The collegian president gestured energetically as he talked, his green polo shirt proclaiming his pride in the Pi Zeta Delta Wolverines. David was always energetic. Next year that energy for all things PCC would propel him to be the only African-American residence manager on this majority white campus.
“We’re really close to taking that Christian Service trophy this year!” he shouted, “I don’t want us to come in second place. We’re going to continue our tradition of winning!”
Cheers came from all sides of the crowded class room. I didn’t cheer. I didn’t even look up. As far as I was concerned this was a wasted hour that would be better spent studying or sleeping. But with so little sanctioned entertainment on campus a lot of students really seemed to enjoy the chance to whoop and holler and play games that resulted in someone vomiting up half a liter of warm root beer.
David continued on at full volume. “I want every guy in this room right now to raise their hand and promise to go out on Christian service this week. There are plenty of things to choose from: you can go down witnessing in Seville Square, you can do bible clubs, you can go talk to guys at the Boy’s Base…”
I groaned internally as he went on listing all the various opportunities for spending hours of your weekend out soul-winning. I was already taking eighteen credits of classes and working over twenty hours a week to pay my tuition. Even if I could spare the time, I was not at all impressed with the idea of going on one of these “ministries.” The brags heard in Saturday night hall meeting from the guys who claimed to have had double digits of people gloriously saved told me everything I needed to know about the true nature of these programs. I wanted no part of them.
Up in the front of the room David was wrapping up his plea. “Ok, guys. Raise your hands and make a promise to the Lord that you’re going to go out there and witness and help us win that trophy.”
Hands shot up all over the room. I glanced around and felt a little sick as i realized that I was the lone abstainer. In a few seconds every eye in the room was on me.
“Dow!” said David “What’s the problem, man? Make the promise so we can have 100% comittment!”
I shook my head. No. I wasn’t going to participate in a gospel charade just so he would win a trophy.
“C’mon what’s the matter?” he repeated and now grumbles were echoing from around the room.
“I’m not going to go on Christian service for a trophy or because I’m being forced into it.” I said quietly.
David seemed taken aback. “Oh, we’re not doing it for the trophy,” he said quickly. “We just want to go serve the Lord.”
I just shook my head again. It wasn’t true but there was no point arguing it.
“Oh, wait, you’re in the church choir,” he said smiling triumphantly. “We get Christian service points for that so you’re already covered.”
The angry stares aimed at my head abated and the meeting went on to the important tasks of hazing freshmen and finding somebody stupid enough to drink a glass of water that three other guys had already gargled.
My few friends in the collegian didn’t understand why I didn’t go along with the crowd that day. Peer pressure and public shaming is fine if you use it for good, after all. Two years later when I walked across the stage and received my diploma I still hadn’t been on a single Christian service outing. I hadn’t knocked on the door of a weary Presbyterian, wrangled a prayer out of neighborhood kid, or accosted a drunk on a city street. Strangely enough, I was completely at peace with that. I felt no grief at all.
If you’ve ever wondered where pastors learn their strong-arm techniques for keeping people in line, the training grounds are scenes much like this one. And that is a real shame.