The Southern Baptists have invaded Chicago, as promised, though in far smaller numbers than were suggested some months ago when their plans to evangelize the city made headlines. You may recall the furor, amid which a group of right-minded Chicago religious folk banded together to proclaim love and tolerance and mutual respect—and to censure the Southern Baptists for their heavy-handed ways. I mean, who do these Baptists think they are, Jesus Christ? This put me in mind of a time many years ago—roughly 20 years, though I can hardly believe it—when I was teaching English at a large state university in California. A senior faculty member had raised concerns about the "proselytizing" activities of several Christian groups on campus. These pernicious groups, he pointed out, were diametrically opposed to the very values a university stands for: free inquiry, skepticism, critical thought. But precisely because they offered easy, definite answers, they appealed to many students who were looking for security, preying upon them and exploiting their vulnerability as they sought to form an adult identity. Couldn't something be done about these Christians? The ensuing discussion was carried on between staunch advocates of free speech, like it or not, and faculty who emphasized the responsibility of the university to be responsive to the needs of students (in this case, their need to be protected from proselytizers). I left while the debate was still in progress and walked across the campus, passing a row of tables where students were encouraged to apply for a credit card, to join a fraternity, to join the black students' association, to buy a tie-dyed t-shirt. One table displayed books published by Progress Press, including works by ...1
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