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UVA’s Christian Houses

Tonight at dinner in Charlottesville (The Local; try the goat cheese cheesecake), one of my hosts, Bill Wilder, executive director of the Center for Christian Study [1] at the University of Virginia, asked me what the top two things I learned on my trip to DC and Charlottesville were.

I told him this:

1. How hopeless it is for Christians to expect that Congressional Republicans will do anything effective to defend religious liberty, in particular the liberty of our institutions, including schools and non-profits. The Left has no incentive to compromise, the Democrats don’t care about religious liberty anymore, and the Republicans are sick of the whole issue, as well as scared of being called bigots. Plus, big business has chosen sides. We really are on our own now, and had better start digging in, building networks and, as one influential Washington pastor told me, “tarring the ark.”

2. What an amazing lesson in the Benedict Option there is here on UVA’s campus, including the Center for Christian Study, a terrific place, and the houses where Christian students live in various forms of intentional community.

About these houses. Here’s a link to Chancellot, [2] a house for Christian men who are students at the university. From their vision page:


This is a cross-class community, for two reasons:

Discipleship — we learn by sharing stories, experiences, and wisdom with each other.

Continuity — only a third of the residents graduate in any given year, which helps preserve the community’s core values over time.

This is a missional community. This means:

It doesn’t exist for its own sake; it exists to be a light and a blessing to our neighbors, to offer an alternative vision of what male community can look like in college and to invite others to experience that.

It is not an exclusive or elite clique; it’s a tight but welcoming community. We seek closeness with each other in order to enhance our relationships with those outside the community, not crowd them out. We build tight community for the purpose of inviting others to experience the fellowship we have with each other and with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3).

Our doors remain open whenever possible.

This is an intentional community. This means:

We hold each other to a high standard of behavior and spiritual discipline as leaders and role models in the Christian community. We strive to be “above reproach” (1 Tim 3), to be “united in mind and thought” (1 Cor 1:10), and to “live such good lives among the Gentiles that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Pet 2:12).

Residents are committed followers of Christ seeking to grow in spiritual maturity, and have committed to involvement in one of the chapters of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at UVA. All are willing to submit to the core values and vision of the house.

Proximity can facilitate community, but it won’t accomplish it for you. We make an effort to step out and spend time with people we wouldn’t otherwise be in community with.

The UVA community has a number of these houses for men and women. I spent a good portion of Monday meeting with Christian students who live in these houses, asking them about their experience of community there. I learned a lot. One student said, of his time in the community, “I would find people there who would tell me stories that helped me to know who I am, and to make sense of the world.”

(“Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require, like all of us, nurturance by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to learn the story of God.” — Stanley Hauerwas)

I didn’t take extensive notes today; it was more important for me to ask questions, then listen to the answers. I was startled, and delighted, by how serious these young men and women were, and how much they visibly loved their life in common in their houses. They all seemed so thoughtful and happy. Each house is governed differently. Some require signing a covenant; others are less intentional. All are about building Christian community. Some I talked to were so marked by their years at UVA living and serving in community that they decided to stay on in Charlottesville after graduation, finding jobs and deepening their friendship.

We talked about the challenges and the possibilities of replicating the college Christian communal living experience in Washington, or other big cities where graduates of UVA’s Christian houses might go after graduation. Why not?

These houses are so obviously a good and necessary idea that you can’t imagine why they don’t exist at other universities. Maybe they do. I’ve never heard of them before today, but as you can tell, I am impressed. And I like how the Center for Christian Study is a hive of activity. They made the best room in the house, the one with the greatest view of the gentle valley, the library. And they have thousands of volumes there, and plenty of rooms for students to gather. It is a place of light and happiness. The whole community seems very L’Abri somehow. Standing at the podium tonight addressing the audience, I found myself saying, without meaning to flatter anybody, that I would strongly consider sending my kids to UVA, not only because of the quality of the education, but as much or moreso from the formation they would receive in the Christian community here, especially by living in one of those houses.

At the Center this morning, I spoke to a gentle older professor, Ken Elzinga, who teaches economics. He was open, kind, and modest, and he invited me to stay in his and his wife’s lake house if I wanted to work on the Ben Op book there. I was so grateful. Later, folks told me that Prof. Elzinga is a legend at UVA. He has taught here for over 50 years, and his influence is in inverse proportion to his modesty. That is, he’s a giant, but you’d never know it to talk to him. “It’s probably true that we wouldn’t have any of this Christian community here if not for Ken Elzinga,” someone said.

