As a student at Penn State I always enjoyed reading the Daily Collegian. I still enjoy reading it every now and again online. During football season I read the football coverage each Monday. Inevitably after a loss, people write in complaining about all the problems with the Penn State football program.
I have noticed another pattern. Almost without fail after each home game, win or loss, there are two types of letters that show up. The first goes something like this:
“I am an alumni who graduated in 1985. This past weekend I brought my kids up to the game and I am appalled at how current students act! We were riding the bus around town and heard a group of students swearing with no regard for my children. The student section was not filled until halftime. It is a disgrace.”
Sometimes these letters come from visiting fans who were harassed verbally, having their visit to State College ruined, and vowing never to come again. Then there is another kind of letter:
“I am a resident of Michigan who traveled to PA this weekend to watch the game. Other than the fact that my beloved Wolverines lost again, I had a wonderful time! Everyone was so nice to me, welcoming me to State College. People invited me to their tailgates; I lost count of how many free beers I got.”
It is intriguing how people could be at the same event and have such different experiences. The obvious reason for this is that in a crowd of 110,000 people, not to mention the many students and visitors who do not go to the game but spend the whole day tailgating, there are going to be a few bad eggs. Every single college town will have some idiots who drink too much, say stupid things, and maybe even throw some stuff. Some people will witness this and make assumptions on the general decline in civility of college students nowadays. But most people will have a nice time, experience the many decent, friendly students, and go home with good memories.
This reminds me of the church. There are many negative stereotypes of Christians on college campuses. And certainly some Christians live up to the labels “hypocrite”, “judgmental” and so on. In the same way that the stereotype of drunk PSU students who act like idiots on football weekends has plenty of examples to reinforce it, so the negative stereotypes of Christians find reinforcement too. Yet most Christians are not like this. Most Christians on campus are hard workers, friendly, caring people who are trying to live and love like Jesus.
This is where I would usually write a “now here is how to fix it…” Not today. The more time I spend in campus ministry, the more I realize this is kind of how the church has always been and how it will always be. Just as there will always be a few rowdies who will give a bad impression of Penn State to some people, there will always be people (and perhaps on our bad days, I am included in such people) who give a bad impression of Christians. This is one of those things we simply cannot control. What we can control is how each of us acts as individuals, and how we encourage the community around us to act.
Rather than worrying about things we cannot control, let’s focus on what we can. If you’re at a football game you can’t control the guy acting like a drunken idiot 20 rows behind you. But you can be friendly to visitors and fans of the other team. Hopefully they will realize there are more friendly people like you in the crowd. In the same way, you can’t control every Christian in the world, let alone your community or church (and even if you could, you probably shouldn’t!). But you can influence the people around you for Christ. Be a good egg.