The end of Domination

24 Jan

I am the director of a Wesley Foundation.  I like John Wesley’s theology.  I feel we’re moving on to perfection.  But in this profession, the perfection we are looking for begins when we end the domination.  And by domination I mean the struggle for denominations to stand alone on the campus.

I have been listening for a while now.  I have heard the stories of denominational campus ministries that became ecumenical ministries and failed.  I’ve heard that.  But I’ve also heard and know many ecumenical ministries that have survived, thrived and now are the most stable campus ministry in many locations.  It’s time to end domination.

I believe where I work, the University of Minnesota, has a need for several campus ministries.  I don’t believe an ecumenical center would do itself justice unless it truly was a single building that gave space for everyone to have a ministry staff.  I believe that because there are 51,000 students here, 7,500 staff and faculty, and it’s a HUGE school.  But with every day, I want to tell others that the campus ministry “staff” of the University of Minnesota is reaching to all persons, including other faith traditions and healthfully across the theological spectrum.  I want to be a part of the whole, not an individual trying to rationalize my existence.  I want to end the domination.

On the University of Minnesota campus, we have a document that is aligned with student affairs.  It includes any campus ministry, including Hillel, the Muslim Student Association, and the YCMA, that is willing to encourage healthy dialogue and promises not to attempt to convert anyone.  This document is the binding source of our ministries, identifying us as welcoming of others in a way the para-church groups (who have refused time and time again to sign and be a part of such a document) are not. Each one of these groups is vital to the document’s power and expression on campus.  It’s not about one denomination, but about the whole.  Our direction is forward, not scattered. We are working to end the domination.

I believe in the Wesley Foundation, but in a heartbeat I would trade in any building space we have for a chance to build or live into an interfaith center, where dialogue truly takes place and where we cross every boundary of building and space and begins to bump shoulders and share collectively in the journey of faith.  I look at college students who care little if anything about denomination and at times Christianity.  They are hungry, but their hunger is for a faith that is authentic, for a community that is challenging and engaging them, and for a space where they can ask the questions that have to be discerned in this journey we call college.  The church is looking to make good Methodists stay good Methodists.  Let’s end of the domination.

I want to look at all of the this field.  I want to reach out to every denomination, to other faith traditions, and have them built up.  It was James C. Baker, the founder of the Wesley Foundation movement who in 1915 helped a group of Jewish students at the University of Illinois found the first Hillel foundation.  Baker knew as I believe we need to know that we need everyone to be here on campus.  And where we can not be everywhere, we need to invest ourselves in ecumenical ministries for the health and vitality of everyone.  Yes it’s not easy, yes there are confusions to be had by having ecumenical hands to feed and differing ways of doing worship and celebrating communion.  Yes, I know the challenges that people have said for years.  But the truth is, we’ve got a chance to change this field, to build back up a field of higher education ministry.. But not until we let go of our fears.  Until we look into the words of that book we follow…. “And when he left there, [Jehu] met Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him, and he greeted him, and said to him, “Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?”* And Jehonadab answered: “It is.” [Jehu said], “If it is, give me your hand.” 2 Kings 10:15. It’s time to end the domination.


Cody Nielsen is the United Methodist Campus Minister at the University of Minnesota and the president-elect of the National Campus Ministry Association.  He has worked tirelessly over the past six years to understand the the field of higher education ministry and continues to work to understand it’s origins and direction.  He is passionate about an age of reconstruction of the field, and hopes to help launch and relaunch campus ministries across the country over the next several years.  In his spare time Cody likes to read and is trying to take up running, which his wife Erin has encouraged him to try. He also enjoys biking and gardening.  He also has a separate blog he is working to maintained.  Visit it at


4 Responses to “The end of Domination”

  1. Christopher Eshelman January 24, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    Interesting read – thanks for sharing Cody. I presently serve half-time as the Campus Minister at my alma mater – it is an ecumenical ministry, majority funded by the UMC, in cooperation with the PCUSA, UCC and a couple Disciples congregations. We are unique in the state in that at each of the other state school’s the United Methodist presence has moved away from overt ecumenical partnerships to be able to be particularly “branded” as United Methodist. In recent years, our conference has made a major push to build up campus ministries and to promote our particular Wesleyan approach. This is important and I support and am thankful for the effort – at the same time I mourn some places were our cooperation with others has faltered.

