Editorial: Every religious group deserves recognition

NonChristianReligiousGroupsComicFounded by Baptists, funded by Baptists and for years existing almost solely to educate young Baptists, Baylor would not be many people’s first place to look when finding an example of religious diversity.

And it’s true that Baptists make up the largest religious group on campus — with, according to the office of Institutional Research and Testing, 5,106 avowed Baptists out of 15,364 total students as of fall 2012. But there are still 10,258 non-Baptists who bring their faiths and philosophies to Baylor campus.

Some highlights of the Baylor religious scene, again courtesy of the IRT, are: eight African Methodist Episcopals, 60 Atheists, 78 Buddhists, 2,280 Catholics, 38 Eastern Orthodox, 252 Episcopalians, 13 Greek Orthodox, 139 Hindus, 138 Muslims, 34 Jews, eight Jehovah’s Witnesses, 426 Lutherans, 1,130 Methodists, 2,045 Non-Denominationals, 630 Presbyterians, 11 Unitarians and 453 people of no religion.

That’s pretty impressive for an overtly Baptist university, and Baylor does a good job making prospective students not feel like they have to convert if they come here. To the best of the Lariat’s knowledge, no one was asked for a statement of faith or to take communion before enrolling.

That being said, there is one area where Baylor has been lax in providing for students of diverse faith backgrounds: student organizations.

Currently, only Christian religious organizations are allowed on campus. That is a big step up from just a few years ago when only Protestant organizations were allowed.

Unfortunately, there are only nine official religious student organizations: the Baylor Orthodox Christian Fellowship, the Catholic Student Association, the Reformed University Fellowship (Presbyterian Church in America, specifically), Asians For Christ, Hankamer Christian Fellowship, the Baylor Religious Hour Choir, Heavenly Voices (another choir), Hankamer Christian Fellowship, I Am Second and The Impact Movement. More complete descriptions of these organizations can be found on www.baylor.edu/studentactivities/organizations/.

Additionally, BYX — commonly understood as Brothers Under Christ — is a social organization with a Christian affiliation. It is not considered a categorically religious organization by the university.

That’s a paltry selection for a Christian university.

If Baylor is truly committed to growing the Christian faith of its students (and there is no reason to assume that it’s not), then the university needs to be a lot more proactive about including other denominations in the faith community at Baylor.

That’s not the main issue at hand, and the solution is probably best left to the university to handle.

What most concerns the Lariat is what happens to the 730 students who don’t identify as Christians.

Currently, the policies and procedures for student organizations state that the university can charter only Christian religious organizations. The process for applying for recognition includes submitting a statement of faith for review and “affirming their consonance with the basic tenets of the Statement of Common Faith included herein.”

That’s all well and good for Christian organizations, but it leaves a significant portion of the Baylor community out in the rain.

There are 730 people who have no place to meet on campus in an atmosphere where they can explore their faith with other like-minded individuals. Their community is counted, but given no recognition by the university.

It’s time for that to change.

Baylor needs to reconsider the requirement for Christianity in the student organization application process. We need to start expanding opportunities for people for all faiths and no faith at all to have a place where they can feel comfortable expressing their beliefs.

Of course there is no way to guarantee that this will happen, but changing the requirements for religious organizations will go a long way to helping. It will be a grand symbolic gesture on the part of the university, saying “Yes, we are Christian, but yes, you can have your beliefs here.”

Granted, there are probably groups and individuals that do not want their money going to fund non-Christians. A solution to this would be to provide recognition to non-Christian organizations, but not funding. This does create a second class of organizations at Baylor, and is probably not the best way to do it, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.

Baylor is a relatively diverse university, and it’s just going to keep moving in that direction. We can decide now if we want to make Baylor attractive to the best and brightest young people, no matter their faith, or if we want to stay the course and continue to marginalize part of our community.

The most telling thing about these numbers is the fact that diversity exists at all. It’s no secret what Baylor is, but we still have the drawing power to attract people from across the religious spectrum.

Baylor welcomes people of all faiths and no faith, so it’s time we start to make them feel welcome.