Campus Christians Under Fire

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A Stellenbosch University professor believes that Christianity “should retreat” and prayer should not be allowed at official university events in order for “tolerance to advance”. These comments were made at an open debate held at Stellenbosch, called by University officials in response to a Dagbreek Residence House Committee member who prayed for a troubled student.

Christians have also come under fire in several other incidents at Stellenbosch University in the last two years, raising concerns for many about a growing anti-Christian prejudice on campus.

No Debate Allowed

At their first Biology lecture of the year, First Year students were told by the lecturer: “I know some of you are religious, but I want to suggest that you don’t argue or debate evolution in this class, because you will be examined on it, and you have to study it like I present it to you…You will have to make a choice, you cannot attend my class and church... it will either be my class, or church!”

Anti-family Indoctrination

A Dagbreek House Committee member commented that he “doesn’t support gays” in response to an Orientation Week talk for First Years in Dagbreek Residence by a student group called Mojo. Mojo then laid a complaint against the student at the university’s Division for Student Discipline. During the talk, a picture of two male students kissing was shown.

Petition Against Demonic Art

A petition initiated by Shofar congregation members, asking the Stellenbosch Municipality to remove two half man-half wildebeest sculptures placed on Rooiplein – petition received much attention in the media. The petition requested that the sculptures be rather placed in an art gallery instead of on an open thoroughfare on campus.

Praying for a Disturbed Student

The representative for Spirituality on the House Committee of Dagbreek Residence gathered a group of fellow students to pray for a disturbed student who seemed troubled and had been running around naked and hysterical, swearing loudly.After returning to his room, the troubled student bashed himself against the wall and smashed a window. He was then taken to hospital by House Committee members.

Red Square Debate

When University officials learnt of this incident, a debate entitled “Residence Communities and Religious Practice: Where to in a Scientific, Democratic and Constitutional Community?” at the Rooiplein (Red Square) amphitheatre was called. Die Matie student newspaper reported that Prof Nico Koopman, Dean of the Theology Faculty and Prof Stan du Plessis, former chair of Oud-Dagbrekerbond, and the vice dean of research for the Faculty of Economic Management Sciences, were asked to lead the debate.

Die Matie reported that Prof Koopman cautioned against intolerance. He argued that that healthy religious practices must enhance human dignity.

No Prayer Allowed

Prof du Plessis suggested the default on campus should be no religious practices, including no prayer at graduation and no religious activities in residences. “There is room for secularisation in halls of residences,” he added.

Religion Must Retreat

He also argued that tolerance on campus will advance if religion “retreated a little”. Prof du Plessis emphasised that personal religious views cannot serve as a justification for behaviour in the public sphere.

“Not a Christian University”

Comments from the floor included a student stating that Stellenbosch University should not be seen as a Christian University and Dagbreek should not be regarded as a Christian residence. Prof Koopman responded by saying: “We are not a Christian University. I would not like Stellenbosch to be called a Christian University.”

The Stellenbosch University General Academic Calendar, however, states that according to the Constitutional Act of 1996, religious worship “may be engaged” in official meetings, public ceremonies and in University residences. The Calendar stipulates that “religious worship” refers to the Christian faith, as “the substantial majority of the University community at SU is of the Christian faith”.

Opportunity to Make a Stand

According to Prof du Plessis, the debate around this issue has only just started. “I hope that there will be more of these conversations and that a leader of one of the big charismatic churches will also participate”. Prof Koopman added that he would like to see specific issues addressed in a more concrete manner in future. An open invitation to students and the general public has been given to comment on the online public forum (http://blogs.sun.ac.za/kampusgesprekke) that has been created specifically to respond to issues raised at the Red Square Debate.

Stellenbosch Campus Pastors Respond to the Debate

Daleen Myburgh of Every Nation Christian Church: “I don’t agree with Prof Du Plessis’ statement that ‘for tolerance to advance, religion must retreat.’ As Christians we are called to respect and love other people, but that is a higher calling than mere tolerance. Respect means that you can still love a person without agreeing with them. Christians should be known for what they stand for.”

Shayne Holesgrove of Grace Life Church: “For a number of years there have been great things happening on Stellenbosch Campus. The amount of Believers on campus who actively live out their faith is continually growing, so it is no wonder that there is increased opposition and that there would be some who rise up to silence the Christian voice. As a Christian, if you are not expressing your ‘religious convictions’ in public then you do not truly believe. Prof. Du Plessis evidently doesn’t understand what it means to be a Christian. It is about loving people, not merely tolerating them. We love people by telling them that God wants a relationship with them…helping them see the error of our ways and that we are headed for eternal destruction without His mercy. The Bible calls sin sin, and declares some people to be lost. Believers need to share the Good News of Jesus with them, even if some people might not like it.”

