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Hypocrisy Pushed Student President of Christian College Toward Atheism

Despite outpouring of support, a few fellow students remain critical of atheist senior at Northwest Christian.
Hypocrisy Pushed Student President of Christian College Toward Atheism
Image: Flickr, Creative Commons
Northwest Christian University, Eugene, Oregon

In late October, the student body president of Northwest Christian University (NCU) in Eugene, Oregon, made an announcement that drew national attention.

"My name is Eric Fromm. I am Senior (sic) at NCU majoring in communications, and I am an atheist," began "Lifting the Curtain," Fromm's op-ed in the Beacon Bolt student newspaper. "Yes, you read that correctly, I am an atheist."

Online publication of his explosive confession triggered a number of articles in some of the Internet's largest media outlets, including The Huffington Post and The Washington Post.

Many accounts focused on the post-confession, empathic responses of fellow students and the university administration. But the second aspect of Fromm's confession was his claim to have been driven further away from his childhood Christian faith and into atheism by the hypocritical attitude of his fellow NCU students.

In his op-ed, Fromm writes:

"I didn't actually tell anyone I was an atheist until my sophomore year. While my close friends accepted my atheism, others were not so kind. When people found out that I was an atheist, they started treating me differently. Sometimes they would verbally attack me, sometimes they would give me the cold shoulder, and sometimes they just gave me dirty looks. I find it ironic that some NCU students will talk about how they were ridiculed in high school because for their faith, but now, when the roles are reversed, they are doing the very things that hurt them. Matthew 7:5, right?

The reference was to one of the most famous verses in the New Testament:

"You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (ESV)

After the Beacon Bolt published Fromm's article, student comments were mostly supportive. But there were notable exceptions, including:

"Eric, you're getting the cold shoulder because you've actively deceived these people for a rather long period of time, not because they're seeking to discriminate against you. Your atheism may get you a foot in the door in the communcations industry, but your lack of integrity is ultimately going to slam that door back on you. You reap what you sow. Hope it was worth it."

Another example:

"[He's] a nonbeliever but he's throwing out Bible verses to school Christians about their wrong behavior. The victim card isn't going to fly here either."

After publication, Fromm said he still attends chapel services at NCU. "I use it as my own personal time, to gather my thoughts," he told the Associated Press.

After Fromm's article went viral online, his NCU academic advisor penned a follow-up article, addressing some of the issues.

"I think you've got to accept that what you're revealing may awaken something upsetting, even frightening, in people who've known you. In the same way you rightly decline to conceal what you think and how you feel, it seems plain to me that you've got to be understanding and forgiving if people are open about their (ideally temporary) discomfort with you. The alternative is for you to demand that people simulate a comfortability around you that they don't genuinely feel. I trust you see the contradiction there. There's a difference between condemning, which is wrong, and distancing, which may be nothing more than honesty, and I think that might be painful for you. But someone who has the fortitude to speak on this subject has the resilience to endure the rebalancing of friendships."

Fromm expects to graduate this coming spring. Northwest Christian University is a private school with historic ties to the Disciples of Christ denomination. It is also a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).

In 2011, the student body president at California Lutheran University came out as an atheist and shared his story on YouTube.

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