The Concordia Secular Student Community submitted its intent to be an official student organization September 26th, starting the one- to two-month process for recognition.
Controversy looms large over the group according to the group’s founder and faculty advisor, leaving it questionable as to whether or not the club will gain official recognition.
“Seculars are a large part of the Concordia College community,” said Andreas Rekdal, senior and founder of the CSSC. Those who identify as nonreligious, atheist, or agnostic are considered secular. According to the CRSCS, taken in the spring of 2012, 18.5% of the 575 Concordia students who took the survey fell into this group. The CSSC looks to represent that portion of the community.
The CSSC aims provide a welcoming place for secular students to meet like-minded people and to address concerns of not being accepted in the community. The club also wants to foster interfaith dialogue. Rekdal says that there are many stigmas attached to secularism.
“People view seculars as being intolerant of religion,” he said.
Nearly 35 percent of the Concordia students who identified themselves as secular said stated that they feel like their views aren’t welcomed at Concordia. Jacqueline Bussie, Director of the Forum on Faith and Life and professor of religion, said that she has heard that many seculars on campus hide their views initially and “come out” to the community when they feel it is safe.
“There’s work to be done,” Bussie said.
The rejection of the Secular Students of Concordia, an unaffiliated secular club from years ago, still looms, creating controversy around the formation of this new club. The previous club was rejected once in 2009 and again in 2011. Richard Gilmore, professor of philosophy and faculty advisor to both the old and new secular clubs, describes the previous club as being much more dogmatically atheist, as opposed to the new club, which Gilmore describes as being moderate and open to discussion.
Rekdal alluded to the controversy surrounding the previous club as the reason why faculty members have shied away from supporting the group.
“So many other good Lutheran colleges have secular clubs,” said Gilmore. “It’s embarrassing that it’s such an issue here.”
Bussie is optimistic about the administration’s stance on secularism. She cites the CRSCS as evidence that the administration cares about the college’s religious climate. Bussie cites the survey as evidence that the college wants to see the areas on campus that need growth and act on them.
The group says it looks to engage in interfaith dialogue so that seculars may feel more welcomed at Concordia and so religious students can learn about secularism.
“We have a culture of conformity and fear with respect to religion on campus,” said Gilmore. He said that there is pressure to be “appropriately religious.”
Sarah Funkhouser, co-president of Better Together, a campus group focused on interfaith dialogue, said interfaith includes religious, nonreligious, and philosophical world views. The group has come out in support of the CSSC, citing President Craft’s Strategic Plan for the College’s emphasis on interfaith as a reason why the club should be recognized.
“You can’t have interfaith dialogue if you’re excluding people” said Funkhouser.
When asked whether or not a secular club would conflict with the mission statement of the college, there echoed a resounding “no.”
“People automatically go to the last five words in the statement: ‘dedicated to the Christian life,’” Funkhouser said.
“To me, the tenants of the Christian life are service, love, compassion, and mercy” she said. “You can follow those tenants even if you’re not Christian.”
This article was submitted by Emma Connell. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.