being of like mind is the structure, the embodiment of how any association grows.

— a version of this post appeared as a comment in Facebook discussion with Matthew Loftus.
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