Student raises concerns of campus religious group

Photo courtesy of UNO Communications.

Jessica Wade

When University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) junior Kaytlin Epperly joined The Rock her freshman year she felt a “wild amount of unconditional love and community.” She has a very different opinion of the religious group today.

“It’s not a physical threat, but I know from personal experience how much [The Rock] can damage someone emotionally and psychologically and the significant impact it can have on a student’s college experience,” Epperly said.

According to their website, The Rock is a ministry of Candlewood Church, which is a part of the Great Commission movement. Great Commission churches create a fellowship of independent Evangelical Christian churches.

Epperly has met with UNO administrators in an attempt to have the group banned from campus. She said her latest meeting was with Associate Director of Student Involvement Dustin Wolfe and Student Involvement Coordinator Alex Young.

In an email sent to The Gateway, Epperly wrote: “Ultimately, because no violations of school policies or state laws have taken place, they cannot do anything against the Rock. They understand the concern about the group’s existence on campus, feel ‘sad and frustrated,’ and will have them ‘on their radar,’ but that’s about it.”

Wolfe responded via email to a request for comment on the meeting, but is not able to discuss private meetings with students.

Epperly tapered off her involvement the summer before her sophomore year. A big concern to her is the church’s dating policy.

“They have a very strong stance when it comes to dating, and it’s sort of implemented throughout the church as well, not just The Rock,” Epperly said. “The male has to get permission from the pastor, and they give the pastors so much control.”

Also of concern for Epperly were the guidelines set for texting a member of the opposite sex.

“This was a new rule from last year—that you cannot text a member of the opposite sex for anything other than directions, so no personal stuff or deeper issues,” Epperly said. “Also, males cannot be in females’ dorms past 10 [p.m.] and vice versa.”

Senior Dan Marsden, involved in The Rock for about a year-and-a-half, said joining the group isn’t about joining an organization, but rather “it’s more about having heard the call from God.”

A small group leader, Marsden offered insight to the group’s mission.

“Going into The Rock organization as a whole, which is the men and women inside of The Rock wanting to accomplish the Great Commission,” Marsden said. “To make disciples inside of our campus at UNO and advance God’s word and God’s truth and grace and love and to be the feet of Jesus inside UNO’s campus.”

He also addressed dating within the church.

“The Bible tells us that dating isn’t wrong at all—adultery’s wrong and sex before marriage is wrong,” Marsden said. “What dating is, is a representation of each other’s love towards one another showing that the kingdom of God can work. God made Eve out of Adam because man was not meant to be alone.”

Marsden discussed the gender segregation within small groups.

“We have men’s small group and multiple women’s groups within UNO,” Marsden said. “Men’s issues or men’s tendencies and men’s thoughts are very much different than women’s. There is truth in knowing that women can better council women and men can better council men.”

Like Epperly, architectural engineering student James Andrus joined the group his freshman year, “literally day one of college.”

Andrus said he was checking in to get his MavCARD when someone tapped him on the shoulder, introduced themselves and asked if he was religious.

“I’m like, ‘yeah, I went to a Lutheran high school and a Lutheran grade school,” Andrus said. “He said can I get your number a few of my friends and I are playing volleyball after move in if you want to come play.”

Andrus said that he found dating at The Rock to be “very odd.”

“I’ve been dating my girlfriend for 4 and a half years now, but to people in The Rock, if you’re going to date somebody you’re pretty much engaged,” he said.

The ultimate reason for Andrus’ departure from the group was a feeling that his devotion to religion didn’t quite reach the expectations of The Rock.

“Everything they did from sun-up to sun-down revolved around that,” Andrus said. “Almost every single day of the week they would have a schedule where you would hang out with people from The Rock.”

Despite his decision to leave, Andrus still appreciates The Rock community.

“The people are really nice and they really do care about you,” Andrus said.

Small Group Leader and UNO senior Kimberly Yau also found the people of The Rock to be genuine. She has been apart of The Rock for four years.

“The moment I walked through the doors, people just came to meet me and wanted to know who I was,” Yau said. “I have been challenged over and over again at how the people there love Jesus and one another.”

Yau also said that the people were “also kind and lived differently from what the world deemed as normal.”

Creighton senior Nick Webber was a part of the group for only four months before he decided it wasn’t for him.

“For me, just the way that they take Christianity, especially when everything became so regimented,” Webber said. “They wanted it to be a part of everything—your entire life. It was like you couldn’t have any friends outside of that group.”