“He’s like your own St. Benedict,” said I.

There is no question that when I begin writing the Ben Op book formally, I will return to UVA and spend more time studying the Christian houses, and their connection to the Center. This is very much a form of the Benedict Option, one that I could see other universities, both secular and Christian, creating. Why can’t churches close to college campuses create residential housing like this for Christian students who want to live in intentional community, and be formed and discipled within them?

The Benedict Option is alive and well at UVA, and I’m betting that more than a few graduates of these houses go on to innovate in Christian community-building in the post-college world.

Exciting stuff! I thought Leah Libresco had all the ideas and all the energy in her generation, but as hard as it is to believe, it’s not so. One of the young men involved in a Christian house stayed around to talk, and said that this Benedict Option book is going to be big. He said Christians are ready for it. I hope so. This trip has given me the ideas and the impetus I need to finish the proposal this week. I’m ready to go. The time is right, and there are people all over this country doing great things in their churches and elsewhere. (I spent an hour or so with Pastor Greg Thompson and the ministry team at Trinity Presbyterian; it was all off the record, just for informational purposes, but the things they were telling me about were innovative and exciting and based on Benedict’s Rule. Calvinists getting in touch with their inner Benedict — who knew?

So, after a morning event at the Covenant School [3] with Ken Myers, I’ll be off to Starhill again, arriving on Nora’s ninth birthday. Home is always and everywhere my favorite journey, but the next journey I make to UVA to write about the Christian houses of this college will be a bona fide pleasure. Thank you, Charlottesville friends, for making this such a great visit.

(Note to Bill and Fitz: Why don’t we host KenFest (a.k.a. “Mars-Hill-a-palooza”) at the CSC?)

43 Comments (Open | Close)

43 Comments To "UVA’s Christian Houses"

#1 Comment By Bobby On October 13, 2015 @ 1:36 am

I agree that, for the BenOp to work, there has to be some form of intentional, semi-proximate living arrangement.

Regarding help from Congress, I think that there’s plenty of willingness to enact laws that provide specific, enumerated religious-liberty protections to certain educational institutions and religious non-profits. In fact, anyone who opposed such efforts would come off as petty and vindictive. But, no, you’re not going to be able to pull off massive land grabs comparable to what was attempted in Arizona, Indiana, and Arkansas.

The problem for most social conservatives is that they’re more interested in raising money than they are in implementing reasonable policies. So, they tend to overreach, and use the ensuing controversy to raise more money. With that money, they overreach again, so that they can raise more money. And on and on and on. By contrast, social progressives are willing to settle for modest, stepwise change. Social conservatives are akin to a football team that throws a Hail Mary pass on every down. Social progressives, by contrast, are content to chip away with 3-4-yard gains.

#2 Comment By cecelia On October 13, 2015 @ 1:52 am

I think you are wrong about the Dems – many are still Christians certainly among the elected and a few have spoken on behalf of religious liberty. Now if you approach them with a “da gays argh” attitude – not going to work but then again it won’t work with the Repubs either. But if you make a rational and constitutional argument – you can turn the tide. I’d think bipartisan more so than I would think dem versus rep. I also think if the Repubs discovered that conservative people are not fooled by their empty promises anymore and are going to defect they might shape up. Doubt it – their masters won’t let them but who knows?

Personally I find the republican stance on perpetual warfare to be a lot more egregious and dangerous. How can one be pro life and support candidates who propose to bomb everyone everywhere?

Coalition building is the way to go – a coalition on an issue one agrees on – even if you disagree about other issues. Anything else is not going to work. Issue specific coalitions. Besides which – a conservative – that is genuine conservativism – approach which emphasis conservation of resources, community etc would find a lot of liberal supporters too.

#3 Comment By wetcasements On October 13, 2015 @ 6:28 am

I sincerely hope you can take a stroll down the length of Rugby Road on a Sunday morning around, say, 9 a.m. some time. You will see the full-scale aftermath of UVA’s commitment to Christian fellowship in all of its glory. Amen.

[NFR: That’s a cheap shot. I didn’t say UVA was a Christian university, and that its entire student body was dedicated to Christian fellowship. I said these houses are Christian, and inspiring. — RD]

#4 Comment By Liam On October 13, 2015 @ 6:40 am

Good to hear that Mr Elzinga is still teaching. He was a renowned teacher even by the time I took a class of his 35 years ago.

