Saturday, January 14, 2012

Student Saturday: My OBU Story

One of the things I want this blog to become is a forum for students and alumni to tell their OBU stories.  Many people have indicated interest, but say they don't know exactly what to say.  Some are hesitant to speak publicly for fear of recrimination or harassment.  Others are unsure whether to emphasize the positive aspects, or the ways in which encroaching fundamentalism detracted from their experience.

I'm hoping some of you have dramatic stories of run-ins with fundamentalism -- being silenced by administrators, being threatened or harassed, being forced into reparative therapy for being gay, etc.  I don't have any stories like that.  My story is actually pretty ordinary.  But it is my own, and I'm happy to share it with you in gratitude for your kindness in taking the time to hear all I've had to say these past six weeks.

Name: Jacob Lupfer
Years: 1999-2002
Major(s): Religion (Bible emphasis)
Hometown: Kissimmee, Florida
Church Affiliation Then: First United Methodist Church, Kissimmee, Florida
How/Why I Chose OBU: A girl
Good Times: Life felt pretty carefree!  I spent a lot of time with my girlfriend (we married in 2002 and divorced in 2008), but also enjoyed a small-ish circle of really good friends.  In 2001 and 2002, I completed the OKC Memorial Marathon -- that was 10 years and 50 pounds ago, but remains one of my proudest accomplishments.  I went hiking in several locations around Oklahoma and visited a number of friends' hometowns.  I don't have a lot of campus memories that stick out in my mind, but I enjoyed late-night study and BS sessions at Denny's, IHOP (which opened while I was there), a dumpy diner/truck stop the name of which escapes me now, and a bar called Dietrich's.  I absolutely loved Van's Pig Stand, and there were two other BBQ places -- one on S. Kickapoo and one just east of campus on MacArthur -- that we went to a lot.  I did some volunteer work at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh, which was pretty eye-opening.  I jogged around the airport, downtown, and along the (then) dirt roads near St. Gregory's.  I tried racquetball, but never became very good.  I took voice lessons from a music major.  Attending oratorio concerts helped nurture a lifelong love of sacred choral music.  I loved all the professors in my department.  I wish I had taken more classes with Don Wester and Tom Dowdy.
Bad Times: J-Term and summer school were pretty boring -- and that's saying something because much of the time at OBU, there wasn't a lot going on.  It was hard to have a serious girlfriend, because you could never spend time alone together.  In retrospect, I found the authoritarian cultural/institutional dynamic about morals and sexuality to be extremely backwards, repressive, and ultimately pretty harmful to people's development.  I learned to think for myself at OBU, but I didn't learn to be my own person.  I enjoyed class lectures, but discussions could be pretty painful.  A lot of students had never thought for themselves and had no intention of ever doing so.  Chapel services were often quite bad (though I liked the pipe organ).  The fact that chapel was compulsory struck me as extremely odd, but I was so compliant and non-confrontational back then I never tested the policy to find out what the consequences were, if any.  I had a NatSci biology class that was 5% science and 95% indoctrination.  It was the only class I had at OBU that was just awful.  At the time, I was no Mark Brister fan.  I knew he had been part of the fundamentalist takeover and I was suspicious of his every move, especially when Professor Slayden Yarbrough retired under circumstances that weren't clear to me.  I had a few friends on the Bison staff, and it stinks how badly student journalism has been censored at OBU.
Best Thing(s) about OBU: The professors were great.  Almost from the beginning, I got the feeling that I wanted to become a professor one day (though I wouldn't last long at a place like OBU).  My teachers took the time to get to know me, to mentor me, and to take my questions seriously.  When I decided to go to graduate school, they were very encouraging and helpful.  Occasionally we brought scholars to OBU for conferences and lectures, and this helped me to see what academia outside the confines of fundamentalist-tending institutions could be like.  Meeting scholars like Jacob Neusner, William Scott Green, Phyllis Trible, and others turned out to be very consequential for my development.
