Back in college, evangelical students are eager to …… | News and reports

Christian students returning to school this fall expect to speak to their non-evangelical classmates about race, racism and racial justice. According to a recent InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Poll out of 316 evangelical students enrolled in 127 secular colleges and universities, they are ready.

Christian students rank racism and inequality among the top social concerns. When asked to name the three most important issues today, nearly 40% said racial justice, about 40% said poverty, and 29% named the environment. Caring for children in need (28%) and reducing abortions (26%) followed.

Jessica Pafumi, regional director for the greater Springfield, Mass., region of InterVarsity, said she expects conversations about race to pick up where they left off in the spring.

“Racial justice came up a lot in the last year,” she said. “I think it’s prevalent for the environment they’re in, but I also think it’s prevalent for their personal experience.

Pafumi and other InterVarsity leaders say it’s part of a larger shift they see with the next generation of evangelicals. Gen Z Christians are eager to listen, they want to connect with people on a personal level, and they share their social concerns with their peers.

“Students don’t draw rigid boundaries — sort of thick lines, boundaries between themselves,” Tom Lin, president and CEO of InterVarsity, told CT. “They are ready to cross them, to interact with each other, to do things together.”

Aneida Molina, a third-year Hispanic student at American International College (AIC), said she regularly talks about race and racism with evangelical friends at InterVarsity — some of whom attend other nearby colleges — and friends non-evangelicals of the AIC.

Much of her conversations at AIC are with other people of color — “We’ve been through this disconnect, this racial injustice,” she said — but thanks to InterVarsity, she’s interacting with a more diverse group. of people talking about racism, which she appreciates.

Molina said that with her friends at InterVarsity, she is also able to explore the intersection of her faith and racial identity.

Molina said her faith is a source of comfort even though she has personally experienced prejudice and sees others experience it as well. Molina said, “I find a great deal of wholeness in Jesus and I can know there is hope in something this world cannot provide.”

However, because Molina is able to connect with non-evangelical friends about their personal experiences as people of color, she said, “it kind of opens the door to a conversation about faith.” .

Like Molina, other students in the InterVarsity survey said they felt welcomed by their peers.

Although most students surveyed are religious – 95% say church involvement is important to them – many do not feel much tension or conflict with their secular schools. Seventy-five percent said their campus welcomes and supports evangelicals.

Although evangelical groups have sometimes had to fight for their right to govern themselves by their own rules – InterVarsity won a lawsuit against the University of Iowa in July – students do not feel personally targeted.

Evangelical students from non-evangelical institutions believe “there is a lot of opportunity to pursue the common good together,” Lin said, “Christian students having their faith as the foundation of their belief, but they are also very comfortable working with, serving with people who come from another background.

InterVarsity chapter directors say this has been especially true in ongoing conversations about racism. Jenn Krauss Salgado, who oversees the program at San Diego State University, said white Christians, in particular, are reflecting on these issues – reflecting on their racial identities and how they should relate to the movement. Black Lives Matter, critical race theory and ongoing activities. debates on the causes and solutions to racism.

“We’re open to dealing with that with them, where they might not know where to deal with those conversations,” she said.

Krauss Salgado hosted a Zoom event last summer for students on racial justice and equality, which she posted on the local InterVarsity chapter Instagram page. After seeing the post about the event, a college student took to Instagram and said, “Wow, I didn’t even know Christians cared or talked about this stuff,” Krauss Salgado recalled. “‘I was trying to reconcile my faith with all the racial tensions and wondering how the hell can I take care of my friends, how can I take care of those who are hurting.'”

Krauss Salgado said racial equality isn’t a brand new conversation among college-age evangelicals, but Gen Z Christians are especially eager to bring up the topic.

“They’ve already been primed,” she said. “A lot of students who are in high school going into college are already thinking about it, as opposed to what happens in college.”

But racial justice isn’t the only social issue that comes up in conversations with students. Both Pafumi and Krauss Salgado said the other two that come up regularly are LGBT identities and abortion, on which InterVarsity takes a traditional stance.

But even with the burning questions of “culture war,” young evangelicals are adopting a different tone than some of the previous generations may have adopted.

“One thing they’re good at is taking care of their neighbor,” Krauss Salgado said. “They will really try not to say anything that might offend people. To listen well. »

InterVarsity executives note that the change may worry some who fear the younger generation is ready to fight important issues in the public square. But there is another way of looking at it, and something in the minds of Gen Z Christians that should be celebrated.

“This should be very inspiring and encouraging news for us,” Lin said. “This generation of Christians is not only concerned with loving God, but also with loving their neighbour.”

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Barry F. Howard