An Outsider’s Perspective on the Community of Christian College

An Outsider’s Perspective on the Community of Christian College

What happens when "community" becomes "us vs. them"?
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I grew up as a Christian; my family was Baptist for several years then Missionary. It seemed only natural that after graduation, I’d attend a fairly small, evangelical Christian college. Throughout my freshman and into my sophomore year, I was highly involved in campus events, community projects and extracurricular activities. I met some of my very best friends. My college community became a kind of second home.

I’d say it was halfway through my sophomore year that I began to seriously question my religious identity and, consequently, my identity within the Christian community. The crisis was entirely personal, and outlining my personal journey would take too long for the purpose of this article. Suffice it to say that I found it necessary to lay aside many of the religious disciplines I had spent my life clinging to, and that through the stripping of these practices I found freedom from guilt, depression and anxiety.

However, as my personal journey began to take shape, I found my social life waning. I began to experience feelings of estrangement from a community that I had once enjoyed, and those feelings surprised me. At first, I wondered if there was something wrong with me. Had I taken the questions too far? Was I shutting myself out from the community that had once been my home? Was I wrong to search for a life of equality and love?

As I struggled to untangle my own beliefs, I found that staying true to myself often collided with the pressures of my community. I became more and more a private person. I felt pressured to choose between conformity and honesty, and though I chose the latter, I struggled to share the immensely personal nature of my journey with a community that no longer regarded me as one of their own. When I would, very intentionally and carefully, share my opinions in class or open up to an acquaintance, I found that my opinions were politely disregarded.

For a while, I assumed that I was the exception to the rule. I didn’t battle the feelings of isolation, and in many ways, I isolated myself. After all, I was the one unwilling to conform to the beliefs of the community around me, and they couldn’t be blamed for my decisions. I assumed that my struggles were my own fault, and I longed to escape the community where I felt ignored.

Then an interesting thing started happening.

As I withdrew from the larger community at my school, I started to encounter a kind of sub-community: People who resonated with my feelings as an “outsider.” As I listened to their stories, I started to wonder if my feelings of isolation might not be such an anomaly.

Here, I feel I ought to enter a disclaimer. Christian discipleship is written into the fabric of my school, and it is not my intention to blame or bash my college community. I was completely aware of my school's rules, guidelines and faith-based principles when I enrolled, and I can’t very well choose to attend a Christian school and then complain about being surrounded by Christians.

Just like anyone, I didn’t foresee the places that my journey of faith would take me, and today, I find myself in a very different place than the one I was in as a freshman.

Thankfully, I’ve had several close friends and incredible mentors who have lent me their judgement-free ears, perspectives and advice. I still struggle with reconciling the often opposing extremes of connecting to my college community and staying true to myself. Toward this end, I interviewed several students about their experiences within a Christian college community. Here are their stories:



(From a senior transfer student)

"I think I had sort of a unique perspective because I didn't come into this college as a freshman but instead transferred in my sophomore year from a large public university. I had only become a christian at 18 and was largely in the dark about many aspects of Christian culture; for instance, I never saw an episode of "Veggie Tales" until I was 19. It was a difficult adjustment to me, not because I disagreed or resented the more common beliefs of the Bethel community, but because at my previous school, I was exposed to so many diverse beliefs and cultures. I was able to ask any questions I wanted. Even within the Christian organization I joined on campus, there were some very diverse ideas among us, and many fruitful conversations came from this. People were excited to talk to others with differing opinions, but here, I've never felt that same phenomenon, religiously or politically. Ironically, I feel that it was much easier for me to be a Christian at a large, secular university."


(From a soon-to-be graduate)

"I came into college with a stereotypical cookie cutter version of homeschooled Christianity. I was a right-wing Republican, pro-lifer who thought that I was a good person because I never missed church, and I have a Bible verse tattoo. After a year, I began realizing that so much more exists in the world aside from a close-minded branch of Christianity. I questioned what I was hearing in class and in chapel, and my peers made me feel like because of it I wasn't a good Christian. It wasn't until senior year when I met some like-minded people and a couple professors that I actually felt like I belonged for the first time. I think that my college claims to accept a broad spectrum of perspectives, but in my personal experience, I don't think that is true. I think that if I could change one aspect of my college, it would be to encourage students to think for themselves, really think for themselves and accept that not everyone will have the same views. That doesn't make them a lesser Christian or a rebellious student."


