FORMER CHRISTIAN GOES PUBLIC AS ATHEIST

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On October 30, 2013 the Beacon Bolt Newsletter, a student publication of the North Eastern Christian University of Oregon, posted an article co-written by the editor Brandon McGinnis. The article titled, Eric Fromm: Lifting the Curtain, was a coming out statement written by Eric Fromm, the Universities newly elected student body president.
Naturally, the article went viral as another hot story about someone making their exit from faith in God, the Bible and Christianity.

Submitted: January 19, 2014

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Submitted: January 19, 2014

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It opens with this bold proclamation:

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

And lest anyone should get the impression that this was a sudden decision, he continued:

“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.”

From there he began to give a brief history of his exit from faith in God.

“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.”

I was not aware of this story until one of my students brought it to my attention and asked for my comments. I told him that I had none until I could spend some time investigating and reading the available news reports on the matter.

After reading a number of online reports for a variety of papers and blogs I decided to contact Eric myself. I called the University and was put in contact with Jeannine Jones, Director of University Relations who assured me that she would pass on my request for an interview to Eric. After waiting a few day I decided to contact him directly which I did and he graciously granted me an interview by phone.

 The interview

My first question addresses his public comments about his experience growing up in church and his rejection of the Bible as God’s inspired word and Jesus as God. I suggested to him that it was evidence of a failing church and not a failing God. I asked if his parent’s divorce might have played a role in his move away from God. He was sure that it did not; he said it never crossed his mind to blame God for the divorce.

That being made clear, I asked if he had investigated any of the conservative Christian churches where the commitment to God and his word was stronger and the knowledge of God’s word more reliable. He admitted that he had not done such an investigation, being of the opinion, back then, that every church should be about the same and should believe along the same line. He acknowledged that was not the case.

I commended him for his boldness in publicly stating his atheist convictions and told him that he was correct to expect Christians to treat him with respect and love and not to be hostile. I apologized for those who did act unseemly towards him and reminded him that they were not acting as Christians but as immature young people and that the body of Christ should not be blamed for the carnal behavior of immature believers. He agreed.

Additionally I asked if he could at least understand the frustration some of his peers may have had in feeling betrayed and invaded by an atheist who did not make his convictions about God public before he was elected. He said he understood.

How He Got Elected President By a Christian Student Body

I asked Mr. Fromm how he got elected being an atheist knowing that he would not have campaigned by passing out flyer that said “Hi, I am an atheist and I want to be your next student body president”, he replied:

“The majority of upper-classmen and people voting for me actually already knew what I believed in”….

“So when I ran, a lot of it was character. I did not run unopposed, there was another person running against me and she was the previous student body president, and she did an amazing job last year and really helped me grow myself. But I felt it was my time to step forward and I let the students decide who they thought would be suited for the presidency for the next year.”

I found that interesting considering the struggles he said he was going through, It does not seem to me that the path that one struggling with the fear of rejection would opt to run for the highest office of leadership among the students. I am also curious as to just how many students who voted for him knew that he was an atheist at the time of their vote. If the majority knew as he indicates, then that does not say much for the standards they as Christians have from a Biblical perspective. I am concerned that at least on this issue, the quality of Bible teaching and perhaps even the kind of biblical-Christian example they are being exposed to at NCU may be well below standard for true Christianity. It is one thing to love, respect and encourage an atheist; it is quite another thing to allow him to function as a leader of Christian students.

I asked him how he was going the handle the dichotomy of being an atheist president of a Christian student body?

He answered:

“How I am trying to handle it right now is that I am trying to get out to the student body that if they do have concerns they can come talk to me, I am trying to represent them as best I can and right now my representation is of diversity and acceptance, and showing that it is okay to be afraid and that each of us have our own journey to take and our journey is our own decision and no one can force you and say that you have to believe this way or act this way. It’s what you take in and learn on your own.

And so for my own senate I actually asked that question during our executive retreat with all my vice presidents and my controllers and I said this is what I believe in what do you believe. And there is a wide variety among my senate from all the way from me, to strong believers…. and that really does show that it represents our entire student body as a whole. And so I believe that my senate can fully represent our student body in this way and each of us can provide our own thing to our student body.” 

