Stop Unconscious Christian Culture
Reported by Josh Cayetano
I was recently scrolling through the comments about George Fox University (GFU) on studentsreview.com and was unsurprised by the results.
The majority of the comments were about GFU’s “closed-minded” Christian culture or increasing tuition rates over the last few years. A few were generally positive about GFU’s learning environment, but the observations about Christian culture were what caught my eye.
“I was struggling with my faith when I came to GFU, and the attitude of the student body didn’t help,” one reviewer said. “I was told I was a ‘bad Christian,’ people refused to hang out with me; I felt like an outcast.”
Although people who comment on studentsreview.com are usually upset enough to find a forum, create an account, and write a review on a website infrequently visited, this comment struck home for me.
I was not struggling with my faith when I arrived at GFU, but I have met people who were. Nor have I necessarily been called a “bad Christian” by others, though I have many friends who have been.
But I have been attending private Christian schools my entire life and, sometimes, it takes the fortieth time for the comment to actually make sense.
I remember talking to a friend who did not grow up in a Christian household, but came to faith on her own, and chose GFU herself. She described to me the complete culture shock of Christian culture, from the “leave room for the Holy Spirit” jokes to the nostalgic references to VeggieTales and BibleMan, to the crazy expectation of talking with your friends about your “testimony.”
Hearing of a young Christian who felt out of the Christian loop was saddening, disorienting and a bit disheartening.
On the other end, I had a conversation earlier this year in my living area with a self-avowed atheist who, like the reviewer, was jaded by the mindless judgmental attitude of Christian culture.
For him, the issue was not people disagreeing with his lifestyle. The issue was those same people seemingly never critically evaluating their own judgments for themselves.
Last year I studied abroad in the Middle East. I became very aware of how my own western, American, Christian culture interacted with Arab, Islamic culture.
That awareness of my culture somehow vanished once I returned to my home turf.
But listening to these stories, I am reminded of my experience living in a completely foreign culture. I remember doing my best to adopt the customs and practices of my host country, yet still fearing I would make a mistake.
In a significant way, being in Jordan was a lot easier for me than it is for many people who come to GFU from non-Christian or semi-Christian backgrounds.
In Jordan, I was white while 99.9 percent of the people around me were Arab. They expected me to be different, so they treated me hospitably when I did not completely meet their expectations.
At GFU, most of us are American and most of us are from California or the Northwest. Because of that, in a very unconscious way, we expect the people around us to be familiar with our cultural customs and religious expectations, and are surprised—or worse, judgmental—when they are not met.
Do you remember freshman year, frantically trying to make friends in your hall or in the Bon? I remember becoming friends very quickly with people who were similar to me, who laughed at the same jokes I laughed at, watched the same shows I watched, or liked the same Bay Area teams I liked.
But I cannot help but think about those people who slowly faded to the background. Was it because they felt uncomfortable when I asked how church was, assuming they went in the first place?
Was it because I made a joke about Jesus, and they, new to their faith, could not understand why a Christian would ever joke about his Savior?
I will probably never know. But the uncertainty has made me exponentially more aware of the actions and attitudes I assumed were “normal.”