Church stereotypes undermine Christian community

By Tiana Dyson | Contributor

As a freshman, I knew I was going to frequently be providing the same basic facts about myself to somebody new. I am from Illinois, my major is pre-business and I came to Baylor for the combination of a Christian community and top-notch academics. What I did not know was that here at Baylor, where you go to church often defines how other people are going to perceive you.

Baylor is often referred to as a unique university because of its Christian community. In fact, that is one of the main reasons I came to Baylor. I was excited because I was convinced that the separation I had felt in the past because of my beliefs was going to vanish. I had painted a beautiful picture in my mind of a campus free of judgement and labels.

Sadly, after spending a few months on campus, I was faced with a harsh reality. There is still separation at Baylor, and to be honest, the Christian community that Baylor is so proud of is arguably the biggest cause of this separation.

I am not simply referring to a separation between religious and non-religious students, nor a separation between Christianity and other religions. I expected those. What I did not expect was the segregation among students who all claim to express the same beliefs.

Churches in Waco have stereotypes. Regardless of if you fit the stereotype that has been placed on the church you go to, odds are, people around you are going to assume that you do. Even if you don’t go to church, people are probably going to take one look at you and place you in one themselves. There have been many times where I have been reluctant to share where I go to church, out of fear of being placed in a category that I do not fit into. Like most people, I am complex, unique and do not want to be known as someone that I am not.

Maybe your church is categorized as the “weird” church that gets a little too spiritual during worship. Maybe you go to the “camp counselor” church, or the “hipster church.” Your church could be “too traditional,” or it could be too much of a “performance.” The list of stereotypes goes on, but my point is this: no matter where you go to church, people are going to make assumptions about you.

These stereotypes have created a unique culture of competition at Baylor. The church you choose to attend not only defines who you are, but it defines who your friends are, what organizations you fit into and where you are going to truly feel welcomed. What kind of Christian community segregates itself based upon assumptions? What kind of Christians pick and choose who they are going to show love to?

As Christians, we are not called to categorize, marginalize or make assumptions about anybody. Instead, we are called to love one another. A Christian community, as defined by the Bible, is one which welcomes everybody and appreciates individuality. Believers are called to unite as one body: the Church. Tension between churches creates the opposite of community. It creates separation, which will never lead to growth.

Baylor can and should be doing a much better job of building this unity across campus, and it starts with students choosing to stop defining each other based off of where they go on Sunday mornings.

Tiana is a sophomore nonprofit marketing and development major from Mahomet, Ill.