Although California Baptist University is a private religious university, not everyone on campus holds Christian beliefs. Students come from different backgrounds and from many different parts of the world.
According to the CBU website, “California Baptist University believes each person has been created for a purpose.” All students are encouraged to live their purpose regardless of their religious affiliation.
The Spiritual Life Office is presented with many challenges at a Christian university with a multitude of different religions represented in the student body.
Dr. John Montgomery, dean of Spiritual Life, said preparing chapel and events requires walking a fine line to stay relevant for all students.
“It is not our intent to force people to believe in Jesus because we can’t do that.I cannot force anybody to do that,” Montgomery said. “We’re constantly keeping in mind who the audience is, but we’re also keeping in mind we’re unapologetically, distinctively Christian. We’re also keeping in mind the third factor, which is whatever we do is not going to please everyone all the time.”
Montgomery said he enjoys creating relationships with students, regardless of their religious beliefs.
“I love having a campus where we have Christians and non-Christians on campus because this is what the world is,” Montgomery said. “Christians are vastly out numbered outside of CBU. It gives us a great opportunity to understand people who don’t claim to be Christians, to dialogue with them, not only about what we believe but about what they believe as well and to love them, and I hope that we do that.”
Davor Skaric, sophomore political science major, said he was an atheist when he enrolled at CBU last year.
Skaric said he chose CBU because he was able to be a part of the wrestling team. He said living on a campus where it felt like nobody understood him was a challenge at first.
Skaric said making real friends was difficult because it was hard to relate to people because of his different background and beliefs.
After finding time to be a part of the community of people around him, he found friends at CBU.
“I chose to stay here because the people were genuine and cool, and I had never experienced that,” Skaric said. “I had always been around people who would give totally fake versions of themselves.
“I got into an argument with people in my hall about Christianity because I was an atheist — did not agree with anything —and I said at the very end of this argument, ‘I dare you, God, show me right now why I should convert to Christianity and I will,’” Skaric said.
Skaric left the argument. When he went back to his room, his roommate woke up from a nap and told Skaric he had to share something — his testimony. His unexpected testimony brought Skaric to Christianity, which he explored throughout the rest of the year.
“No matter what you believe, it’s important to at least temporarily step into the shoes of the people who disagree with you, and that’s how I started looking at Christianity when I was an atheist trying to explore it seriously,” Skaric said.
Because CBU requires nine units of Christian studies classes, professors have to be mindful of other beliefs, sharing their curriculum in a way that speaks to all backgrounds.
Dr. Jeff Cate, professor of New Testament, has taught hundreds of students from a variety of religious backgrounds for more than 20 years.
“I see New Testament Survey as my one chance to get students grounded in the historical context because the historical context is always the starting point for properly understanding it,” Cate said.
Cate said that the students who did not believe in Christianity were sometimes the most successful students in his class.
“Sometimes, students that had no religious background were the best students in the class in terms of their grades, and the ones that tended to be from a church background would score lower,” Cate said.
CBU accepts students from all religious backgrounds under the agreement they will follow school rules during their time at the university. Each individual has a unique experience at CBU that is affected by religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but religious diversity is not discouraged; it is welcomed.