CHRISTIAN HARTSELLE | STAFF REPORTER
Rev. Dr. Charles W. Allen serves as the chaplain for Grace Unlimited, a campus ministry that classifies itself as traditional, Biblical, activist, liberal and inclusive. The ministry distinguishes itself from the archetypal Christian ministry through a liberal philosophy of inclusivity.
“We must love and honor diversity. All are welcome—no exceptions,” according to Grace Unlimited’s website.
“We like to think we are the most inclusive campus ministry,” Allen said. “We have officers who are gay or lesbian, and who are agnostic. God is at work in everyone’s life, regardless of what we believe.”
As a Christian, Allen said he feels enriched by talking to Secular Student Alliance members. He said he believes a person can live a wonderful, fulfilling life without the Word— his campus ministry does not want to make anyone convert.
“The most important thing is to be here fully,” Allen said. “You don’t need to get upset if we do not agree.”
Called Father Charles, Allen said he tries to be present on campus. He is usually seen at the on-campus Starbucks in the morning. He sings with the Butler Chorale. He is openly gay. He is even a member of Butler’s LGBT and Straight Alliance.
Allen said he stresses the importance of uncontainable meaning and new relationality. He said he finds all that encompasses being alive to be meaningful and believes everything he encounters offers new ways to relate to being in this world.
Grace Unlimited’s approach to Christianity is illustrated by Friedrich Schleiermacher’s On Religion: Speeches for Its Cultured Despisers.
“The usual conception of God as one single being outside of the world and behind the world is not the beginning and the end of religion—the true nature of religion is neither this idea nor any other, but immediate consciousness of the deity as he is found in ourselves and in the world.
It is the immortality which we can now have in this temporal life. In the midst of finitude to be one with the Infinite and in every moment to be eternal is the immortality of religion.”
Allen said he wants to demythologize the church message, but struggles because any attempt to talk to God is mythological because it is opening yourself to existence itself.
“Believing in God helps me be here most fully,” Allen said. “I think reality is more mysterious and undefinable. I find some types of God-talk too limiting. The vocabulary I use for this works for me. I learn from others what works for them. We don’t need one language.”
Allen’s unconventional practices call into question behaviors in which both atheists and theists partake alike — no one is exactly one thing because of a religious or irreligious identity they carry with them.
Allen said each person is an individual who is many things. Atheists and theists should adjust how they see each other accordingly.
Grace Unlimited has no pressure to cave into certain beliefs or certain ways of being, but rather fosters an environment where young people feel they can safely discover their connection to God, and maybe even lack thereof.
At Grace Unlimited, students have the opportunity to partake in discourse with other students from a myriad of backgrounds. This niche simply guarantees a safety that not all campus ministries do, Allen said.
Students can learn from Allen, if not from his open-minded, anti-reductionist views, then for his willingness to talk to people of different backgrounds and learn from the experience. Being open to discourse is how anyone learns— it may deteriorate the ignorance and intolerance that Butler students are not immune to.