    I see both sides of it – on the one hand, too often ecumenical ministries become watered down and vague – we spend so much energy not stepping on toes or highlighting difference that we wind up not being advocates for much of anything, giving no reason to be or become a part of our effort, and certainly no reason to become a member of one of our sponsoring denominations – we make short term good feelings rather than disciples.

    On the other hand, single denomination efforts often get caught up in territorialism. It becomes too much about us, too much worry about all those other “them” groups that we also lose our way. Yes, we should seek some connection and identification with our Wesleyan theology – we’d hope the people we work with would come to share our path. I personally I am so glad and thankful for the transformation that has happened in my live due to my encounter with an inclusive, grace-based Wesleyan approach that I want others to see and share it… I want the denomination that shared this with me to thrive – and yet when that becomes the focus of our efforts, it becomes more about us than about God revealed in Christ and the Spirit. Institutionally we slip into thinking about ROI, some numbers we can claim to justify more funds…

    Both our similarities and our differences matter. I think a key solution is hinted at in your post. You move from talking about ecumenical ministry to inter-faith, citing Baker’s work with Hillel and your longing for an inter-faith center. I’d point out that the concept of inter-faith is usually a conscientious cooperation while maintaining, even celebrating difference. We come to the conversation knowing we have important disagreements and looking to cooperate. What if we brought that kind of “salad” rather than “mixing bowl” approach to ecumenical ministry as well? Instead of watering down and assuming agreement – we recognized diversity within our Christian approaches. Or what if we brought it to our uniquely branded denominational ministries as well? Here is our understanding as a contribution to a necessarily larger conversation. It’s a subtle but important shift – certainly what I’m trying to do at Wichita State: Here’s what’s unique about being United Methodist, here’s what’s unique about being Presbyterian, or UCC, or Disciples. Here are the major emphasis of each – now, find your path, share your journey! For me, this approach frees me to be what I think of as “edifyingly evangelical” – instead of insisting people agree with me, see things my way, adopt my language, etc. the emphasis is on sharing what I’ve found and encountered – that others might find their path. Let us claim and celebrate both our uniqueness and our differences, trusting God’s revelation and mystery are bigger than any one of us, even any combination of us, can fully comprehend.

  2. paul walley January 25, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Good piece, Cody. Great to see another ecumenist out there! It brings to mind Sunday’s gospel about “fishing for people” ~ Jesus included all in that commission and invitation as I see it.

  3. Taryn Mattice July 12, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    I’ve been working in ecumenical campus ministries for 25 years, and in this region, this is a conversation we no longer have the luxury to have. There is simply not enough money for stand-alone ministries. Maybe (though I doubt it) you could pull it off at a couple of large flagship universities — but only if a single denomination wanted to take its entire higher ed budget and give it to one campus and abandon the rest. Individual congregations might be able to pull off a ministry — (likely a part-time staff person) but we simply aren’t going to have stand alone individual ministries on campuses.

    That said, our differences may matter, and we may be watering things down, but I have to wonder what we are seeing in the students we work with. The most engaged students can descibe their own experience and influences as incredibly diverse. Like us old people who may read Peter Gomes, Barbara
    Brown Taylor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Richard Rohr and Anne Lamott. We recognize that deep calls to deep, and we really don’t care what denomination those people hail from. We’re just glad to hear a Christian voice of some depth.

    So by all means, we can be conversant about Wesley’s quadralateral and able to explain the Reformed understanding of the sacraments, but I’m under no illusion that when a student graduates and goes church shopping, that stuff will matter decisively. Maybe they’ll just take the best ideas with them. Isn’t that as it should be? If Luther had a better idea than Calvin, I’m ready to throw Calvin overboard. I do not owe him my loyalty, do I?

    For what it’s worth, I’ve noticed that Methodists have more “team spirit” than the other denominations I’ve worked for, (among older people, not students) but even they seem to be backing off . After all, they live in communities where their best friends are Presbyterians, or nothing at all. I don’t see that many students anymore who are cradle-anythings — so this conversation seems rather silly to them.

    You gotta wonder, is God in this? Young people are rejecting our silos– maybe they’re onto something? Nothing screams “institutional religion” quite like our denominational turf wars. And nothing is more of a turn-off.


  1. No Campus For Old Men | NCMA Bloggers - May 18, 2012

    […] a serious discussion around our need for unification.  I wrote a blog a few months ago entitled “an end to domination” regarding the frustration I have about denominational silos that are invading our identity, but […]

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