While some of this comment also concerned me, I did not want to press the young man.  I am concerned about his ideas on “diversity” and “acceptance” as applied in a Christian school. To what extent does that apply in a Christian university? To be honest, I cannot see how having an atheist student president fulfills the Christian university’s claimed mission, or how it benefits the Christian students there.

I am also concerned that he would be sending the message that it is okay to be afraid. There should be no reason or need to be afraid in a Christian university to express doubts. But then to add that,  “no one can force you and say that you have to believe this way or act this way” is indicative of a mind that has been influenced by humanistic ideologies, it reeks of relativism. There is clearly more to this matter than has been stated.

Finally, the “wide variety” of convictions within his senate and controllers that go from one extreme to the other, which he seems to think is a good thing for their student body representation, may not be as ideal as he thinks. It certainly is not acceptable from a Biblical, Christian perspective.

When each conflicting conviction starts “provide our own thing to our student body”, the standards and message of Christianity will be the first casualty.

His comments clearly indicates that Christ will not be the center of their life and operations, and the Bible will now have to share it’s place of authority with other ideas and sources of authority. It seems that ecumenical ism will rule the day. 

The Apparent Evasive Theological Question

Given his public stand on atheism I was compelled to ask him the question that no one seemed to be willing to ask, judging from the news reports that I had been reading and viewing up to that time, I asked him how does he defend his atheist conclusion in light of the massive evidence to the contrary, the many good examples being set by Christians and the abundant evidence that supports the truths of Christianity? I told him that evolutionists do not answer the question of origins or the complexity and diversity of life in spite of their constant dishonest claims. So there really is no other intelligent answer but God.

I told him that the failures of the Christians he has been exposed to both religiously and academically to set the proper example for him as believers and to be able to sufficiently answer his questions about God and the Bible do not negate the existence of God or the validity of the Bible and the deity of Jesus Christ. Then I asked Mr. Fromm how he handled the fact that without God he has no explanation for life? I told him that I could understand his being turned off from Christianity because of the many poor examples he saw and the apparent lack of receiving sufficient sound biblical instructions, but I could not understand his decision to reject God because of it. His problem appeared to be with failing people and not with the lack of evidence for the existence of God. He seems to have not been exposed to the right Christian sources and resources or good biblical instruction.

Mr. Fromm replied:

“Actually, through my declaration to my school I have received many emails from pastors, professors and other believers and non believers that really do say, be skeptical of everything you are learning about, be who you want to be but really do the research. And for me growing up was as you said earlier it was the environment I was in that was really what swayed who I was and what I believed in, and then eventually by taking the BTH classes and digging into the stories and research, and that’s when I really started to get that view that this is more of a moral book for me and it’s not really based on my faith. And there is something in there that I just can’t grasp a hole of or I can’t actually truly make myself believe that there can be a God.  But I can when doing the research when looking into it, there are moral stories that people should really take account to. It’s just that faith part that I could not fully grasp.”

This comment also concerned me because is seemed to reflect on the quality of biblical instructions he was receiving. What was he being taught that would make him settle on atheistic convictions? What kind of research had he done and what sources did he use that contributed to his move to atheism? These are questions that NCU executives and staff should be investigating.

I then again asked how he explained what he sees in life if he removes God. I asked if he understood the problem of rejecting God because of human failures.

He Replied:

“As for me right now, I will admit, I’m only 21 and to explain how the world was created or where I am going to go after I die, is for me to even try to explain that I am to young as a person and still going on my journey. 

I have tried when I was younger to really dive in and understand existence and then I started coming to the realization that the more I tried to search all these arguments came up and I found myself getting even more distracted from what was important, and that was, what’s happening now in our lives, what’s going on, who can I help as a person, and by really focusing to much on how the world was created it distracted me way to much from this part that I could actually improve.”

Again, I was concerned by his answer; though he is young, I think he is old enough to grasp the fact that ideas have consequences. That not having a biblical conviction on the matter of origins will affect his future actions and development. But I did not press him on that matter. At least in part, his struggle was clearly due to a lack of good sound Christian resources and sound biblical counsel. 

