After a student raised this question, Gary Oedewaldt, associate dean for AHE, brought it to us for further investigation. Columbia College is a non-sectarian school open to everyone, but it still holds a covenant with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). So what exactly does that mean?

Well, it’s a long story. It started in 1851, when Thomas M. Allen, David Patterson Henderson and James Shannon — with help from the first president, John A. Williams — founded Christian Female College. Allen and Henderson were evangelists and close friends of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, the two founders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) — not to be confused with the general “Christian church” — and Shannon was a reverend and Disciples’ educator.

According to a document written by D. Duane Cummins, former president of the Division of Higher Education for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Female College was one of 66 educational institutions established by Disciples in the decade of the 1850s.

Campbell’s educational philosophy contained six parts: wholeness of person, holistic education, moral excellence, non-sectarianism, rationalism and biblical studies. Though all Disciples-affiliated colleges hold a covenant with the church, Campbell believed sectarian education was a contradiction and that it was unwise to found an institution for the aggrandizement of a denomination.

You might have noticed biblical studies was part of Campbell’s philosophy, and in the beginning of Christian Female College, that was incorporated. But as Cummins stated, Columbia College “has always maintained its heritage of daring vision by finding the right balance between its Campbellian beginning and changing needs of each new era.” He continued, “The institutions related to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have survived because of their capacity to adapt.” Today, the college requires that students take an ethics course, rather than a biblical studies course.

“A Covenant between the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and our Colleges and Universities” was revised and published in 2011 by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The document makes clear that “each Disciples college and university is characterized by its own integrity, self-governance, authority, rights and responsibilities.” Columbia College is not, and has never been, owned by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); it merely holds a covenant, an affiliation that is mutually beneficial.

The partnership between the college and the church manifests itself in various ways. The current pastor of the church always has a spot on the college’s board of trustees. The college recruits Disciples students and has scholarship awards specifically for Disciples students who attend Columbia College. The church recommends their affiliated schools to prospective students and advises potential benefactors of the vital role higher education plays in the Disciples of Christ tradition.

Columbia College’s covenant with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been a part of the college’s history since even before it was built, and the two continue in a mutual relationship today. As Cummins wrote, “Our relationship is a covenantal one between the church and Columbia College. It is not a relationship of authority and control. It is one in which we have a covenantal alliance, working toward common goals with mutual resources.”

For more information, read D. Duane Cummins’ article, “Columbia College, A Vision” (PDF) or the revised covenant, “A Covenant between the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and our Colleges and Universities” (PDF).

This is the third installment of “Ask PR,” a column dedicated to answering your questions about the college. Can’t figure something out and don’t know where to find the answer? Email Celia Darrough, public relations coordinator, at