“I came for athletics” echoes as a common sentiment for Oklahoma Christian University athletes as their motivation for selecting Oklahoma Christian.
Among their reasons, religion does not rank high. Although a majority of athletes express some religious affiliation, it may differ from Church of Christ traditions; some may have no religious background.
As of fall 2019, 51% of Oklahoma Christian undergraduates indicated a Church of Christ affiliation, a statistic which has declined steadily since 2014.
Oklahoma Christian states on its website its existence as a Church of Christ institution: “From founding until today, Oklahoma Christian has maintained strong ties with the Churches of Christ.”
However, Bailey Strecker, a senior softball player, primarily attends non-denominational churches. For her, the Church of Christ traditions were not made clear until she came on campus as a student.
“I always knew that Oklahoma Christian was affiliated with Christian ideals and a Christian perspective, but I never knew it was Church of Christ until I came here,” Strecker said. “I had never been aware of the inner workings of the Church of Christ, and being at Oklahoma Christian has been very eye-opening.”
DJ Walter, a sophomore basketball player, grew up Baptist and recently started preaching at his home congregation, Fairview Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Walter changed his major this year from journalism to Bible. Although Oklahoma Christian professors are members of the Church of Christ, Walter said the classes will increase his comprehension of Scripture and help him as he pursues his calling.
“I didn’t want to do [ministry],” Walter said. “Just seeing what the ministry takes and all the pressure and problems my grandfather and father have faced, I just didn’t want that life. I was going with basketball. That was me, that’s what was attached to my name—DJ the basketball player—but God has a calling on everybody’s life. When he called, I just answered.”
On the other hand, junior swimmer Derek Duckworth grew up primarily Baptist and said he feels some of the Bible classes and chapel services target Church of Christ ideals in a way which offends or ostracizes students of different religious preferences.
“There’s some Bible classes that really do push it and push it to the point where it’s kind of irritating,” Duckworth said. “There’s a class that I have where I have to write down lesson plans: personal evangelism. If I don’t write down this one thing, I’m going to get a bad grade, but I don’t agree with it. For example, the lesson done by a professor said if you use instruments in worship then you’re not following God. I don’t agree with that at all, but I had to write it down. I think there is a good Christian environment here, but I think some of it is pushed pretty hard toward Church of Christ and not just Christianity as a whole.”
Unlike Strecker, Walter and Duckworth, Thalia Delgado expresses no religious affiliation or background. Delgado transferred to Oklahoma Christian to play soccer this year and said she understood the Christian aspect from the beginning. She also said she feels looked at differently.
“I feel if you attend a Christian campus you should participate because that is the school’s guidelines,” Delgado said. “On the other hand, I do think Oklahoma Christian should have some little thing for people of a different faith. If they already do have something for that group, I would like to hear more about it.”
Duckworth believes Oklahoma Christian has made some strides in offering a space where specifically athletes of different faiths feel welcome.
“I think recently they’ve done a good job with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) because that’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, not fellowship of Church of Christ athletes,” Duckworth said. “It’s definitely more inclusive versus chapel which is kind of exclusive if you’re not in the Church of Christ denomination.”
Strecker said she believes the Bible department specifically could offer more base-level classes, so various students could learn how to interact with Scripture rather than being immediately plunged into difficult Bible classes.
“I have found out that some of the required Bible classes here are more difficult than some of the upper division biology classes I have taken,” Strecker said. “I think this is because the professors of these classes believe that everyone who is enrolled in them grew up in the church or have studied the Bible in depth when that is not the case.”
Each of the athletes expressed how their team welcomes diverse perspectives and honors everyone’s beliefs while not focusing on Church of Christ traditions.