(From a recent graduate)

"Coming in as a freshman, I really wasn’t sure what I believed. I thought that I was conservative because my parents were conservative. The more I was surrounded by classic Christian conservatism, though, the less I believed it. These thoughts were kept to myself. I was absolutely afraid of being ostracized, especially as I was starting to make friends and be a “cool guy” in college. This started a cycle of keeping things close to the vest, not just holding back my opinions, but not letting people know who I really was or what I was really going through. Was this created by the atmosphere around me? Were there signs that if I showed my true self I would be socially punished? Or was this attitude self-created? Did I just think I didn’t fit what a “Christian college kid” should be? I don’t really know the answer to that. All I know is that, for most of my college career, and still today, most people at my school have no idea what I’m really like.

All of this came to a head in my junior year, when my parents got divorced, my dad moved out of state, and I moved out of the house that I had always thought would be there for me to come home to. I had so few people who I was even capable of being honest with, and I struggled to deal with it. Through that experience, I grew tremendously; I had to. I realized that I couldn’t care what people thought anymore. It was just too much. As I began to speak my mind more, inside class and out of it, I realized there were plenty of people who felt the same way I did. There were plenty of kids who had been through similar experiences. I began to feel like I really was part of a community of people. I could share my opinions, and I could share the struggles I was having. Still, though, my community was often at odds with the predominant community of my Christian college."


(From a senior art major)

"My Christian college reinforced my beliefs as an Atheist. Being here has been a struggle for me, even though I knew it was going to be and I am the one that chose to go here. After being here four years, I have seen so much hate against other people’s beliefs that I don’t think I could ever relate to a religion like that. I try to be accepting of everyone that I meet, but it is so hard to do when I feel as though I am not being accepted for who I am. Throughout the four years that I have been here, I have sat through Chapels and classes of people who degrade others because the other person’s lifestyle choices don’t agree with what they believe in. It is really hard to see something like that when I have constantly heard that everyone is “God’s” child.

"My beliefs really affected my ability to connect with the community. I feel as though everyone that I meet goes to church, can quote the Bible, or is involved in some sort of ministry. I never had that growing up. So coming here was really a culture shock for me. I struggled understanding where people were coming from, especially in classes. I think that people have to remember that there are students who come here that aren’t Christians and don’t know anything about the Bible. So, when people reference the Bible, these students feel as though they have no idea what is going on.

"I really struggled connecting with people because everyone seemed to be a Christian and I wasn't. I felt as though I had to keep, me being an Atheist, a secret from everyone and that I had to go along with what people said. It was really hard on me because I felt I couldn’t be who I really was. I accepted people for who they were and what they believed but I quickly learned that people who didn’t believe in God, were looked down upon by students and faculty. People kept saying how they needed to pray for these people, when really they didn’t need that. They needed someone to see that these people were open to their religion but might have thought a little differently. I didn’t really open up to people until I was a senior in college, and once I did I began to enjoy my college experience more. I was able to find students who related to me and felt the same way that I did about the college.

"It is sad to say but I really haven’t enjoyed my undergraduate experience because no one really tries to connect with people who are not Christians. Everyone just assumes that you are but never takes the time to learn, without shoving the religion down your throat, as to why you believe what you do."



It is often assumed that Christian school student = Christian individual. But I don't think it's that simple. Something dangerous happens when we make these kinds of assumptions. I’ve come to believe that community develops through relationship, and exclusivity develops when we associate only with the kinds of people who share our beliefs.

And I'm as guilty of this as anyone. But, in order for relationship to succeed, there must be a desire (on both sides!) to listen for the purpose of understanding, to recognize the humanity and value of the other person, and to be willing to learn from a perspective that might not be the same as one’s own.

Cover Image Credit: Gather4Him Christian College

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To The Girl Struggling With Her Body Image

It's not about the size of your jeans, but the size of your heart, soul, and spirit.

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To the girl struggling with her body image,

You are more than the number on the scale. You are more than the number on your jeans and dresses. You are way more than the number of pounds you've gained or lost in whatever amount of time.

Weight is defined as the quantity of matter contained by a body or object. Weight does not define your self-worth, ambition or potential.

So many girls strive for validation through the various numbers associated with body image and it's really so sad seeing such beautiful, incredible women become discouraged over a few numbers that don't measure anything of true significance.

