Hate in a story about embracing diversity

university of marylandThe best thing reporters can hear from editors is that they can have as much space as they need to tell the story. In an era of online publishing, this should be the case every time, but I don’t see reporters or their editors using that opportunity all that often.

In a world where column inches do not matter, reporters face a different challenge of knowing when to stop reporting and writing. In my own experience, a good editor acts as a good stop. A fast-approaching deadline also acts as a fairly reliable stopper.

In an excellent example of how to use the Internet to enhance a reporter’s ability to tell a story, The Washington Post‘s Michelle Boorstein filed two versions of her Jan. 15 article, “A Mission of Understanding: At U-Md., Evangelical Christian Teen Breaks Into the Mainstream, Out of His Comfort Zone.” One went into the morning newspaper, which I enjoyed over eggs and toast, and the other went online which I also enjoyed (sans the food).

Why aren’t newspapers doing this more often? The print version of the article, which I cannot find online, was more concise and more readable. And the online version seemed to read like the version that existed before the Post‘s inch-guardians got their grubby hands on it. The online version rambled a little bit, but it told a more complete story.

The story is about Danny Leydorf, who attended a Christian school in Annapolis since he was in kindergarten. For college he selected the University of Maryland, a secular state school, in an effort to “test his faith in a more diverse world.” This, as the article nicely outlines, is a growing trend among kids raised in Christian educational environments. For the last 30 years, kids coming out of Christian high schools were directed toward Christian colleges or the mission field, and even today there remains hesitancy about secular schools.

After reading the through the first five paragraphs of the article, one does not have to wonder why Christians are hesitating or nervous:

“I feel like I exist to be interacting,” the lanky, towheaded 19-year-old said eagerly one day last summer, shortly after his graduation, “and part of that is just getting out there.”

So he’d deliberately picked a large, secular college: the University of Maryland. But the week before he was to leave, the wider world dealt him a blow.

“I hate evangelical Christians,” read the Facebook.com profile of his roommate-to-be, who had seemed so perfect on the phone. He loved politics and “The Simpsons,” like Leydorf, and they even had the same views about how to set up the room. Could it still work?

We later learn that Leydorf decided to ignore the Facebook comment, concluding that the unnamed roommate was using “evangelical” to describe people like “Jerry Falwell whom Leydorf considers intolerant.” (I guess it just depends on how you define “evangelical,” right?)

facebookCollege kids are not exactly known for their discretion, and this is especially true for freshmen. Saying that you “hate” something on Facebook is not generally taken very seriously. For instance, there is a group on Facebook called “Abortion: Because I Hate Babies” that has 72 members. Another called “ACME employees who hate ACME” has 11 members. The “Adam Sandler Hate Club” has 46 members. You get the idea.

But that doesn’t mean the Post should simply ignore the irony that Leydorf, raised in a Christian school and seeking to learn to live in “a more diverse world,” is facing the hate of the real world before he even steps on campus. Perhaps Leydorf’s roommate will learn a thing or two from his new evangelical Christian friend who seems as willing as anyone to embrace diverse environments.

Go to the Maryland University homepage and you’ll immediately see a link on Diversity. On that page you’re told that this is “your road map to the plethora of equity and diversity undertakings on our campus.”

A huge part of the story is devoted to telling the story of why evangelicals withdrew from secular institutions. Perhaps this lack of interaction has allowed people like Leydorf’s roommate to develop a hate for Christians because they did not know any — or at least any like Leydorf, who is someone that most people would find it hard to hate.

Colleges and universities are burdened with the unenviable task for sorting through the competing values of free speech and protecting diversity and individual rights. Was this a comment that should have changed the direction of the story? I would say no because I think the writer had a better story to tell. But it’s certainly worth looking into in the future. And as I said earlier, time is the big constraint for reporters these days, not column inches.

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  • Paul Barnes

    As a college age kid (sorta), the word love is also used freely, such as ‘I love lamp’. Of course, this is a quote from the movie Anchorman, but the principle is the same. Regarding facebook in particular, I know that I have written comments that are mainly inside jokes to people that I know would get them…or just for weirdness sake.

