In trying to summarize JBU’s political climate last year, I kept bouncing between analogies of a daytime soap opera and a public fart. Both leave you a little uncomfortable and asking, “What the heck just happened,” but neither seem to quite capture the volatile atmosphere that loomed around campus last school year. We all realize that much of this was sparked by the events preceding and following the election. Although the election is over, it is important to look back and acknowledge some of the ways our campus responded in divisive times so that we can leave that bitterness behind and start this year more appropriately. The only thing worse than one public fart is another one right after it.
From my perspective, the nature of the political atmosphere was displayed clearly in three main areas on our campus: Residence Life, campus-wide events (such as forums and chapel), and most noticeably, the everyday conversations of students. The intent of this article is to reveal sources of political tension on campus last year, not to support or sabotage any specific items of argument from those sources.
As Residence Life has emphasized, RAs guide the culture at JBU. This influence can help spiritually focus a student body but can also lend itself to spreading a school of thought. Much of the tension that built within Residence Life happened independent of the election. In privilege training, RAs were separated into privileged and underprivileged groups based on skin color and how many luxury items each one owned. Racism was stressed as the ultimate issue at JBU. Homosexuality sensitivity training directly discouraged RA’s from sharing certain Scripture passages with homosexual students. All of these methods were then enforced by Scripture. These items were a major source of tension and disagreement last year.
The next source of political tension was the larger events such as forums, chapels, and talk-back sessions. As intended, these events lead to campus-wide conversation. Mike Huckabee and Mae Elise Cannon gave two of the more stirring chapels. The response to these chapels noticeably divided the campus. Whether full of anger at distasteful tweets or at the accusation of white supremacy, much of the conversation after these events were rash and heated. Some advocated for no controversial speakers and others for more. Both parties here were distracted from the real source of the controversy—the students themselves.
Finally, and most importantly, the heated atmosphere was fueled by the daily conversations of students. This was the source of the deadly fart. Our campus has always had speakers that students disagree with and the supporters and challengers of Reslife, but our campus has not always had the divisive and bitter accusations that manifested last year. I personally had JBU students tell me “you can’t be a Christian and vote for Trump,” “you can’t be a Christian and vote for Hillary,” and “if you aren’t actively advocating for Syrian refugees, you are living in sin.” Stapling our faith to every detail of our political beliefs is degrading to that faith. Your faith will inspire you to a certain political standing, but another's faith will inspire them to the other standing.
So should we not argue, advocate, or protest? By no means! The key is to know when to push and how to do it. Thomas Jefferson is often credited for saying, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” To make every issue a matter of principle is to cheapen our principles. And to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ as opponents is to polarize our campus. Although they didn’t make it easier, the problem last year was not Reslife, controversial chapel speakers, uncomfortable forums, or even the election. The problem was the lack of civility in the discussions they provoked. The problem was neglecting to see Christ in the person at the end of our words. JBU, I encourage you to argue boldly, but do so in love.