In the sorority but not of the sorority


During my first year of college, I struggled with drawing the line between being "in the world" and "of the world." The issue first came to bat when I joined a sorority. I’m from Naples, Florida, about 1300 miles away from the University of Missouri, where I knew no one. Naturally, I wanted instant friends. Greek life seemed the answer.

The first week of recruitment wasn't too bad because Greek members weren't allowed to drink, party, curse, or talk about relationships. I realize now it was a decoy. Nevertheless, I joined up, thinking that the stereotype was wrong, that Greek life was more than just partying.

I was wrong. And so I found myself caught in a world of sin, but trying not to sin. (I'm not saying all Greek life is that way; that was just my experience.) I was hurt because when I told people I was in a sorority, I was immediately judged. “Oh, you’re one of THOSE girls,” many would say. My testimony was immediately hurt. I felt like the light I was supposed to shine for Christ was being put out by the mere fact that I was in a sorority –- not because I was actually sinning.

So, I decided to drop Greek life. I felt like being a sorority girl hindered my ability to witness to people. And isn't that our main goal on this earth –- to lead people to Christ? Thus, wouldn't doing anything that hindered this mission (i.e. being in a sorority) be considered a sin since God gave us a command?

I wasn't sinning (and when I say "sinning" I mean underage drinking as well as other Greek life matters. Of course, I'm not perfect in all aspects of my life), but I was surrounded by sin. Because of humans' inclination to judge, I was reflected as a sinner. I wanted to be a light to the Greek community, but I also didn't want others to wrongly judge me. I ultimately thought that it wasn't okay to be in the sorority but not of the sorority.

The issue reminds me of another question I faced in college -– is it okay for Christians to go to fraternity parties or bars and be surrounded by alcohol even if they don’t drink (underage) or get drunk (of age)? Is the actual sin going to the party or is it drinking? Is there a difference between being in the world (at the party) and of the world (drinking)?

At first, I thought no. But, what if someone saw a Christian at a fraternity party? Would that hinder his or her testimony? Likely.

Again, I thought of another scenario: attending an R-rated movie. Is it ok to go to such a movie if you don’t replicate the actions in your own life? That is, can you be in the movie theater but not of the movie?

I struggle with this because I truly believe God calls us to be relevant. In fact, I think it helps our testimonies to be relevant -- to go where non-believers go, but not to necessarily do what they do. We can witness to people by not being the “goody two-shoes” Christians telling people what they can and cannot do. We can show non-believers that Christians can have fun, but glorify God while doing it.

But, my question is this: Where’s the line? Where does being relevant, being in the world, become sin, being of the world?


Comments:

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The fact of excluding is a necessary part of any human relationship Lee, and Christianity obviously excludes those who are not Christians.
LeeQuod,

Thanks for the biblical example of Paul's decision to not eat meat. I like how you pointed out that it was his personal decision, that he wasn't expecting other Christians to necessarily do the same. Greek life is hard - like you said, "the blind lead the blind" - and so many people want to be like them; they think sorority girls and frat boys have it all together. Unfortunately, many people in college look up to the Greeks more than they look up to people in campus churches. Sometimes, I wish I would have stayed in my sorority to be a Christian leader, but I realize that it would have brought me down rather than lift me up (and sometimes I think it’s selfish to have left because I wanted to be encouraged by the church). But, because of time commitments, it felt impossible to be fully involved in the church and fully involved in Greek life. And, now, I couldn't be happier with my decision to leave.

Megan
Kelvin,

Thanks for your feedback. I really liked the quote in the back of your sister's Bible - "I am the best Christian somebody knows" - and how you interpreted it. As far as R-rated movies go, I agree that there are certain degrees of appropriateness, and that even Christians who aren’t tempted shouldn’t see the worst of the R-rated movies. I do think it probably comes down to personal convictions as it can even be difficult to draw the line between the degrees of R-rated movies. Also, as you mentioned, there probably isn’t a single line to draw. And, at least where I go, frat parties seem to be a different than where you went. The majority of the people who go are underage drinkers (if you are of age you go to the bars) so the atmosphere is, for the most part, freshmen and sophomores getting very, very drunk. Now, I have no desire to go to the parties as I mostly hang out with my church group on the weekends, but at the beginning of my college career, the friends I made were going so I naturally wanted to go, even though I wasn’t going to drink. I’ve heard the parties are “no fun” if you don’t drink so I find there isn’t any real reason to go… probably, like you said, mostly degrading.
Humph, you two, humph - twelfth film of the "RECOMMENDED BY CENTURIONS" list. Schnapps, guzzled, first scene. And Megan's last name is . . .? QED. Pthbthtbthbth.