    On the other hand, I can see the diversity issue on campus too. I live in residence, and half of the events that are planned by either the residence or the student union involve sex and/or the use of contraceptives. Not only do I find some of this offensive (from a Platonic and Kantian justice angle) but also as a Catholic. Furthermore, I know that my money is funding some of this nonesense, while the school is unwilling to hire a priest for the campus.

    Finally, I seem to make some close friends with people who are very hostile to religion. I mean, it is even difficult to talk about anything close to religion because of their hatred and ignorance. So I do not think that its impossible to be able to develop friendly relations with people who hate what they think you are (another factor of ignorance).

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    What I find interesting is how “diversity” seems to have become a code word for “accepting immorality”. It has been 25 years since I lived in the dorms at UMCP, but it sounds as though the pressure to conform to the general acceptance of promiscuity, drinking, and what-have-you haven’t changed at all. I think the article would have been much more interesting with the voice of the “evangelical-hating” roommate, who after all is being called to live with someone who may disapprove of his views.

  • Maureen

    This all sounded very familiar. I only had a few friends at college whom I could talk about religion to. Most were, quite literally, neopagans. I had a few fellow Catholic friends, but they mostly lost their faith during college. Another couple were evangelical; one stayed faithful. The other went through a quarter of drug use and then pulled out of it, but seemed to have lost her faith during the rest of college.

    Anti-Christian and anti-Catholic feeling was strong in many students. I can’t tell you how many times I was personally blamed for the Crusades. I was told to my face that the Mass was necromancy. And so on. Huge pain in the butt, and nobody ever warned us about this kind of thing. (Except for certain Gospel passages, of course.) You get to the point where you just get sick of it, as much for how stupid and illogical it is as for the prejudice behind it.

    OTOH, though, there were also huge amounts of pressure to join various evangelical Bible study groups and prayer groups. I’m sure they only meant to be friendly, but it came across as scary and culty. Never thought I’d spend the first day of every quarter hiding from the Holy Bible or being tempted to blaspheme against the Lord just so I could get past!

    At one point I did join a group in my dorm because I knew the people. But it was very hard on my faith because they unconsciously denigrated the normal Catholic style of devotion and Bible study. I found myself feeling negative and tentative about exactly the things I’d always known best and deepest. So I left it pretty soon, but a lot of damage had already been done. It got me years to get my equilibrium back.

    College kids stink as leaders of prayer groups or Bible study, but they’re great at making you feel like crud, even when they don’t mean to. That’s all I’m gonna say.

    The worst thing was probably the attacks of spiritual dryness, though. I had _no idea_ what was going on, because I’d never really read up on that part of mystical life. My campus parish never had talks about anything useful like that, and I had no idea I could even ask a priest about that sort of thing. So instead of persevering, I mostly stopped praying, which was a big mistake.

    But no matter what happened, I kept getting up every Sunday morning or Saturday evening, and went to Mass. When everything else was awry, there was God and thus, there was home. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to abandon that.

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  • Tope

    A huge part of the story is devoted to telling the story of why evangelicals withdrew from secular institutions and perhaps this lack of interaction has allowed people like Leydorf’s roommate to develop a hate for Christians largely because they did not know any. Or at least any like Leydorf, who is someone that one would find it hard to hate.

    This is exactly right. Obviously there are dangers to being in the “secular” world as Christians, but the costs of withdrawing from the world at large have been, in my personal opinion, far too high. The Christian groups I grew up in had little to no contact with non-Christians, and that proved so limiting – both in terms of their potential (positive, I would hope) influence on others, and in terms of their worldview. Beliefs, practices and political stances that were really outworkings of a particular church culture were raised to the level of faith and dogma.

    To put that more succinctly, when we “go into the world to serve God and each other,” the benefits are not only for those we interact with, but for us as well. We learn from them as much as they (hopefully) learn from us.

  • http://chandirasblog.blogspot.com Chandira

    I’m ashamed to say that I might also at some point not have used the word ‘hate’ exactly, when talking about evangelical Christians, but definitely a dislike. And you know why? The media. I’ve bought into the whole split in the country myth, of left and right, and forgotten the people.
    My bias was in knowing a girl in school who was very evengelical, somewhat unusual for England, and she was a real PAIN. I grew to loath her. I really did. She definitely went a long way to putting me off regular Christainity. I have deep love for the more scholarly historical monastical side of the religion though.

