Welcome back Internet. Sit tight, things are about to get real. As always, thank you for reading.
Just over a week ago, I posted a review of the past four years as an undergraduate at Harding University. You can read it here. For a small time blogger, that post generated a surprising and overwhelming amount of traffic and response. While, judging from the written responses I received, it appears the majority of those accurately gleaned from that piece what I had intended to convey, I fear many may have misinterpreted and misunderstood much of my language.
Normally, I don’t feel the need to explain myself, but there’s always exceptions to the rule. To begin, let me note that throughout the entire discourse I attempted to walk the line between being too harsh (citing more specific complaints and such) and being too vague, thereby minimizing the seriousness of these systemic deficiencies.
First: Were the past four years at Harding University unbearably miserable? No, that’s an unfair extenuation of what I wrote. Thanks to several key friendships, with both fellow students and faculty, I was able to carve out a niche in which I found acceptance and enjoyment.
However, even then, I continually found myself running into the brokenness of that campus, which inspired much of what I wrote. Yes, I found a place—a people—through which I experienced fulfillment and formed lasting memories, but that never made up for all the institutionalized hatred and intolerance.
Second: I explicitly criticized the student body and faculty at Harding University; does this characterization apply to the majority of them? While I have no way of honestly answering that, the fair answer is probably not. It’s likely that this is in line with the classic example of the worst of a group tend to yell the loudest and leave the most lasting impression.
However, I’ve never found this to stand as a legitimate excuse or absolution of fault for the quiet. Let us assume the students, faculty, and administrators I mentioned are within the minority. If this is the case, then the less radical, less intolerant, more loving bystanders commit a different, yet equally egregious error: they’re not doing anything. There is no excuse for inaction and silence in the face of injustice. Moreover, why the majority would allow the minority to dominate the public’s impression of them is beyond me.
This translates to a wider stage: on a national, maybe even global, level, the connotation of “Christians” has been marred and trampled by the actions and words of a shrinking number of radicals (the WBC being the classic example) and traditionalist conservatives that exemplify the definitions of stubborn and disconnected. Are the majority of Christians actually that intolerant, hateful, and close-minded? No, probably not. But, for all we know, they might as well be if the majority of Christian individuals sit by and allow such extreme individuals destroy their reputation.
If the minority want to yell and preach a message contrary to the truth of the majority, it’s in the majority’s best interest, it’s their responsibility, to yell louder. Let those around you know, through active words and bold actions, that you’re not like them, and the God you worship isn’t the one they misconstrue. It’s the majority’s prerogative to overcome the minority in such circumstances, which, just in numbers, should be a relatively easy task if attempted.
Okay, so let’s accept the premise that there are serious problems within the structure and population at Harding University, how do you fix it?
With most real problems, the solution to this complicated and entrenched dilemma requires more than changing the text in the student handbook; altering the rules may reduce some of the tension, but that will never address the underlying dysfunction.
The first step is understanding that this problem is not unique to the campus of Harding University or even that of only Christian universities. I grew up in the Church of Christ denomination; hundreds of miles north of the Mason-Dixon, I spent my entire life pre-undergrad within the CoC. The issues I had with Harding University were only intensified by the culture and mindset of the surrounding area in Arkansas. These same issues are almost equally applicable to that church of my youth. These observations are not isolated to one geographic region, one denomination, or one population. The problems I encountered at Harding are systemic dysfunctions within much of conservative Christianity. In order to address hatred, intolerance, and elitism at an institution like Harding, one must be willing to face the source of the of bitter water.
As I mentioned, in order to address such comprehensive problems, the solution must be more than superficial—the solution requires a total overhaul, which is neither easy or painless, but real change never was and never will be.
The solution, as I see it, requires a complete re-alignment of our understanding, our perspective. Too many Christians have fallen into the centuries-old (and beyond) flaw of focusing on the details, while completely missing the entire foundation. It is time we realized that these peripheral discussions simply don’t matter, in comparison to the cornerstone.
Consumption of alcohol doesn’t matter.
Attending church every possible chance doesn’t matter.
Men vs. Women roles and responsibilities don’t matter.
Worship styles don’t matter.
Who one chooses to marry doesn’t matter.
These fixations, and so many more, have typified Christianity. These, and so many more, have divided Christians. These, and so many more, have marginalized the rest of the society. These, and so many more, became the flagship for Christians. Now tell me where you find that in that Bible.
Let me be clear, I’m not discussing right vs wrong, nor am I engaging in some discussion on “sin.” Too many Christians have completely forgotten the foundation of Christianity and instead fixate on the details. (Watch out, I’m about to throw some Bible at you.)
John 3:16, Romans 5:8, Romans 8:37-39, Galatians 2:20, 1 John 3:1.
For those of you familiar with my writing, and as evidenced within the previous post on this topic, you’re familiar with (and likely sick of) this theme. But, for me, this is the beginning and the end of everything I believe. The verses I listed are common, some even cliché, but these are never the heart of discussions. Christians don’t have in-depth discussions on God’s love and how that should translate into Christian action. Christians like to reference these verses, but then move onto why [insert controversial religion issue] is wrong, as if these were the reason for the entire New Testament. I might be mistaken, but the entire second half of the Bible is built upon the theme of love and redemption. Yet, Christians have become extremely talented at the rejection and marginalization of fringes of society; the same people whom Jesus guy spent all his time with.
It is time that Christians understood the entire foundation of their faith, love, and began to let this one word typify their actions and their name or watch as successive generations continue to walk away. The natural sequential question is how?
There is an awful, but popular, motif within much of conservative Christianity: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Unfortunately, when presented with fundamental concepts of such simplicity, it’s only natural for human beings to assume a need for further explanation. I imagine this was the origination of this unnecessary obsession with minor details while overlooking the foundation.
What? Love. How? Love. Why? Because Love.
It’s so simple it sounds silly, like one of those bumper-stickers. But, that’s the point. The entire foundation of Christian doctrine is that simple, and any attempt to clarify it further only dilutes the original message. So no, those things, and so many more, don’t matter in comparison.
And so we arrive back to the question: how do you fix it? Love. This means a complete reversal of everything we’ve been taught. This means a willingness to lay aside those hindering ancient traditions that are some comfortable. This means discarding any separation of “us and them” in favor of “we.” This means an ability to have disagreements, and discussions framed in respect. This means finding the value in every human being and looking past their exteriors.
The most common critique to this assertion is the question of “real-life” practicality. Is it practical? No, but that’s not the point. The solution to such overwhelming societal systemic issues could never be practical; if there was a practical, easy fix it would have happened already. I’ve never found this critique to stand as a justification for not trying. The only things that are impossible are those that are never attempted.
Will it ever be perfect; will Harding University ever be able to completely rise above the dysfunction? No, but that doesn’t excuse stagnation and inaction. It’s about time Christians at Harding, in America, and across the world, took responsibility for their reputation and rose to the true call found in that Bible.
Until then, I’m going to keep walking my path. Some might call me a Christian; most could say I don’t belong, and, for now, I’m okay with that. I know who I am, who I want to be, and how I want to approach the world around me; I don’t need a label for that. That’s what I learned over the past four years at Harding University.