Becoming Unpopular At University

Emma Marie Horn Photography University of New England Graduation
Photo: Emma Marie Horn Photography

We’ve just met the end of our second week at university for 2015. A lot of the people I’m meeting in Student Life at the moment have just successfully completed their second week of university, ever. That means, they’ve now been introduced to their tutorial groups, they’ve worked out the structure of their semester, and they’ve had a chance to adjust to university life.

I’m a hardened fourth year currently doing my internship in Media & Communications. I’m sitting on the other end of the spectrum. I’m staring down the barrel of graduation in 12 short months.

University is hard for people who don’t toe the political correct line. The other day, Geoff showed me pictures of some grotesque graffiti that appeared overnight on a campus Christian group’s signage at Macquarie University.

Unfortunately, Christian-hating, or at the very least Christian-shaming, is almost a sport for some at university.

I remember my first year, my first semester, my first week. I especially remember my first tutorial.

That was the day I was rudely awakened to how unpopular Christendom is inside the walls of the tertiary academy.

In my first year, I studied the history of American politics. We began by looking at the foundation of American religion. The Puritans. The Quakers. Etc. 

And most memorably, the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s. The same contentious debates that rocked Massachusetts during the early Colonial period, fiercely rocked my world too.

My tutor, who was also the course lecturer and course co-ordinator, was a harsh woman with strong opinions. She scoffed and mocked the simple people of Salem for their backwards religiosity and outrageous legal procedures.

“They used Satan as a witness at trials! They believed these women communed with the Devil himself! I mean, they believed in Satan!! Who believes in Satan these days?” She asked jokingly.

I raised a hand slowly, catching the shocked expression of my tutor. I believe in Satan. I believe he is powerful and active. I believe his greatest achievement is convincing humans that he is not real, not powerful, not active in our world.

I was rewarded with a myriad of uncomfortable laughter and the condescending wave of my tutor. “I guess you’ll grow out of that.”

Of course. I was a hopeless 19 year old first year. I would grow out of that belief and into a much more politically correct, ‘educated’ opinion by the end of my time at university. She’d make sure of it.

No-one wants to make a name for themselves as ‘that girl’. No-one wants to be the one in the tutorial room with the unforgivable point of view. No-one wants to be insufferably mocked by their cohort.

Sometimes it’s easier to not say anything when uncomfortable conversations challenge our faith at university. Sometimes it’s easier to avoid the topics of contention with our classmates. No-one wants to be unpopular.

Silence is akin to deceit.

Throughout my four years at university, I’ve learnt that there’s an appropriate time and place to make my faith known and a lot of the time, violently announcing my opinions in my tutorial room does nothing for my self image, or for Christ’s image.

But your faith should be known to your classmates, regardless of how unpopular it makes you.

I’m speaking from experience, I’m a journalist and modernist art historian. You probably couldn’t pick two fields that are more filled with angry atheists and ‘alternative lifestyle’ supporters.

Though I’ve been taught from the day I walked into MECO1001 Introduction to Media that quoting legendary 1984author George Orwell is cliche, detestable and basically just filler for when you can’t write well, I’m going to do it right now.

“The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it […] In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Truth, Orwell. Truth.

Orwell is not alone in this opinion. In the Old Testament, God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel saying:

“The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head. Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’” – Ezekiel 33:1-7

I make absolutely no apology for how uncomfortable that passage may make you. It makes me uncomfortable and I’m fairly sure it made Ezekiel uncomfortable.

God is not about making you comfortable or popular in your university.

He is about bringing His kingdom to humanity and reconciling a sinning world with a Holy Father.

Jesus made it pretty clear that the penalty of our silence is enormous.

“But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:33.

It’s that simple. It’s that clear. It’s that terrifying.

Silence is a form of complete disregard for the Gospel. It’s nothing short of apostasy.

Like me, you may be counting down the hours until you graduate. Or you might be like I was four years ago, naive, impressionable and strangely excited for this new university adventure. You may be somewhere in between, or nowhere near. Luckily, the experience of being a Christian is universally challenging. I’m sure, something of my experience will resonate with you.

Wherever you are in life, will you commit to being unpopular for the sake of Christ?

I’d like to conclude in a manner that would make my professors roll and convulse in horror. In the words of English poet and Martin Luther biographer, Elizabeth Rundle Charles:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle wages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to Him if he flinches at that one point.” – The Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family [1862]

Emma.

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