    I do actually know and work with a lot of decent Christians, and I like them. I don’t disbelieve in Chriatianity, I just think there is more to life, and have found something else that works better. I guess statisitcally, those annoying people are there in any religion, we just see more from Christianity because there are more Christians.

    Great article. And good for him, what a great attitiude.

  • Harris

    This is such an odd, local article.

    First, we are in a sub-culture even among Evangelicals: those who attend high quality private (Christian) schools. How high quality? Many of his friends were going off to Wheaton, a fine, highly selective, and expensive school.

    Second, for all the huffing and puffing about supposed breaking in of Evangelicals, the article itself notes that even 20 years ago, Annapolis Christian was sending 60 percent of its college students to secular campuses (now, it’s 80 percent). Put a different way, most Evangelical college students are in fact at secular or at least, non-Evangelical schools.

    The story, it seems is not about Evangelicals entering the Academy and encountering (gasp! Shock!) “hate”, but the sheltered environment of Christian education, as Leydorf’s comments at the end reveal:

    Shortly after Christmas, Leydorf and a few other recent Annapolis Area Christian School grads were asked back to talk about college. They were asked: “What was your biggest temptation, and how did you deal with it?” For Leydorf, it turned out not to be such things as drinking and sex but rather a type of religious hubris.

    And not to pick on your morning reading, but the Post and most other papers were all too silent about the Urbana Mission Conference at St. Louis at year’s end. The one paper that caught it was the WSJ .

  • Stephen

    I’m an evangelical Christian who chose to go the secular collage route for much of the same reasons as Leydorf, and no, it isn’t easy. And to agree with Maureen, the Christians are sometimes just as big a problem as the non-Christians. I’ve had the opportunity to be associated with three difference colleges, all secular. (They are the one I’ll graduate from, the one I am now on exchange at, and the one I attended the Intervarsity meetings at even though I was working at the time and not studying.) Two of these schools were small, about 10,000 students or less, and there I found the Christians to be great because there was only ONE evangelical Christian group, and it was a united, warm community. At the third university, though, from which I’ll graduate which has about 43,000 students, there are a ton of Christian groups, all seemingly desperate for members. The first week I got invited to at least a half dozen barbeques hosted by various Christian groups who all seemed to be identical in mission statement and purpose. I went to the Intervarsity barbeque and meeting, and didn’t go back because they were practically begging us to sign up, and had all kinds of fancy-sounding bible studies so we could pick something that fit our interests. A far cry from the previous Intervarsity group I was part of, and I didn’t go back, nor did I go to any of the others. I was living at a small Mennonite residence, so that was good for the time being for christian fellowship, and I eventually ran into an Orthodox group which seemed different because they were just starting and they didn’t seem too interested in attracting members, but rather just wanted to worship God, so I joined them, though I am not Orthodox myself. (I actually met one of the members earlier, and he even took me to an Orthodox church, but never told me about the group on campus. So when I learned of it online and showed up, he was quite surprised.) So yes, Christians can learn a lot at secular universities, though they may learn a lot they weren’t expecting to learn. And on the big campuses the Christian groups have got to unite and project a united witness. Especially if there are not enough Christians to go around, because then the result is just pitiful.

  • evagrius

    My experience perhaps goes further back than most people who post here.
    I went to a “secular” university back in the hallowed year of 1969.
    I went to the University of California at Santa Cruz.
    There, I encountered a mixture of professors, teachers, and students of all types.
    The ones I remember, and treasure, are the ones who taught me, taught me some valuable things.
    The first encounters I had with Page Smith, Donald Nicholl and Mary Holmes were astounding.
    Mr. Smith was a devout Episcopalian, Mr. Nicholl a devout Catholic and Mary a devout artist.
    I learned more about the meaning and value of what it means to be an educated person, ( in the true sense of the word, someone who is taught or led to truth ), from them than anyone else.
    I learned the values of American history from Page Smith, the values of European history from Donald Nicholl, and the value of art from Mary Holmes.
    I was never aware of the dichototomy of “Christian” vs. “secular” values until a long time after I graduated.
    If anyone is curious, look up Mr. Smith and Mr. Nicholl and find the works they wrote.
    And look up the art Ms. Holmes left behind.

