Posted Friday, November 12, 2010--10:10 p.m.
Student Life at Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown not only revolves around textbooks, but also around The Good Book.
While Friday nights at many colleges and universities in our area are all about fun, for many students at Maranatha, Friday nights are all about faith. On Friday evenings, Maranatha students walk up and down State Street, asking passersby questions about their faith like, "If you died tonight, do you know where you'd go?"
The fact its students spend Fridays proselytizing instead of partying isn't the only thing different about Maranatha Baptist Bible College.
Students enroll at the fundamental Baptist college knowing they can't be alone with a member of the opposite sex or pose too closely to them in pictures, can't go to movie theaters, or watch unapproved movies. They aren't allowed to swear, dance, drink, or date students from another college without their parents' permission. From abortion to vulgar language, the list of offenses for which students can be disciplined or expelled is long at Maranatha.
Director of Student Activities Noah Lomax says, "I can imagine to someone from the outside of, if I can say, our circle, this probably sounds a little bit tight, a little rough. But really, all of the guidelines are based off of what we believe are our biblical principles. We really want to put them in an environment where they're not going to make a mistake today that's going to force them to sacrifice what they want long term."
The college has a number of rules about dating, and they are quite specific. For example, dating is not allowed in laundromats. Portions of campus are off limits to members of the opposite sex (couples can't be together past the yellow posts in a campus driveway, or in the college's gazebo after dark, for example). Women are not allowed to walk behind the men's dormitories, and a date at the movie theater is out of the question.
Lomax says, "We're not going to allow a couple to be in a private area by themselves. We don't want them in the heat of a moment to make a mistake."
The school also has a dress code. For example, "Women may wear approved pants... but not to meals"; and for men, "untucked shirts are not permitted."
From the dress code to the dating rules, it's all there on Maranatha's website. As Lomax puts it, "There are no secrets. And we're not ashamed because we really believe we're training leaders to glorify God." Lomax says the rules are all about avoiding temptation. "They're really more like walls of love than restrictions. We love them enough to keep them from making a mistake of indiscretion."
To those who say that doesn't sound like much fun, student Emily Kutz says, "I'm still having lots of fun. When people ask me how do you live with those rules, it's more of the structure that they've put up for us and it's not that hard. A lot of these things they've put up for us here I've already purposed for my own lifestyle. I don't want to harm my body and do some of the things they do."
Kutz and fellow student Saj Cherian chose Maranatha partly because of its strict rules. When Cherian is asked if he'd like to be able to go to a movie or dance, he laughs, politely saying, "No we're okay with it. We're normal kids. We text, we have computers, we go to ballgames, we participate in sports, and we're okay with not doing things other people do to have fun. Like Emily said, we've also made these choices personally, and we can have fun in other ways. It's not really a challenge. We knew what we were getting into coming here...and we're okay with it."
Lomax says, "We really want to get them (students) to a point where they're not just blindly following rules, but where they're thinking, is this really what I want in life? Is this going to get me one step closer to where I'm headed, or is it going to guide me away?"
Students and administrators at Maranatha believe a higher education should include a higher calling, even if that means a number of prospective students might turn away from Maranatha at the sight of all of its rules and expectations.
Lomax says, "I guess there's always that understanding that you can change the expectations, and you'll change who your constituency is. But I know there are a lot of churches around the country that are thankful for the conservative stance Maranatha has. Regardless of how often it really gets made fun of, I get lots of people all the time that say I'm really thankful that you're remaining conservative and staying faithful in this because I really want my kid to grow up and dress in a way that glorifies the Lord, and live a life where they make choices that have long term benefits, versus long term consequences."
Maranatha's not having trouble recruiting students. The college's enrollment is actually going up.
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Maranatha Baptist Bible College Website