During my years at The University, there was an interesting ecumenical house comprised of Catholics and Episcopalians.

#5 Comment By WhiskeyBucks On October 13, 2015 @ 7:16 am

L’Abri is my real life Narnia.

#6 Comment By Momma Sue On October 13, 2015 @ 7:52 am

We have those at Ohio State too, although not affiliated with IVP. There are around 100 houses in the campus area filled with Christians in intentional community. You can see a little at the Xenos website, and there is a link to the agreement which residents sign. [4]

#7 Comment By Liam On October 13, 2015 @ 7:56 am

I just saw your caption for the photo. Funny.

It should be noted that UVA was the first expressly secular university in the USA. Jefferson’s insistence on this feature was one reason why the battle to get it chartered took 40 years, as it was attacked from the beginning as a godless institution. (The other state universities and colleges that got chartered before UVA had chapels and/or seminaries of divers sorts. Recall that, at the time UVA was chartered, Harvard College was still publicly supported – indeed, it’s the subject of an entire article in the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution; it wasn’t until the 1860s that Harvard was privatized. And Harvard’s motto is, to this day, not Veritas but “Christo et Ecclesiae” – “For Christ and The Church”).

UVA didn’t get a chapel building until the late 19th century. And it was deliberately built in a Gothic Revival style, very much out of step with the Palladian architecture of Jefferson’s design for the original Grounds.

#8 Comment By MBrown On October 13, 2015 @ 8:35 am

You may look into the Purdue Christian Campus House, which is a church that exists right on the edge of campus. A lot of the core student leadership (maybe around 100 students) in the church live together in a series of houses, but the church itself serves a large number of students from the campus (perhaps around 700-1000 – not sure as I’ve been off campus for over a decade). They also run a coffee shop, an art fair, and are otherwise engaged with the campus in some fairly creative ways. The engagement piece might be helpful thing for you to look into as you look to explain how the “strategic retreat” aspect (of living in intentional communities) can lead to more effective engagement.

You have my email; I can put you in contact with their staff leadership, if you like.

#9 Comment By MBrown On October 13, 2015 @ 8:41 am

@cecilia – “But if you make a rational and constitutional argument – you can turn the tide.”

Appreciate the sentiment, but this is simply not true. What is considered constitutional is fluid, and is subject to whatever sphere the sexual revolution has declared to be subject to its absolute exercise. The larger that sphere, the smaller the space for religious liberty.

Even beyond the sexual politics, it’s increasingly clear that “constitutional” is completely subject to the whims of whatever 5 Supreme Court Justices agree on, and that even they have no basic framework other than to know that they will always eventually agree with public opinion as to what is “constitutional”.

In short: “Constitutional” is the word we apply to public opinion when it’s time to enforce it on cultural minorities.

#10 Comment By CatherineNY On October 13, 2015 @ 8:48 am

As one whose children will go off to college in not so many years, I am heartened to know that there are intentional communities like this. Thanks for telling us about them, Rod.

#11 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 13, 2015 @ 9:05 am

How hopeless it is for Christians to expect that Congressional Republicans will do anything effective to defend religious liberty, in particular the liberty of our institutions, including schools and non-profits. The Left has no incentive to compromise, the Democrats don’t care about religious liberty anymore, and the Republicans are sick of the whole issue, as well as scared of being called bigots. Plus, big business has chosen sides.

This statement of utter despair — and I use the word conscious of its implications in Roman Catholic theology — is utterly belied by the accompanying material on UVA.

Have you considered that UVA is a public university, and that somehow maintains a well developed Center for Christian Study, plus all these students living in Christian houses that have a vibrant presence?

As a life-long fan of the Separation of Church and State, I have no problems with these institutions being there. What is important is that participation no be mandatory in order to be a student in good standing, or get the best scholarships, or have an equal chance of getting into the most desirable study abroad programs, etc. Should there be Muslim or Jewish or Hindu students who want to form similar residential communities, a public university may of course not discriminate. I presume that this is privately organized and supported, although providing bona fide students with a residence hall where they may live in voluntary intentional community would not pose First Amendment problems either.

Religious liberty is not a webbing of protective statutory recognition. Religious liberty is the absence of state coercion. In addition, civil rights law has come to recognize that private action by powerful individuals or institutions can intimidate people in the exercise of civil rights, e.g., employers threatening to fire anyone who registers to vote. So the exercise of protected religious rights should have the same protection from private intimidation.

