Throughout time, humans have sought answers about whether a higher power exists and what really is our purpose in life? These BIG questions continue, and as society changes over time, so do our opinions about faith, God and other-related questions.
Today’s young adults, those ages 18 to 39, are less likely to say that religion is important to them, compared to those over 40, according to a Pew Research Study in 2019.
This trend doesn’t seem to be as prevalent at Rochester University, with 87% of the RU community identifying as Christian in a recent Shield Media survey. Eight percent of respondents said they were non-religious. And for some, they say they’re still figuring it out.
“I am not confident in the existence of a God, of any religion; however, in no way do I deny the existence of a deity. I am waiting for that hard, indisputable evidence proving either theories of religion or atheism,” wrote an anonymous respondent in the survey.
Meanwhile, others say they do have faith in God. “I believe what I believe because of my personal relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. He is the foundation on which my faith is built,” said Angela Robinson, a 2019 RU alumnus who completed the survey.
Founded by members of the Church of Christ, RU’s stated mission is to prepare “students for professional and personal success as they serve in God’s world.”
For over 60 years, thousands of students have passed through the university, whether they were Christ followers or not. “Everyone here has come from different religious backgrounds and are at different levels in their faith, so (RU) allows students to feel more comfortable,” said Victoria McClenaghan, a junior psychology major.
To further explore the important questions students have today, Shield Media asked four employees to share their thoughts about questions that we posed. Those who participated are:
Evan Green, director of intercultural and spiritual life
Dr. Robyn Siegel-Hinson, tenured professor of psychology
Dr. James Walters, associate professor of religion
Dr. Naomi Walters, chair of the Department of Theology and Ministry
Do other people who are not Christian go to heaven if they are a good, faithful person?
Naomi Walters questioned whether “heaven is actually a destination to which people can ‘go.’” She said many examples exist in the Christian tradition that talk about “the end of God’s story” in other ways. She said she preferred to state the question as: “Can people who don’t profess to be members of the Christian religion be a part of the coming new creation or the coming kingdom of God?”
While she said no human can “claim to know with certainty what God is going to do,” she admitted that Christians throughout the years have thought through the question.
“Even with Jesus’ claim, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6) in hand, there is still a question of what it means for a person to be coming ‘through Jesus,’ she said. “Does it mean ‘claiming the particular label of Christian?’ Or does it mean ‘being Christlike?’ “
She said people can probably think of others who are Christian, but not especially Christlike. And the reverse holds true as well: people who are not Christian can be Christlike. “There are plenty of places in Scripture one could go to observe an emphasis on ‘acting rightly’ being more important than ‘having the right label,’ “ she said.
Do you believe that science and Christianity or spiritually and science are at odds?
Some people in our society seem to pit science against Christianity and vice versa, with hot button topics centering around evolution vs. creation and whether climate change is occurring or not.
Green said he believes that science and Christianity should not be at odds and that countless intersections exist where both biblical and scientific evidence support each other. “Studies in geology and archaeology can be considered credible resources that strengthen accounts in the scriptures,” he said.
Siegel-Hinson said any issue today can be made divisive, but she discourages that approach. “Science is excellent at explaining the material, and the Bible is an excellent guide to spirituality. Since they explain different domains, they may approach issues from different perspectives,” she said.
And Naomi Walters said followers of God are told to “ ‘seek the truth—a journey of exploration that sounds similar to the scientific method. Some corners of Christianity have tended to define themselves as though they have the truth instead of defining themselves as those who are seeking the truth, which can make it difficult to listen to scientific discoveries. But it doesn’t have to be that way!”
She believes science and religion can find much common ground in the need to take care of creation. “One of the things it means to be human-in-God’s-image is that we are able to create, think, imagine and discover (things that animals cannot do). So, ‘doing science’ is a way of imitating the image of God and giving God glory by exploring the good world that God created.”
The campus seems more diverse than ever, as far as what people believe. How do we engage students and faculty that believe differently?
James Walters sees much that is positive about RU’s diversity and aligns it with Christian tradition. “Ultimately, diversity of beliefs is baked into the history of Christianity, allowing both for varying beliefs within Christianity and faithful relationships with those who do not identify as Christians. I hope the increased diversity of our student body allows us to be more honest with one another about what we think and more understanding of those who think differently. We’re all in this together, regardless of what we believe,” he said.
Siegel-Hinson said society is divisive because people aren’t listening to each other. “We need to communicate more and that includes hearing others with a different perspective. We need to get back to learning from each other,” she said.
