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Religious diversity increases

Friday, October 5, 2007  
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By Carly Darrow

While nearly three in four Oklahoma Christian University students are affiliated with the Church of Christ, the school continues to make strides in helping students from other churches feel welcome, school officials say.

Dean of Students Neil Arter said people talk and work through differences much more freely now than what he has seen in the past, recalling a period when the mix of religious affiliations caused some conflicts on campus.

This year, 553 undergraduate students who are not affiliated with the Church of Christ attend Oklahoma Christian.

A total of 1,463 students, or 73.2 percent, identify themselves as associated with the Church of Christ.

As part of the enrollment process, each Oklahoma Christian student voluntarily selects a religious affiliation out of 11 possible categories, according to University Executive Vice President Alfred Branch.

Arter said students, faculty and staff are accepting of different denominations. Adam Kelso, a senior and a member of the Church of Christ, said he is accepting of having students on campus who are not of the same affiliation.

“It creates diversity and also forces the average person to realize that denominational divisions were never intended by God.  Also, it’s nice to have this as a precursor for what problems we are likely to face in the future with non-Christians and other Christians,” Kelso said.

Church affiliations can cause students to act differently or hold themselves to a different standard, Oklahoma Christian students are not an exception Kelso said.

“We shouldn’t, but sometimes, we do. Probably a part of it is that most Church of Christ members grow up learning all the technical reasons behind their beliefs but not how to deal with and live with those who don’t share them. Admittedly, I’ve been one of those people, but it definitely needs to be overcome. We are all the family of Christ and need to treat each other as family, whether we agree on everything or not,” Kelso said.

Myra Clark, a student and member of the Church of Christ, said she doesn’t think a student has to belong to that particular church to belong at Oklahoma Christian.

“Oklahoma Christian helps everyone come closer to God, regardless of affiliation. There are differences in beliefs but at least they are all pointing toward the same God,” Clark said.

Some think Oklahoma Christian’s close ties to the Church of Christ could sway non-Church of Christ members from choosing the university, but Arter said this happens only if potential students look at the surface. It doesn’t happen if the prospective student looks internally at the university and all it has to offer.

Matthew Unruh, a student who is not affiliated with the Church of Christ, said he feels accepted and most people don’t care what affiliation he is.

“I feel more welcome here than I would at a secular school. Even though I am not a member of the Church of Christ, I share a lot of core values that the Church of Christ holds, and I can’t say that about a state school,” Unruh said.

Others say the campus isn’t entirely free of conflict.

Jessica Ortman, a sophomore who is not a member of the Church of Christ, said people can be judgmental, and some have been judgmental because of a student’s church affiliation.

“The majority of people don’t care either way what you are. It is just that the negative encounters stick out much more than the positive ones,” Ortman said.

Ortman tries to remain positive about the situation and to not worry about the affiliation of her peers.

“In the end, worrying about how and what other people believe won’t matter. God doesn’t ask you to judge others but worry more about yourself and what you personally can do to live the best life you can,” Ortman said.

Oklahoma Christian will keep strong ties to the Church of Christ, Arter said. It is the university’s heritage. Sticking to that heritage is the best way to remain a Christian university.

“The best thing we can do for our students is to be true to who we are,” Arter said.


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