Nobody is going to pay attention to cries about religious liberty if they boil down to standing on a street corner whining “Nobody is more oppressed than I am.” I would no more carve out SPECIAL rights and exemptions for religion than I would for the way people have sex. A vigorous assertion of fundamental principles ALREADY clearly embodied in constitutional law is what we need.

At a time when American popular culture was overwhelmingly Protestant, there was no question at law as to the right of the Roman Catholic minority to fund colleges that taught damnable Papist heresy… and to issue degrees that were recognized as academically sound. No special religious liberty statutes from congress were necessary.

Relying on Republicans, as a party, to be the bulwark of religious liberty, was always a fools errand. Relying on big business to rally around spiritual values, likewise. You know what happened to most of the pro-life Democrats in congress? They lost their seats in swing districts to Republicans in 2010. We all know where that got us.

#12 Comment By James C. On October 13, 2015 @ 9:17 am

UVA’s Center for Christian Study helps disprove the notion that the Benedict Option is all about closing off and abandoning the world. Like the original Benedictine abbeys, today’s BenOp communities can and do evangelize.

I know this as well as any. At my alma mater, the University of Florida, right across from campus sits the Christian Study Center of Gainesville ( [5] ). Founded in 2000 on the model of UVA’s center, I had not heard of it until my sophomore year when my professor informed our class that he was going to deliver a lecture there about the decline of the secular university. I went and discovered this amazing community I never knew existed, and it was through my deep fellowship with students and scholars of various denominations at the CSC that I converted to Christianity. I practically lived there the remainder of my time at university.

BenOp communities evangelize not so much by going out into the world but by attracting and gathering the world to them. Every university should have a community like this. The one I encountered saved my life.

#13 Comment By grumpy realist On October 13, 2015 @ 9:34 am

What you’re going to have to wrestle to the ground as well is what happens when these young people start looking for jobs. I’m worried that as automation and globalization increase, we’re going to find fewer and fewer jobs available, period.

The Ben Op option is going to have to attack the whole “how do we support ourselves?” question as well. Otherwise it’s going to end up being a cute little hobby for people who are independently wealthy or those who don’t mind living off a McJob salary.

Unfortunately, you’re not going to be able to support a family (especially with a non-working spouse) on a McJobs salary.

So don’t forget the economics as well, please.

(I have to say, the older I get, the more supportive I get of worker’s rights.)

#14 Comment By Northern New England On October 13, 2015 @ 10:35 am

UVA has had various kinds of Christian living communities for many years— largely because the vast majority of undergrads can’t live on campus so they have to live in apartments or houses—– back when I was a grad student at UVA in the late 70’s/early 80s there were bunches of Baptists and collections of Evangelicals, etc living on the same street or in the same complex. I lived on a student of duplexes that were mostly Christian grad students and we shared some meals and had a study group. The Episcopal rectory was a Christian house for grad students where they shared common meals and the daily office. I’m glad to hear this is still going on.

#15 Comment By Anna Duarte On October 13, 2015 @ 10:52 am

“You will see the full-scale aftermath of UVA’s commitment to Christian fellowship in all of its glory.”

Ironically, this makes what the Christian houses have achieved more laudable, not less. And because UVA is not otherwise a Christian college, this version of the BenOp community actually achieved a great goal: helping Christians navigate the maze of college with some anchor and community support all while benefiting from a world class (and fairly secular?) education. No small thing.

I don’t agree with Rod on many things, but I applaud this effort to build intentional Christian communities from the ground up.

#16 Comment By red6020 On October 13, 2015 @ 10:53 am

“These houses are so obviously a good and necessary idea that you can’t imagine why they don’t exist at other universities. Maybe they do.”

I believe this type of thing is more common in the British Commonwealth, probably because of the idea of “federation”. I know the Permanent Private Halls of Oxford are denominationally affiliated (many Catholic). I know some of the colleges have historical ties to one stream of thought or another.

The Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies and St. Michael’s College are part of the University of Toronto as well as some other colleges which have at least historical denominational ties.

I could go on, but I’m pretty sure this is common in countries with a history of federated universities and/or affiliate colleges.
If you look quite a few of the examples are denominationally affiliated (often Catholic).

In my opinion, residential colleges are a much superior form of university organizations than the typical dorms. The reason that these organizations aren’t more common in the U.S. could be A) the prevalence of private colleges, B) the ease of starting private colleges, and C) 1st Amendment concerns.

