Recently, I read The Unlikely Discipleby Kevin Roose, on a friend’s suggestion. The basic theme behind this book is bridging the God Divide that exists within our American culture. Roose takes leave of absence the ultra liberal Brown University to attend the ultra conservative Liberty University for a semester. His goal from this semester was to not only humanize the people that inhabit the far right, but also to find out if he could relate to his peers despite the rift caused by religion.
As I began reading, I thought the idea intriguing…as I would tend to think of myself straddling that God divide. This idea might be laughable to some, as I clearly lean towards theology in many ways; but considering where I come from, I am dangerously close to crossing the line. I also found the idea interesting because I think too much of our society has no hope for bridging this God divide, but the reality is we all have to coexist and ignoring each other is not a valid path to successful livelihoods.
Roose goes ‘undercover’ as a evangelical Christian to get the full Liberty University experience, though he never told anyone that he was saved, at a Christian university, unless you rebel against the moral rules and deny it publicly, everyone assumes that you belong to the majority religion. He experiences things that are too comical and bizarre to a vaguely Quaker 19-year-old. Things like gender-segregated dorms, school-wide curfew, and the hand holding only policy when it comes to male-female relations.
In his experience however, he makes friends with and bonds with college students who willingly and openly accept these rules as the best things for them. He has weekly prayer meetings with the guys on his hall, through which, although still slightly uncomfortable with the idea of prayer, he discovers that it’s a nice feeling to have someone to pray for you. He learns that the students at Liberty University are not the brainwashed followers of Jerry Falwell that he thought that they were. They are not uniform in their opinions about anything, and they are definitely not as intellectually naive as he perceived young evangelicals to be before his semester at Liberty.
The thing that struck me most about this book is the eerie similarities between Liberty and Freed-Hardeman, the college that I went to. In some ways Liberty is more strict than Freed, but not in all ways. For example: physical contact between genders is definitely not limited to hand holding only at Freed, but unlike Liberty, Freed has a Chapel (or Convocation) service every single day, and attendance is mandatory. There are only minor differences, but I always imagined Freed to be a one of kind place that had crazy rules (Liberty also has a weekly room check in which beds have to be made, trash emptied, and laundry done…like Freed). But it turns out that other evangelicals also choose to educate their young adults the same way.
Since I have left Freed, I have changed more than I would be willing to describe. I’ve gone through a dark period of bitterness about my conservative background. Honestly if I had read this book a year ago, I probably would have had too many bitter recalls about a university, that’s goal is to prepare it’s students for the future with a little too much focus on the dogmas with which it was associated, to be able to enjoy and relate to the book. Perhaps providentially, my friend Allison suggest that I read this book a few weeks ago, and although I had heard of it months ago and thought it sounded interesting, I didn’t do any follow-up.
Being at the point where I am now in my relation to Freed (and my conservative background) is a much healthier place. Now I can look at the absurd things that I did for four years, (a weekly memory verse quiz in every Bible class for four years, for starters), with the perspective that those small things that where so important eight years ago had and have no significant role on how I function as a member of the global society, but they did make up the larger system functions that molded my college life. Curfew may have been an odd thing for a 22-year-old college senior to ascribe to, but as Roose discovers in his semester, everyone having to be back in the dorms created a community that without that mandate probably wouldn’t have existed.
You should read this book if you too went to Freed, or a similar place, and have moved on and have the ability to laugh at your roots, but still appreciate the experiences that defined you for four years.
Unlikely enough, this book made me miss my far right evangelical college days (as the old saying goes).
I’ll end with a scripture, vaugely related to my post, yet still taken out of context…which is what I miss most about Freed!
Philippians 1:3-5: I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.