EUGENE — A vice president of a prominent Christian university in Oregon is defending the school’s student body president after he recently came out as an atheist.
Eric Fromm attends Northwest Christian University in Eugene, Oregon, an educational institution that seeks to be “characterized by its commitment to equip students to discover and answer God’s call in their lives.” It was founded in 1895 by Pastor Eugene Sanderson, whose passion was to train men for the ministry.
Fromm states, however, that he chose the university largely because of its communications program and the personalized attention he would receive from professors. He says that he was an atheist long before enrolling, but some of his peers did not know that he was not a Christian.
In a recent op-ed featured in the university’s publication The Beacon Bolt, Fromm, who was elected as student body president this year, came out to students and faculty as an atheist.
“My name is Eric Fromm. I am Senior at NCU majoring in communications, and I am an atheist,” he wrote in an article entitled Lifting the Curtain. “Yes, you read that correctly, I am an atheist.”
Fromm then outlined that he was raised Methodist and baptized Lutheran, but concluded over time that “God wasn’t real.”
“For me, church was an empty ritual that I participated in so I could see friends,” he said. “Scripture was largely mythological, and Jesus was a great moral teacher, but he wasn’t God.”
Fromm stated that he wanted to write the piece because he believes that some students who are aware of his atheism judge him for his lack of faith.
“I want to take my peers to task on their inability to accept those who don’t fit their Christian pattern,” he wrote. “Growing up in church I heard a lot of lessons about how Christians shouldn’t judge others, but it seems like some people slept through that lesson.”
But school officials state that they don’t have an issue with Fromm’s atheism, nor his position as student body president. The Northwest Christian University website outlines that students do not have to be Christians to enroll at the university.
“We welcome students who have no faith commitment or are from other faith commitments,” it states. “NCU is not a ‘church’, nor do we require students to be Christians or to subscribe to any faith statement.”
In this light, Michael Fuller, vice president for enrollment and student development, told the Register-Guard that he’s known about Fromm’s views for years and didn’t question his election as student body president.
“He’s a man of very high character and respect,” Fuller said of Fromm. “He’s a great advocate for our student body, which is exactly what he’s supposed to be and do.”
“If we all had our wishes, we wish Eric would be a strong Christian man,” he continued, but added, “We’re an open and welcome community, and we meet students exactly where they’re at.”
Beacon Bolt editor and fellow student Brandon McInnis likewise expressed support for Fromm.
“I felt proud of him,” he wrote in a follow-up piece in the publication. “Fromm is handling this correctly. He didn’t take the easy path; he took the right one.”
McInnis stated that he believes it is better for McInnis to be open about his unbelief rather than hide his atheism.
“I think that pleases God,” he wrote, “and if you disagree, go consult Proverbs 12:22 and John 8:44.”
He opined that it is best that students simply allow Fromm to see the reality of Christ in their lives without trying to change him.
“Condemning him, or strong-arming him, can’t make things better,” McInnis stated. “Trusting God and loving Fromm for the lovable young man he is, can. Plus, it’s what Jesus commanded us to do.”
“Of course as Christians we have to be kind to those who do not believe in the word of God, but as far as lauding this fellow [and] the fact that they are fine with his belief system, that’s a problem,” he stated. “I think it’s very inconsistent for a university to call themselves Christian and come out with a statement like that.”
Ten Bruggencate said that the university holds to an unbiblical philosophy in believing that Fromm may someday become a Christian simply by students and staff being welcoming of his atheism.
“They can hope that, but that’s like the very liberal position to ‘Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words,'” he explained. “They’re talking about friendship evangelism when the majority of evangelism in Scripture is using words–is preaching the Gospel to people, so that’s just an acquiescence to a very liberal view of Christianity.”
“People are confusing tolerance with acceptance,” Ten Bruggencate, who preaches at colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and Canada, continued. “This man wants acceptance, but we as Christians are not supposed to accept error. … This man does not want tolerance; he wants acceptance of his position, which is something that we as Christians cannot do.”
Ten Bruggencate said that he believes that Christian universities should require students to be Christians. However, since Northwest Christian University enrolls those of differing faiths or of no faith, he opined that Fromm should be allowed to graduate from the institution. But, he said, Fromm should not be permitted to proceed as student body president.
“The Bible says that everybody is certain that God exists. Everybody knows that God exists and are without excuse,” Ten Bruggencate stated. “They have to preach the truth to Fromm in love in the hope that the Holy Spirit opens his eyes to it.”