“Are You A Christian?”
By Victor Mora
“Are you a Christian?”
A harmless question at first glance, but its weight changes drastically when facing down the barrel of a gun. On October 1st, 2015, Chris Harper-Mercer went on a deadly shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, killing nine people and then himself.
One by one, he’d chillingly tell students to stand up. He’d ask them if they were Christian.
If they said ‘no,’ he’d shoot them somewhere on the body.
If they said ‘yes,’ he’d shoot them in the head.
My name is Victor Mora and I am a second-year PhD student pursuing my doctorate in Criminology and Criminal Justice. The shooting in Oregon proved to be a turning point in my confidence in my public identity in Christ amongst my peers and professors.
The incident in Oregon was another senseless shooting added to the list of seemingly weekly mass shootings. Each one of these shootings is initially heartbreaking and then my emotions evolve into frustration. With my educational training, the other shootings made me ask “how could this have been prevented?” But this shooting was different. Instead of seeking a solution I reflected and asked myself “what if that was me?” I wrestled with this for only a moment. The images of Peter unabashedly claiming that he will never deny Jesus came to mind. This image is of course followed by Peter denying Jesus three times when push came to shove. I knew a moment of pain to live with my Savior vastly outweighed the lifetime of guilt and shame knowing that I had denied Christ. So for me it was a no-brainer.
The stereotype with higher education, especially at the graduate level, is that there is no room for God. In the world of research and empirical evidence, it would seem that God would be pushed out of the way in the pursuit for “real” knowledge. One would expect sneers with the mention of your belief in a higher power. I mean, we have all seen the movies where professors “enlighten” the students and they’re challenged to rethink everything they once knew–looking at you God’s Not Dead. But in my many years of education this has thankfully not been the case.
Writing is the lifeblood of academics. The biggest impact that we have is through our writing. So when I got the green light from one of my instructors to write a short piece on the shooting in Oregon and how Christians would seek justice if the shooter were still alive, I didn’t think much of it; just an assignment to turn in for a grade and maybe get it picked up by a media outlet. I didn’t expect the email response from my professor after I turned it in.
He asked me if I wanted to share what my writing experience was for the assignment. He knew that this incident had struck a chord with me and encouraged me to share with the class how it was to write on this topic. This was an opportunity to share my identity in Christ publicly in a forum that I have never been able to before. The day our class met had come. I prepared myself for the sneers. I prepared myself for my colleagues to lose respect for me for sharing my faith. Regardless of what happened, I knew I had to do it, not just because my professor asked me to do so, but I know God had wanted me to do so. The professor turned the spotlight on me and the words started coming out. I had confidence in Christ that whatever that needed to be said would be said. I was able to be vulnerable with my faith and let my classmates know that this was a difficult paper to write, but it was a necessary one for me to reflect on myself and my faith. This segued in a lecture by the professor to write on topics you are passionate about. I had surveyed the room and I was getting head nods of affirmation. I was thanked later for sharing by my professor and various other students. I left class that day on a high.
All those thoughts and insecurities were unwarranted. Why did I care so much about what my classmates thought? Sure, I’m going to be in school with them and in the same classes for a couple of years and then practice in the relatively small criminology field where your reputation follows you where you go. Even if all those things spanned years of time, it does not compare to the eternity that is God. That experience shattered any stereotype that I had of academia and my faith.
Certainly my experience isn’t generalizable to everyone. There are most likely universities and student bodies in this country that cringe or are even hostile when they hear anything resembling religion. Even though we might face hostility, we do not have it nearly as bad as our brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe where they are being coerced to renounce Christ or be killed. Although a similar event like that occurred on our soil as mentioned above, it still should be considered the exception and not the rule. Regardless of any adversity we face for proclaiming Christ, we are blessed in knowing that God works everything out for good.
I also don’t want to paint this picture that everything in my life and my walk with Christ is all rainbows and sunshine. There are challenges. It’s difficult to be Christ-like when you’re cramming 200 pages of reading before class and someone schedules a mandatory meeting or if someone sends an urgent email that needs to be replied to. But during those moments, what gives me solace is knowing that I am supposed to be there. I am right where God wants me. He is using my talents to pursue the change that I can with the position I am in and will be in the future.
God might have you do something in the classroom–this doesn’t only apply at the graduate level–and you might push back and pray for God to choose someone else to do it, but I encourage the reader to just do it. You are in a position very few people are in. The forum that you may have is one very few other people have. If you speak about your faith, do it with love. If you lose a friend, if you end up disagreeing with a professor, or if you don’t get a research opportunity, I believe that it wasn’t meant to be. Whatever the outcome, I know God will work it out for good.