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"?

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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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.

What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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5 Thoughts You've Probably Had About The Government Shutdown If You, Like Cardi B, Are Paying Attention

I'm not sure if Trump thinks he's playing a real-life game of "The Sims," but I can assure you that a wall will not keep out those that are truly determined to get in.


2019 — what a time to be alive, am I right? Normally I would use that phrase sarcastically, but each day I am more and more confused, transfixed, and curious (with just a dash of anticipation) about our current state as a society and the direction we're going. Even though most of the time the world seems like sh*t, you've got to admit that out of all the times in history, the current one we're in has a lot of cool perks. I mean, 70 years ago, who would've guessed that there'd be computers and a world wide web filled with endless information and apps that allow 125 million people to see cute pictures of Kim Kardashian's baby. And compared to life in the 1600s, an airplane seems just as extraordinary as the second coming of Jesus.

We're making a lot of wonderful and exciting progress, like our advancements in medicine, but for some reason, we've hit an impasse in terms of social improvement. Not even three years ago would I have guessed that the U.S. would elect an unqualified, most likely racist, reality TV star as president, but alas, here we are, which brings me to his latest antics.

The government shutdown.

Despite how bleak the future seems, a little part of me is just a tad grateful that I'm alive to see this all go down. Like everyone else, however, I've had quite a few thoughts about it all over the past few weeks...

1. So we're screwed, right?

We briefly had a government shutdown in 2013, but for some reason, I have absolutely no recollection of it (my 14-year-old self was probably too preoccupied with who was posted on my high school's Instagram "thot page." Spoiler alert: I was), so this is like my first experience dealing with one. There have been more than a dozen in U.S. history, but the current shutdown is the longest out of the list. My first thought when hearing about the news was "what the hell does THIS mean?" I immediately jumped to the conclusion that we were in a total state of anarchy, but of course, that isn't even partially true. According to The Balance, a government shutdown is "when non-essential discretionary federal programs close." The shutdown doesn't affect state social services, like the Department of Public Safety, and thankfully for us broke college students, funding for financial aid was approved last September, meaning there's no current effect on student financial aid programs.

However, federal services and agencies like the IRS (don't get too excited... you still have to pay taxes), Department of Labor, Department of Housing and Urban Development, National Institute of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration are completely shut down while the budget process is in limbo. With no current end in sight, this is bound to get very bad, very soon.

Already, hundreds of thousands of government employees have been sent home without pay and will continue to not be paid as long as the shutdown is in effect. People living in low-income housing may be evicted as HUD freezes funds for programs. Without funding, all of these services very well may close. Not only that, but the shut down is costing us money: approximately $1.2 billion every week. I wouldn't normally be worried, but Trump is the exact type of immature and petty to where he'll keep this going until he gets his way (or he's impeached, whichever comes first). His attitude firmly suggests that he's not backing down, and if services do close, there will be terrible effects on affected departments and citizen well-being.

Should we just drink the kool-aid now?

2. All of this over... a wall?

Out of all of the things that a president could request funding for, the one we currently have wants $5 billion for a damn steel wall? I'm not sure if he thinks he's playing a real-life game of The Sims, but I can assure you that real humans are much more crafty than we give each other credit for and that a wall will not keep out those that are truly determined to get in. Trump has said that the wall is the "only solution for a growing security and humanitarian crisis at the border," yet common sense and many politicians/organizations can tell you that that's complete and utter bullsh*t. Not only that, but Trump's whole presidency has revolved around quelling illegal immigration, but no one has stopped to ask why he's only focusing on the border.

How would a wall decrease the number of people who overstay their visas? How would it decrease the number of illegal immigrants who aren't even crossing the border?!

While I am not well-versed in how much of a threat illegal immigration presents to the U.S. people and government, I still am convinced that there are way more important issues that the president should be concerned with. F*** global warming and renewable energy, let's build a wall, right?!?

Trump's obsession with his wall is a pathetic attempt to flex his self-professed prowess and a way to appease his hate-filled fanatics who only voted for him because he promised he could get it done.

What happened to Mexico paying for it? Oh right, that was just more bullsh*t.

3. People actually donated to this sh*t?

I just... People's stupidity and callousness never cease to amaze me. Before GoFundMe rightfully shut this fundraiser down, over 345,000 people actually donated $20 million dollars for a (wait for it) steel wall. Why is this the thing that people feel their money is worthy of being spent on? Imagine if we all banded together to raise $20 million dollars to help end homelessness or food insecurity. Or better yet, pay the federal employees who are getting screwed over by this whole ordeal.

4. How do Trump supporters feel about all of this?

I know that die-hard fans can take a lot of sh"t from their idols, but I think that after a while it's only natural for them to get fed up. Out of the 62 million people who voted for Trump, there's probably a good portion of them who are significantly affected by the shutdown. The ones who are government employees are feeling the brunt of it now, but if this continues on for months or even years like Trump is threatening, then we're all going to feel it and I can't think of any good excuses that someone could come up with in order to justify such a foolish and reckless decision made by the president. To a federally-employed Trump supporter, I can't imagine how it feels to go 26 days without a paycheck because the president you voted for is desperately trying to propose funding for a wall that you want to be built. It's got to be a catch-22, but hell, I feel like almost all Trump supporters are delusional anyway, so they're probably thinking they're undergoing some grand act of martyrdom.

5. Even Cardi B is worried... Now you know we're screwed.

Cardi B took to Instagram recently to post a video of her addressing her worries about the government shutdown. While not eloquently put, the rap princess is really only just voicing the thoughts and opinions of a lot of us out here. If Cardi B is taking the time out of her day to stop popping off at her haters and fantasizing about Offset's peen, then you know that this issue is a pretty big deal. The self-proclaimed gang member and boss bit** has admitted that she's scared. I think that warrants us to all be.

Well, there you have it, folks. Five of my most pressing thoughts about the government shutdown. As it continues, I'm sure they'll be thousands more that pop into all of our heads. But hey, let's look on the bright side -- we've made history; now's the only time we can say the government has been shut down all year.

Hopefully, we won't be able to say it for much longer.

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