#17 Comment By red6020 On October 13, 2015 @ 11:03 am

Sorry, I should’ve said, “The reasons these religiously-affiliated-type organizations aren’t more common are…”

Although A) and B) might explain why residential colleges themselves aren’t more prevalent.

#18 Comment By Mr. Pickwick On October 13, 2015 @ 11:06 am

For quite some time, there have been a number of Christian houses for college students at public universities. Many, but not all, have offered residential space. When I was at the University of Montana in the 1970s, there were several such houses (mostly Protestant, as I recall). And a friend of mine once ran Logos House at Oregon State University in Corvallis, aimed at thoughtful, “holistic” Evangelicals who read Wendell Berry and ate organic. In its day (I think it closed its doors a few years ago), Logos was a happenin’ place. For a while, it offered a “Saturday Sagacity” series that was sort of a salon for Christian intellectuals.

#19 Comment By Chris Atwood On October 13, 2015 @ 11:20 am

Going back to what someone said on a different thread–community means a very different thing for married people with children than it does for single people. Things you’d tolerate as a single person look very different when you’re married with children. The celibacy of the original BenOp was crucial to how it functioned. So, while things like UVA’s Christian house are great they address very few of the issues married families are likely to address. I’m sure you’re aware of this — you’ve talked about how your attitude to NY City changed once you had kids, so you know how it happened — but I think you’d do well to address it explicitly in your book. How does the BenOp look for people in their single years? How does it look for married people with children? And most important — how if at all can these two relate? Can college based BenOp communities be affiliated with family-based communities? How would that work? How many people would make the smooth transition? Or will we still have the sense of rupture from family to college and then back to family with a freely chosen husband/wife from out of town?

Things to think about.

#20 Comment By Anon On October 13, 2015 @ 11:27 am

My husband lived in a similar house while at Columbia University. It probably saved his life. It definitely saved his soul.

#21 Comment By Sam M On October 13, 2015 @ 12:05 pm

Curious as to how the houses work. The fear is that moving forward, such places will not be permitted to base their community on anything approaching traditional Christian teaching. That is, do you think that 10 years hence, likeminded people will be permitted to set up a dorm that is only open to folks who will commit to no sex before traditional marriage, and to no homosexual sex?

Isn’t the fear that this will eventually be thrown on the same scrap heap as a “whites only” dorm?

#22 Comment By JaC On October 13, 2015 @ 12:36 pm

Bobby said — ” But, no, you’re not going to be able to pull off massive land grabs comparable to what was attempted in Arizona, Indiana, and Arkansas.”

A land grab. Let’ see how the Huffington Post described Indiana’s RFRA — “Indiana’s original Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Pence signed last week, would have allowed any individual or corporation to cite religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.”

Imagine that. Allowing a person to cite a religious belief as a defense in a suit. I guess there is NO defense against the new party line allowed. That would be the equivalent of a massive land grab. Nope. Better to strip thought criminals of their assets.

The funny thing about Pence’s abject capitulation to he money masters is this here sign — [9]

I agree with them gay liberationists. Pence Must go. My rights will be next with him in charge.

#23 Comment By JaC On October 13, 2015 @ 12:54 pm

Not allowing a religious person to cite a religious belief in a suit sounds petty and vindictive to me.

Now I need to let this go . . .

#24 Comment By H.L. VanBuren On October 13, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

[NFR: That’s a cheap shot. I didn’t say UVA was a Christian university, and that its entire student body was dedicated to Christian fellowship. I said these houses are Christian, and inspiring. — RD]

Yes, they may well be. But I think user wetcasements’ point is that if one looks at the whole of the UVa community and asks how much influence has the presence of these Christian houses had, one might legitimately be able to answer “little if any”.

[nfr: well, golly. A small constellation of Christian residential houses fails to convert an enormous population of students at a state university in a highly erotic end, post-Christian era. Knock ’em down and build soma dispensaries! — rd]

#25 Comment By Herenow On October 13, 2015 @ 2:20 pm

Of all your various Benedict Option posts, I find posts such as this – with practical examples of various communities trying various things – to be most helpful. Good luck with the book.

Do you have any perspective on whether it will be better in future for lots of different Ben. Options to flower, some growing steadily and some, presumably, fading away; or whether it is more desirable for communities to evolve towards a common approach? Generally, I favor lots of different approaches and strains and varieties – nature seems to work that way and it is a practical and resilient way to make change in the world I believe. And I doubt whether defining a common set of attributes for a consensus Benedict Option would be remotely possible in practice. But then the dissensus approach raises the perpetual question of when too much variety becomes a problem in itself.

