The following is an open letter posted on the website of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, a Christian school, by the college’s president Dr. Everett Piper. It addresses the growing problem of college students being ‘offended’ by everything, and college officials caving in to their increasingly ridiculous demands. This is having a chilling effect on free speech in higher education, a part of our society that used to pride itself on being a setting which welcomed a free and open exchange of ideas in the pursuit of truth. I include it here because it addresses the problem in the context of our Christian faith.
This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.
I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”
I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.
So here’s my advice:
If you want the chaplain to tell you you’re a victim rather than tell you that you need virtue, this may not be the university you’re looking for. If you want to complain about a sermon that makes you feel less than loving for not showing love, this might be the wrong place.
If you’re more interested in playing the “hater” card than you are in confessing your own hate; if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn; if you don’t want to feel guilt in your soul when you are guilty of sin; if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the land (in Missouri and elsewhere) that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn’t one of them.
At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered. We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict. We believe the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin. We don’t believe that you have been victimized every time you feel guilty and we don’t issue “trigger warnings” before altar calls.
Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place”, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up.
This is not a day care. This is a university.
“If we dumb down the academic conversation to nothing but what is acceptable by the powerful and what is policed by those in control, then we’ve lost the very heart and soul of the liberal arts academy.” –Everett Piper
Piper is not alone in his frustration. A week before he posted his letter, three students of The Claremont Colleges in Southern California published an editorial voicing similar concerns. A dean at the school resigned after sending an email referencing students who didn’t fit the “CMC mold,” which some interpreted as a racist remark. But upperclass students Hannah Oh, Steven Glick, and Taylor Schmitt disagreed. They wrote they were disappointed in administrators for responding too soon without allowing time for debate, and they chastised their fellow students for making childish demands: “College is the last place that should be a safe space. We come here to learn about views that differ from our own, and if we aren’t made to feel uncomfortable by these ideas, then perhaps we aren’t venturing far enough outside of our comfort zone.”
I Corinthians 13:4-7 — Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
II Timothy 4:2-4 — Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage— with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
I John 1:8 — If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Almighty God, give us a measure of true religion and thereby set us free from vain and disappointing hopes, from lawless and excessive appetites, from frothy and empty joys, from anxious, self-devouring cares, from a dull and black melancholy, from an eating envy and swelling pride, and from rigid sourness and severity of spirit, so that we may possess that peace which passes all understanding, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683), English philosopher