Over winter break I sat down to read the December 11 issue of the Torch. I was especially intrigued by the article, “How religious is too religious? Two student perspectives.” The article was in reference to “religious” signs posted on campus around the first week in December. Reading the title I assumed the Torch would offer two opposing perspectives to provide thought for fodder. Although I appreciate both writers’ perspectives, I was disappointed that the “other side” was not represented. Both student perspectives had the same conclusion…that the signs posted the first week in December were too religious because they only referred to “God” of The Bible and not any other religion. Here I would like to provide the “other voice” that was absent from the two perspectives. I believe, especially at a liberal arts institution, there is room for publicly stated, diverse views.
Two main concerns were raised by the writers. The first was the fact that the posters were anonymous, even though the other signs posted earlier in the year were anonymous too. Mary-Elizabeth Pratt, staff writer, suggested the signs were meant to recruit members for Campus Crusades for Christ or CRU. As faculty advisor for CRU, I have verified with the servant team that they, as an organization, did not author or post the signs. Perhaps the individual or group that did should have been identified on the signs, to avoid confusion and be consistent with the campus posting policy. But I don’t think this was the major issue.
The main issue was the message. The signs seem to have made some people uncomfortable because they either do not believe in the messages or they would rather find their faith through more private and personal means. Mary-Elizabeth Pratt writes, “Faith is a private matter for almost everyone.” While I respect this one point of view, I also think about others who have found faith from a sign, a word, or a speech they stumbled upon.
Mary-Elizabeth Pratt also wrote, “If CRU recruiters want to spread their ideology that everyone should know about Christ, they should be much more sensitive to students who do not believe the same things that they do, or want to believe the way they do.” Morgan Stutz, another staff writer, similarly commented by stating, “Regardless of intentions, the signs are exclusive to a particular group at Wittenberg. If your intent is to spread positivity to your fellow students, please take their diverse beliefs into consideration and draw from less biased sources in the future.” So in essence, both staff writers are saying that we shouldn’t voice our positivity unless it embraces all diverse groups on campus? If this is true, do we hold all campus groups to the same standard? And should this even be a guiding principle for what we speak or post?
I understand that not all Wittenberg students, faculty, and staff are Christ-followers. We are a liberal arts college that embraces diversity. But when did expressing your beliefs or opinions in a positive, constructive way become offensive or wrong because it made people uncomfortable? Is not one of the benefits of attending a liberal arts college to encourage exploration, challenge thinking, and foster questioning?
I find it difficult at times to be a person of faith on campus. Sometimes it seems our emphasis on tolerance does not extend to the person of strong conviction, of deep faith, of speaking out and standing up for what you believe. Our campus should be a place where tolerance and diversity mean that people can speak their views freely and publicly. Some may go too far, and exercise their free speech in ways that could be considered hurtful. While I may disagree with the content and nature of such messages, I tolerate it first and foremost because my Christian values implore me to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), and secondly because of First Amendment rights.
I will admit I didn’t see or read all of the “religious” signs that were posted, but the one that was featured in the article – “Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.” Romans 12:21 – was positive. So why can’t we accept the “religious” signs as an individual’s or group’s way of loving their neighbors through messages of joy and hope, or alternatively as an opportunity to exercise free speech?
Wendy Gradwohl, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Business