#26 Comment By grumpy realist On October 13, 2015 @ 4:19 pm

JaC–the complaints about the original Indiana RFRA was that it was badly and loosely written. Anyone who wanted to could have used it as the basis to discriminate against classes that constitutionally have been protected, simply by claiming “a religious belief.”

It was also so loosely written that it was impossible to tell what would have been allowed actions under it and what would have been forbidden. Which means it would likely, after a lot of wrangling, been found unconstitutional in the first place.

Good intentions don’t solve problems of vagueness in legislation, unfortunately.

#27 Comment By Meade On October 13, 2015 @ 4:26 pm

UVA was extremely conservative Southern school back in the 1950s, when it didn’t allow women folk. Charlottesville was nice then. But now its a bedroom community for Northeast liberals. There’s even talk of removing the Lee statue from Lee Park.

#28 Comment By TA On October 13, 2015 @ 4:45 pm

Not allowing a religious person to cite a religious belief in a suit sounds petty and vindictive to me.

This always sounds nice, but gets very tricky in practice. If they are allowed to cite it, that implies there will be times when it is allowed to be the deciding factor in the suit. (Otherwise why be allowed to cite it at all.)

So, where is the line?

Especially in light of this. It’s long standing law that the government is not allowed to tell you if your sincerely held beliefs are valid or not, since the government would then be ruling on religious vs. secular laws/codes.

So, what is the line between allowed and disallowed? Examples:
– Can a Wahabi car dealer refuse to sell a car to a woman because it’s sinful for them to drive?
– Can a Methodist restaurant owner refuse to serve a married couple where one is wearing a cross and the other a Star of David because they are unequally yolked?
– Can an Evangelical baker refuse to sell a cake for a gay wedding because being gay is a sin?
– Can a Catholic business fire a single mother because they don’t want to pay to support her fornication?

So, what should the exact line be where claiming religion gets to “win”?

#29 Comment By dominic1955 On October 13, 2015 @ 4:46 pm

The Newman Center at UNL helps to foster Catholicism within a secular university. They recently rebuilt the church in a very traditional manner and support a Catholic fraternity and sorority.

The great thing about something like the Newman Center in Lincoln is they foster Catholicism as “normal”. Not in any sort of fundie cultish way so as not to scare off any by the truest of True Believers but being in Lincoln, NE its impeccably orthodox. I know it helped me immensely when I was in college and I know plenty who kept their faith and grew in it because of its positive influence.

#30 Comment By Clint On October 13, 2015 @ 5:45 pm

Actually from the beginning,Thomas Jefferson’s University Of Virginia had a trans-denominational policy which allowed religious instruction on campus with different denominational seminaries and their professors,who were to be paid by their denominations. These students and professors were allowed privileges at the library and other campus facilities.

#31 Comment By Jones On October 13, 2015 @ 6:10 pm

This is just brilliant. I do think beefing up campus residential communities should probably be the core of the enterprise. I hope older Christians don’t ignore that just because it doesn’t affect them directly. College is one of the most influential periods of one’s life. And residential communities are really important. If there was any substantial block of students who precommitted to these kinds of institutions, they would catch on quickly because of the competition between schools for talent. Frankly, it’s also an excellent way to exploit the insulated, utopian environment of universities. This is much better than trying to create your own colleges.

I think institutionalizing the relationship, contractually (or through a “covenant”), is also really valuable. It’s an excellent form of precommitment.

#32 Comment By JaC On October 13, 2015 @ 7:17 pm

TA says:

October 13, 2015 at 4:45 pm

Not allowing a religious person to cite a religious belief in a suit sounds petty and vindictive to me.

This always sounds nice, but gets very tricky in practice. If they are allowed to cite it, that implies there will be times when it is allowed to be the deciding factor in the suit. (Otherwise why be allowed to cite it at all.)

So, where is the line?
========>That is why we have trials, to find that line. While I’m not sure I will always be happy with the finding of the court, it would be nice to allow a defendant to mount a defense, that could include the free exercise clause of the first amendment. (And just because I might cite the first amendment in my defense, does not mean I will win.)

