In a recent article, it was reported that a professor in a prestigious university in West Palm Beach had asked his students to write the name “Jesus” on a piece of paper, then throw it on the floor and stomp on it. Needless to say, this report produced huge outrage among Christians. One student in the class reported this episode to the administration, which promptly suspended — THE STUDENT.
In the USA, we are accustomed to the give and take of public discourse on religion. We are learning to expect full frontal assaults. This country, with a right to religious liberty written into the First Amendment of our Constitution, experiences its share of activism gone wrong, and this episode is not an isolated example of bad attitude.
This episode, however, does have a specific and dangerous facet. The central character in this behavior was a teacher in a classroom. A professor at Atlantic University. This activity was assigned as part of a class in intercultural communications. He is teaching a class which would appear to be an effort to improve intercultural communications (it is hard to imagine a proposed curriculum that specified as its objective the destruction of intercultural communication). Inside the classroom, he is the authority, both as an administrator of the power of the university and as the subject matter expert in the course content. In such a role, he has a major responsibility. However, this individual has a connection outside the classroom that makes his in-classroom behavior subject to additional scrutiny.
Outside the classroom, Deandre Poole is vice-chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party. He has a role in local politics that uniquely impacts his content authority as expressed in the classroom. People have expectations of political leaders. Despite a universal skepticism about the character of people who engage in politics, people universally hope that each political activist in each party will be a person of solid character whose integrity they can respect. Poole’s request for students to stomp on handmade signs with Jesus’ name on them evokes an emotional response from anyone who simply reads the story. It is hard to imagine how it would have felt to be in the classroom, subject to his authority, if you also felt that the name of Jesus deserved respect.
The university stood behind the professor. When Ryan Rotela, a devout Mormon, reported the incident to Poole’s supervisor, he was the one suspended. Later, the university issued a statement as follows:
“As with any academic lesson, the exercise was meant to encourage students to view issues from many perspectives, in direct relation with the course objectives. While at times the topics discussed may be sensitive, a university environment is a venue for such dialogue and debate.” This statement was issued by Noemi Marin, the university’s director of the school of communication and multimedia studies.
Readers may ask how it happened that the name of Jesus was the name chosen for this exercise. Why not Allah, or Mohammed, or Vishnu, or Buddha? The assignment was part of a lesson plan in a book entitled “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 5th Edition.” As reported by Fox News a synopsis of the lesson reads as follows:
“Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”
The textbook specified the name of Jesus as its chosen cultural symbol. Interestingly, the lesson plan notes that most students will at least hesitate to follow instructions to stomp on the name of Jesus. The guidance of the lesson plan does not include forcing the issue. The guidance of the lesson plan is to ask students why they hesitate. In Ryan Rotela’s case, even though the professor followed the lesson plan in giving instructions, he did not follow the guidance for teaching the lesson. Rotela reported that after he had put the paper on the floor and received the instruction to stomp on it, he picked it up and put it back on his desk. Instead of asking Rotela why he could not stomp on Jesus’ name and going forward with discussion, Poole ordered him to put the paper back on the floor and do as he was instructed.
Rotela says, I said to the professor, ‘With all due respect to your authority as a professor, I do not believe what you told us to do was appropriate,’” Rotela said. ‘I believe it was unprofessional and I was deeply offended by what you told me to do.'” – See more at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/afa-blogs/2013/03/22/university-backs-professor-for-telling-students-to-stomp-on-jesus#sthash.rAbJ8NsD.dpuf .
If this episode were an isolated event, it would be annoying but minor. However, it fits a growing pattern of incidents in which Christians and Christianity, even Christ himself, are targeted by the culture. The culture demanded that Emory University remove Chick-Fil-A from the food court. The culture pressured university counseling centers to force students in counseling internships to counsel with homosexual clients despite their religious convictions, denying them the right to refer such clients to counselors more comfortable with the clients’ needs. The culture fumes over the right of a bank teller to wear a necklace with a pendant in the shape of a cross. And even as many business owners with religious objections to the health insurance coverages required by the Affordable Care Act file suits against the government, in the culture these business owners are accused of trying to claim privilege, not rights.
In fact, it is the culture that has insisted that religion is and ought to be confined to houses of worship. Ryan Rotela’s professor apparently did not ask him any useful questions about his refusal to stomp on the name of Jesus, but if he had said, “That’s not a church relic. It is not a blessed icon. Why can’t you stomp on it?” he might have learned something that Christians and Mormons both agree on. He might have discovered that they both believe that religious faith is most authentically expressed in life, not inside worship structures. It is the culture that shaped Barack Obama’s perception that the only “religious employer” is a house of worship. Journalists studying how to cover news stories involving a religious element are told that church buildings, mosques and temples are “the institutions where [religion] is officially practiced.” They are led to believe that people don’t feel confined and should not feel confined by their faith principles when they are not inside the worship structure.
There is one question that has not been answered in the reporting of Ryan Rotela’s actions. Did any other student refuse to stomp on the name of Jesus? Were there others in the room who were equally appalled by the assignment but afraid to call attention to themselves? Were there some who pretended to comply even though they really could not bring themselves to do it? Did nobody else in the classroom speak up when Ryan say that he thought it was an inappropriate assignment? Can we conclude that there was not one Christian present in that classroom?
What do you think? What does this event say about the way we all act when we are out and about at the mall, at the store, at the doctor’s office, on the bus, eating lunch, and so forth? What do you think? Could any Christian would stomp on the name of Jesus if he had ever sung the hymn “Take the Name of Jesus With You?”
1. Take the name of Jesus with you,
Child of sorrow and of woe;
It will joy and comfort give you
Take it, then, where’er you go.
2. Take the name of Jesus ever,
As a shield from ev’ry snare;
If temptations round you gather,
Breathe that holy Name in prayer.
3. O the precious name of Jesus!
How it thrills our souls with joy,
When His loving arms receive us
And His songs our tongues employ!
4. At the name of Jesus bowing,
Falling prostrate at His feet,
King of kings in heav’n we’ll crown Him,
When our journey is complete.
Precious name, O how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of heav’n;
Precious name, O how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of heav’n.
Lyrics: Lydia Odell Baxter