Some students have expressed discomfort when people visit campus to promote their religions.
The most frequently seen group consists of elderly men from Gideon International, an evangelical Christian organization, who station themselves on sidewalks around the quad to pass out free miniature Bibles.
Letting the group onto campus is a bad idea, said Melaina Riley, religion junior.
“I think here at OCU, especially in the religion world, we work really hard to make sure we are welcoming and accepting and accommodating of everybody,” Riley said. “Religion has such a negative connotation for a lot of people, and, by having people who don’t necessarily agree with our theology here from off campus, we run the risk of undoing all the work we’ve put in.”
Off-campus entities must go through an approval process and follow a set of soliciting rules to be let onto campus.
Elizabeth Horton-Ware, director of religious life, said she sets up a meeting with anyone who emails or calls about wanting to promote their religion at OCU.
“Student groups from here get precedent over outside groups, but, either way, we will discuss the group’s background and intentions before permitting them to solicit,” Horton-Ware said. “I’m new this year, so I haven’t spoken with the Gideon group, but I met with one group of Christians who wanted to come onto campus. They had no specific church affiliation, and we had no background with them, so I declined their request.”
Officials historically have permitted them to hand out Bibles under the condition that they do not approach or pressure students, said Rita Himes, church relations administrative assistant.
Meagan Chew, acting senior, said she doesn’t mind if the group offers her a Bible, but she doesn’t think the group respects the views of other religions.
“Last semester I was asked four different times on the way to my 8 a.m. class if I wanted a New Testament, and they kept shoving the books in my face, even when I said ‘no thank you’ several times,” Chew said. “I can get them off my back by telling them that I’m Jewish, but I feel completely judged afterward, as they usually give me a really dirty look. I respect that they are on campus and that they can have different views from me. Why can’t they respect my religious views in return?”
Dr. Charles Neff, vice president for university-church relations, sent an email Feb. 9 to the campus community in response to a report of proselytization-promotion of a religion or belief for the purpose of conversion-where people from an off-campus group aggressively attempted to get students off campus to baptize them.
“The university promotes religious dialogue and faith sharing, but never for the purpose of proselytizing and never in an aggressive or demeaning manner,” Neff wrote in the email.
Neff encouraged students to alert campus police at 405-208-5001 if they encounter someone behaving in a similar way.
Not all students oppose the outside promotion of religion.
Abigail Padgett, nursing senior, said she values the visitors’ missions but wishes there was more of a personal connection.
“I feel the personal, intentional relationships built on any foundation, especially that of faith, could be a more effective outreach method,” Padgett said. “I think God uses their presence for good, regardless, but I see our college campus needing more personal and relational-centered mission work.”