Recent data suggests nearly half of the students at Oklahoma Christian University claim Church of Christ as their religious affiliation, while a large percentage identify with other denominations.
Over the last five years, numbers varied slightly, but have largely remained the same. Statistics from 2016 show 46 percent of all students, both undergraduate and graduate, identify with a Church of Christ religious background. For undergraduate students specifically, 56 percent listed Church of Christ as their religious affiliation.
Although the ratios of the denominations have not changed significantly over the last few years, Dean of Spiritual Life Jeff McMillon said the mindset toward differences in opinion seems to have shifted.
“It’s unwise for somebody that works here to think that most of the kids come from a similar background,” McMillon said. “Some do, but not all. There’s a wide range of beliefs, and I think to me, it feels like students are more respectful in the sense that they don’t assume that everybody thinks like they think, so that’s good.”
Sophomore Mikayla Zarate said she attends Edmond’s First Baptist Church, because it is similar to the non-denominational church she worshipped at growing up. She said it took a while to connect with other people on campus who shared her views.
“If you’re not Church of Christ, it’s not something that’s really talked about,” Zarate said. “Like, for a long time, I didn’t know that there were other people on this campus that weren’t Church of Christ.”
According to Zarate, simply being willing to learn about different religious views encourages discussion among students on Oklahoma Christian’s campus. She said doing so can help students understand each other better and facilitate relational growth.
“That’s kind of my encouragement is to be able to talk about these sort of things, bring up these conversations and have them in kind of a healthy environment,” Zarate said. “Not like, ‘Oh, well Church of Christ is wrong and I’m right’ or, ‘They just don’t believe in my ideas,’ because that’s not really something that is going to help anything.”
Sophomore Olivia Raff said she now attends Life Church’s Edmond, OK campus after attending Memorial Road Church of Christ for half of her freshman year. She said she grew up in the Catholic faith tradition, but believes most Christians share similar foundational beliefs.
“I didn’t really choose OC for Church of Christ,” Raff said. “I chose it more because of the community and stuff like that. I wanted [my college] to be a Christian school, but the way it went didn’t really play a huge role in it. I went to chapel when I visited OC and everything, and I was like, ‘I like this.’ I like Church of Christ church.”
Junior Brandon Kiefer said he grew up attending Naples Church of Christ in Naples, TX. He said it was a church of about 150 members and featured relatively progressive worship services, including a praise team. Because he is familiar with foundational beliefs in Churches of Christ, Kiefer said the university’s affiliation had an influence on his decision to choose Oklahoma Christian.
“I would be lying if I said it didn’t, because I think [Church of Christ is] something that I’m comfortable with as far as faith traditions go and the denominational aspects,” Kiefer said. “That was definitely an impact, and it’s something that, for the most part, I appreciate.”
Kiefer said he thinks some non-Church of Christ students may feel alienated or ostracized by teachings, which contradict their beliefs. However, he said he feels Oklahoma Christian tries to avoid enforcing a single set of beliefs on its students.
“I think for the most part that OC does a good job of maintaining the best of what we, as a far as a faith tradition Church of Christ, has to offer,” Kiefer said. “I think there’s some exceptions and outliers, but they don’t for the most part enforce that upon people and they do a good job of focusing more on the deep theology of what it means to be a Christian, rather than some of the petty and picky issues that we sometimes gravitate towards.”
McMillon said the biggest challenge of maintaining a university which is home to a diverse spectrum of beliefs is remaining open-minded to views which may differ from person to person. He said he has a lot of conversations with students, where he attempts to explain the foundation of his beliefs, while taking theirs into consideration as well.
“To me, the biggest challenge is overconfidence in individuals that they are, beyond the shadow of a doubt, right about something,” McMillon said. “There’s such a spirit of rightness that they’re not willing to kind of go offline, so to speak, and take a look at their beliefs like, ‘Why do I feel so strongly about this, am I sure that this is right?’ I think to me, the worst thing that happens is when people get really entrenched in their rightness to the point that they are unapproachable and they come across as, ‘You better think and believe and feel exactly like me or else you’re wrong.’ That’s a very spiritually dangerous position to be in.”
According to McMillon, religious diversity at Oklahoma Christian is crucial to the development of students’ and professors’ lives. He said the ability to adapt to unfamiliar situations is a Christ-like trait, which promotes peace and unity among individuals.
“I will always, always, always speak up for unity, and to me, unity doesn’t mean everybody believes the same — that’s conformity,” McMillon said. “Unity is: You believe this, I think that. We have a third friend over here who may think something slightly different, and we love each other so much we can talk about our differences and ask God to guide us in what’s true. My relationship with you isn’t contingent upon whether or not you and I believe exactly the same thing, and we stay in Christian relationship despite differences. That, to me, is unity.”