What did you learn at school today?

You should read this Christianity Today article by Tish Harrison Warren. Warren is an Anglican priest and formerly directed Intervarsity Christian Fellowship on the campus of Vanderbilt University. She describes herself as non-fundamentalist and clarifies by indicating that she is authentic and committed to justice. Even though she was a “winsome” evangelical, her chapter’s requirement that student leaders believe in the resurrection and a basic sexual morality put her crossways with Vandy’s administration. “Creedal discrimination,” she was told, “is still discrimination.” Rather than abandoning any recognizable Christian identity, IVCF, along with several other religious groups, lost recognition as a Vanderbilt student group. Recognized student groups have advantages in using campus facilities and can receive program money from student activity fees. Loss of status also makes participation in the life of the university very challenging.  

This article has more impact because it is from someone who considered herself more mainstream to the life of the university than conservative Christians might be. Any Christianity was too much, as it turned out.

This same thing has happened at the 23 campuses of California State University, with a combined population of 447,000 students. Religion News Service says that IVCF has been challenged on more than 40 campuses so far. Other confessional groups are also under pressure to conform to a secular version of their faith or face exclusion. Now we all understand something more about modern definitions of “university” and “free exchange of ideas.” “Persecution” is not too strong a word for this. It’s not the same as what others face in the Muslim world or other regions of anti-religious repression, but the difference is one of degree rather than type of treatment or intent.

Read the Sept 17 edition of the Texan DigitalWhile it is not illegal for Christians to be on a college campus or even to witness there, banning Christian student groups is a logical next step for an academic environment wholly sold out to moral relativism and liberalism. It is reasonable to expect that the effort to censor Christian viewpoints will expand on state school campuses.

So what do we do in a day when a college degree is a requirement for many jobs, assuming that the banning of the expression of Christian beliefs is an accelerating trend? Christian colleges may be a better answer, but there is shocking diversity even within that category of educational institution. Many barely remember why “Christian” or “Baptist” is part of their names. A few of our Baptist schools are serious about their Christian identity and about academic rigor but not all. This option requires discernment on the part of the prospective student and his parents.

I still think state schools are an option for Christian families but under certain conditions. Here is my advice, particularly related to casually Christian or state schools:

Check out the school—Who are the professors and administrators? What’s the school’s reputation? Have other Christian families had an acceptable experience at this school? Meet with administrators and department heads and ask hard questions about the experience of Christian students in the classes.

Check out the churches—Churches are more important than on-campus Christian organizations. The purpose of campus ministry is to win the lost; the purpose of churches is to make disciples. If there is not a good church near the campus, don’t send your kid there. Talk to the pastor and visit the collegiate group of the church before deciding.

Prepare your child—Begin to familiarize your child with the issues he’ll face in a faith-hostile classroom. Your child needs to have his own convictions about the Bible, God, Jesus and how Christians should live according to those convictions. He needs to understand his faith. Your church can be a resource for your family in that process, but the responsibility is yours. If your graduate is not mature enough to face challenges to his faith, he’s not ready for college. Get him a job at Chick-Fil-A while you finish discipling him, but don’t send him to university until you’re done.

The challenge to campus Christian groups and belief is only the next step in what higher education has been for a long time. Professors ridiculed my beliefs 40 years ago at the University of Arkansas. I might have learned something from those profs, but they were spiritual adversaries. Things are not better since you and I were in school.

The bottom line seems to be, and has been for a while, that higher education can be better than nothing but usually isn’t. Unless churches and families prepare their students well for the spiritual and moral challenges they’ll face after high school, we’ll all grieve at what happens next. It’s not rational to think collegiate life will do what we did not.        

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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