College professors like to tell stories about past students to their current students. For the most part, students like to hear them. At Wheaton, in addition to the regular stupid student stories about extreme acts of procrastination, single-digit exam scores and laboratory mishaps, professors also like to tell another kind of story: the one about the students who lost their faith. These are often accompanied by their rhetorically close relative, the one about the students who laughed in the face of the Community Covenant and smoked weed on campus.
This has irked me for so long, I don’t even know where to start. While I was at Wheaton I only came out to 2 professors, and it took both an extremely long time and a big leap of faith for me to trust them with my story. What a shame, because most Wheaton professors are kind, intelligent people with whom I would have really liked to discuss my deconversion. The reason why I didn’t talk to more of them was because of the demeaning way in which many of my profs talked about past students who had fallen away from Christianity. I’m talking about students who went to their professors with serious questions of faith, and five hours or five years later, those professors turned that serious matter into a cautionary tale or an exercise in mockery in front of a class. Whenever possible, a story of a fallen-away student would be accompanied by a story of a stoner student, one who gave everything the finger and didn’t give a damn enough to even care about whether Christianity was true or not. This would give the impression that serious questioning and flippant disregard were analogous, and the storytime would end with everyone glad that they were better off, and the implication that as long as you were paying attention, you would never end up like that.
To make it even worse, this happened most often in bible and theology classes. The very people who were most knowledgeable about faith and doubt were the ones who themselves ensured that they were the last people I would ever talk to about it. But even less-pompous professors undermined my trust in other ways. The most common was the prayer request for a student or former student who was questioning or leaving Christianity. These prayers were inevitably accompanied by pitying tones and entreaties that we never end up like that. More to the point, if I revealed something to a professor in confidence, I would be mortified if it became a prayer request to the entire audience of his next lecture, even if no names or details were given.
Even before I had any inkling of doubt in my faith, I was inwardly mortified every time a professor told a serious story about a student in a flippant, cautionary, or mocking manner. I was embarrassed for those students whose stories were being told, most certainly without their knowledge. It happened so often that it severely undermined my trust in all Wheaton professors. When I began having doubts of my own and finally left Christianity, I chose my confidantes carefully. The only professors I ever talked to about my doubts and deconversion at Wheaton were those who I had known the longest, who had never shown less than the highest respect for students, and never used them as cautionary tales. The way professors talk about past students is how they will talk about you to future students.
The irony is that now that I’ve gone public with blogging, I probably will become a cautionary tale. I hope at least that when bible professors mock me, some student will inwardly cringe and be embarrassed for me. And I hope even more that people at Wheaton who read this will see me not as an object of ridicule, but as a resource and a voice for the ridiculed.