While surrounded by a dozens of students, "P.J." a street bible preacher, interacts with community members on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. P.J. referred to some as "snowflakes" while speaking Tuesday afternoon. P.J. also claimed that there was no such thing as a homosexual Christian during his preachings. He was met by a group of opposition protesters on campus in October of 2016 when he last visited campus. While P.J. spoke a community member decided to collect donations for the Women's Resource and Action Center as long as he continued to speak to the students, raising more than $100. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Guest opinion: Religious outreach on campus is atypical

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Sometimes campus ministries can be deceptive, but the effect seems generally positive on the whole community.

When our group arrived at Old Brick, I was surprised by the 19th-century building that bore more resemblance to a church than a pizza place. While unexpected, I did not let it deter me from my quest for free pizza. I followed my friends through the heavy, dark wood doors. I took a good look at the space around me and saw a certain crucified man on some posters. I realized the free pizza was in exchange for learning about Christianity.

Being raised by an atheist, I will admit to having a bias when it comes to religious groups. So, coming for free pizza and seeing it become a Christian youth group meeting, I found it rather deceptive. This would not be the only incident. I decided to do some research.

Young Life was the first group I looked at since it had been distinctly described as not religious. That did not prove to be the case when I looked up its website. While it promotes itself as your typical youth group, the front page advertised, “We invite kids to follow Christ.” It did appear to not be devoutly religious as it added, “… care for them regardless of their response, and change lives in the process.” Christianity, in their context, served more of a means to an end with religion being a way to connect people from all over. Although Young Life probably views it as a plus that most of its charges do stick with religion. It was not specifically based in Iowa City, so I moved on to the next group.

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Salt Company was next on the list because it had a base in Iowa City, and I had experience with it as the group that sponsored the pizza party. Salt Company proved to be a perfect example of the religious outreach I was thinking of. It specifically targeted the college demographic of Iowa and was much more religious than Young Life. It held meetings every week of the school year “… to celebrate who Jesus is, to connect … in small-group Bible studies and to contribute our time, talents, and energy to make Iowa City a great place to live.” However, I could never find out why it failed to list that the event was hosted by it on the flier. I decided to check out one last source to see all sides of the story.

My father was the specific source I had in mind. When I recounted my pizza-party experience to him, he said he was not surprised by the lack of religious advertising for these events. He had seen this happen with my cousin, Ashley, and said it fit with Iowa’s religious leanings. However, my father did not completely demonize religion. In the case of his brother Joe, he saw it have a positive impact on his life and believes religion makes some people happier. He just was not one of those people.

After looking at religion in Iowa City, I can say this city has a positive association with groups reaching out like this. In Texas, where I’m from, you went to church, temple, or mosque, or you did not. Having religion encouraged is not something I am very used to. It works for Iowa City, though, so I cannot say it would be better off without people reaching out as much. If it has a positive influence, I see no problem with them reaching out. After all, college is a difficult change for most, so maybe a bit of faith is comforting.

— Hope Flack

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