Back in June, I wrote about the problems a student group at my alma mater, Bowdoin College, was having with the school’s administration.

The group, the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship, had refused to sign a college policy statement that required all recognized student organizations not only to accept any student as a member (something the fellowship had always done), but to allow any student to run for leadership posts.

Yes, you read that correctly. According to the college, someone who completely disagreed with a group’s founding policies and positions had to be allowed to compete to lead it.

It may not mean all that much for a group of hikers, poetry fans or model plane enthusiasts, but for a club organized around a specific faith, to be forced to permit a person who did not share its beliefs to contest for its leadership seems a clear abuse of Americans’ First Amendment right to freely exercise their religion.

To which, as I noted last June, the U.S. Supreme Court has said, “What First Amendment?”

The Court ruled in 2010 that a California law school could deny recognition to a student Christian group that restricted leadership posts to traditional believers. That spurred other schools, including Bowdoin, to act.


It’s true that a private school is not a government agency. Still, you would think an institution of higher education would want to teach its students to respect hard-won American freedoms.

But you would be wrong.

Bowdoin says other student religious groups have agreed to its demands, but apparently the evangelicals would rather be faithful to their view of Scripture’s commands.

Be that as it may, the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship, a project of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, had to give up reserving meeting space on campus or announcing its programs in college print and online publications. And of course no student funding can come its way.

However, that’s not the end of the story.

I had mentioned last June that if the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship found a place to meet off-campus (perhaps space in a restaurant or a community building), I would like to be invited to a meeting.


Last week, an invitation appeared in my email inbox — but not to a table in a corner of a room somewhere.

Instead, I was invited to the dedication last Saturday of the Joseph and Alice McKeen Christian Study Center at 65 Garrison St., Brunswick, which turns out to be directly opposite the entrance to the campus Field House, a 5-minute walk from the center of the quad. (It should not be confused with Bowdoin’s Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good, an official campus agency.)

It turns out that the person who owned the house and triple lot at that address had been cared for by a local church, and had willed the property to the church. After his demise, the church sold it to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, which used grants and donations to spiff it up nicely. (To the point where one woman’s comment when she walked in the door was, “I could live here.”)

The house has a huge lot, a large garage and an apartment for a full-time staffer.

And one great thing about it is that the college has no part in either its operation or who comes to it.

There is, however, something else, which falls under the heading of “an even greater thing about it.”


The building is named after Bowdoin’s first president and his wife, devout Christians who were proud of their school’s foundational devotion.

And the dedication’s main speaker was himself both a Bowdoin grad and a nationally prominent Christian academic.

Owen Strachan, Class of ’03, is assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of seven books, the most recent being “Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome.”

He told the 100 or so people attending the ceremony that the center’s role was to encourage open inquiry into the Christian life.

He said spiritual discovery and intellectual inquiry are not opposites, but complement each other, because faith can present a community-centered view of life, not a “selfie-centered” one; it can offer the “bigness of God” as opposed to the limitations of the individual; it can point out, in a culture swamped in media images of “superheroes” engaged in putting down “evil,” that there is a all-powerful, objective source of salvation beyond what our mere minds can imagine; and it can demonstrate that by exercising the gift of faith we can discover what it means to be genuinely human.

And finally, Strachan said, we can discover the true source of the courage we will need to face the challenges that now threaten to overwhelm us.

The Joseph and Alice McKeen Christian Study Center is proof beyond dispute: Sometimes the good guys really do win one.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. Email at: [email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.