When liberal arts education redefines “love”

Photo cred: Jordan Zepnak

Photo cred: Jordan Zepnak

By: Justine Johnson

I am a sophomore at a liberal arts school in the center of a very Dutch Midwestern town. I grew up in the Christian and Missionary Alliance church denomination, was raised by conservative parents and youth leaders, and had a homeschool graduation on my front deck. I am the definition of the American Christian stereotype.

College is supposed to be a time to determine where you stand on major and minor issues. Liberal arts schools encourage independent thinking, and my school is no different in this respect. What happens, then, when a group of students who claim to be “open minded” criticize me for standing next to what I believe? I have not changed my view on homosexuality or women’s rights since coming to college, and somehow that gives certain people the idea that I am “not loving” people who are different than me.

I call a double standard.

I am not deeply moved by world poverty, my heart rate does not increase at the word “feminism,” and I am not at all offended by the issue of modesty in the church. Some say that I am apathetic, that I am selfish. They demand that I never judge another, yet they continue to point fingers in my direction while I attempt to be who God made me to be.

The Bible never declares, “Love is tolerant of all things.” It never states that “Love makes indignant Facebook statuses about social injustices.” The exact words of the Word say,

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”—1 Corinthians 13:3

I am the definition of the American Christian stereotype. If we disagree, can it please be in a way that does not make me feel like a self-centered, unloving jerk?



2 thoughts on “When liberal arts education redefines “love”

  1. Marilee says:

    Dear Justine,

    I can appreciate your perspective; I attended the same school as you and graduated in 2009. I, too, came from a fairly conservative upbringing. College was difficult for me in that I was confronted with a lot of doubt and questions and viewpoints that differed from my own.

    I am going to make some assumptions about you: I’m going to go ahead and assume that you haven’t stood up in front of a crowd and announced you hate poor people, or that you want all the children in Africa to starve. I am going to assume, as well, that you believe that the Gospel message (salvation through belief in Jesus’ work on the Cross) trumps any obligation to feed or clothe the poor – that the eternal salvation matters above and beyond earthly concerns. I get that. I used to think that way.

    I want to say this carefully, because I understand your heart because I’ve been there.

    I want to challenge you to allow yourself the luxury while you’re in college of asking the hard questions. It’s going to suck, yes. But you’ll come out so much stronger if you allow yourself to doubt what you’ve always believed. I honestly do not believe that people are attacking you as you believe they are. They’re probably just really passionate about poverty because poverty matters. They’re just really passionate about women’s rights because women matter. They’re passionate about modesty because the things we believe about women’s bodies matter. And, yes, they’d like you to agree with them, and yes, you’re welcome to not agree. But is it at all possible that it’s your conscience labeling you “a self-centered, unloving jerk?” Maybe it’s not. Maybe you’re right. But allow yourself to empathize with the “other.” Allow yourself to wrestle with the hard issues. You’ll come out stronger, I promise.


  2. I reiterate all that Marilee said and would like to quote an earlier piece of writing you’ve done, Justine, for this very magazine.

    “So please judge me. Perhaps I will be a better person someday because of it.”

    I challenge you to continue to think, pray, explore, wonder, and wander.

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