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Student pressures — caught between conformity and condemnation

September 2017

Across the UK, students are preparing to start at university and college, while others are entering the workplace. But for Christians there is the additional challenge of the pressure to conform.

Universities and colleges received 469,490 applications this year from UK students, according to UCAS data. Meanwhile, statistics from Universities UK suggest some 90 per cent of graduates are likely to find some form of employment within six months of leaving higher education.

Concerns

It is exciting to go to university and then enter the world of paid work. But, along with all the usual challenges of meeting new people and learning new skills, comes the additional pressure on young Christians to conform and comply, or face criticism and condemnation.

Two years ago, as reported by Evangelical Times, student Felix Ngole was booted off his course because he had mentioned on his Facebook page that he upheld biblical marriage.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre and of advocacy organisation Christian Concern, commented: ‘Mr Ngole puts another face to the increasing marginalisation of Christians in the public square.

‘At Felix’s permission hearing earlier this year, counsel for the University of Sheffield told the court its policy “is not just that services must be provided without discrimination, but without perception of discrimination”, and the possible perception of discrimination made him unfit to be a social worker’.

Ms Williams added: ‘The censorship of biblical truth is increasing the pressure on students to keep quiet and present themselves in a way that seems acceptable. This is robbing society of the opportunity to hear the life-changing gospel. Serious questions need to be asked about freedom in the UK’.

Challenges

Danny Rurlander, senior pastor of Moorlands Church, Lancaster, said: ‘There is no doubt these are challenging times for Bible-believing Christians. Recent cultural shifts have transformed the moral landscape of the UK. These changes have happened so rapidly and have been so widely accepted by society in general, that anyone who holds contrary views on topics such as sexual ethics, marriage, abortion or gender are increasingly marginalised from the public sphere.

‘Christians can feel it is harder to openly profess faith in Christ. They are also beginning to experience concrete forms of discrimination in the workplace, schools and on campuses’.

Some young people have been pushed out of jobs, because of their beliefs, or effectively ‘shut down’ when it comes to expressing their biblical convictions. Mr Rurlander highlighted how a teacher in a Church of England secondary school recently compared Christians who oppose same sex-marriage to Islamic State terrorists.

He added, ‘While schools and universities are now tough places to stand up for Christ, these pressures are by no means limited to young people, and our task as churches must be to prepare our young people for the adult world of work and a life time of gospel witness’.

Simon Calvert, deputy director for public affairs at the Christian Institute, told Evangelical Times: ‘I’ve heard horror stories of outrageous slurs against Christians being included in equality training. How is a Christian student or employee meant to feel sitting through a course like that?

‘It is the height of hypocrisy that some of this training may stir up hostility against Christians, who face being berated by colleagues who feel emboldened by what they’ve heard.

‘Apparently, for some activists, it is not good enough for us to love our neighbour. We have to support all of our neighbour’s choices too. But this is not an option; it is not faithful to Christ’.

Church

While helping students to answer specific apologetic questions, or providing advice or a place to meet if the CU gets kicked off campus can be useful, more needs to be done. Mr Rurlander explained: ‘We should not be surprised the world is hostile to Jesus and his people. Jesus clearly teaches us to expect following him will be hard and costly (Luke 21:17).

‘If the situation we are in now is normal, then we must trust in the God-given means of perseverance and witness: namely, the ordinary local church and the gospel itself. A church where the gospel is faithfully preached from the Scriptures will be the most uniquely and attractively united, and yet diverse, community on earth’.

Likewise, Mr Calvert said: ‘The New Testament is full of teaching preparing us for this kind of pressure. The job of the church is the same as always: to teach the whole counsel of God. Some want preachers to avoid “unpopular” messages in sermons, but that would be to fail God and his people’.

Ms Williams added: ‘As Christians, we need to be unashamed of our faith, and we need the church to teach young people about the cost of following Christ. The church must also be prepared to stand up for the faith and support Christians who declare God’s truth in the public square’.

However, she warned if the church failed to critique the culture that opposes God’s word, ‘biblical truth will be increasingly ignored, and we become complicit in the marginalisation of Christian morality’.

Let us pray earnestly for Christian students and young people, as they face searching challenges to their Christian faith, that the Lord will enable them to stand fast in Christ.