BRYAN, Texas (BP)–The story of Abby Johnson is an example of the subtle atheism that often snares collegians.
Not well-grounded in her faith or connected to a church or a campus ministry, Johnson was a freshman at Texas A&M University when she became a Planned Parenthood volunteer, naive about the organization’s pro-abortion agenda. She ultimately committed eight years of her life to the work of Planned Parenthood until a life-changing experience compelled her to leave the organization and turn to God.
Students want to make a difference, said Lance Crowell, church ministries associate with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, but there are some moral inconsistencies. They speak out on the atrocities in Darfur. They raise money for mosquito netting in Africa to stop the spread of malaria. But they often silence themselves for the sake of the unborn.
Johnson’s choice to volunteer for Planned Parenthood exemplifies such thinking, Crowell said. Here was a compassionate young woman who had grown up as a Southern Baptist, who wanted to make a difference and help people, and yet she was a volunteer and, later, director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas.
“Here’s the disconnect. The church is not making a difference in the world in their minds. It is disengaged,” Crowell said.
J. Budziszewski, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of “How to Stay Christian in College,” said the atmosphere on university campuses is profoundly anti-Christian but, with the exception of a few outspoken professors, not confrontational.
“It is usually much, much more subtle.”
What new students will find on the college campus is practical atheism as opposed to theoretical atheism, Budziszewski said. The reasoning goes like this: Because the existence of God cannot be theoretically proved or disproved, God is irrelevant and has nothing to do with the day-to-day lives of people.
Students and professors steeped in such thought are then free to compartmentalize their lives, developing a moral code that does not hold them accountable to anything or anyone beyond themselves, Budziszewski said.
“There is no such thing as a solitary Christian,” Budziszewski added. Christian youths leave home and instead of finding a new church, they think they can study God’s Word and worship Him on their own. Such thinking, he said, is spiritually fatal.
Students’ passion, especially for valuing human life, can be stirred in multiple ways, noted Julie Parton, executive director of Texas Life Connections, a ministry partner of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Needs abound in nearly every community for volunteer and financial support of pro-life ministries, Parton said, noting that most pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) across the country are listed at the website www.optionline.org. Also, phone books typically include under “Abortion Alternatives” a list of pro-life ministries.
“Any individual or church can start with that. Once they identify a local PRC, go in to meet the director of that center,” Parton said. “The same could be said for any abstinence or post-abortion ministry, but oftentimes those same ministries emanate from the PRC.”
A great way to “puts one’s toe in the water,” Parton suggested, is to organize a Sunday School class or home group Bible study in hosting a baby shower for a local pregnancy resource center, providing diapers, formula and other related items.
Once that occurs, God often lays it on more than one heart the importance of such ministry to expectant mothers and their babies, many of whom don’t have the father in the picture.
“Of course there are prayer groups. Another very practical thing that people can do is to reach out to moms who have already made the decision to give life to their child and many times need help. A single moms’ support group at your church, classes for the moms, parenting classes, classes on budgeting and nutrition—those are all very positive ways churches can minister.”
Men can provide oil changes for single moms, for example, or attorneys in the church might provide free legal advice, Parton said.
“Parents need to get their bravery back and start engaging our kids with confidence,” said Vicki Courtney of Austin, an author and speaker whose ministry reaches pre-teen and teenage girls and their mothers across the country.
Too many parents shrink at the first sign of rolled eyes and disinterested sighs from their teens, Courtney said. But they must be taught not just to believe but “give them the ‘why’ behind God’s standards.”
Although she believed her children were raised in the way they should go before leaving for college out of state, Courtney said they still needed to be held accountable to their faith. Before they left home, her two oldest children, Ryan and Paige, signed a contract drawn up by her and her husband that they would find a church, maintain a specified GPA, become involved in a weekly Bible study and establish a close-knit group of friends who would hold them accountable.
“Spiritual growth is always in the context of a relationship,” said George Jacobus, pastor of collegiate ministries at Central Baptist Church in the Bryan-College Station area.
“One of the reasons students struggle is because they never find a place that feels like home to them.” Adding to their list of excuses for not attending church, Jacobus said students are bombarded with so many things to do outside of class that the choices often take the place of church. Some will justify skipping Sunday services by becoming involved in a small group Bible study during the week.
But the importance of fellowship within the context of a church cannot be overstated, Jacobus noted. Young adults’ spiritual development can even be retarded if they only spend time with their peers and forsake interaction with older, more mature believers, he said.
The problem of scriptural illiteracy is so severe, Crowell said, that many students are unable or unwilling to take a stand on the exclusivity of Christ, the center point of a biblical worldview. In today’s multicultural society, many students balk at the idea of saying, directly or indirectly, that there is something wrong with the beliefs of their friends whose parents come from such countries as India, China, Vietnam or Pakistan.
Courtney said she has heard students who claim to be Christians defend homosexuality and a woman’s “right to choose.” Although she was not raised in the church and did not become a Christian until she was a 21-year-old student at the University of Texas, she was a self-described pro-choice feminist when she had an abortion at age 17 all the while feeling the conviction that there was something fundamentally immoral about the act.
It is never too late for parents to engage their teenage children, Courtney said. For some, though, it may need to begin with an apology.
Parents who feel convicted they have not lived up to the biblical mandate to train up their children should make that effort before their child leaves home, Courtney said, suggesting taking the teen out for a special meal or cup of coffee and beginning the conversation by saying, “I owe you a huge apology and I need your forgiveness for something.”
The parents can then admit their shortcomings in teaching and discipling their children and then commit to making that a part of their lives from that time forward.
“Sometimes just the humility of the parents touches the kids,” Courtney said. “I guarantee you, deep down that kid is feeling cared for.”
Adapted from reporting by correspondent Bonnie Pritchett and managing editor Jerry Pierce of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.