A Major Announcement and Request for Help

Greetings, friends …

As I make my way through my sixties, I’ve been thinking (as many people my age do) about what I hope to contribute in my “third act,” as Bill McKibben puts it. One of my longstanding hopes has been to contribute to the development of a progressive Christian campus ministry. Many of us were helped greatly by Evangelical campus ministries at a critical point in our lives. But most of these Evangelical groups have taken a hard right turn in recent years. Mainline Protestants and Progressive Catholics have tended to do their important work overshadowed by conservative (anti-gay and silent-on-social-injustice) Christian groups. As a result, many progressive campus ministries have been underfunded, hidden, and/or disappearing at this time when they are so greatly needed.

So over the last year or so, Jim Burklo and I have been dreaming up a new campus ministry network, one that could help deconstructing and post-Evangelicals, progressive Mainliners and Catholics, and spiritually seeking students with or without a religious background.

Amazing people, including progressive Christian college students, have come together. Progressive Christians Uniting, a California nonprofit started by Dr. John Cobb and others, have graciously welcomed us in. Creativity has flowed. So I’d like to announce that something new is being born: ZOE: PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN LIFE ON CAMPUS.

Here’s the basic information:

ZOE is a new global network of students and campus ministry organizations supported by Progressive Christians Uniting. 

Today, there is a massive exodus of young people from evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity.  They are disgusted with the backward social, theological, and political orientation of their churches and campus ministries.  If a viable alternative form of the faith was visible and available to them, many would be attracted to it.  

Students at colleges and universities have trouble distinguishing progressive Christian organizations at colleges and universities from evangelical/fundamentalist ones.  Progressive campus ministries, many connected to Protestant denominations, exist on some campuses, but they are not branded in a manner intelligible to students.  Denominational identities are meaningless for most of them.  They can’t spell “Presbyterian”, and they think “Methodist” might be a chiropractic treatment!  And the denominational networks include both progressive and evangelical chapters.  

ZOE is addressing this problem by offering progressive campus ministries increased visibility and the support they need to attract students.

ZOE is unabashedly progressive.  We follow Jesus’ way of radical compassion.  We cherish the Christian tradition of contemplative spirituality.  We take the Bible seriously because we don’t have to take it literally.  We’re fully affirming of LGBTQI+ sexuality and same-sex marriage.  We’re pro-science, pro-common-sense, and engaged in the struggle for social justice — racial, environmental and economic.

ZOE is a lively network of networks – bringing together into one community, online and in person, students and campus ministry leaders.  ZOE supports ministries in denominational networks by providing a platform that extends their visibility to students around the world.  And ZOE offers program resources, online groups and classes, and fellowship events for students and campus ministry leaders.

We are organizing a global online community of students – in support of existing and new campus organizations.  We aim to engage students directly with lively social media and online events where they can interact with each other, giving them a sense of belonging to a global movement.  Through this online student community, we intend to organize new in-person student-led ZOE “pods” and professionally-led ministries on campuses where presently there are none.

Becoming a ZOE campus ministry is simple.  If a campus ministry or group fits our understanding of progressive Christianity, is willing to add/link ZOE in its public identity, and will encourage students and leaders to participate in ZOE’s online community, it’s in!  No dues or fees are required.  Unlike evangelical ministries that have financial control of their chapters on campuses, ZOE is a “flat” organization – a voluntary confederation of self-governing ministries.

ZOE began to take shape in 2022, under the sponsorship of Progressive Christians Uniting (PCU), a nonprofit organization with nearly 25 years of activism, primarily in southern California.  ZOE was initiated by Brian McLaren, noted author, speaker, teacher with the Center for Action and Contemplation, and activist, and Jim Burklo, retired Senior Associate Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life at the University of Southern California.  Jim now serves as the unpaid, volunteer Executive Director of PCU.  Brian serves on the PCU/ZOE board of directors.

ZOE now has over sixty affiliated campus ministries and is actively recruiting more.  About 200 campus ministry leaders receive ZOE’s weekly e-news, with resources, program ideas, and sharing of best practices.  ZOE’s website has a rich collection of practical resources for campus ministries – for study, activism, recruitment, and leadership.  In the works now is an online “community platform” where students and campus ministers can take classes, meet together, and carry on dialogue about specific issues and concerns.  

Here’s how I hope you can help:

  1. If you know progressive Christian college students, campus ministers, and faculty, please tell them about ZOE! You can share these links with them:  https://www.zoeoncampus.com/, https://www.instagram.com/zoeprogchristlife/

You can also send us their name, email, and college/university, and we’ll direct them to the nearest ZOE progressive campus group: zoeprogressivechristianlife@gmail.com



I’m an enthusiastic financial supporter of ZOE. I hope you’ll join me. Here’s my ask: would you choose an amount you’d like to start donating monthly to ZOE, maybe $10, $25, $50, $100 or more? (One time donations are OK too – but monthly donations give us a lot more stability for planning.) Here’s where to donate: https://www.zoeoncampus.com/donate

I’m also volunteering with ZOE. For me, it will mean creating resources and spreading the word, as I’m doing now. For you, it might mean sharing this information widely, becoming a volunteer with a ZOE campus community near you, helping with promotion online, helping develop resources for students, etc. If you’d like to donate some time, would you contact zoeprogressivechristianlife@gmail.com?