Broken-down Poetry: Title Track: The Unlikely Disciple


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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Title Track: The Unlikely Disciple

The end of last year, my sister Sam visited Indiana Wesleyan from Purdue. After she spent my last points at Wildcat and we settled down in the back corner of McConn, I began tutoring her in Photoshop. (Sam is not computer-savvy; comparatively, I am Steve Jobs in tech skills.)

We spent a few hours working, and by the time Sam left, full on Firehouse Grill chicken tenders, she told me how cute our school is – her words, not mine.

Sam, who is agnostic, told me she liked IWU and would attend there, if it weren’t for all the rules.
I laughed to myself because I knew my sister would have to adjust to more than just the rules. Sam has never been submerged into the Christian subculture.

She doesn’t understand our evangelical lingo: “I am saved!” “God spoke to me!” “Jesus lives inside of me!”

She doesn’t understand why we listen to worship music on our iPods, or why we sign a contract, promising not to drink, watch R-rated movies or dance.

She especially doesn’t understand why we go to school with kids who have the same beliefs as us, learning from professors who have the same beliefs as us, in order to have careers among people with different beliefs than us.

I try to explain it to her, but I haven’t been successful. (Especially since I don’t know the answers to all of those questions myself.) Some things must be experienced firsthand.

Over the summer I read “The Unlikely Disciple” by Kevin Roose, a memoir by a secular college student who decides to attend a semester at Liberty University, the largest Christian school in the country. Having never gone to an evangelical church – let alone had any born-again friends – Roose observed the culture of the Christian university as a complete outsider.

What I liked most about the book was Roose’s attitude toward Christianity. Though he never converted to the faith, Roose never stooped to mock the faith or put anything in a false light. Even though there were moments of frustration, Roose acted respectfully (even Christ-like) toward those with beliefs foreign to his.

And I think that as IWU students, we can learn from his experience. I know we don’t go to Liberty and that our rules aren’t as strict as theirs, but reading “The Unlikely Disciple” as if Roose had attended our school instead of LU forced me to put things into perspective:

1. Not all IWU students are Christians. It’s easy to assume that since you chose to go to a Christian university, that everyone else has and for the same reasons. Roose discovered that at LU, he wasn’t the only non-Christian. In my year-and-a-half at IWU I’ve met non-Christians who played the game well.

I’m not suggesting that we go around demanding people prove their faith in God in one way or another. (Spontaneous testimony sharing?) But I am suggesting we take interest in others’ faith with God and respect where they are: not condemning them for being less holier-than-thou or nagging them to conversion.

2. Not all IWU students are straight. What frustrated me about the Christians in Roose’s book is their homophobia. I know as Bible-believing Christians we can’t ignore that homosexuality is a sin. I get that. But can we please stop treating gay people like untouchables? Can we stop using “gay” as synonymous with “stupid”? (I know I talked a lot about this a few columns ago, but it still drives me crazy.)

3. Not all IWU students are Republicans. Granted, Liberty was founded by the late Jerry Falwell, father of the Moral Majority – IWU doesn’t boast of those beginnings. But still, I’ve engaged in several angry conversations with people who just assumed I was a fellow conservative. That is, they think that until they see the Obama Health Care bumper sticker on my desk. Then they shut up. (And start praying for my soul.)

Hint: you don’t have to be a Republican to be a Christian. Hint, hint: just because you hate everything about President Obama and his politics, don’t assume everybody agrees.

“The Unlikely Disciple” also reminded me of how lucky we are at IWU. We go to a university that holds fast to Christian doctrine, but doesn’t speak harshly of those with different beliefs. I can’t imagine President Smith inviting a famous atheist on campus to debate the origins of life. And, unlike Falwell, I know our president would never call people names on national television.

I can’t end this column without a shameless plug: please read this book. Learning about a conservative evangelical college in the point-of-view of a typical, non-religious student puts so much into perspective. At the very least, if you’re frustrated with IWU’s policies, at least recognize that our rules are hardly strict compared to schools like Liberty, Bob Jones and Cedarville.

But I hope that you’ll read this book in order to see that our attitudes need to always reflect Christ, even within the bubble. You never know who’s paying attention.

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