By: Marshall Chapman | December 12, 2023
*Reporter Note: the topic and nature of this article are objective, and do not represent the beliefs or values of the reporter covering the story.
“We’re not here to throw shade. We’re a university, we’re here to have discussions,” says Zoe Bylsma, one of the three leaders of the proposed pro-life club on campus that was rejected by Student Senate in October.
Bylsma and fellow third-year students Jess Van Maren and Judith Boesterd have been formulating the idea of the club to formally present for some time.
Bylsma and Van Maren have been advocating for the issue for a while, working together at an internship this summer that brought awareness to abortion through conversations with people on the streets.
“That’s where we started, and we also knew that there was a pro-life club on campus a few years ago, so we figured we’d start it up again,” said Van Maren.
There was a functioning pro-life club on campus that was rescinded by Student Senate in the fall of 2021 as there were no students interested in leading the club.
Bylsma and Van Maren’s vision for the proposed club would allow students to gather and have conversations about difficult topics in a safe forum. They had also hoped to bring in guest speakers, both pro-life and pro-choice speakers, to outline the apologetics of both arguments from Reformed perspectives.
Van Maren noted that they had also hoped to host Q&A events where students could submit questions.
“Ultimately, our main goal is just to talk to people about [abortion]. It’s a really controversial issue; [we want to] have that conversation with people,” said Bylsma.
But, at an evangelical, Reformed Christian school like Redeemer, do we need to talk about topics like abortion? Bylsma and Van Maren say we should.
“There are a great deal of people who are on the fence or are pro-choice,” says Bylsma. “We’re a university, [and] universities are here to gather truth. We have the Bible at our fingertips, so let’s talk about it.”
“We’re here to learn. That’s why we’re here, so let’s learn,” Bylsma added.
Van Maren added that, “Abortion is a big issue in our culture. As Christians, we should be able to talk about it effectively and compassionately. Even if a friend comes up to you and asks about your stance on the issue, you need to know what to say to prevent them from having a mental health episode.”
The Crown reached out to Redeemer University to get their stance on the topic. When asked what if the institution had a stance on abortion, Shannon McBride, Redeemer’s communications manager, provided this response in an email.
“Redeemer University does not have official, published positions on every social and political issue. As a post-secondary institution in the Reformed Christian tradition, the university’s foundational documents, including its Statement of Basis and Principles and Policy on Life and Conduct, clearly indicate a belief in the infallible and authoritative nature of Scripture, that life is a gift from God and every human being bears the likeness of God.”
The University cited three scripture passages in its response: Genesis 1:27, Genesis 5:1, and Romans 8:29.
When asked if social justice or awareness student groups could be either a distraction or a hindrance to campus life, the University provided the following statement.
“University is a time of growth and development where students learn to think critically and independently, debate, collaborate and make decisions upon a foundation of rigorous teaching and scholarship. Regardless of opinions about the decision, the process and discussion related to the pro-life club is a worthy example of Redeemer’s mission, where students are grappling with an issue and navigating the complexities of a fallen world from a Christian worldview. In this, Redeemer supports the student body as they wrestle with how best to honour the lordship of Jesus Christ in all they do, wherever they are called.”
The University added, “It is worth noting that Redeemer’s Student Senate has historically sponsored pro-life clubs, and Senate’s main concerns were related to student mental health, some activities and activism methods and concern for Redeemer’s reputation in the surrounding community.”
However, both Van Maren and Bylsma noted that they were aware of concerns that were mentioned about having a pro-life club on campus. “We were more than willing to discuss and compromise on any concerns about having a pro-life club here at Redeemer,” they stated in a joint email.
Bylsma and Van Maren note that they plan to move forward with the idea of a student group advocating for awareness of abortion and its effect on people.
Van Maren noted that while the club proposal was denied by Student Senate, the group doesn’t need any funding. What they want is equal advertising opportunity.
A topic like this comes with various personal, moral, and theological opinions. The University says it is committed to working with Student Senate to redevelop the club approval process, significantly increasing institutional involvement in the decision-making process.
“Redeemer has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that its facilities, infrastructure, brand, and resources are used for purposes that are in alignment with the university’s Reformed Christian educational mission, and as student clubs utilize these resources the university recognizes the need to work with Senate to develop a new approval process,” stated McBride.
The university also noted that the institution holding a more prominent role in the club approval decision-making process is normal for other universities as well.
On the topic of other universities, Van Maren noted that many other secular institutions also have pro-life clubs, citing the University of Toronto, York University, University of Waterloo, Carleton, Laurier, and McMaster.
Above all, the two proposed-club leaders just want to talk to fellow students about an issue that is important to them, and one that many people, both Christian and non-Christian, wrestle with.
Bylsma says, “Come talk to us, we’d love to talk to you about [the topic of abortion]. We’re not here to throw shade, we’re a university—we’re here to have discussions.”
She also noted that they don’t have to change your mind and you don’t have to change theirs. It’s about dialogue.
“We want to have these conversations,” said Van Maren. “People are passionate, and there’s room to have these conversations.”
Bylsma noted that the pro-life position on reproductive rights stems right from a Biblical way of thinking, emphasizing life and dignity.
But, if campus life would benefit from a pro-life club as much as some think it would, would the student body not benefit from a pro-choice club too? Bylsma and Van Maren aren’t sure.
“I think the idea of an open conversation would be good. I’m obviously trying to put [my] bias aside…abortion comes with a lot of trauma,” said Bylsma.
“The downside is that there is a lot of violence and anger tied up in the topic. That’s where the nervousness comes in and we don’t want that,” the two proposed club leaders affirmatively agree.
What both students do believe is that the University should have a position on the topic.
“Make a concrete stance, regardless of whether it makes people mad, and stand by it,” says Bylsma.
They believe the University should have a position on the topic of abortion, as it should with other various social topics, upon consultation with students, donors, and more importantly, Scripture. This would be a very welcomed act of supporting and recognizing Redeemer’s own Student Senate that was elected by the student body, and not leaving it out to dry when dealing with controversial and difficult social justice topics such as this.