Yes, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle. Yes, it is important to take care of yourself. However, taking care of yourself includes your mental health as well. Neglecting either your mental or physical health will inflict problems on the other. It's very easy to get caught up in the idea that you're too heavy or too thin, which results in you possibly mistreating your body in some way.

Your body is your special, beautiful temple. It harbors all of your thoughts, feelings, characteristics, and ideas. Without it, you wouldn't be you. If you so wish to change it in a healthy way, then, by all means, go ahead. With that being said, don't make changes to impress or please someone else. You are the only person who is in charge of your body. No one else has the right to tell you whether or not your body is good enough. If you don't satisfy their standards, then you don't need that sort of negative influence in your life. That sort of manipulation and control is extremely unhealthy in its own regard.

Do not hold back on things you love or want to do because of how you interpret your body. You are enough. You are more than enough. You are more than your exterior. You are your inner being, your spirit. A smile and confidence are the most beautiful things you can wear.

It's not about the size of your jeans. It's about the size of your mind and heart. Embrace your body, observe and adore every curve, bone and stretch mark. Wear what makes you feel happy and comfortable in your own skin. Do your hair and makeup (or don't do either) to your heart's desire. Wear the crop top you've been eyeing up in that store window. Want a bikini body? Put a bikini on your body, simple.

So, as hard as it may seem sometimes, understand that the number on the scale doesn't measure the amount or significance of your contributions to this world. Just because that dress doesn't fit you like you had hoped doesn't mean that you're any less of a person.

Love your body, and your body will love you right back.

Cover Image Credit: Lauren Margliotti

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Saying You "Don't Take Political Stances" IS A Political Stance

All you're doing by saying this is revealing your privilege to not care politically, and here's why that's a problem.

bethkrat
bethkrat
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I'm sure all of us know at least one person who refuses to engage in political discussions - sure, you can make the argument that there is a time and a place to bring up the political happenings of our world today, but you can't possibly ignore it all the time. You bring up the last ridiculous tweet our president sent or you try to discuss your feelings on the new reproductive regulation bills that are rising throughout the states, and they find any excuse to dip out as quickly as possible. They say I don't talk about politics, or I'm apolitical. Well everyone, I'm here to tell you why that's complete bullsh*t.

Many people don't have the luxury and privilege of ignoring the political climate and sitting complacent while terrible things happen in our country. So many issues remain a constant battle for so many, be it the systematic racism that persists in nearly every aspect of our society, the fact that Flint still doesn't have clean water, the thousands of children that have been killed due to gun violence, those drowning in debt from unreasonable medical bills, kids fighting for their rights as citizens while their families are deported and separated from them... you get the point. So many people have to fight every single day because they don't have any other choice. If you have the ability to say that you just don't want to have anything to do with politics, it's because you aren't affected by any failing systems. You have a privilege and it is important to recognize it.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."

We recognize that bad people exist in this world, and we recognize that they bring forth the systems that fail so many people every single day, but what is even more important to recognize are the silent majority - the people who, by engaging in neutrality, enable and purvey the side of the oppressors by doing nothing for their brothers and sisters on the front lines.

Maybe we think being neutral and not causing conflict is supposed to be about peacekeeping and in some way benefits the political discussion if we don't try to argue. But if we don't call out those who purvey failing systems, even if it's our best friend who says something homophobic, even if it's our representatives who support bills like the abortion ban in Alabama, even if it's our president who denies the fact that climate change is killing our planet faster than we can hope to reverse it, do we not, in essence, by all accounts of technicality side with those pushing the issues forward? If we let our best friend get away with saying something homophobic, will he ever start to change his ways, or will he ever be forced to realize that what he's said isn't something that we can just brush aside? If we let our representatives get away with ratifying abortion bans, how far will the laws go until women have no safe and reasonable control over their own bodily decisions? If we let our president continue to deny climate change, will we not lose our ability to live on this planet by choosing to do nothing?

We cannot pander to people who think that being neutral in times of injustice is a reasonable stance to take. We cannot have sympathy for people who decide they don't want to care about the political climate we're in today. Your attempts at avoiding conflict only make the conflict worse - your silence in this aspect is deafening. You've given ammunition for the oppressors who take your silence and apathy and continue to carry forth their oppression. If you want to be a good person, you need to suck it up and take a stand, or else nothing is going to change. We need to raise the voices of those who struggle to be heard by giving them the support they need to succeed against the opposition.

With all this in mind, just remember for the next time someone tells you that they're apolitical: you know exactly which side they're on.

bethkrat
bethkrat

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