And Jason, yes - there are two kinds of people: those who divide everyone into two kinds of people, and those who don't. But Christianity would include all people if it could. Greek life is designed to divide and exclude.
We also have to remember that there are dangers in the other direction. When we give ourselves duties that are not commanded or not to the extent we focus on them we take attention off other duties. "Love Your Neighbor" comes well ahead in priority over "Thou Shalt Not Read Harry Potter."
Jason...
"Humanity" is only exclusive against aliens if there are aliens to exclude (for which there is as yet exactly zero evidence). It does, though, exclude angels...

However, Christianity should never be exclusive in the sense of seeking to keep people out of the group. While it is at times important to recognize who is in and who is out, our goal should always be to bring in as many more as possible, unlike a country club that benefits from the sense of selectiveness.
Drinking from a slipper, I had heard of. But not a boot.
;-)
Thanks for the clarification, Lee. I was trying to figure out the moral advantages of drinking from a boot.

Yes, the Android keyboard results in some very interesting word choices.
You know Lee, there is no group that doesn't exclude. Even "humanity" excludes aliens.
(Hmmm, how did Android transform "not drink alcohol" into "boot drink alcohol"? And, how did I not notice?)

I'll risk multiple consecutive comments (because I may owe Jason, for copyright infringement), and add, Megan, that it's less important what other people think than what God thinks. I once knew a traveling Christian whose business was delivering financial seminars, who regularly visited bars and taverns in the evenings, in spite of what church-going people - i.e., his supporters - thought. His reasoning was that that's where the hurting, lonely people were, those who most needed the Gospel and were least likely to hear it, and if Jesus could be accused of being a winebibber, then so could he, if it led to conversions.

And I believe the issue of ratings has come up on the PFM list of Chuck's favorite movies. http://www.breakpoint.org/resources/recommended-films Again, we have to use discretion instead of applying an absolute rule. If a film has an R rating because it accurately depicts what a Roman crucifixion was like, or the Holocaust, or life on a WWII U-boat, that's one thing. If it has that rating because it attracts adolescents who are physically adults via grossly sexual subject matter or gratuitous bloody violence, that's something different. Sometimes ya gotta hold your nose. Sometimes you're grateful that someone held theirs and warned you. And sometimes it's obvious.

One last thought: Greeks are notable for their exclusivity, rather than inclusivity. I can't be your "frat brother" (since sororities only have sisterhoods AFAIK), but I can be your brother in Christ. That latter relationship exists because we both have aligned ourselves with reality instead of dangerous fantasy about the world. No secret handshakes are needed, and no hazing (except, maybe, for certain types of Pentecostalism ;-) ). Greek life divides into small groups of similar individuals (since some houses appeal to jocks, some to the wealthy, some to middle-class alcoholics and/or pranksters, etc., etc.) while the Christian life seeks to remove such distinctions. (I love wearing my bluejeans to stuffy high-church services like Presbyterians and Anglicans have, or wearing a three-piece suit to a Calvary Chapel. But then, I'm a bit of a brat even at my age.)

So I'd sum up by saying that there are enough explicit rules in Christianity that we don't need to invent any more of them. But if you feel led to deny yourself something, whether you feel it's wrong for all Christians or only for you personally, you'll have my full support. I'll raise my glass to you and say, in my best Gaelic, "Sláinte!"

And I'll let everyone else worry about what might be in the glass. ;-)
Megan, to respond to your question, Paul had to respond to a question about eating meat. Since some butchers in that day would slaughter their animals as pagan sacrifices, Christians who bought meat could be seen as supporting offerings to false gods. Paul said there was nothing wrong in the meat itself, so everyone was free to choose, but as for himself, he said he'd become a vegetarian to keep even one person from stumbling. A personal commitment, not a requirement.

I've had similar discussions with many Christians about my personal choice to boot drink alcohol. My choice has more reasons in addition to not making someone stumble, but I always have to stress that this is my commitment, not something I feel all Christians must do. This has been to the relief of certain Italian-Americans for whom teetotaling would be a difficult cultural adaptation. I'm reminded of the Jerusalem letter to the early Gentile converts, which suggested a reasonable compromise.

So I don't think there are hard-and-fast rules for such things, and maybe this is God's design. This way we have to learn to live with each other and accept one another.

