Don’t Bump Into the Elephant in the Room

I’ve been mulling over this article for a couple of weeks now.  You may have read similar ones.  It talks about the massive problems that strike college-aged Christians, resulting in mind-numbing statistics – like the one that says that 70% of college-aged Christians drop out of church participation and attendance.

This article offers some explanations for why this might be.  These explanations all focus the attention back on parents and the church.  Hypocrisy at home and in the church.  Busy schedules.  Yahda yahda yahda.  There are also some suggestions for how the church could change to better meet the needs of college-aged Christians.  Becoming less complex yet deeper, more simple yet less shallow.  Expecting more from congregants rather than less.  Parents living their faith more visibly.  And my personal favorite – “By moving from inward decline to outward multiplication”.  I find this one particularly humorous because the author cites Acts 2:47, but then talks about how the church needs to change in order to achieve multiplication.  You quote a verse that talks about what *God* does to grow His church, and use that as justification for what the *Church* needs to do to grow itself.  
I’m being rather snitty here.  I believe firmly that congregations do need to reclaim historical, Biblical Christian teaching and preaching rather than focusing on competing with Oprah for feel-good, self-help oriented messages.  And congregations do need to be looking out to the community rather than navel-gazing.  However, there’s at least one other potential cause of this startling level of drop-out that needs to be mentioned.
Maybe it’s college education that’s the problem.
I say this as an adjunct faculty member for a small university, and as someone who has worked in and around academia and education all of my life whether as support staff or faculty.  I’m a huge proponent of being educated.  I’ll also be the first to admit that a typical undergraduate university experience is not necessarily the best – and certainly not the only – way to be educated.  I’m the last to advocate for stupidity or ignorance in any form, especially theologically.  And that’s why I want to be someone willing to say that we need to consider the fact that public or secular colleges and universities far and away are populated by administrations and faculty that are not simply not-Christian, but anti-Christian.  
Talk with a college student at a public university or a secular private university and I’m sure they’ll be able to tell you about at least one encounter with a professor who was very willing to advocate publicly and articulately against Biblical Christianity or religion in general.  My sister-in-law has a story about this.  As part of my undergraduate studies at Arizona State University I had this experience with one of my first professors in the honors program.  Fortunately, I was grounded enough so that I wasn’t swayed by his arguments (and actually had fun stumping *him* with a rebuttal argument!).  
But only in retrospect do I realize the significance of what he was doing.  He was attempting to demonstrate to his students that religion was false, and that in particular Biblical Christianity was false.  A respected academic in a position of authority with influence and control over student grades was issuing not just an opinion, but a pronouncement that Christianity was false.  How many students are going to be able to handle that?  How many are going to be willing and able to stand their ground to argue against it, or to realize that they might have to accommodate that pronouncement for the sake of the course, but that they don’t need to internalize it as a new or greater truth?
We all sigh about this and shake our heads is resignation.  Isn’t it awful?  What can you do?  
Here’s a radical thought – maybe we don’t pack our children off to a state/secular university for four years of indoctrination.  
Maybe we need to consider that this is a very real, very serious risk.  Not that our kids shouldn’t be exposed to alternate ideas.  Not that we’re seeking to shelter our kids as they grow up and avoid contamination with the Big Bad World.  But there’s a difference between exposing them to other viewpoints and ideas and talking about these constructively in a way consistent with our Christianity, and sending them off by themselves to face professors and others in positions of authority and academic and professional influence determined to debunk our kids’ faith.  
I don’t think it’s very surprising that as our higher educational institutions have become more liberal and hostile to Christianity that an undergraduate degree has come more and more to be expected for a vast array of employment and career possibilities.  It also doesn’t surprise me that the more influential the career – lawyer, politics, doctors, scientists, etc. – the longer people are expected to spend in the university setting.  Choosing more carefully whether to pursue a traditional university education and where to pursue it could have very real ramifications for the types of jobs that our kids might be interested in or deemed qualified for.  I suspect this is at the root of the Great Silence about what exactly our kids are experiencing and being taught at university.  Nobody likes the idea that their child might not be able to attend Berkeley or Harvard or Yale.  Nobody likes the idea that perhaps the educational treadmill that is being amped up faster and faster at earlier and earlier ages might be more dangerous than we think.  Nobody likes the idea that maybe we have to suffer in terms of where we study or what we study.
If we simply ignore these curious facts and pretend that they aren’t at all relevant to heart-breaking numbers of young men and women leaving the church, we’re not being honest, and we may just be facilitating the problem and the trend.  I’m not in favor of Christians pulling out of culture or society.  But we either need to be very proactive with our adolescents, or reevaluate whether traditional university education is right for them.  Because clearly, if the church and family is failing to do their respective duties in preparing kids for university and the Real World, the university is not going to fail any time soon in stripping our kids of their faith.  

5 Responses to “Don’t Bump Into the Elephant in the Room”

  1. justine Says:

    You can send the bill for this advertisement to the Franciscan’s P.R. department. ;-)

    http://www.franciscan.edu/Admissions/WhyFranciscan/

    (These are my folks.)

    “Tony and Mary Franzonello of Endwell, New York have sent nine of their children to Franciscan after they first fell in love with the University. They say, “Franciscan University is unlike any other school we know. The education they provide is excellent; academics are never second there. But, there is also so much more to the education the kids receive than just what they learn in the classroom. The peer pressure at Franciscan is just the opposite of the peer pressure on most campuses. It’s pro-life, pro-family, and pro-Catholic….The whole environment in which they live encourages them to grow in their faith. They come away from the school not just knowing their faith, but loving it.”

  2. Paul Nelson Says:

    Wow…the Franciscan Accounts Payable department is one tough cookie!  I almost felt like I had to go to confession once they got through with me for suggesting that they should pay me for advertising for them!  Oh well – never hurts to ask.  I have a great respect for those Catholic schools that are willing to remain true to their doctrinal foundations.  There’s one not far from me that has a great reputation (http://www.thomasaquinas.edu/).

    I’ll add to the mix that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (my peeps)  has an excellent system of schools as well – the Concordia University system.  http://www.lcms.org/pages/default.asp?NavID=886.  Great schools academically, very diverse in terms of student backgrounds and even belief systems, yet by and large to a degree I can’t personally attest to for every school, Christian in the outlooks and assumptions of the faculty and administration.  

    Of course the challenge is that these schools are typically expensive.  For your average family – particularly your average family with more than one college-bound student, attending these schools could set the parents into poverty (if you’re one of those who believe it’s the parent’s job to pay for their child’s higher education in full, which I’m not), or put the student into debt for several decades.  This makes weighing the decision about whether or not a college education is the right choice even more important, and second only to what school you might eventually settle on, or what sort of steps a family and congregation are taking to prepare their youth to weather the collegiate melting pot!

  3. justine Says:

    “Of course the challenge is that these schools are typically expensive…”

    Yup! And I agree with you about not paying for your kids in full too.

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