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Evangelical students puzzled by Georgetown's ban on groups on campus


WASHINGTON — Georgetown University’s cutting of ties with outside evangelical ministries has student-members of those groups puzzled about their place on campus.

“We’re still very much in the dark about what we are officially allowed to do,” said Georgetown senior Nathanael Oakes, a student leader at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

The Madison, Wis.-based organization, which claims 35,000 members, aims to establish “witnessing communities of students and faculty who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord,” according to its Web site.

Georgetown, a Catholic school with about 6,000 undergraduate students, banned staffers from several outside groups including InterVarsity, Chi Alpha, Asian Baptist Student Koinonia, and Crossroad Campus Christian Fellowship on Aug. 14. The groups had been “affiliated ministries,” operating in covenant agreements with Georgetown’s campus ministry.

“As any previous covenant agreements ended with the 2005-2006 academic year, your ministries will no longer be allowed to hold any activity or presence ... on campus,” wrote Constance Wheeler, a Protestant chaplain at Georgetown, in a letter to the evangelical groups.

Representatives from the Campus Ministry office were not available to answer questions from a reporter.

Erik Smulson, spokesman for the university, said the decision followed a reorganization of the Protestant chaplaincy at Georgetown.

“With this restructuring has come a desire in the Protestant chaplaincy to build the ministry from within Georgetown and its Protestant leaders rather than rely on outside groups or fellowships,” Smulson said in a statement.

InterVarsity, Chi Alpha, and Asian Baptist Student Koinonia have branches at colleges nationwide and tens of thousands of students as members.

Smulson said that students can organize events, put up fliers and book rooms, but staff members hired by the outside groups cannot operate on campus. The groups, which include about 300 students at Georgetown, also cannot advertise their events as being sponsored by Georgetown University.

Oakes said students are frustrated that school administrators have not responded to requests for conversation. The religious groups banded together recently, organizing petitions on campus and sending letters to the university.

Some students noted a pattern of poor communications between the outside ministries and Georgetown officials.

“It’s definitely not coming out of left field,” Oakes said of the most recent ban.

He said the university has feared the groups were evangelizing on campus.

“They’ve always had this sort of Big Brother look at us, saying, ‘What are you guys doing? We don’t know what you’re doing. We don’t want you evangelizing,’” Oakes said.

Tensions may have arisen because outside ministries are gaining more members than Georgetown’s own religious organizations, Oakes said.

“Our ministries have been growing whereas theirs have been stagnant,” he said.