Written by Erica Siddle, Media by Kelsey Kuethe
A South Florida professor was placed on administrative leave after an in-class activity exploded into a media controversy following a student complaint. According to the student, who also notified the media of his professor’s insolence, he was unfairly suspended from class after refusing to write the name “Jesus” on a paper and stomp on it during the class activity.
The assignment came from a classroom exercise in the instructor’s guide of the textbook, and according to its author Jim Neuliep, it has been used in classrooms for the past 30 years without complaint. Deandre Poole, the professor of an intercultural communication class, defended himself by saying that first and foremost he asked the class to step on the paper, not stomp on it. He said the activity’s purpose is to show the power of symbols, not to disrespect Christianity.
The media has taken the activity and flung it neck deep into a world of controversy, labeling Poole as anti-Christian and insensitive. Yet was his activity truly out of line? Several other students in the class feel the media has misconstrued the classroom exercise, informing reporters, “Some students stepped on the paper and some didn’t, and no one’s grade suffered regardless of their actions.”
As Christians, we are often immediately caught up in the headline of such a story brought to us by our exaggerated media. I can see those headlines now: “Professor Suspended from FAU after Forcing Classroom to Engage in Anti-Christian Activity!” And oh, how the heads will roll…but should they?
One of my biggest critiques of those who love to point fingers is their lack of knowledge on the subject at hand. Have you ever noticed the person shouting the loudest commonly yells the same argument over and over? The masses against this activity act like the students were threatened with their grades if they did not repeatedly stomp on the name of Jesus. Yet as the facts about this activity begin to surface, it looks as if there was no threatening and no stomping. But people refuse to look at the facts and prefer sticking with their initial assumptions.
The Christians in the class could have taken this class activity as a chance to evangelize within the classroom, an opportunity that is probably rare within a secular institution. Instead, the activity was taken directly to the press, who blew the event far out of proportion and hardly in the name of Jesus. The young man who brought the event to the press was more upset about his grade than the fact that he was just asked to step on the name of Christ.
As Christians, we should be more appalled with his warped message than the activity itself. His response to the event did not show the picture of a Christ-centered believer expressing his concern to the public, but of a young boy dying for his 15 minutes of fame and perhaps a guaranteed passing grade. If we are going to stand up for an injustice, we should do so with the integrity of Christ, not the quest for recognition.
In an effort to fully understand this situation, I try to put myself in the shoes of those students asked to participate in this activity. I firmly believe I would not have stepped on the paper, but I am not sure if I would have taken the activity as an opportunity to share my faith with the class. I most likely would have sat down quietly after the “stomping,” listened to my peers, and left without another word. For this, however, I am ashamed. I disagree with the young man’s approach with the media, but I would have been silent.
As Christians, how do we straddle the line between over-the-top and silently subordinate? Especially at a Christian campus, where this activity would cause our jaws to drop to the paper before our foot ever could. As far as my own walk with Christ goes, this event clearly shows me the need this culture has for Christians to step it up—but not to step it up outrageously. If we hope to make an impact on the secular world that awaits us post-graduation, we cannot rush into the world with the blind spots of the “typical Christian.”
Beliefs, in general, lead to an incomplete view of reality. This is not to be confused as a byproduct of insolence; rather, it is a necessary fact many Christians have yet to face. By believing in Christ, we are accepting that our view of the surrounding world begins and ends with him. And due to the diversity of our planet, this reality will not be the same everywhere.
The activity at FAU was directly aimed at Christianity because America is a predominately Christian country, NOT because the teacher is the anti-Christ. Taking a look at the world beyond our specific beliefs can give us a better sense of the realities of those outside of the Christian faith, especially when we are confronted with a situation that challenges our faith specifically. The best way to ensnare your audience is to know your audience.
Instead of blowing challenging situations such as this one into the face of the media, I urge Christians to contemplate the backlash of their actions before taking them. In many situations, I have found that often times it is the quiet whisper that changes hearts rather than the booming voice. Taking small quiet moments, like a classroom discussion or a dinner with friends, is far more fruitful than screaming “Jesus haters!” from the rooftops. Not to mention that as a Christian, you will be taken far more seriously. We have to grow up with our faith, people. With great faith comes great responsibility.