    This was at a “secular” university.

    If an “evangelical” Christian had encountered them, I don’t think they’d be disappointed.

  • Scott Allen

    It’s nice that a journalist took the time to cover this topic. My thanks to everyone, but particularly Stephen, for very interesting stories.
    As for me: I had been a PCUSA student leader in high school but lost my faith after a “Christianity 101″ class at UVA. Frankly, I didn’t have much content to my faith to begin with, so it was easy for my empty head to be filled with the Higher Criticism. At UVA the Baptist Student Union was fairly prominent. Other groups seemed rather stealthy. I thought most christian groups were just full of nicey nicey people out of touch with reality. It’s funny how the proponents of “diversity” have since escalated from the tolerance I practiced as an agnostic to an open hostility and hatred. But of course, that’s to be expected if you read the New Testament, but I digress.
    At age 37, after decades of off-and-on exposure to religious groups and the Bible, God changed my heart and I could see the clarity of the Truth in what the Bible tells about man, God, the nature of the universe, etc. Why do I mention this? Because most of my “legacy” (pre-age 37) friends and family are not active christians. I do not hold back in any respect, but witness to what God is doing in my life and if they hate it, they hate it. Christ promised this sort of reaction, though it’s abused and some take it as a license to be obnoxious. Instead, hostility should be engendered because we accurately speak the Truth, not because of our behavior (see I Pet 2).
    I’m not surprised to read comments of hostility toward “evangelical” kids on campus because most know how to repeat certain Biblical truths but haven’t had to really THINK about their faith as they encounter the challenges of adult life. Nonetheless, I wish I had studied the Scripture with fellow students in college. Like all non-christians, I was looking for an excuse to not listen to the Truth. ABC – Anything But Christ is the outlook of the World.

  • evagrius

    I really wish people would quit making these distinctions between “Christians” and “non-Christians”.

    What it really is, is the distinctions between non- “evangelical” Christians, Christians, and others.

    If “evangelical” Christians knew any history, then they should know that the behavior of most college students isn’t really all that much more un-Christian than the behavior of students throughout history- read the life of Thomas More or read the stories of Chaucer. Read Rabelais for a good laugh.

    This distinction is a false one- set up on a “gnostic” set-up. By “gnostic”, I don’t mean someone who’s encountered an experience of ego-destruction, ( which is Christian gnosticism, ( read the real Evagrius- on Prayer or read Origen or read the Philokalia or the Desert Fathers or, for that matter, the New Testament), but someone whose ego is falsely strengthened by a mistaken reading and understanding of Scripture.
    That kind of Christianity is the one intuitively
    avoided by most people.
    That’s what makes Christianity so hard to make sensible to most people.

  • Scott Allen

    Evagrius, the Bible (that is, Jesus himself) makes a distinction between true followers and those who claim to do things in His Name…but He never knew.
    Further, the Great Commission is to spread the Word.
    Ideally, the term “evangelical” would mean public and faithful proclamation of the Word. This need not be ambush evangelism, but certainly should mark a Christian as salt & light.

    Personally, I never use the word “evangelical” because it is abused. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) certainly considers itself to be “evangelical” (perhaps witnessing publicly) but it is not faithful to the Word. Other denominations do not believe in a public witness. Even if they did, many would not witness to the Word anyway, but believe in christianity as a cloak to cover their own pet political beliefs (right or left).

    Christianity is extremely sensible. A child can understand the Gospel, yet the depth of God’s wisdom is such that scholars can spend a lifetime exploring the truths of the Word. This is what we would expect of a universal message about a universal savior.

    Christianity is rejected because its central message is repugnant. All other religions and philosophies of man involve self-improvement. The message of Christ is that we are born spiritually dead, and that we must repent and accept the free gift of salvation as God changes our hearts from stone to flesh and gives us life. The natural man finds this Gospel loathsome.

    In sum, there are Christians and everyone else (“christians” and non-christians). This is central to every book of the New Testament (and arguably, the Old Testament). Regardless of whether you accept this dichotomy or reject it, this is what the Bible teaches and is a proper categorization for this Blog.
    Since you seem to be well-read, I am not giving Chapter & Verse for above, but will if you so request.