“State colleges corrupt people's morals and weaken Christians' faith.”
Though, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm not sure I've ever actually heard someone utter these exact words, I suspect that this is the underlying belief that drives many of the comments I hear from my fellow Christians about public colleges.
Let's face it, we've all heard the nightmare scenario: The devout Christian gets to college and finds herself in a freshmen philosophy class with an atheist professor who, day after day, attacks and belittles her faith until one day, she gives into reason and abandons her faith.
I don't doubt that on rare occasion, this scenario actually happens. But I have a hard time believing it's the norm. For this reason, whenever I hear Christians, many of whom went to Christian rather than “secular” universities, attack the ills of state schools, I get a little queasy.
Undoubtedly, my discomfort with this idea stems from my own experience. After all, I'm the product of a public university and rather than corrupt my morals and weaken my faith, my four years at the University of Illinois prompted some of the most intense spiritual growth I've ever experienced.
Because in college, by coming face to face with beliefs that differed from my own, I was forced to wrestle with my beliefs, compare them to what I was hearing from others, investigate Scripture, ask questions, and decide for myself what I believed and why. This was something that I could do, not because my high school youth pastor made me memorize a list of reasons why God existed or why Jesus' resurrection was real, but instead, because she taught me how to think for myself, ask questions, seek out answers, and respect the opinions of others, knowing that their opinions did not have to change mine.
Additionally, my college experience strengthened my faith because during it, each Sunday, I had to choose to get up and go to church and serve, knowing that plenty of my peers were still sound asleep. I had to choose to seek out a Christian community to participate in, not because anyone was forcing me to but because in high school, I had discovered the power of Christian community and so I desperately wanted to experience more of it in college.
As a result of wrestling with beliefs and intentionally choosing communities, I left college, not with a weakened faith, but with a strengthened one. As an added bonus, because my public university cost far less than a private, Christian one would have, I also left college with no debt, something that has, in my adult life, enabled me to be a better steward of the resources that God has blessed me with. What's more, I left college knowing that to maintain my faith in a so-called “secular” world, that while I need not fear engaging with it, I had best surround myself with a Christian community to help me grow and experience the deepest kind of friendship I know: That which is centered on Christ.
Despite this, I'm not actually advocating that every Christian student needs to attend a public university. What I am saying is that as youth workers, we need to recognize that while Christian students don't have to attend public schools for their faith to grow, they also need not avoid them like the plague in order to protect their faith.
After all, isn't God present and at work in both public and Christian universities? As Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and for him are all things.” If that's the case, isn't God sovereign over all things, even both public and Christian universities?
And if God is sovereign over all things, then we need not fear public universities. Indeed, God is there, just waiting to be encountered.