Fielding Hard Questions at UC Berkeley

Fielding Hard Questions at UC Berkeley

Imagine walking onto the campus of the University of California Berkeley. You do so knowing you are stepping into an alternate reality.

Right before I spoke at UC Berkeley, organizers issued three distinct warnings. The third warning was that the Free Speech Movement was dead. Any attempt to engage the students in a discussion during my 75-minute presentation would be met with hostility, a walk-out, or absolute silence.

Instead, two dozen hands immediately shot up when I asked my first question.

That first question was, “What do UC Berkeley professors say that makes it hard to be a Christian?”

I called on a student to my far right. She spoke up for the whole audience to hear. She echoed a women’s studies professor’s statement that “Christianity has oppressed women.”

I sought to be very careful in my response. I like to smile. Just not that moment.

First, I thanked the student for raising this issue and acknowledged I wasn’t smart enough to answer it.

Second, I cited three books I helped get published that address this accusation biblically, theologically, and practically. The three books are (1) Designer Women by Ruth Tuttle Conard, (2) Man and Woman, One in Christ by Philip B. Payne, and (3) Shepherding Women in Pain by Bev Hislop.

Third, I acknowledged that some Christians and many more so-called Christians have suppressed and oppressed women throughout the history of the past two millennia. Then again, Jesus Christ and biblical Christianity in the first century and in the twenty-first century have elevated women far above the norms.

In other words, this is a real accusation with real answers.

Maybe twenty-five minutes later I called on a student in the middle of the crowd about two-thirds of the way back. He and three or four of his friends got ready for a good laugh. He said, “Christians are a bunch of hypocrites.”

I smiled. “Yes.”

Awkward silence, and then a roomful of laughter.

I smiled again. 

“Yes, you’re right. Every Christian I know is a hypocrite. None of us lives up to our ideals. That includes my friends who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or whatever. But I would never think of saying to my Buddhist friend that, because he openly admits he doesn’t live up to his Buddhist ideals, I don’t want to be his friend anymore. To me, that’s unthinkable. So, yes, you’re right, all Christians are hypocrites.”

I went one by one until each student who wanted gave an answer to my question, “What do UC Berkeley professors say in class that makes it hard to be a Christian?”

I was shocked that I had heard them all when I was in college. In other words, the professors hadn’t taught the students any new accusations in decades. As if “Christians are a bunch of hypocrites” really is the best they can do. Astounding!

Would I walk back onto the campus of UC Berkeley to speak again? In a minute. 

Then again, the reality is many followers of Jesus Christ walk onto the Berkeley campus every day. As staff. As students. And, yes, as professors. Those I know are amazing individuals who have my highest regard. 

Imagine stepping into their shoes right now.

If you feel so led, please keep them, and their troubled university, in your prayers.

David Sanford

David Sanford’s speaking engagements have ranged everywhere from UC Berkeley to The Billy Graham Center at the Cove. His book and Bible projects have been published by Zondervan, Tyndale House, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, and Amazon. His newest book is titled, Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It’s Not What You Think. 

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