#33 Comment By DeclinetheEnjoy On October 13, 2015 @ 8:14 pm

You need it more outside of colleges, I think. There’s a bit too much of the gentle academic fad when I read about these things, when we need something a lot closer to socialism and or anarchy in terms of energy and relevancy. I’d love as a person not in college to go to a place like this, one that treats us as soldiers and aliens. Not church, where you fall asleep in the pew and the biggest concern is keeping the building fund going.

#34 Comment By Bobby On October 13, 2015 @ 8:39 pm


Do you actually hear yourself? You’re suggesting that the law ought to grant to religious people and businesses certain immunities in private-party disputes that are otherwise not available to religious people or businesses. Religious liberty has always and only been construed as a limit on government intrusion into religion. It’s quite another thing to suggest–as you are–that the religious ought to have greater freedoms than others to commit torts and breach contracts.

#35 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 13, 2015 @ 9:02 pm

That is, do you think that 10 years hence, likeminded people will be permitted to set up a dorm that is only open to folks who will commit to no sex before traditional marriage, and to no homosexual sex?

The key to sustaining such dorms is that the second clause is redundant, if the first clause is in effect. To be airtight, one might also provide that any resident who marries must establish a new marital home outside the dorm. That would be a natural progression. As a by-product, the question “if one of our members comes out as gay and gets a civil marriage license can they still live here?” also becomes moot.

#36 Comment By relstprof On October 13, 2015 @ 10:54 pm


If you make it back to UVA, you might want to interview people involved with the Project for Lived Theology connected to the Religious Studies department (at least, it began there). They’re also involved with intentional community, but with a focus on racial reconciliation.


#37 Comment By TA On October 14, 2015 @ 12:10 am


I don’t think I understand.

People can always cite religion in a trial now, though there are many cases where they won’t win. (e.g. you can’t win by saying, “I don’t pay taxes because it supports the military and I belong to a pacifist religion”)

Conversely, there are currently many, many cases where claiming religion will win the case. For example, if a hotel won’t accept a reservation from you because you’re Lutheran, you can sue and win on the basis of religious freedom.

Your original comment strongly implied that people in disputes should be able to cite religion and win in cases where they would not currently. If so, what instances?

#38 Comment By JaC On October 14, 2015 @ 5:29 am

I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not all that smart. I just didn’t realize that mounting a line of defense, which could fail, amounts to an immunity. I have “heard” that under RFRA, more often than not Xians who did challenge a suit citing religious scruples would lose.

I guess there is NO excuse for me and my ilk. No sense in letting us give our reasons and mount our arguments.

#39 Comment By Sam M On October 14, 2015 @ 6:40 am


“The key to sustaining such dorms is that the second clause is redundant, if the first clause is in effect.”

Not sure if that gets you there. If you allow marriage, the state and the university community will define marriage in a secular way. And defining it in the traditional way equals racism, so it’s not allowed. So if one day a man starts openly courting and dating another man, and gets engaged to him, kicking him out is the same as kicking a white guy out for dating a black girl.

You have to keep in mind that there are motivated activists who will make it their mission to try to get into that dorm, and to litigate it out of existence. You say that’s a conspiracy. I say look at the people who do everything they can to get rejected for a cake, or to have their kids kicked out or even mildly offended in a traditionalist school when perfectly good substitutes are right next door.

This is particularly important for the actual institution. If this is a few like-minded dudes living in an apartment they rent, that’s one thing. If it’s 20 guys living in university owned housing, living according to university policies, they might be done for. Again, you say that’s nuts. I say look at the Christian groups who are not even permitted to limit leadership roles to people who adhere to that particular form of Christianity.

And housing policy is a HUGE morass.

I bet dollars to donuts the universities cave, hiding behind the threat of litigation.

Could three or four like-minded guys live together according to these rules? Sure. But I bet even the private sector landlord will be forced to put something in the lease that says people can not be forced out of the lease based on their status in a protected class.

Maybe you are right and I am wrong. But I doubt it.

#40 Comment By Sam M On October 14, 2015 @ 6:45 am

Hey Rod,

Serious suggestion here. With all of these urban churches slowly closing, I do wonder about the possibility of transforming some of it into housing. Cheap housing. Same with the Catholic schools. You would have to do some retrofitting. But seriously. They tend to have commercial kitchens and lots of bathrooms. If NYC churches would turn a school into a kind of hostel for the faithful and charge $1000 a month, that would be a huge break for young professionals, connect them to the church and perhaps gather them in as long-term parishoners.

