Christian College Embraces Atheist Student

What would happen to an atheist student at a conservative Christian college if his professors and peers found out about his lack of faith?  Turns out, not much.

That was the experience of Eric Fromm, at least, at Oregon’s Northwest Christian University.  Fromm, the student body president at the 600-student school, worried about the reaction when he “came out” as a non-believer.

According to a story in the Eugene Register-Guard, the school community has turned out to be supportive.  Michael Fuller, NWCU’s vice president for enrollment and student development, said there was no conflict between Fromm’s views and the school’s religious mission.  “I want students like Eric here,” Fuller told the Register-Guard,

students who are looking to explore their faith and willing to look hard and make their faith their own. . . . If we all had our wishes, we wish Eric would be a strong Christian man. . . .  We’re an open and welcome community, and we meet students exactly where they’re at.

Those of us from outside the world of conservative Christian higher education might be surprised by Fuller’s and NWCU’s open attitude.  After all, Fromm himself wondered what kind of reception he’d get when he publicized his atheism in the school paper.

Maybe we shouldn’t be.  After all, Fromm’s story is not unique.  ILYBYGTH readers may remember the testimony of Brandon Ambrosino, who reported his experiences at Liberty University.  Ambrosino, like Fromm, fretted over his decision to come out as homosexual at the rigorously conservative Liberty.  Like Fromm, Ambrosino found his faculty mentors downright supportive.

If the mission of many conservative colleges is to provide a “safe” theological environment for students, one that will support their faiths, then we’d expect faculty and administration to take a harsh line against students who thwart that mission.  An atheist student or an openly gay student would seem to introduce threatening elements into that safe environment.  That would seem doubly true if the atheist were popular and influential, as Fromm seems to be.

In practice, however, conservative schools seem well able to handle student dissent.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Agellius

     /  November 21, 2013

    “If the mission of many conservative colleges is to provide a “safe” theological environment for students, one that will support their faiths, then we’d expect faculty and administration to take a harsh line against students who thwart that mission.”

    I’m not sure why we would expect that. As a parent whose son chose a theologically “safe” Catholic college, I can say that what we mean by “safe” is not having our faith challenged (attacked and debunked) by the school itself, its curriculum and faculty, as does occur at a lot of Catholic colleges.

    Most people like us would agree that there is no problem with students themselves having differing points of view. I don’t believe the idea of keeping out non-Catholics or non-Christians, or requiring students to hold certain opinions, would gain any traction whatever. Although I believe in most cases students are warned that the Catholic point of view will be taught and assumed true, and that students are expected to *behave* morally, and if they have a problem with that they might want to go elsewhere.

    Reply
  2. Agellius

     /  November 21, 2013

    By the way, I just discovered and am enjoying your blog. It’s an interesting premise for a blog: A non-conservative (evidently) attempting to understand conservatives non-judgmentally. From the little I’ve read you do seem to be succeeding at being neutral.

    Reply
    • Agellius, Thanks, and I’m glad you’re here. For the record, though, I don’t claim to be neutral. I certainly have a bias in favor of ideas we usually call “liberal” or “progressive.” But I do borrow a page from the intellectual playbook of the religious conservatives I study: I try to be humble. Not in the sense of being personally modest, but rather in the intellectual sense of being keenly aware that my ideas and assumptions may be deeply flawed.

      Reply
  3. Agellius

     /  November 22, 2013

    At any rate, it comes across as being objective, for the most part. “We report, you decide” type of thing.

    Reply

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