It’s a well-known fact that Baylor University is rooted in Christian values, particularly those of the Baptist denomination. Many students are drawn to the university for that very reason.
This religious affiliation affects every part of the university. Students attend weekly chapel, university-organized prayer happens frequently and it’s not uncommon for students to see their professors at church on the weekend.
Baylor has done a wonderful job of creating an environment where students can learn more about Christianity as it pertains to every aspect of life. However, the same cannot be said about Baylor’s relationship with other faiths.
For this reason, the university should make a greater effort to welcome leaders of other religions on campus to speak about their faiths to interested members of the Baylor community.
These efforts in religious diversity could take the shape of occasional forums with educated leaders from the world’s most popular faiths. It would not be an opportunity for speakers to try and convert audience members, but rather to inform listeners about their own faith and how it relates to current issues and Christianity. A moderator could present questions to speakers to help keep the conversation on track.
There are many benefits to bringing these discussions to campus. First, members of the Baylor community would have an opportunity to learn more about other religions. The university is home to students who are well-versed in Christianity but may not know much about other faiths. If the university wants to create well-rounded students, a part of this includes making efforts to educate students about the beliefs and values of others and how Christians should respectfully interact with people of other faiths.
Second, these forums could improve the university’s relationship with Baylor students who don’t identify as Christian. There are a number of students who are non-religious or practice a religion that isn’t Christianity. These students tend to feel marginalized at a university that is so clearly religiously affiliated. In the past, efforts to charter student organizations for non-Christian groups have been denied, sending the message that any religion outside Christianity is unimportant. For some students, the decision to attend Baylor is academic rather than religious. Welcoming forums on religious diversity to campus would help these students feel less like their religions are unimportant to the Baylor community.
Third, religious diversity forums would show Christians how to have respectful conversations with people of other faiths. Religion is often closely related to one’s identify and self-worth, so dialogue about faith can quickly become heated. Watching a moderator and speakers engaged in civil discourse about religious differences can remind audience members of the importance of respect in these situations.
Finally, Christians interested in spreading the Gospel can better understand the religions they may try to convert someone from. Understanding what specific religious groups value can help future missionaries identify what aspect of the Gospel will be most important to convey. If a religion emphasizes work and ritual as a means of gaining heaven, one might present the grace of God as an alternative to that religion. Understanding other religions allows Christians to identify what truths about God someone of a different faith is missing out on.
Baylor is a university that makes efforts to promote diversity. This is an opportunity to make that circle of diversity a little bigger to extend beyond gender and race. Individuals and departments have made strides to bring other religions to campus. Professors occasionally invite different religious leaders to speak to individual classes. Truett Seminar recently had a rabbi speak about what Christians can learn from Judaism. Each year, students in the BIC take organized trips to diverse places of worship, including mosques and temples. However, there are few, if any, events organized for the wider Baylor community to educate themselves about religious diversity.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to understand those around us. The university prides itself on diverse, educated students, but the Baylor community is missing out on a great opportunity to learn about other religions in a place where Christianity is still hailed as truth. Creating space for conversations about religion would be a great service to campus as a whole, Christian or not.