In my first year of teaching, I sat at my desk during a free period as the volume rose in a nearby classroom. Passion rather than anger fueled the exchange, which I believe was about baptism and when it should happen. The teacher was Anglican, the class from a variety of Christian denominations.
The conversation energized everyone involved, each one’s ideas heard and valued. As far as I could tell, no one walked away wounded.
Iron was sharpening iron. The Church arguing within itself but loving itself too. That Christian school represented 33 different churches. Children were becoming adults as they learned to debate their faith respectfully.
Freedom and respect happened that day. And I got to watch them unfold. The teacher’s goal wasn’t to protect the students from the emotional upset of having their doctrine challenged. And students had no fear of retribution for challenging the teacher’s way of thinking.
The time is coming when the Church may be the last vestige for freedom of thought in America.
In this month’s issue of The Atlantic, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt decry the growing “movement . . . driven largely by students to scrub [America’s college] campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or offense.” The authors distinguish this current movement from the initial ‘political correctness’ of the 1980s and ’90s that “sought to restrict [hate] speech” but also worked to broaden the selection of historical and literary works “by including more-diverse perspectives” in college classrooms.
As a college student at the time, I found doors of learning opening to Christian writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (“The Angel over the Right Shoulder”), and Harriet Prescott Spofford (“Circumstance”). Such writers had been ignored for decades.
But while the door opened for my enrichment from these writers, they have largely been targeted for the study of what was wrong instead of what was right in their day. Stowe’s depiction of the horrors of slavery are too offensive for today’s young minds. Phelps perpetuates female stereotypes.
Fifteen years later in graduate school, I once again read Uncle Tom for class. A fellow student complained that she hated the book “because it was so Christian,” but she read it anyway.
That might not be the case today, since according to the Atlantic authors, the “ultimate aim [of this new movement], it seems, is to turn campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make them uncomfortable.” To create such places, universities define “unwelcome speech as harassment.”
Lukianoff and Haidt propose that providing such an environment in college fails to adequately prepare students for the workplace where such super-sensitivity doesn’t exist.
But what happens in college has a way of trickling into the workplace and becoming part of the national psyche.
It has taken more than three decades longer than Orwell predicted, but 1984 is on the horizon.
As our society becomes more narrow, the Church can take up the conversation from that small classroom years ago. We can be passionate; we can disagree. We can get over ourselves and love each other.
The more the world crawls into a hole of darkness and ignorance, the more Christ’s followers can shine the light of freedom and knowledge “so that the world may believe.”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”