Campus Reform | Pepperdine student urges university to ‘rethink’ its ‘Christian foundation’

Pepperdine student urges university to ‘rethink’ its ‘Christian foundation’

A recent student op-ed called on Pepperdine university to "rethink its Christian policies."

One student leader claims there exists a "concerted effort to degrade the Christian character of Pepperdine."

An op-ed in the Pepperdine University student newspaper advised the California school to “rethink” its “religious framework.”

Pepperdine University senior Nicole Witt published an op-ed in the Pepperdine University Graphic, advocating for the university to “rethink its Christian policies” if “religious trends continue to decline.” 

“While religion plays a major role in American culture, a growing trend of religious skepticism rising in the U.S. leaves some Christian-affiliated schools with outdated structures and practices. In the coming years, Pepperdine should consider altering its policies that come with its Christian affiliation to improve the community and the experience among its students,” Witt writes.

Citing surveys that show a religious decline in America, Witt argues that Pepperdine should adapt to the changing times. Some Christians are alarmed by this decline, but Witt contends that “the U.S. is only catching up to many other developed nations” such as the U.K. and China where 52 percent and 67 percent of the population, respectively, is non-religious.

According to Pepperdine’s website, 53 percent of its students identify with a Christian denomination, 10 percent are non-religious, 2 percent are Jewish, and 15 percent are “none” or “other.” 

“Surprisingly, the percentage of Christians at Pepperdine is actually lower than the percentage of college graduates who identify as Christian from all U.S. universities,” Witt wrote.

Witt told Campus Reform that she was surprised to find that there were fewer Christians at Pepperdine than she expected.

“The intention of my piece was to present statistics, speculate why they might be that way, and then propose various options going forward. In my research, I found it odd that the percentage of Christians at Pepperdine was lower than the percentage of Christians at public universities. I wanted to examine approaches the University might need to take to encourage a better discussion of faith at the University,” Witt told Campus Reform.

“Since Christianity is on the decline in the U.S. and only 6 percent of students at Pepperdine are affiliated with the Church of Christ, I think it is important that the University makes initiatives so that the discussion of religion is more interesting and inclusive,” she added.

In reference to those who wish to change Pepperdine’s current framework, alumnus Chris Cagnolatt told Campus Reform that “it really makes [him] wonder why they're at this school in the first place."

[RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Babylon Bee CEO's Christian alma mater disinvites him from speaking in chapel]

Sophomore Jacob Zanca spoke to Campus Reform about his school’s religious foundation. 

“Even as the beliefs of some students change, the selling point of Pepperdine University is, and has always been, the Christian ethos which sits at the core of its institutional character. To betray this character because some individuals are not Christian is to betray every student who came here under the perfectly-reasonable impression that there was more to that Christian identity than the cross on the front lawn,” Zanca stated.

Witt suggests that the “religious requirements” such as attendance at weekly chapels and religion courses could be why the number of Pepperdine students who identify as Christians is “lower than other U.S. universities.”

Pepperdine should “rethink its Christian policies,” because “certain ones have already gotten the University into trouble with its students in the past” according to Witt. 

After a Chick-Fil-A franchise was brought to campus, controversy arose due to the restaurant’s contribution to organizations billed as anti-LGBT.

Witt also cites a poll that found just over 50 percent of Pepperdine students disagree with the university’s stated view that sexual relations should only be between a married man and woman.

Pepperdine College Republicans President Spencer Lindquist told Campus Reform that there has been a “concerted effort to degrade the Christian character of Pepperdine. After successfully tearing down our statue of Christopher Columbus and halting the wildly popular attempt to bring Christian owned Chick-fil-a to campus, those at odds with Pepperdine’s Christian heritage are emboldened and shamelessly call into question our religious identity.”

[RELATED: Pepperdine removes Columbus statue, then Columbus impersonator]

Witt suggests an option of Pepperdine keeping its “Christian foundation,” but altering its “religious requirements.”

“Pepperdine could create a more flexible array of courses so students can choose aspects of faith they are more interested in learning about — or even provide the option to take courses that teach a variety of religious world views other than Christianity,” Witt recommended.

“If students are picking religious classes more tailored to their specific interests, they will more likely enjoy what they are learning and want to continue to learn it outside of their classes,” she continued.

Zanca told Campus Reform that this adjustment would “betray every person who ever defended Pepperdine when it was called uptight or puritanical by observers for its faith-commitment.” 

Witt defended her suggestion of Pepperdine offering more religion course options to Campus Reform. 

“Since all students are required to learn about the Old and New Testament, I think offering a wider selection would allow students to take courses that teach aspects of faith they are more curious about, and thus, would only encourage a stronger foundation of their faith,” Witt told Campus Reform.

Pepperdine University sophomore Sheldon Fraley told Campus Reform that “if Pepperdine were to get rid of its Christian background, it should also retire the name of George Pepperdine as well, because his entire mission was to equip students for lives of Christian purpose, service, and leadership."

Zanca welcomes discussion on the matter, but warns against risking the university’s “identity.” 

“People are entitled to profess their own beliefs about religion, and Pepperdine ought to lovingly welcome discussion on the subject, but it must not do so at the expense of its identity," Zanca told Campus Reform.

“Students, alumni, faculty, administration, and all who cherish Pepperdine’s Christian identity can rest assured in knowing that continued attempts to deracinate our university from its Christian foundation will not go unchallenged. We will keep Pepperdine Christian,” Lindquist concluded.

Witt made it clear to Campus Reform that she is “not arguing that Pepperdine shouldn't remain a Christian university, but should teach religion more broadly.”

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