Worst Thing(s) about OBU: The culture was extremely authoritarian and conformist.  I was always someone who pretty much did what I thought my parents/church/family wanted, but even I never got over how weird it was to be part of a community that was so conformist.  Maybe I just wasn't familiar with the Calvinist strand in Baptist life where you have to show people that you're "in."  But it was strange seeing Christians trying so hard to out-Christian one another.  Combine that with the bizarre mating ritual that involved getting very fashionably dressed for Tuesday night BCM services... it was just all very strange to me.  And as much as I hated chapel, I sometimes wished there was a Sunday service on campus because a lot of the Baptist churches in and around Shawnee were insufferable -- like parodies of themselves.  (To be fair, I never attended UBC or FBC.  Eventually, I attend the UMC church downtown, and finally ended up driving 40 miles each way to Mayflower United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, which was absolutely wonderful).  Overall, there were things about OBU that seemed to retard peoples' personal development.  A lot of identity/personality/values issues tend not to get worked out in that kind of environment, because it's only "okay" to be one kind of person.  I think a lot of people ended up trying so hard to be that idealized OBU Christian that they resisted/fought/hated whatever they actually were.  Well, enough pop psychology.  I just feel like there were ways in which being at OBU was more harmful than helpful, and to the degree that's true, it's a shame.
Spiritual/Religious Reflections (if any): For many years, most OBU students who entered as church kids and left as moderate evangelicals can honestly say that OBU helped them to think for themselves, engage their religious tradition with a good balance of head and heart, and contributed to their development as thinking Christians.  That's great.  And really, I think that ideal is about the best we can hope for.  My journey was quite different.  At OBU, I realized I didn't believe most of what I was taught about the Bible, God and Jesus as a child.  The books I read and the critical thinking skills I learned helped me arrive at relatively unorthodox positions.  Most of all, I learned that it's better to take the Bible seriously than literally -- and that the two are mutually exclusive.  For several years, I would keep searching for a version of Protestantism I could believe honestly and with integrity.  In the end, all I could do was define my faith in terms of what I didn't believe, not what I did believe.  There turned out not to be much left.  So I know all the hymns, most of the scriptures and I love parts of the tradition, but I just don't feel it.  I'm eternally grateful that OBU afforded me the skills, knowledge, and encouragement to think through some of the most profound implications of our existence.  I hope others will continue to find that same opportunity, no matter where their journey takes them.
Life/Career: Master of Theological Studies at Boston University School of Theology; 2 years in parish ministry; 2 years in K-12 public education; Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in political science
Residence: Washington, D.C.
Church Affiliation Now: None
Reflections on OBU-BGCO Relationship: People's perceptions about OBU are relative.  I thought I was conservative, but when I came to OBU, I was liberal by comparison.  What amazed me was this prevalent idea among Oklahoma Baptists that OBU was liberal.  I always found that laughable, but compared to a lot of fundamentalist churches in Oklahoma, I guess it's true.  Even now, as fundamentalists are replacing moderates on Bison Hill and the BGCO is obviously calling a lot of the shots, there are still Baptist pastors warning their young congregants, "Don't go to OBU -- you'll lose your faith."  The only way we are ever going to win this fight is if we fight battles on two fronts.  We all know the idea that OBU is liberal is completely ridiculous -- and we need to push back against fundamentalism whenever it rears its ugly head.  But to the degree that Oklahoma Baptist clergy and laypeople actually do believe OBU is liberal, godless, and/or dangerous, we need to continue to stoke and affirm those fears.  In order for our long-awaited split to happen, it can't just be a coalition of relative moderates breaking the tie that binds us to fundamentalists.  It has to be a large number of fundamentalists saying "good riddance" to us.
Final Thoughts: I am happy to continue providing some informational and structural resources to Save OBU.  But I cannot be the only leader in this movement.  Not that the fundamentalists would like me any better if I was a United Methodist minister or a liberal Episcopal layman, but the fact that I turned out not to be very religious makes me even easier to dismiss.  While there are plenty of things I find admirable about the Baptist tradition before the fundamentalist takeover, it never was or will be my tradition.  But for many of you, it is yours.  That's why we need you to be leaders in this movement.  You have had something taken from you, and you are the ones who need to fight to take it back.

As always, if you would like to share your OBU story, perhaps you can follow some version of the format I used above.  Feel free to copy the text below and, in the words of Shakespeare, "Speak what you feel, not what you ought to say."

Church Affiliation Then:
How/Why I Chose OBU:
Good Times:
Bad Times:
Best Thing(s) about OBU:
Worst Thing(s) about OBU:
Spiritual/Religious Reflections (if any):
Church Affiliation Now:
Reflections on OBU-BGCO Relationship:
Final Thoughts:

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