New Hope Interview

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Well there has been quite a lot of discussion lately about Eric Fromm and his article about what it’s like to be an atheist at a Christian College. Be sure to check out the Register Guard article and Eric’s advisor’s responseto his atheism. I wanted a different perspective on the issue, so I decided to have a chat with Ian Unger and Jacob Waldo, who are students at New Hope Christian College. Now New Hope is a local Bible college here in Eugene, and is in some respects NCU’s sister college. Ian Unger is the Campus Culture Director and Jacob Waldo is the Spiritual Growth Director on New Hope’s Associated Student Body (ASB). Let’s hear what they have to say!

Should atheists be at Christian schools

Jacob

I would say yes. There are two different standpoints. Some people would say it’s not a good idea because the Christians might criticize them and there would be a lot of negativity that would rub off on everyone. I think an atheist in a Christian community might get saved being in the midst of that Godly influence.

Ian

I think that Christians are called to love, and we are not being like Christ if we are not welcoming anyone into our doors. It’s not showing a spirit of confidence or strong faith if we are so worried that having this person be a student on our campus might ‘corrupt’ us or bring the other students down. I think that shows a complete lack of faith in God, and a faith in our student’s own belief in Him if our faith is so flimsy that having a non-believer be a student at our school would destroy it. If there were several non-Christians this is what I would say. If it was approaching half the student body than I think calling ourselves a Christian school would be harder to do. If it’s more non-believers than Christians, you are probably just a normal college then.

What do you guys think of the issue of a Christian school president being an atheist?

Jacob

It seems interesting that an atheist would be on that position as the president. It seems a little confusing if the school is primarily Christian or is promoting Christianity. Not that he would get that far, just why is he there?

Ian

My first question would be ‘why does he want to be the ASB president of a Christian school?’ I’m assuming he’s not the only atheist or non-Christian person that goes to that school, but why would he want to be in student leadership of a Christian college. Not that he couldn’t be or shouldn’t be, I would just want to know his motivation behind being in the position.

Do you feel this school is welcoming to atheists?

Jacob

I imagine if here at New Hope we had an atheist student we would seclude that person, even if we didn’t want it to happen.  I would say that everyone would say ‘yes we’re welcoming’ but when they would get here it might be a different story. I wouldn’t know how to tell you if it would be or not because it all depends on if that actually happens. That would be my worry with atheists attending our school, for their sake.

Ian

This school pretty unique. We are similar to NCU and in the same town, but we are even smaller than them and are not a liberal arts college. We are pretty much exclusively Bible and ministry focused.  You are coming to school here because you plan on being in the ministry, there’s not really an alternative. We now have a business program, which is less focused on vocational ministry, but still you are going to be a leader in the body of Christ and church community. That is why you are coming to New Hope. I feel like it would be a really odd circumstance for an atheist to even come here. If one did though, I would hope we could be loving to them. I feel like a lot would depend on the person themselves. I think if somebody came and didn’t say right out there were an atheist, it just got revealed over time that would be different. When we apply to come here we have to write statements of faith, and I know that the school has turned people away before. I’m not sure if it was on the basis of their faith, but I know that there are people who don’t get accepted.

Do atheists belong here at New Hope?

Jacob

I don’t feel “belong” is the right word. I feel that the people this school is trying to get to come are the people who feel that they are going into the ministry and want to be trained for that. I feel that atheists could come to our school, but they are not the target audience.

Ian

I think that it could happen for an atheist to come here, but it would be on them to find out about us and apply. Our recruitment teams are going to private Christian schools as that is where you find people wanting to go into ministry. We are not going up to atheists and saying ‘get saved, then come to New Hope and we will show you how to be leaders in the church’.

Do you feel that a declaration of faith should be a requirement for all Christian schools?

Ian

Well you can easy lie on that. So I don’t think it really matters.

Jacob

For a Christian school, I don’t think they should require you to write something down about your faith. That’s super legalistic in my mind. I don’t believe that should be required at all, except maybe for the leaders.  But for a normal Christian school I don’t think it should be a requirement because then you are not reaching the people.

Ian

I don’t know everything about NCU, but I get the feeling that being a liberal arts school is more that anyone can come and get a degree in a variety of fields, whereas we at New Hope are training you for ministry.

 Should atheists be allow into student government at Christian colleges?

Jacob

That’s a really good question, and I’m not sure if I have an answer. The student government should be for the students and I would imagine if an atheist wants to be on the student government he wants to be there for the students. But at the same time the student government should be trying to build the students up in Christ, so I guess yes and no is my answer.

Ian

I think it is definitely something that is case by case. Say an atheist comes to New Hope and has been here for a while. Well freshman are not on ASB, so if you want to be on the executive consul or president then you have been going to this school for a few years. So people will know you and, odds are, people will know you are an atheist. I think if there was any conflict it would be the question of if the atheist was going to try to sway the beliefs of the other students or if they just wanted to support and encourage the people of this school. It’s just case by case by asking ‘why do you want to be on ASB?’ And we all get asked that question. I think that the default answer is yes they should be able to apply.

If the current ASB president at New Hope came out and said they were an atheist, how would you react on a personal level?

Jacob

Well from knowing her I would be shocked, as she does not show atheism at all. I guess I would feel betrayed in the fact that I thought she was a Christian, not betrayed as if I felt my leader was going to lead me astray.

Ian

I would feel the same way. Not the ‘how dare you’ but rather ‘that’s not how you portray yourself’. I would ask why she wasn’t herself and forthcoming before.

Would you want her to step down?

Jacob

No

Ian

I feel the same. I think it would be more awkward if Jacob, as the spiritual growth director, said he was an atheist. Then I would probably want him to step down. I would also wonder how in their thought process they thought it was the right position for them.

So if the president is an atheist, but there is a Christian as the spiritual leadership position, is that more acceptable?

Jacob

I would say yes. If the president is for the student body, their general well-being, that would be acceptable. If the atheist was in the spiritual leadership position I would ask them why they were doing it.

Ian

I would just like to say to that for ASB we have training and meetings where we go over our calling and what we want to do for ASB. I feel that it is more likely that if someone was an atheist it would be revealed then, rather than later, and would be less shocking. Then we could talk about their motivations and why they wanted to be on ASB.

Would you vote for an atheist president?

Ian

I would want to know their character, but I would.

Jacob

Same thing, I would just want to know them and then vote based on who they are as a person.

Thanks to Ian Unger and Jacob Waldo for this interview!