What else you gonna do with those empty buildings?

#41 Comment By Surly On October 14, 2015 @ 10:20 am

I did some googling and found Christian housing communities at both University of Washington and University of Oregon. Each has a men’s house and a women’s house and are intentional communities where residents are expected to participate in religious activities (the UO house requires residents to be at an evening devotion service every night before dinner), refrain from behavior that is contrary to Christian teaching, and live out their faith in the world.

Nothing for LSU when I googled them, and I found that surprising. Maybe there is more of a need for a college residential community here that is Christian because the PNW is so non-religious, I don’t know. We also have a really good university here that is still connected to its sponsoring denomination, and all employees, faculty and students have to sign a faith statement and a code of conduct.

It seems to me that if as a college student you want to be supported in your faith there are lots of ways to do so.

#42 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 14, 2015 @ 9:33 pm

It seems to me that if as a college student you want to be supported in your faith there are lots of ways to do so.

Shhh! You’re undermining The Narrative!

If NYC churches would turn a school into a kind of hostel for the faithful and charge $1000 a month…

Huh??? Who can afford that? The only time I ever paid as much as $500 a month was in the DC area — which admittedly got me a room with kitchen privileges and a shared bathroom, plus good fellowship with two fellow tenants in adjoining rooms, and a turnover of three tenants in the fourth room over four months. That, written large, is about what you want to offer for $1000 a month?

But Sam M is certainly correct that there are pathetic whining narcissists who will try to worm their way into anything that might be structured to exclude them, then wail from the house tops that they are being discriminated against.

What I’m trying to do is outline how to shut them up and shut them down, based on existing constitutional fundamentals, without demanding special legislation to say they can’t do that.

I can offer cogent argument that for a religiously-based community to exclude people who violate the tenets of the faith, is NOT equivalent to racism. It is true that there are courts that might not buy it — the Supreme Court of New Mexico for one, which has lately seemed to validate Mr. Bumble’s assertion that “the law is an ass.”

How the USSC decision on the Christian Legal Society at Hastings Law School might apply is not so ominous. Hastings can deny CLS use of campus facilities for keeping in its bylaws elements that violate law school policy. Even though I preferred Justice Alito’s dissent to the majority opinion, the majority shoehorned its position in by limiting its scope. Nothing could stop CLS from meeting off campus. Hastings could not, for example, expel students from the law school for being members of CLS.

The specific suggestion I made started with the notion that if a fundamental principle be chastity until marriage, that doesn’t discriminate against gays. There is no law or legal principle that it is invidious discrimination to exclude sexually active couples from a housing facility devoted to providing a refuge for those who believe in chastity.

So, if you’re not yet married, and you are sexually active, you are out. No discrimination against gays there. I added that those who marry should move out and establish a separate marital home. Again, no discrimination against gays there. This leaves the possibility that someone who is “dating” a person of the same sex is causing a certain tension. But then, the community does not inquire deeply into whether this is the chaste love that two men could once share without being presumed gay, or something else. The touchstone is chastity, not sexual orientation.

Finally, it is true that commercial landlords cannot discriminate against unmarried couples who rent with the intention of cohabiting. That would be a tangled mess now anyway. I recall in 1973 talking to a landlord who wanted to be sure she would be renting to two men, not a man and an unmarried woman. Today, that might be two gay men, or it might be two men who were not cohabiting with women, but how would one know without asking a LONG list of questions?

But a landlord could rent to an intentional community, and then allow the tenants to choose their own room-mates in the premises they paid for.

And, once again, RELIGIOUS institutions are remarkably immune from regulation that civic institutions are routinely subject to. I still recall the gay man in Massachusetts who announced he was going to ask the Baptist Church to host his wedding, and then sue the pants off them when they declined. Haven’t heard another word about it, for the very good reason that he would be laughed out of court. The government literally has no jurisdiction to order the Baptist Church to host any wedding it doesn’t want to. (Yes, that would even apply to an inter-racial wedding — but inter-racial couples, unlike some gay couples, have no desire to spend the happiest day of their lives surrounded by people who despise them.)

#43 Comment By JaredK On October 15, 2015 @ 11:17 am

A friend of mine lived in Koinonia at the University of Illinois which was a great example of this type of community… [11]

That said you are right about UVA, particularly the Center for Christian Study. Admittedly I am biased, having met my wife in the same room in which you spoke. My time at the study center was one of the most fertile in my growth of knowledge of the faith.