Do I have to be a Christian?

Some students often feel that being a Christian is an unspoken prerequisite for going to Hope College. Throughout campus, the question is frequently asked, “What church do you go to?”  Many students face this as they live and study on campus. With this question seems to come an entire box of unopened and discreetly “already answered” questions. Revealing what church one goes to has the capability of answering many things in one small reply.  This often answers the questions,“Are you a Christian?” or, “Are you Protestant or Catholic?” and, “What do you value in a church setting?” As students face this question, they are often struck with the tangibility of divisions between acquaintances and friends. These divisions are the fruit of direct brokenness in Christian history. Whether it be denominational differences or altogether religious differences, students begin to really feel these divides—often for the first time—when in college.

   At Hope, it is easy to assume that plenty of people know the ropes of the Christian Reformed Church, since it is the basis of our institution. Many think their fellow students simply agree with the theology somewhere along its lines. Often students assume their beliefs are nearly the same as the person standing beside them. It is noticeable that students become comfortable in public religious conversations, without explaining what they are offering to the world. This creates an even greater divide. After referencing a Bible verse or a sermon one heard, their friends nod and move on, but forget about the person in the group who was nodding just to cover for the feeling of being left out. It is worthy of celebration that many know the word of God and can speak openly about it. This also is a place that our student body can take a step toward one another for the sake of inclusion. Not everyone knows what the “Christian” is talking about. Not everyone goes to church. Many are not particular with their church denominations. More students at Hope than is often acknowledged likely have little experience in the Christian Reformed Church.

     It is important that as the student body, we are mindful of the person who might not align with the majority on this campus, even if that individual is not willing to say it. Be diligent with understanding that the majority’s “comfortable conversations” of religion might not be comfortable for everyone. There are plenty of classes on campus that discuss the Bible as a generic foundation for learning. It is often used as a teaching tool, a relational tool and middle ground in many classrooms. What about the students who do not have general biblical knowledge? Are these students expected to speak up for themselves and ask questions? That can feel marginalizing. That student could often be asking what the rest of the class is nodding about or what is going on. Is that student’s grade influenced by their lack of biblical knowledge? Would the expectation be the same at a public institution? Is it right that a student at Hope College could fall behind in class, simply because of their religious affiliations?

     There have been intentional moves by professors to be inclusive with their speech when referencing biblical analogies or Christianity. The call to action is now to the student body. Denominational and religious differences have been prominent for ages. It is not just at Hope that we see this. How do we understand the needs of the person next to us to not feel out of the loop? How do we make the intentional move closer to the person who believes something different than us, rather than going on with a “comfortable” conversation? This is a challenge not only to think about the way others around us think, but also to speak in a way that invites the person next to us into a safe place. Does the person next to you feel safe here?

Christian Reformed theology has a dominant role on our campus, and rightfully so. The church has not only been influential in the planting of our institution, but also sustained it over decades. This is something to be celebrated, but isn’t love worth much more celebration? Love is more important than “Where do you go to church?” or what beliefs differ between students. If we are able to receive the person beside us, never to otherize, what impact will that actually make on our campus? People are often remembered for breaking the rules, not going along with them. In a sense, receiving a friend who is different than you breaks the rules of denomination, comfort and often religion. You will be remembered and make a difference by not withholding love. We must see each other as valuable enough to bring each other in, not push each other out.

 



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