Christian college’s student leader ‘comes out’ as atheist

(Mike Cherim / iStock)
(Mike Cherim/iStock)

“My name is Eric Fromm. I am Senior at NCU majoring in communications, and I am an atheist.”

That’s the start of a surprising column co-written by Eric Fromm, student body president in the Northwest Christian University’s student publication, the Beacon Bolt, that sparked an unusual online discussion about students and their beliefs at the school in Eugene, Ore.

Northwest Christian University is, according to its Web site, a school “that fosters wisdom, faith and service through excellent academic programs within a Christ-centered community. It has 623 enrolled students, 62 percent of them female.

Fromm, who won an election to become president of the study body, told the Register-Guard that  he decided to make his atheism public because of rumors on campus of his beliefs, and he wanted to clear the air. His post says in part:

For those of you who didn’t already know about my nonbelief, this news may be a bit shocking, but I was an atheist long before I came to NCU. I was baptized Lutheran, and raised Methodist, but as time went on I slowly came to the conclusion that God wasn’t real. For me, church was an empty ritual that I participated in so I could see friends, scripture was largely mythological, and Jesus was a great moral teacher, but he wasn’t God.

Now you may ask, “Well, if you’re not a Christian, why did you come to NCU?” Truth be told, I came to NCU not because of its religious affiliations, but because it had a solid communications program. I knew that the school catered to Christian thinking, so before I enrolled, I visited the campus to make sure that the chapel services were comfortable enough that I could fulfill the requirement. No one was speaking in tongues or handling snakes, so I decided to stay.

The co-author of  the piece, called “Eric Fromm: Lifting the Curtain,”  is Brandon McGinnis, the student editor of the Beacon Bolt who is a former roommate of Fromm and who describes himself on the blog as “a Christian, a rookie theologian, an aspiring writer, a storyteller, an Episcopalian, and a believer in exile.”

The Register-Guard quoted Fromm as saying:

I don’t have to hide anymore. I know that people accept me for who I am.

Inside Higher Ed quoted Michael Fuller, the university’s vice president for enrollment and student development, as calling Fromm “a man of very high character and respect” and “a great advocate for our student body, which is exactly what he’s supposed to be and do.”

We’re an open and welcome community, and we meet students exactly where they’re at.

 The school’s Web site, however, notes here that most faculty and staff are Christians and are asked about their religious faith when hired. It says:

All full time faculty members are expected to demonstrate “a maturing Christian faith.” The overwhelming majority of part time faculty and NCU staff are Christians as well. Whenever we conduct a job search to fill a position, we ask candidates to submit a ‘statement of faith’ in which they describe their own Christian experience and how they relate that experience to their work.

Fromm’s post started an online discussion in the comments section in which he was praised for coming out as an atheist and attacked for it. Other comments came from university students and former students declared that they, too, were atheists. One commenter wrote:

I was wondering who the other ones were.

Never felt comfortable talking asking but I knew I couldn’t be the only one.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | November 7, 2013