Amo O’ Kennedy of Shofar Christian Church:
“The University of Stellenbosch appears to be discontent with ideas and questions raised by Christians practising their faith on campus. Stellenbosch University is an environment that should embrace critical thinking. One would have thought that these challenging ideas would be welcomed and examined for the truths they may hold. This, however, does not seem to be the case and the Christian faith has been labelled as “intolerant” for not accepting the politically correct dogma.

“As South Africa has a rich heritage of culture and religion, it is unthinkable that we can argue for a secular education system, stripped of all religious ideas and convictions. South Africa is very religious and therefore part of the University’s mandate should, in our opinion, aim to stimulate the engagement of students with religious ideas, in the free market place of ideas.

“All people are of equal value and should be treated with dignity and respect. Ideas, however, are not necessarily of equal value and therefore should be open to scrutiny and debate.”

Student Ministry Forum Official Statement representing:Shofar Christian Church, Grace Life Church, Every Nation Christian Church, New Generation Church, St Pauls Evangelical Church, Anglican Chaplaincy, Kruiskerk, Gereformeerde Kerk, and Stellenbosch Gemeente,

“We as the Student Ministry Forum, representative of the majority of student congregations in Stellenbosch, would like to respond to what we believe to be frequent misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the role of Christianity on campus.

“The Christian Faith was the original impetus behind the establishment of Stellenbosch University and we believe can continue to add significant value to this great institution. Christianity has always provided inspiration and motivation to young people to think about their studies in relation to serving society and promoting the common good.

“We are committed to Jesus Christ’s command to love all people, regardless of who they are and what they believe, while upholding Biblical Truth. We believe this truth is objective and should be lived out in public and are open to it being scrutinized and openly discussed in the public sphere.”

Student Reactions to the Debate

One student commented on the official Rooiplein debate online forum, that the purpose of the debate was not “adequately or accurately dealt with – in that, as a student in leadership, how do you reconcile your individual beliefs with what is required of you in your position? Instead from the name of the debate to the lack of equal strengthed opponents [on 2 different sides]… this debate was flawed to be an attack on a single expression of faith – Charismatic Christianity.”

Another person reacted strongly to Prof du Plessis’ call for secularisation: “Red lights went on [for me]…because the same rhetoric has been going on all around the [Western] world. The term ‘secular’ sounds good in theory but what does it really come down to in practice? No institution is ever truly secular. It is run by and consists of people who operate according to specific worldviews, of which many are in conflict. ‘Secular’ has become the word through which people who hold secular humanistic views expel alternative religious [worldviews] [in the name of being] ‘tolerant’, ‘open-minded’, ‘scientific’, and [rational]. Was it not men and women of the Christian faith who brought about the greatest beneficial changes towards the concept of a free, democratic society we know today? Are we going to deny the very reason that institutions like Stellenbosch, and even greater universities around the world, exist?”

Christian Origins of Stellenbosch University

Stellenbosch University was originally started in 1859 as a “kweekskool” for training pastors, by Rev. John Murray, brother of Andrew Murray. His vision was to prove invaluable, as the following year, a mighty Revival swept the Cape, and Churches experienced exponential growth. Dagbreek Koshuis, in fact, used to be known as John Murray Huis.

The very name “university” testifies to its Christian origins. Uni Veritas means: one truth.  Most professors today don’t even believe that there is an objective truth. What has happened that Western universities, which were mostly founded by Christians and which often produced dedicated Christian Reformers, have now become synonymous with immorality, perversion and anti-Christian hostility?

Reclaim Campuses for Christ

University campuses of South Africa need not be the cesspools of immorality, rebellion and hotbed of anti-Christian worldviews that they are today. By God’s grace, they can be reclaimed for Christ. To do this we need to recognise the agenda of Secular Humanists to intimidate Christians into silence and equip Christians to understand and defend their Faith and Heritage. We need resolve to win students to Christ and effectively disciple them in a Biblical Worldview.

Sending our children to university is a huge investment, both financially, and spiritually. Before sending them to university, we should ensure that they are practically and spiritually prepared to deal with the issues, temptations and pressures that they will inevitably face there.

Christianity is not for the weak minded. It is not enough to simply believe. You have to know what you believe and why you believe it. And you need to be able to defend it. Africa Christian Action’s Biblical Worldview Seminar will enable you to understand and respond in a Biblical way to everything from relativism to dualism, from Hollywood to humanism, from Marxism to Islam. Contact us to request speakers, books and films for your campus group, or if you want us to run a Biblical Worldview Seminar at your church: 021-6894480 or   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Taryn Hodgson is the International Co-ordinator of the Christian Action Network. She is also involved in student ministry at UCT. 

Christian Action P.O.Box 23632 Claremont 7735 Cape Town South Africa info@christianaction.org.za - 021-689-4481 - www.christianaction.org.za
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