Bible study, then party

Many religion-related stories fall flat because they take "a visit the zoo" approach. Today's New York Times article on Christians who try the Greek life could fall under the zoo category. The shocker? Evangelicals are joining fraternities and sororities, and they aren't trashing the hotel where a recent conference was held.

Imagine 475 college students--all members of fraternities and sororities around the country--flooding a hotel for a weekend. Imagine, come Sunday, that not one noise complaint has been lodged, no chairs are broken, no beer stains the carpets and the hotel housekeeper says, "What a nice bunch of kids."

Improbable, but that is exactly what happened recently when an evangelical Christian campus group, Greek InterVarsity, held a regional conference here to expand Bible studies and Christian recruiting in fraternities and sororities at mainstream universities.

Sure, your average evangelical might not be the first to start a game of beer pong, but there isn't a sweeping consensus on things like alcohol and dancing. Like many campus ministries, Greek Intervarsity is trying to fill yet another niche.

The group is fighting a long-term decline in the share of students who say they are religious, as well as a tendency for church attendance to drop off during college. But it still sees fertile ground: in a 2007 national survey, 20 percent of college juniors identified themselves as evangelical Christians, according to Alexander W. Astin, professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The organization, a branch of a nondenominational campus ministry, has a foothold at 60 universities around the country, with 50 full-time staff members organizing on campuses. It counts about 2,800 active members from 367 Greek houses.

There's also some vague language to describe the conference, but it doesn't look that different from another conference appealing to young Christians.

The leaders urged members to stay in the thick of Greek social life, rubbing shoulders with the sinners.

Jesus turned water into wine "to get the party going," said a young woman who traveled here from Willamette University in Oregon, adding that parties were an opportunity to show that Christianity could be fun. After intense discussions, punctuated by Christian rock singalongs and an emotional evening session in which dozens stood up to signal that their faith was reborn, the members had a dance.

Did the leader actually suggest they should rub shoulders with "the sinners" or is that the reporters' interpretation? What does he consider "intense discussions"?

The article does a nice job of quoting members of the group to find different experiences and motivations for joining fraternities and sororities, but because the reporter lists quote after quote, we don't get a sense of whether these students see much tension between their Christian life and their Greek life.

Christians who join fraternities or sororities can feel like outcasts in traditional Christian fellowships, said Kaitlyn Boyce, a junior at the University of Cincinnati, explaining why she was attracted to Greek InterVarsity. "People have these stereotypes and make assumptions about you."

Ms. Boyce had not yet taken the scary step of standing up before her sisters in Delta Delta Delta to declare herself and call for a Bible study group. "It will be nerve-wracking," she said. "These people mean a lot to you, and you don't want them to think you won't be fun anymore."

At parties, she said, she tries "to take care of friends as much as I can, trying to minimize the damage" by, for example, telling a sister she has drunk enough.

The above example was interesting but didn't go further into why Kaitlyn Boyce feels like an outcast. What kinds of concerns does she think other Christians have about Greek life? Will she make any changes in her own lifestyle if she calls for a Bible study group? The organization probably doesn't mind the extra attention, but I'm still trying to figure out why this is news.

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