How Bad Can It Be?

A Look at Today’s Secular College Campus

Stephen Zempel

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? Have you ever considered what Judges-era Israel must have been like — what kind of chaos would result if every man did what was right in his own eyes? This fall, you can find out. It’s as easy as enrolling in your local secular college or university. Worse still, you could send your college-age son or daughter to experience this kind of amoral, anarchical lifestyle firsthand.

After having spent the much of the past two months at the state university where my wife teaches and attends summer school, I find myself grappling for an adequate illustration of the overwhelming immorality of the secular college environment. It is not sensationalism but stark reality that suggests parallels between today’s college campuses and the lowest depths of human depravity in history.

Of course, there are plenty of mind-numbing statistics available that serve to illustrate just how dangerous our campuses have become. Citing several recent studies, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that more than 600,000 students aged 18 to 24 are assaulted each year by another student who has been drinking.[1] More than 70,000 students a year become victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.[2] According to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 71% of forcible sex offenses on college campuses in 2003 occurred in residence halls.[3] The federally-funded Core Institute of Southern Illinois University reports that 84.7% of college students use alcohol.[4] A 1995 study of college students in Minnesota revealed that 92% of male students and 85% of female students had participated in some form of gambling during the previous year.[5] According an article entitled “Risky Business: Misperceived Norms of Sexual Behavior among College Students,” 67% of college students surveyed had participated in sexual intercourse during the last year, and 51% had participated in sexual intercourse within the last thirty days.[6]

But cold statistics fail to describe how difficult it can be for a Christian young person to withstand the intangible influences of the secular college atmosphere. I recently discussed this problem with a Christian professor at a state university. This professor has earned a four-year degree from a Christian college and a master’s degree from a state university and is now a doctoral student and teacher at another state university. We spoke about the difficulty of adequately describing the moral dangers of a secular college to someone who has spent little or no time on campus.

Is today’s secular college campus similar to anything else we know of in history or in Scripture?

“Every man does what is right in his own eyes. There’s no accountability; no rules; no regulations. You can go to bed whenever you like. You don’t have to go to class if you don’t want to. A girl can have a guy sleep overnight in her room if she wants.”

For the benefit of Christian parents who have college- age young people, how would you describe the atmosphere on campus?

“Sin-filled. I’ve had to learn to deal with things here that I was never prepared for. I’ve had my students cuss me out. I’ve had to deal with students who are on drugs or who come to class hung over. I hear the Lord’s name taken in vain every day. I also have to deal with fellow believers who do not demonstrate their faith in any way.”

Some Christian parents choose to send their children to secular colleges. In your opinion, are they are not aware of the dangers, or do they think that there are advantages that outweigh the dangers?

“Both. I’ve had parents tell me, ‘I had no idea it was like this. It wasn’t like this when I was in college.’ But some parents say, ‘State school is cheaper; it’s closer to home. They have majors that Christian schools don’t have.’”

But you’ve been to state schools and you turned out all right. Why not my child?

“I didn’t start out in a secular university. I had thirteen years of training at a strong Christian school and went four years to a Christian college before going on to a state school. Most eighteen-year-olds are not mature enough to debate professors with PhDs or understand their hidden agendas. And I’m here because of necessity, not convenience. God has called me to a future ministry, and this is where I can get the tools for that future ministry. Also, I have two very supportive parents who understand what I am facing here. If it weren’t for them, I probably couldn’t make it. And there are about two dozen people who pray for me on a daily basis — that I would stand strong and not be affected by the atmosphere here.”

Personal experience is more convincing than reams of studies and surveys. My teacher friend went on to tell me unsettling stories of previous experiences in the secular college setting — of a professor who openly and aggressively ridiculed the blood of Christ in the classroom — of two teachers who discussed in a school elevator how to embarrass and demean Christian students — and concluded by asking to remain anonymous because of possible repercussions in the academic “system.” I felt as if I was speaking to a refugee from North Korea or some other area of intense spiritual warfare. But most Christians would not willingly enter a place like North Korea. They certainly would not choose to send their children to live there for four years. So how should a Christian parent think when faced with the option of sending his child to a secular college?

First of all, make decisions of conviction rather than convenience. State schools can be less expensive than some Christian colleges, but your child’s financial welfare is not as important as his spiritual welfare. Community colleges and state universities are often closer to home than Christian colleges, but Christ-centered college education is worth the travel and inconvenience. Your children are your most valuable possession and a stewardship entrusted to you by God. How far is too far to travel to protect their purity? Your local secular college may offer more courses of study than the average Christian college. Unfortunately, your child will also have ample opportunity to learn things you never wanted him to learn — both inside and outside the classroom walls.

Second, your college-age child should have confidence that God has called him to whatever school he attends. Your child may find that, in preparation for his future ministry, he needs training that can be found only at a secular institution. Whether he attends a Christian college or a secular college, confidence in the leadership of the Lord will help carry a young person through the difficulties and strain of his college career. Even in a Christian school, the new environment, financial pressures, and academic load are too much of a burden for some students to bear. Many Christian college students drop out of school before completing even their first semester. To the basic challenges of college, a secular campus adds the pressure of relentless temptation and a pervasive humanistic anti-Christ philosophy. On a secular college campus, the danger of spiritual failure is far greater than the danger of academic failure. A Christian young person needs to gain confidence that he is in the will of God and that God’s power rests on his life before even attempting to face these spiritual challenges. Parents as well should seek confidence in that call, and not be quick to send their children into the front lines of spiritual conflict.

Finally, prepare your child for life at a secular college as if you were preparing him for the mission field. Even if the Lord grants confidence that secular college training is part of His plan, that confidence does not eliminate the need to prepare for the spiritual battle that lies ahead. Some would say that the secular college that they attend is their mission field. It is an opportunity for a believer to take a stand for Christ and make a difference. While there is no denying that a secular college campus is a mission field with numerous opportunities for ministry, what missionary would be foolish enough to head straight to one of the most difficult mission fields on earth fresh from high school with no training for the challenges that he will face? A Christian young person should seriously consider the possibility of two or four years of training at a sound Fundamental Bible college prior to enrolling at a secular college. This training will mature his faith, ground him in God’s Word, protect him from fierce spiritual attacks, and give him a solid foundation upon which to stand for Christ.

By God’s grace, even Sodom and Gomorrah can be fruitful mission field. However, the dangers of secular college education are dramatic. Though not always visible, the attacks on faith and morality are real. God is faithful to equip and protect believers in the midst of spiritual warfare, but parents should think soberly about sending their children into harm’s way.

Stephen Zempel serves on the administrative staff of Falls Baptist Church and Baptist College of Ministry in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. “Facts About College Drinking: Problems,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Online: http://www.collegedrinkingprevention. gov/Media/factsheetproblems.aspx. []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Nine hundred forty-two of 1,333 reported forcible sex offenses as reported in “Summary Campus Crime and Security Statistics — Criminal Offenses,” U.S. Department of Education. Online: index.html. []
  4. “The … statistics are drawn from a sample of 68,000 undergraduate students from about 133 colleges in the United States. These colleges conducted Core Survey during 2004. All institutions used methods to insure a random and representative sample of their respective student bodies.” “Core Alcohol and Drug Survey,” Core Institute. Online: coreinst/public_html/results.htm. []
  5. Ken Winters, “Gambling and College Students,” Gambling Problems Resource Center, Minnesota Institute of Public Health. Online: html. []
  6. Joseph Lynch, Rebecca Mowrey, Gordon Nesbitt, and Daniel F. O’Neill, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Journal, Volume 42, Issue 1. Online: http://publications.naspa. org/naspajournal/vol42/iss1/art2/. []