Updated: Feb 10, 2020
By Madison Boboltz, Staff Writer
I went to a small private high school where I had chapel and Bible/Theology class every day. Some days it was refreshing to take a break from academics, spend some time in worship, hear a short message and read and study the Bible. Other days it felt forced. We sang the same songs. The sermons got repetitive and uninteresting. And I wondered what the point was in regarding ourselves so highly because of our Christian values when in reality we had our scandals and coverups, our cut-throat competitiveness, our mistreatment of staff, faculty, and students and our ridiculous drama just like every other school.
The moments I experienced God most profoundly were not necessarily in chapel or those classes. It was when a student died unexpectedly while swimming at his lake house with friends and the entire school grieved together. It was when my English teacher cried reading a passage aloud from a novel because it reminded her of her parents. It was when the Nelsons, a retired couple whose kids had graduated years before, still showed up to every single sports game to support the athletes. Those are just a few of the many times I felt proud of my community and remembered how privileged I was to receive an education amongst such caring and resilient people.
I feel the same way about my faith experiences at Hardin-Simmons University. We are not a “Christian” school because we pray at football games, talk about God in science classes and have a pretty chapel. Those things are not unimportant, but they can distract from those subtler characteristics and experiences that may truly act as defining moments in a person’s faith.
As a freshman amidst the chaos and confusion following the 2016 presidential election, I experienced God in the words of wisdom and comfort my professors offered the next morning in classes. As a sophomore, when I felt distressed and displaced having to move out of my dorm because of bed bugs, I experienced God in the way my friends helped me pack my stuff and stayed with me in a hotel. My junior year, I experienced God in the courage demonstrated by my peers who shared their stories at our event for National Coming Out Day. My senior year, I experienced God in the research I did for my Honors Capstone about shame and the church.
In my years here, it has seemed to me like the school is working harder to brand itself as a “Christian” university. I think it is unfortunate that we sometimes reduce that word to an adjective which can be used to propel a marketing strategy to recruit prospective Christian students who expect to go to college and be affirmed in everything they think and believe as opposed to being challenged. I think there is way more value in an education enlightened by faith than just that.
What if to be a Christian university means that we work harder than any other to ensure that students who are traditionally marginalized feel safe? What if to be a Christian university means to work harder than every other to ensure that those who need counseling services or emergency services can afford them? To offer honest information about the affordability of college? About the rights of students to report inappropriate behavior?
What if it means that we strive for academic excellence among our students, not because we need them to win arguments, but because our world needs more mature thinkers? What if we were to describe ourselves as a “family” not because trust and respect is expected and demanded, but actually earned and appreciated?
I am grateful for my education enlightened by faith. I am grateful that it felt authentic, not forced. I hope it remains so for students to come. And I especially hope that being at a Christian school is a source of comfort, not fear, for those who need a safe space to put their minds, talents and passions to work.