On a different note, I spent four months in a frat house, as an unbeliever, and I left before I would have to formally join. I think Greeks are antithetical to academic excellence, and would become increasingly difficult for someone with perfectionist tendencies. :-) But I'm reading Eric's Wilberforce book, and I was struck by how Wilberforce regretted wasting his early years. Greeks have this incredible opportunity to affect the characters of young people, and most frats and sororities squander it - or deliberately mis-shape characters. But it's what I would expect, with the blind leading the blind. Imagine having, say, Anne Morse making frequent visits and providing adult supervision, and how different that would be.
I don't think there's a single line to draw. I think the first thing we have to do in discerning is ask ourselves honestly, "What's my motive, and what's the likely outcome in me of making this choice? What impact is this going to have on others?" The latter doesn't mean that we're going to always defer to someone who's in the business of taking offense (there are probably some people who are still scandalized at the thought of men and women on different floors of the same residence hall, and that didn't affect my choice of college). But it does mean that we look honestly at how our choices affect others. I once saw in the back of my sister's Bible, "I am the best Christian somebody knows." At first I thought it was boastful, then I realized it was humbling: no matter whether I do a good or a poor job of representing Christ, that's going to be the best representation someone sees.

There are many varieties of R-rated movies. Schindler's List and The Killing Fields aren't easy to watch, but I think they're appropriate for any adult (with possible rare exceptions for people with specific issues), and have very healthy thought-provoking messages. On the other hand, a movie with gratuitous sex that skirts the NC-17 line is probably not going to be helpful to those who want to maintain purity in sexual thought as well as deed. I've actually never seen Titanic in part because it seemed there was going to be more titillation than would be helpful (and I wouldn't put that in the far reaches of R, from what I know).

I don't know the situation at the parties you're dealing with. At my college, all open parties (sponsored by Greeks, etc.) were required to have non-alcoholic drinks available, and it wasn't just underage kids who used that (I'm dating myself, but when I went to college, the drinking age in my state was 18). The alcohol flowed freely, but non-drinkers were not ostracized. In that context, I felt I could attend without promoting an alcoholic atmosphere. But there were dorm room events that got so degraded that my presence wouldn't help anyone and would pull me down, and then it was time to go (or, anticipating the situation, not be there to begin with).
Coach V
oh. ok. Thanks for clarifying!
Nope, that's not me. I suppose I could coach someone in being an armchair quarterback.
COACH V?
And Kevin, if you're Coach V (my parents said that they think it's you), I will now address you by COACH V. I didn't know it was you. haha. SORRY!!
Sometimes you CAN know. I remember being surprised to meet a Hmong who was shocked by the idea of reading pagan literature and then realizing,"Yes, of course someone who had grown up with real-life shamans can't read Homer the way a western intellectual can."
Carol,

I think knowing ourselves is a huge part of that issue. Knowing what tempts me personally does help me make those decisions. Yet, I still find it difficult to know whether or not certain actions will tempt others (does that make sense?). So, I guess my question is also “how to know” if what you’re doing will affect others’ salvation. I don’t know if, when I go to a party or bar, someone else is watching me and saying, “Oh she’s a Christian and she shouldn’t be doing that.” But, I also know a lot of Christian friends who do those things because they have fun, but don’t get drunk. Or, maybe we should ask ourselves “Do I really need to do that?” like you said, which is valid, but perhaps we can ask ourselves that question for a lot of things and then truly have no fun. Like you said, there is a fine line, but your feedback helped a lot! Thanks!

Megan
Jason,

I agree. I think it also comes down to personal conviction, which God puts in our hearts to help us make tough decisions.

Megan
Kevin,

I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles with such questions. I like the idea that you mentioned of being "strengthened." It does seem that, as we increase in our faith, we're able to "handle" more, yet is that what God really wants? Is going to an R-rated movie taking advantage of this strengthened faith? I'm not saying that it is or isn't but it certainly a question I ask myself a lot. And I agree - relevance is certainly not a minor issue. At the end you said we have to put our trust in God to make these decisions, and I definitely agree!

Megan
I think I'm repeating what Jason said (if so, I apologise), but I'm of the opinon that there's a very fine line between being IN the world and being OF the world. One part of discernment is knowing ourselves. We all are sinners in need of salvation, but my weaknesses are not your weaknesses. I can sit and nurse a bottle of beer or a glass of wine all night, while someone else who starts drinking may not be able to stop. Do I not drink because of my brother- or sister-in-Christ? I was taught that "Yes" is the resounding answer. St. Paul says, "Do not be a stumbling block for your brother." I am frankly not interested in R-rated movies, but I don't have a problem if someone else is. BUT, does your viewing that movie put someone else's salvation in jeopardy? Then, don't watch it. If you're worried about your "freedom in Christ", I'd suggest 2 things. First, view the movie at home where you're (hopefully) not scandalizing anyone else. And 2ndly, take some time to ask yourself why you NEED to see this movie.
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