I am now living across the river from Lynchburg and when I heard about Kevin Roose’s “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University” I quickly got my name on the reserve list at the local library. I had a chance to briefly meet Roose and chat a bit. And now that I’m half way through his book just find the whole conversation fascinating.
Roose is a college student from Brown who had no personal contact with conservative Christianity. He enrolled at Liberty for one semester to immerse himself in the culture to write a book about it. He did not tell anyone his real reason for going and so he was able to get an insider’s look at the school. He signed up for a slew of religious classes that are required on campus (although not all at once for the average student), sang in Thomas Road’s choir, went on a mission trip, and did an interview with Jerry Falwell.
This book is not shocking to anyone who already knows that Liberty University and Falwell’s church teach literal young earth creationism, the rapture, and submission of women to their husbands. Yet Roose is not bashing anyone but rather finds friendship with many of the students and the book is simply fascinating. Roose doesn’t convert but he does seem to give a balanced view of his experience.
As I work my way through the book I continue to be amazed at how strict LU is and yet it has loosened up quite a bit. The dress code of coat and tie is gone. The school is not near as restrictive as Bob Jones and other schools but still for me it is a place that has some tight rules.
The school’s rules are called “The Liberty Way” and they are out in public for all to see. Regarding women and men they are not allowed to kiss and hand holding is as far as anything goes. Kissing is actually a fine. Watching R movies is also an offense that leads to a fine. Cursing is a fine as well. And many other rules exist.
Roose mentions in his book that Bob Jones requires a chaperone when male and female students date. A school in Florida can even fine you for looking to long at the opposite sex. I was amazed at the RA (Resident Advisor) who talked about other RAs who hide at movie theaters or follow students to fine them for breaking the rules.
I realize that the other extreme is shocking to Christian parents. Visiting the campus of a secular school and the parties that happen would probably shock many a mom and dad. Yet this other wild swing is almost Taliban like. If you remember the Taliban in Afghanstain were very restrictive and banned male/female touching outside of marriage, r movies, cursing, and…..wait a minute sound familiar? This wasn’t done in the name of Jesus but in the name of Allah! But the rules sounds very familiar. The Taliban of course had women dress in burkas and the LU students I see seem to not be wearing cloaks.
I’m not bashing LU. I know folks who have attended or attend LU and if you are reading this I am not attacking you! The whole conversation just brings up food for thought.
These rules are public knowledge and have been covered in our local paper. I understand the desire is to promote morality and provide a safe place for Christians to study. I realize that. As a minister I would expect higher standards at a Christian school than I would at a state school. I would expect higher expectations but I would also realize that these are adults who are studying and preparing to enter the world and actually already live in the real world. Somewhere a balance needs to be made that is rational and realistic. And yet if schools want to shape themselves in such a way and people want to attend in such a school then that’s part of living in a free country and so LU and any other Christian organization has a right to be as strict as they want to be and we have a right to attend or not to attend.
Yet this whole conversation is interesting for all believers. What is legalism? When do we go from morality to being legalistic? What is Christian freedom? Now that is an interesting conversation. Jesus challenged rule keepers and yet he also didn’t just say do what you want to do.
I would suggest for the believer that we really have to self police ourselves. What do we do when no one is around? What is in our heart? Who are we really?
A child could attend a private school then go to a school like LU and avoid many temptations. The rules might help him/her avoid many things but when that child is 22 and moves on to the world at large what will he/she do when facing temptation when no one is there to fine them? Will they be able to handle it when someone flirts at the office with them while their spouse is not with them? What will their reaction be at the water cooler when jokes are told or when lifestyles are in the open that they have never seen before? I’m curious about that.
I grew up in public school and attended a public college and then a Christian one and seminary. Some of the schools were conservative in rules but not near as much as the Liberty Way. I was a commuter in college most of the time so it was not an issue. The one year I did live in the dorm of a private Christian college and experienced such rules I basically ignored those I did not like but did nothing immoral. I moved out to ignore the silly ones. Seminary tended to be more progressive and really didn’t have rules. We were adults after all. I admit I am a fairly boring and calm person but I was not sheltered from reality and yet was taught morality and faith and turned out alright.
Read Roose’s book and see what you think! Feel free to comment. Again no condemnation intended just thinking about a book that has a local interest.