It's too hot to run today; I'll be taking a rare Tuesday off. (I also have a nasty cough that won't let up; rumbling through the canyons in this heat and smog will surely exacerbate the problem). Taking the day away from running will give me more time to grade journals from my women's studies class. Some of them are beautifully written; some make me sigh in frustration.
The ongoing discussions about faith and liberalism here, at Cliopatria, and elsewhere have me thinking about the ways in which my faith manifests itself in my work as a professor at a community college. This won't be an eloquent or organized post, just some ruminations:
Any visitor to my office will catch the Christian references. I've got a variety of quotations posted on my bulletin board:
"Christians have never dealt well with the inner darkness of the redeemed" -- Walter Wink
"When Jesus said 'love your enemies', I think he probably meant don't kill them" -- Anabaptist bumpersticker
"Our Lamb has conquered, him let us follow" -- the last line in JH Yoder's The Politics of Jesus, a book that changed my life.
None of it is particularly aggressive, but these slogans offer those who walk in the door some sense of with whom it is with they may be dealing. It's fairly well known that I advise Campus Crusade for Christ, though I haven't been good about making it to their noon meetings lately. My office mate, a passionate progressive Latino agnostic, is quite aware of my faith -- he and I have some rip-roaring (but very friendly) debates on the rare occasions when we find the time to do so.
I go back and forth on whether to disclose to my students that I am Christian. Some semesters I do, some I don't. On the one hand, I think that intellectual honesty demands that I disclose my own orientation and potential biases. (I long ago abandoned the idea that absolute objectivity in the classroom was either possible or desirable). I have a colleague who teaches from a thoroughly Marxist perspective; he shares this on the first day and invites his students to challenge him. He's successful at what he does, and is loved because he never allows his own beliefs to impact his grading, even while his beliefs form the framework of his entire syllabus. I often wonder whether it isn't a bit unfair to pretend to be perfectly neutral, when in fact one has deeply held convictions that without fail will spill over into one's classroom.
On the other hand, I sense that disclosing my own faith allows certain students to simply shut out whatever it is that will be said during the semester. All of the lectures on religion, no matter how rooted in fact they are, will be either accepted or dismissed as a result. I also worry that some students who have come from what my secular liberal friends call "religiously abusive households" may feel unsafe having an openly Christian professor. But above all, the main reason I haven't been disclosing my faith lately is I get very tired of having to act like a role model. On a campus where the number of evangelical profs is tiny, I realize that the more public I am about my faith, the more my behavior will come to be seen as reflecting upon my faith and my church. For someone who is an adult convert, that is a heavy burden indeed. Frankly, I am not sure I am strong enough to carry it.
Last year, I turned down a request to advise a new campus group that was being vetted as "Lancers for Life". (PCC's mascot is the Lancer). I am indeed pro-life, though my politics on many other issues diverge from those of the traditional pro-life movement. I am willing to advise Campus Crusade. But I felt that taking so public a stance on abortion would be dangerous for a man who teaches gender studies. Statistically, I know that many of my students have had or will have abortions. I am concerned that my taking a public role as an adviser of a pro-life club on campus could indeed leave them feeling unwelcome in my women's studies classes. I worry that what little credibility I have when I teach the history of birth control would evaporate. But I grieve the fact that Lancers for Life never got off the ground as a result. No one else stepped up to be an adviser, and the club was never chartered. I wonder today whether I did the right thing.