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Hillsdale College has always been a Christian insti­tution — not merely a liberal arts college with mostly Christian pro­fessors and stu­dents — according to its articles of asso­ci­ation.

In the past, mis­con­cep­tions have occa­sionally arisen as to whether Hillsdale is offi­cially a Christian insti­tution or if it is merely a school that adheres to a Judeo-Christian standard in its aca­d­emics. But although the school did break denom­i­na­tional ties with the Freewill Bap­tists at the turn of the 20th century, the college board of trustees never intended to break ties with Chris­tianity alto­gether, Provost David Whalen said.

“Reli­gious culture in par­ticular shall be con­served by the College,” Article VI of the Articles of Asso­ci­ation, found on the college website, states. “And by the selection of instructors and other prac­ti­cable expe­dients, it shall be a con­spicuous aim to teach by precept and example the essen­tials of the Christian faith and religion.”

The college amended Article VI in 1907 to end affil­i­ation with any spe­cific Christian sect, in part because the college did not want to require its pres­ident and trustees to be Freewill Bap­tists, college his­torian Arlan Gilbert wrote in “The Per­manent Things.”

But non-sec­tarian does not equal non-Christian.

“They went out of their way to reaffirm this is still a Christian insti­tution; it is to remain a Christian insti­tution,” Whalen said. “So much so that they went out of their way to revise the articles of asso­ci­ation to essen­tially read, ‘This is a Christian college.’”

According to Whalen, any per­plexity and con­fusion about Hillsdale’s Chris­tianity usually stems from the fact that the college is not a denom­i­na­tional church school.

“We do not have a faith statement we make people sign,” he said. “Another one of the founding pur­poses of the college has to do with grat­itude for civil and reli­gious liberty, so it’d be odd if we required people to sign a reli­gious statement.”

Despite the clarity of Hillsdale’s charter, con­fusion exists. According to Pro­fessor of English Michael Jordan, in both 2008 and 2011, he felt com­pelled to write letters to the editor in the Col­legian in response to student mis­un­der­standings about the college’s Christian ties. On the second occasion, stu­dents’ resentment about the addition of the Religion 105 option to the core cur­riculum had prompted him and Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy Nathan Schlueter to co-author a response.

In their letter, they empha­sized that neither the college nor the course intended to pros­e­lytize but that the college was jus­tified in adding the­ology to the core.

“The student goes so far as to say that Hillsdale College is not ‘a Christian school,’” Schlueter and Jordan’s letter reads. “We believe the remark reflects a mis­un­der­standing of the college and its mission…A Christian college that does not teach the­ology is not real­izing its identity or ful­filling its mission.”

Whalen also said that after the core was revised there were several com­plaints about religion being forced on stu­dents.

“Those com­plaints were dealt with very easily,” he said. “There’s a dif­ference between religion and the study of the­ology. Someone could be a com­plete atheist and still know who St. Augustine was and what St. Augustine thought about things.”

Nev­er­theless, mis­con­cep­tions such as those addressed by Schlueter and Jordan do crop up from time to time. According to Whalen, mis­takes about the college’s identity do not stem from a con­scious effort to downplay the college’s Chris­tianity in adver­tise­ments or official pub­li­ca­tions.

“The per­ception that it’s being down­played is actively being cor­rected,” Whalen said. “In our newer pro­mo­tional mate­rials, you’ll find that our Chris­tianity and our faith is pointed out more directly.”

Sophomore Nathan Stein­meyer, a Mes­sianic Jewish student with self-pro­fessed unorthodox Christian beliefs, said he was unaware as a prospective student that the college rec­og­nizes itself as a Christian insti­tution.

“I per­sonally would have appre­ciated it if they had a much clearer mission statement that stated this is a Christian insti­tution,” he said. “Instead, we’ve just got the ‘Judeo-Christian her­itage,’ which is a little harder to under­stand. I had assumed that it was much more of the her­itage that it taught and not so much the culture that it had. So I did have that ‘Oh wow’ moment.”

Non-Christian Brady Belew ’15 also said he didn’t under­stand the college’s reli­gious stance during his time here.

“The school needs to either drop the reli­gious base or change its mar­keting plan,” he said in an email. “The school I was sold was vastly dif­ferent than the school I received.”

Whalen said using the more general phrase “Judeo-Christian her­itage” likely stems from the college founders’ attempt to emphasize that the school accepts stu­dents regardless of religion.

“Whether people are Christian or not, if they’re people of good will and will work with us, then they’re welcome here,” Whalen said.

Non-Christian Evan Brune ‘15 said the wel­coming attitude worked for him. Although he never adopted the Christian faith during his four years at the college, he also never resented Hillsdale’s Christian stance.

“I knew about Hillsdale’s Judeo-Christian focus,” Brune said. “That was one of the reasons why I came, despite not being a lifelong Christian. I wanted to gain a new per­spective that I had never fully known before.”

But Kelsey Drapkin ’15, former pres­ident of Hillsdale’s Jewish society, Chavarah, said that during her time at the college, not everyone wel­comed her Jewish faith. She men­tioned numerous attempts to convert Jewish stu­dents on campus.

She said, however, the pos­itive aspects of being a Jew at Hillsdale def­i­nitely out­weighed the neg­ative.

“I like to think when Jews attend Hillsdale, we’re there to put the ‘Judeo’ back in ‘Judeo-Christian,’” she said. “Curiosity of Christian stu­dents about their reli­gious origins led to beau­tiful dis­cus­sions both in and out of the classroom.”

According to Brune, Hillsdale’s reli­gious leanings shouldn’t deter non-Chris­tians from attending the college.

“There’s much more that Hillsdale has to offer beyond Christian teachings,” he said. “At the same time, I think Hillsdale should encourage non-Chris­tians to attend. Not in an effort at con­version, but because it’s important to learn how to interface with others not of your faith.”

But according to Stein­meyer, Hillsdale’s strongest expres­sions of its Chris­tianity, such as the soon-to-be-built chapel, may bar non-Christian stu­dents from attending.

“When I was looking at col­leges, whenever I saw a college that mar­keted itself as a Christian college or a reli­gious insti­tution of any sort, I stopped looking,” he said. “I was looking for an edu­cation, not a sermon. I think the chapel will cause certain stu­dents who are looking at Hillsdale to stop.”

According to Dean of Men Aaron Petersen, being open about his faith isn’t an active part of his work on campus, despite the fact that he works at a Christian insti­tution. He sees it as his role to welcome stu­dents of any religion or creed.

“For me, it can be a great advantage to bring faith and the spir­itual life into many of the con­ver­sa­tions that will happen in my office — when it’s effective and helpful,” he said. “There are times when it’s just not prudent or effective to have faith and spir­i­tu­ality a part of the con­ver­sation, and that’s fine too.”

Even college Chaplain Peter Beckwith, specif­i­cally hired as an Anglican min­ister, doesn’t feel his official Christian role pre­vents him from serving stu­dents of any faith.

“I function like I did in the Navy, and in the Navy you provide for your own, but you also facil­itate for others, and you care for everybody,” he said. “Four years ago, the Jewish society Chavarah was formed, and I was pleased to assist them to do that. I don’t think it’s appro­priate that I try to get other people to think like I do.”

Petersen agreed.

“Regardless of the reli­gious creed of any student here, we want them to feel at home,” he said. “Truly at home.”