In the Trenches: Being Conservative in a Liberal Classroom
After my freshman year in college, I made the decision to spend the first half of my summer on campus to get a required chemistry course out of the way. "If I'm here anyway," I thought, "I might as well take as many hours as I can." With that in mind, I signed up for my first course in women's studies. Three years later, I graduated with a minor in the subject.
Women's and Gender Studies, which became widely recognized as an academic genre during the political turmoil of the 1970s, no longer constitutes a small and insignificant subculture. At the end of June 2007, the National Women's Studies Association will hold its 28th annual conference with more than 1,000 expected to participate. According to the Artemis Guide to Women's Studies, more than 400 women's studies programs are offered in the United States alone with more than 700 similar programs worldwide.
After examining these statistics, it is doubtful that women's studies programs are going to decline in popularity in the future. How, then, does a Christian handle this part of academia? What are young women (and men) being taught in these courses that might challenge their faith? Should parents simply encourage their children to avoid these "liberal" classes altogether? Certainly not. If I learned anything during my time as a women's studies minor, it is this: When approached the right way, women's studies courses can actually be benefit the collegiate Christian in at least three ways:
Welcome to Reality
First, some of the information taught in these programs is very useful, and it is information about which most Christians know little. For example, I learned a tremendous amount about eating disorders. I discovered the true prevalence and impact of domestic violence. Because of Islam's subjugation of women and girls, I learned more about the religion than I ever would have learned in church. And more important, during these classes I witnessed the passion of activists who genuinely want to save women all over the world from female circumcision, honor killings, etc.
Women's studies taught me that if the Third Wave Foundation, a philanthropic foundation led by renowned feminist Rebecca Walker, can contribute more than $750,000 to "support young women's health, education, and activism," surely I can give monthly to help missionaries reach women and their families with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.
The Other Side of the Coin
Secondly, as a Christian, I believe abortion is the murder of an unborn child and therefore a sin. Yet how can I effectively argue the pro-life debate without fully understanding the pro-choice movement? My women's studies courses taught the pro-choice argument that all women should have total control over their bodies and, in turn, their unborn children. They support women who choose to keep their children, place their children up for adoption, or have an abortion.
In other words, the true pro-choice agenda is exactly that: pro-choice, not pro-abortion. Even the most liberal of those who believe in pro-choice rarely believe abortion should be used as a form of birth control. Through these courses, I learned how to explain logically to a woman why she should not have the choice to terminate a pregnancy (because her unborn child is a human being) rather than simply saying "Abortion is against my religion." After all, if a woman doesn't believe God exists, why avoid an abortion simply because it is a sin?
I also learned about valuable resources for women who experience unplanned pregnancies, such as Feminists for Life, a feminist organization that vehemently opposes abortion.
Crisis of Faith
Finally, women's studies programs across the United States will teach young Christians how to stand up for their faith. For example, a hallmark of the feminist movement is equality for everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Because of this, I met many people during my schooling who were gay or lesbian and even attended a lecture presented by a male-to-female transsexual who used to be a minister!
I must admit that the first time I worked closely with a gay man, I was uncomfortable. As time progressed, however, we developed a friendship, and I was able to share my faith with him. I was able to undo the aversion he felt toward Christians because of the way he had been treated in the past.
It was only through this relationship that resulted from my studies that I began to realize Christ loves everyone and wants to save everyone, regardless of their sins. For the first time, I truly understand how to hate the sin but love the sinner. I still believe homosexuality is a sin, but I know Christ wants to save people from this lifestyle rather than condemn them because of it.
Today's young Christians are constantly faced with challenges to their faith, yet parents believe they will have the strength of character to turn away from bad influences. In church and Sunday School, teens are encouraged to read the Bible for themselves rather than "simply accepting" what they are told. Parents and teachers both feel their children's faith will become their own though doing so
Why, then, can't collegiate Christians participate in "liberal" classes and come out stronger? Are young women and men so insecure in their faith that they will go astray as soon as a professor tells them their beliefs are wrong? I don't think so. If thousands of Christians have become doctors without embracing evolution, there is no reason why thousands of Christians cannot advocates for women while still embracing our Lord.
About the Writer: Joy Beth Curtis graduated from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. She is currently pursuing a Phy.D. in Clinical Psychology and an M.A. in Theology. She and her husband Scotty attend Tanner Trails Community Church in Aurora, IL.