IT’S being reported that Eric Fromm, 21, has received a lot of hugs on campus lately — at least once a day since he “came out” as an atheist last week in an article in his Christian university’s online newspaper.
And while the Northwest Christian University student body President doesn’t quite know what to do with all the new attention he’s receiving, he says it’s a welcome change from the isolation, verbal attacks and accusing questions that he’d grown to expect as rumours about his non-belief circulated.
I don’t have to hide anymore. I know that people accept me for who I am.
Though his active campus involvement was enough to win him the student government presidential election, Fromm said he’s felt judged by some of his peers throughout college because, as he wrote in the article that appeared in the school’s Beacon Bolt.
I couldn’t force myself to believe in God.
It was his peers’ criticism, rather than his own doubts, that Fromm said ultimately compelled him to reject his faith. Fromm said he had beens baptised and attended a Methodist church regularly until his parents’ divorce when he was a teen.
He said he had many questions still lurking from his upbringing in the Christian church when he arrived in 2010 to study communications at NCU, which was established in 1895 and is nestled next to the much-larger University of Oregon campus. As a graduate of the 1,600-student Canby High School, Fromm said he opted for NCU, despite his emerging doubts, because he liked the communications programme and the one-on-one attention he knew he would receive from his professors on the 600-student college campus.
While initially drawn to his peers’ faith and sense of community, Fromm said some students responded with shock, shame or fear when he divulged his doubts and lack of faith. Some avoided bringing up the Bible around him, some stopped talking to him for fear of losing their own faith, and others poked fun at him for his views, he said.
Fromm said he wasn’t keen about going public but felt forced to set the record straight as rumours about how he viewed Christians and Christianity circulated on the small campus. Prior to his article’s appearance, he worried that students and administrators might reject him or challenge his presidency.
According to this report, Fromm said he was baptised a Lutheran and raised a Methodist, but that, over time, he began to develop the belief that:
God wasn’t real.
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.
In his op-ed, Fromm described often struggling during university chapel services, as he found himself wanting to be a part of the excitement and energy, but he said he couldn’t force belief in God upon himself. From there, Fromm took aim at some of the Christians on campus who have treated him differently since they found out he’s a non-believer. He called it ironic that these same people who now scoff at him would often complain about how they were treated in high school as a result of their Christian views.
When people found out that I was an atheist, they started treating me differently. Sometimes they would verbally attack me, sometimes they would give me the cold shoulder, and sometimes they just gave me dirty looks.
Michael Fuller, vice president for enrolment and student development at Northwest Christian University, said that he has known about Fromm’s atheism for years and that it did not cause him to question his student body presidency.
He’s a man of very high character and respect. He’s a great advocate for our student body, which is exactly what he’s supposed to be and do.
While Fuller added that the school wishes Eric would be a “strong Christian man”, he went on to say that he wants students like Fromm to be a part of the academic community — individuals “who are looking to explore their faith and willing to look hard and make their faith their own.” Some critics, though, question Fromm’s presidency and charge that a Christian school’s mission cannot be fulfilled by having an atheist student leader at the helm. One critic wrote to the The Register Guard, saying:
With an atheist President, it doesn’t make sense how this mission can be carried out.
HAT TIP: BarrieJohn