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Is Religious Diversity Naz-Approved?

Last fall, the Institutional Research issued a campuswide poll on student faith denominations at Point Loma Nazarene University. The survey aggregated PLNU’s roughly 3,000 admitted undergraduate students and 1,300 graduate students to survey faith variation across 63 different faith denominations on campus.

Point Loma Nazarene University is known as—if not by name alone—one of the leading Christian universities in San Diego. Representative of its Wesleyan heritage, PLNU inherently encourages Christian values of its students.

“Being of Wesleyan heritage, we strive to be a learning community where grace is foundational, truth is pursued, and holiness is a way of life,” says the mission statement on PLNU’s Mission, Vision, and Priorities tab on their website.

Applicants to the university sign a community contract as well as submit a written essay regarding the expectations of upholding Christian values in their pursuit of PLNU for higher education.

However, is it safe to assume that every admitted student to PLNU is of the Christian faith?

Shannon Caraveo, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at PLNU, says that there is no separate admissions processes for students based on faith background.

Results from Fall 2017’s denomination poll reflect that being a Christian is not a necessary criterion for students of PLNU. Amid the 63 available categories of faiths, 25 percent of the school’s population of students, both undergraduate and graduate, associated as a non-denominational Christian. Twenty percent of PLNU students reported with no religious preference.

Among these numbers, small group leader and PLNU student Gregory Lee is one of three atheist students at Point Loma. However, Lee prefers the term “non-religious.”

“I like to encourage open dialogue in my small group,” said Lee. “Part of that requires me being open and honest with them, to set the precedence. I do have a lot of anxiety, focusing on not hindering or stifling their experience. I feel like what works best for me is just being real with them.”

Lee says he approaches being a spring semester small group leader for second semester freshmen differently than he would if it was the fall semester. He says that because freshman year can be a mixture of excitement and uncertainty, it’s natural for the first-years to begin to question their faith and their identity when so much change is occurring in their lives.

Lee shares that a concern brought up within his group has been around the notion of a stereotypical Loma student mold. Part of his role, he feels, is in exploring the topics that may be off-center from this ideal.

“We call them the five percent,” said Lee. “Ninety-five percent of students can appear pretty similar, however every once and awhile you’ll encounter people who push against the norm here at Loma. Whether you choose to be apart of the norm or push against it, I think it’s important to not sugarcoat or dispel observations that my group is picking up on. My job as a small group leader is just to encourage discussion around these topics: religion not being off limits in this regard. My job is not to control or influence how they should think, but to give them a chance to have a voice, while they’re still trying to figure it all out.”

From the PLNU Office of Spiritual Development, Director of Discipleship Ministries Melanie Wolff says that Point Loma aims to be a community that would meet anyone at any point along the way in their faith journey, whether that means they’re in faith or outside of it.

“Alpha Groups, D-Groups, Created Space and Mentorship are all great outlets that Loma provides for any student,” said Wolff. “For students who may be looking for that hand to reach out during a times of uncertainty in their walk with faith, we encourage them to utilize these outlets. Our students who are not Christians are not excluded from these communities. If anything, they are even more encouraged to lean in.”

There is a perception that the Point Loma Nazarene University student body is primarily composed of Christians, however the numbers from the campus poll speak otherwise. Even so, many students have chosen to leave their voice out of this article due to fear of contrast from this majority.

To get involved with faith programs on campus, students can visit www.pointloma.edu/offices/spiritual-development/small-groups-mentoring to learn more.

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Alexis Szoke

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