Intellectual intolerance, universities, and the Gospel

USA (MNN) – Intellectual intolerance has been growing on many United States’ college campuses. Universities and colleges have become more political and in turn have become increasingly intolerant of opinions differing from their own.
Intellectual Intolerance Called Out
(Photo Courtesy InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

Stanford’s former provost, John Etchemendy has even called US colleges out on the matter during a speech he delivered to Stanford’s board of trustees. Yet, the challenges Christians and campus ministries face regarding intellectual intolerance could lead to the Gospel.

“InterVarsity has seen universities become more narrow-minded in the range of opinions they’re willing to entertain. [They’re] more reactive to ideas that they don’t like and more uncomfortable when people raise alternative viewpoints,” InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Greg Jao shares.

“So, it was very exciting to read an article by the former provost at Stanford University questioning universities about this and asking if universities want to remain faithful to their objectives to really educate people, [and] how much must universities change so that they actually welcome a diversity of ideas and viewpoints.”

InterVarsity has run into a number of universities who have refused to recognize InterVarsity as a campus club for requiring student leaders to be Christian. The logic behind this stems from an argument that, to require students to be Christian in order to lead, InterVarsity is then discriminating based on religious grounds.
InterVarsity’s Experience
InterVarsity has also seen intellectual intolerance as a reaction to Christians in general. Jao has found many non-Christians believe Christians are superstitious, narrow-minded, and therefore on their own intolerant.

“The reality is when people encounter Christians only through the eyes of a news report or social media, it’s the loudest, angriest, and in fact often the most bigoted voices that are projected,” Jao explains. “But what I love is when non-Christians meet a Christian and they say, you are not at all what I expected.”

Jao sees opportunity in this intolerance for Christians to demonstrate just the opposite of these preconceived notions. Instead, Jao says Christians can demonstrate how they are to look like Jesus in the ways they love and engage with others. Furthermore, Christians can reflect Jesus in how they speak with both love and truth. It’s important that Christians are able to offer the hope Christ—unapologetically but also graciously.

Jao is by far no stranger when it comes to engaging with non-Christians who already have an intolerant attitude. But, just the act of being able to sit down, talk, and lovingly express why he and InterVarsity believe what they do, has often led to further conversations about Christianity.
Countering Intolerance
In fact, a part of countering the problem of intellectual intolerance involves Christians, especially students, engaging with professors and other students more and more.

(Photo Courtesy InterVarsity Christian Fellowship via Facebook)

It is important Christian students are able to understand and critique a non-Christian argument based on scripture. It doesn’t stop there, though. Students should then be able to offer something better after their critique, and that’s often God’s word.

“I think when you do good works and you demonstrate Christ’s likeness, peoples’ prejudices, if not completely disappear, at least are lowered. And then you actually have an opportunity to have a great conversation and relationship,” Jao says.

Jao has also found that students and faculty doing this on college campuses often are in good standing with their non-Christian friends and colleagues. Their words seem to have more weight and people become more open to discussing topics they disagree on about Christianity with their Christian colleagues. It opens a door, or at least a crack, for the Gospel’s good news.
A Unique Opportunity
“The former provost of Stanford actually made a plea for university faculty to believe that people they disagree with might hold the truth that they need to hear and to approach it with honesty, integrity, and an open mind,” Jao expresses.

“And I think when one of the foremost leaders in higher education begs his colleagues to engage with people who they disagree with, it’s actually a remarkable signal that the university, and its faculty, are more open to the Gospel now than at any other time in history.”

Despite how uncomfortable intellectual intolerance may be, it actually can give way to a critical time for the Gospel on college campuses. In these moments, it’s up to the Christian church to step up to the task of graciously and unapologetically proclaiming the Gospel through relationships with non-Christian colleagues.
How to Help
So please, will you pray for Christian students, faculty, and the InterVarsity staff who are attending and working on college campuses?

Pray for their faith, for their lives to reflect Christ, and for those who are intolerant to both see Christ in them and to hear the Gospel. Also, pray for these same students and faculty to be able to lovingly and boldly articulate God’s truth, regardless of any awkward situations or fear that may arise. Finally, pray for a revival on college campuses and that this intolerance would turn into many listening ears.

Another way to help is by getting involved with InterVarsity. The ministry would love to have more volunteers willing to come alongside and disciple students, help provide resources, and to really genuinely care for students.

“The future leaders of the world are on college campuses today. And we have an opportunity, when they’re uniquely open and shaping their world, to introduce them to Jesus,” Jao shares.

Get info about getting involved on college campuses here!

To learn more about InterVarsity’s campus access challenges, click here!