Naomi Walters encouraged people to hold onto virtues like humility, curiosity and love. “If we begin every conversation with the assumption that we are right about everything until proven wrong, that’s not displaying humility,” she said. “And if we don’t begin conversations at all because we don’t think we have anything more to learn, that’s not displaying curiosity. If our conversations are actually more arguments than genuine conversations, that’s not displaying love.”
Do Christians have a responsibility to engage in politics and to vote?
In the Christian tradition, the answers to this question are widely varied, said Naomi Walters. She explained that some traditions, like the Anabaptists, are expected not to engage in politics because they believe their citizenship is in heaven and they are awaiting a savior. They believe that voting means placing too much confidence in the powers of this world.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that Christians should engage in politics to make sure the government and all of its citizens act like Christians. In its extreme forms, this has led to actions such as the Crusades, where people who were not Christian were killed.
Naomi Walters said she finds herself somewhere between the two extremes. “Because I believe that living life God’s way is how life together works best, I do think that Christians have a responsibility to care about the public world and to care about how societies are structured, which means ‘being political.’ In America, one of the levers we have to pull in order to change the way our society is structured is voting. I’d be hesitant to say that all Christians should vote—but I do think that all Christians should be invested in setting up our world in ways that align better with the kingdom of God—such as taking care of those who are marginalized, impoverished, ignored,” she said.
Christians have a responsibility to love their neighbors, James Walters said. “I am reluctant to say that Christians have a responsibility to vote, but I think voting is ONE way Christians can show that they love their neighbors by voting for candidates who are committed to protecting the most vulnerable among us. On the other hand, voting alone is never enough when it comes to our responsibility to love our neighbors.”
Do you believe abortion is wrong? Why or why not?
Pro-life vs. pro-choice is one of the most controversial topics in American politics today, with many Christians voting soley according to their view of the issue.
Siegel-Hinson said, “If abortion is the ending of a human life, then it is wrong. Science suggests once a human male’s sperm and a human female’s egg are united it begins multiplying and is living. Since what was created could not be a plant or an octopus, it is a human life. In addition, in 2018, NASA found fossilized organic molecules in rocks that they identified as ‘life’ from Mars. If that is ‘life’ then definitely, a fertilized ovum is life. To end a human life is to kill. I believe killing is not right.”
James Walters said he doesn’t think abortion is a moral good, but that at the same time, he is “moved to compassion for women who feel stuck with having to make that choice. I hope we can move the discussion of abortion beyond a simple binary of right and wrong and create a healthcare system that cares for women and helps prevent this choice in the first place,” he said.
Is there a place for LGBTQ+ in the church and on our campus?
Many denominations are battling this issue today, but at RU, the approach is open and welcoming.
“There is a place for all in Christs’ church. All are sinners and we are redeemed by Christ’s blood following repentance. Our campus is an open campus,” Siegel-Hinson said.
Green responded that RU “is certainly a place for all students, including those who are LGBTQ+.”
He said churches might engage the question differently than an institution of higher learning because they have different purposes.
“Being given to hospitality, and the great commandment to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31) are core values of the New Testament church,” he said. “I believe there is a place for all, including those who are LGBTQ+ in the church, in that all are welcome, but that does not mean affirming. However, there are church denominations with a progressive sexual ethic that are both welcoming and affirming.”
James Walters said, “God has created every person in God’s image, so we are all equally children of God, worthy of love and respect.”
In addition to the Bible, if a person is trying to figure out what to believe or is curious about his or her beliefs, what are some good resources?
Naomi Walters began with a disclaimer reminding that figuring out beliefs is not primarily what scripture has in mind when it calls us to faith. “Christian faith is more about making the ways of Jesus our way of life together than it is about getting all our mental ducks in a row,” she said. In the Christian tradition, she said the way to discern what you believe is to live it out and see how ideas interact with life in the good world God has created. “In short: Life is a good resource,” she said.
James Walters said books, such as “Searching for Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans, can be helpful, but the best resource is a trusted community of people committed to living life like Jesus. “This may be a church, but it can also be a mentoring group or a small group of friends. Ultimately, we experience God in the world in community, so it makes sense that we would learn more about our own faith simply by living our lives alongside others.”
Some of Green’s go-to resources are “Confronting Christianity” by Rebecca McClaughlin, “The Reason for God” by Timothy Keller, and Ravi Zacharias International Ministries at www.rzim.org.