I ended our interview by telling Mr. Fromm that I would be praying for him because I had sympathy for his struggle and was sure that wolves from both sides would be coming after him. And I would be praying that God would place true believers around him who can minister to him in the manner that will help him through his current state of unbelief to bring him to faith in God.

I also encouraged him to make a sincere effort to access conservative Christian scholarship to get the information that he has been missing.

Though I did not discuss it with him, I am also concerned that the homosexual community will target him and seek to convert or influence him for their cause.

The Media Reports

According to the REGISTER-GUARD Fromm stated:

“It was his peers’ criticism, rather than his own doubts that Fromm said ultimately compelled him to reject his faith.”

Further into that article it states:

“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.

“The more I got shunned, the more cold shoulders and verbal attacks, I realized, ‘OK, I’m part of the ‘out’ group,’?” he said.”

I found this particularly interesting considering the fact of his election. How could he continue to consider himself an outsider when an apparent majority of students supported him? Additionally, given that majority support from the student body, why would he opt to continue in his profession of atheism and go public with it if indeed it was the rejection and scorn of a few that caused him to realize he was an outsider?

Even his fears of rejection by administrators and challenge of his presidency was apparently premature, yet even that realization has not caused him to reconsider his views about God and the Bible. It is possible therefore that there is more to his rejection of God than has been stated so far.

ABC News On Line reported Mr. Fromm and saying:

"Every day I'm burdened by the fact that my peers might reject me because I'm different from them. I won't be rejected because of my race or social class, but simply because of the fact that I don't believe in God -- because I am an atheist,"

So in spite of his election and abundant acceptance from the student body and staff even to the executive level, he still feels burdened by possible further rejection. I can’t shake the feeling that there is much more going on here.

I hope that the administration at NCU understands the obligation that they have in handling this situation, Eric is a soul that has been placed in their care, and he deserves the best Biblical instruction that he can get, and just making “inclusive” public comments will not resolve the problem. At some point they will have to address not only his claims and actions but also his knowledge and convictions if they are truly going to fulfill there stated mission as a Christian university. To jeopardize to spiritual stability of the many for the few is not wise.

The More Important Questions

While it is clear that there is more to be explored and made clear about Mr. Eric Fromm, as he said, he is still young and has not quite been as diligent as he should be in his research and thought process, the more important questions I think concern his handlers, those who were given the privilege and opportunity to teach him and display an example of Christian character, assurance and knowledge before him.

Why did they fail to reach him during the several years that he has been attending NCU?

What kind of Bible teaching are they presenting that leaves questions in the minds of their students about the existence of God and the integrity of the Bible?

What kind of atmosphere makes a student feel that he is not able to express his doubts without being condemned rather than engaged and encouraged?

Why didn’t those administrators and staff members who knew of Mr. Fromm’s atheistic state, dedicate themselves to helping him out of that frame of mind before he went public?

Why would a Christian College not only have no Confession of faith requirement for holding student office, but allow a known atheist student to run for office without first making his atheism known to the entire student body?

These are just a few of the important questions that need to be answered.

Questions for NCU Officials

Around a week or so after interviewing Eric I attempted to contact several executive and professors at the university, leaving voice messages for them, including the President, the Vice President and several of the religion professors. After receiving no reply to any of my phone calls I decided to publish my article and include the questions that I would have asked them.

Knowing that Mr. Fromm had adopted an atheist view, what efforts were made if any to help him overcome those convictions before he went public?

Galatians 6:1 is only one of several scriptures that state our obligation to help a brother overtaken in a fault.

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

Eric said that he felt intimidated in class and that he did not feel that he could express his doubts, how would you explain that given your stated mission and public acceptance of non-believers students on campus?

As a Christian College, why don’t you include a confession of faith in Jesus Christ and the Bible as God’s word as part of the requirement for any student to run for office?

2 Corinthians 6:14-15 gives the idea that we are not to be bounded together with unbelievers.

“be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communication has light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believes with and infidel?

Allowing an atheist student to lead a Christian student body is tantamount to yoking him together with them.

Why was Mr. Fromm not required to make his atheistic views know before he ran for office, would that not have been more honorable than revealing his atheism after the fact to the public?

I am not sure if I will get a response to my question but there they are. Perhaps someone can get through to the powers that be at NCU and be granted and audience in which they will share their wisdom on these matters.


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