Test of Faith: Christianity in the College Classroom
- Friday, September 24, 2004
"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
Today, a Christian college student may feel a little like the lost Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when confronted with differing cultures, lifestyles and worldviews present on a secular campus. And the place a new student may feel most like an outsider is in the college classroom.
In one of my philosophy classes, the professor often engaged in "Bush-whacking." She frequently took swipes at the President and the "right-wing born-again Christian staff" that "runs his show." One day, upset at the looming war with Iraq and frustrated that the Resolution for Peace she had attached her name to in the student newspaper wasn't stopping the tanks from rolling, she again began Bush-whacking.
After a brief rant on the President she began talking to herself in a soft but audible voice about creationists. "Most Christians don't believe in creationism and most large churches don't teach creationism," she said. "People who actually believe in creationism are quaint . . . they're like Amish."
Some of the prof's asides were so entertaining, I often wished I had a tape recorder. Unfortunately, at the bottom of our syllabus it said, "unless you are a disabled student, tape recorders are not permitted in this class." Ah, but according to the world's standards, I am a disabled student because I believe in God, the saving work of Christ, and moral absolutes.
Every class will not be a battlefield but, as a Christian on a secular campus, it's important to be prepared when a challenge arises. When you feel the nudge to voice your opinion or to debate in the classroom, there are certain things that are beneficial to know:
Know the Topics You Are Comfortable Defending
Which fields are you are most comfortable discussing? Perhaps one of your favorite topics is the Christian worldview as it relates to the sanctity of life or same-sex marriage. Or how about the life of Christ, the faith and the founding fathers, or bioethics? Find the topics you are passionate about and educate yourself. You will be more comfortable speaking up in class when you speak with both your mind and heart. Nobody can be an expert on all things, so develop a topic or two you are comfortable discussing.
Know the Best Approach
Proverbs 2:6 says, "A soft answer turns away wrath." Professors and peers respond more favorably when dissent is in the form of a friendly question instead of an angry statement. A soft-spoken sincere question works well because it reflects your concern for the topic, curiosity about the other's beliefs and sincere interest in deeper discussion.
Know You Won't Win the Argument
No matter how well you defend the principles of faith, chances are, you're not going to win the argument. Professors are usually set in stone about their beliefs. If you do impact their thinking, they're not about to admit it to the class. The fact that you are unlikely to win an argument is not reason enough to remain quiet. "Winning" can be the simple but difficult task of getting professors to question their beliefs. Winning can be registering dissent, and it can also can be encouraging quieter students to summon the courage to speak out.
Know When to Keep Quiet
Sometimes Christians get bad reps because they don't know when enough is enough. Once you have voiced your opinion on an issue, you don't need to keep interrupting class each and every time the issue arises.
Don't Take it Personally
If you find yourself in a hostile environment with name-calling, don't retaliate. When others disagree with you, don't take it personally. (By the way, this is easier said than done.) When you're called intolerant and closed-minded, don't take it personally. (See previous parenthetical comment.)
Truth in Love
Every college campus is full of people longing to be loved. Take every opportunity to show professors and peers love. This doesn't mean backing down on truth. Sometimes it means loving them enough to speak the truth. But sometimes the truth needs to be tempered with kindness. Professors may ask for volunteers to carry papers or projects back to the office, or collect the evaluations at the end of each semester. It's not a big deal, but in the rush of college life a professor notices a student who gives up five minutes to help.
I Timothy 1:5 says, "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." Debate skills and apologetics are important, but love is always the magic key.
Abby Nye is writing a book on her and other conservative Christians' experiences confronting liberalism on campuses across the United States. She can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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