Thursday, April 30, 2009

One toke over the line sweet jesus

So someone asks about Alive on campus and it being a cult. I wondered the same and did some investigating for my RA class. This is what I am here to report. Obviously Drake can conduct an internal affair should they see fit, and this in no way represents an official university policy. Hope you enjoy:

Alive, and the governing body of Campus Fellowship is one of the largest organizations on campus. Alive is hosted on Thursday nights. However Campus Fellowship has something almost every night. Bible-studies based on residence halls, life/support groups, meals, and social events also become part of the lives of “Alivers.” (It should be noted that Alivers is the Drake colloquial term for those that attend Campus Fellowship/Alive events regularly. This term is not meant in any demeaning way. Those interviewed were generally very accepting of this term, and thus it will be used in the following pages. Alive, as well as many aspects of Campus Fellowship (CF) will be covered, as one cannot accurately talk about Alive, without discussing CF.)
I walked into Cool Beans on the Thursday evening before spring break. Attending Alive is the only time I had ever been up to that part of the building. When I got up there I saw a lot of people. Probably 200 or so, which seemed like an excellent showing for something right before spring break. I had been a few other times at the request of friends so I had a decent read on how things were going to work. They started off with a few songs. This was my favorite part, as I used to play in a worship band. I only knew one of the songs, but they put the words up on a projector so people could sing along. Halfway through a few people put their hands in their air like I see on those worship compilation CDs. I am not used to worship like that, so it was new, but nice to see people passionate about something. Then a brief social meet-n-greet time was given. It was at a previous one of these times that I was informed “Catholics don’t have the truth.” That was in response to my prodding about why members of the group were going to Italy (turns out they went to Spain instead) to “Share the word of Jesus” (colloquially referred to as converting.) That line of thinking I am very uncomfortable with based on Catholicism being around for 2000 years, Peter being the first Pope, etc. However this could have been one member’s personal view. There is not really an Alive doctrine, or bylaws. There is a nice little booklet that describes what the GCC (Great Commission Church) believes, as they are the ones who fund Alive through Walnut Creek Church. However there is no legalistic ruling on what can and cannot be done. This was a major misconception I had, and am glad I have had alleviated. There are definitely some cultural norms that most members self police on each other (see the TD article ) but I did not see any rule book.
The words and actions were interesting. The gentleman speaking was eloquent. He was quoting a new version of the bible, which made me feel uneasy. I have major issues when anyone changes texts, or as it appeared in this case, brought the verbiage up to current standards. I consider this “dumbing down” and am of the persuasion that it should not be done with religious texts, as things can get warped or changed, which could lead to some misfortunes. In terms of cult practices, there was no punch, and nothing was sacrificed. Students were not told to go bomb abortion clinics, nor to send their life savings to a smiling face on TV. I did have an issue because it seemed that when asked members were not sure why they do certain things. Most only hang with each other, as do other large groups on campus (Greeks with Greeks, etc). The issue I had with actions from certain members, was that once it was made apparent I was there for research, and not interested in joining, certain members stopped talking to me. I got the feeling from some members, not all, that they were only interested in talking to me to convert me. I could see this being an issue on the floor next year. Imagine a resident thinks he is making friends, only to find that if he is not 100% sold on the messages Alive sends and stands for, his friends might drop him. There are some members however that I have stayed in very close contact with, as well as many of my colleagues who I have found to be very pleasant and non-judgmental. I was only asked once if I knew where I was going after I died, and that if I didn’t accept Jesus Christ and live my life for him that I was going to hell. (I could see that being a potential problem for the floor as well.)
This experienced taught me to gauge my battles. It is never, ever appropriate for me to tell any of these members that they are wrong. I have no proof either way of who is right, or if anyone is right. I cam to college realizing I pray to the pulpit of I don’t know, and it has been an excellent adventure finding out. This experience has taught me how to ask more open ended questions. I really do not care what they believe, I care why. I want to know the motivation behind what they do. They live a different lifestyle than I would say the majority of students at Drake, which helps make Drake entertaining, intellectual and diverse. I care to know what motivates them. (upon finding out, this paper would get very long.)
There is no immediate danger for attending this group. However should my residents ask I could provide some reasons to not attend. A heightened emotional state tends to happen in certain aspects. I have seen people break down into tears at alive, and other CF events. I know I cannot protect them from everything, and it is not my job to shelter them by any means. However, putting them under emotional pressure will only compound the normal pressures they are put under in college already. If it is a regular occurrence I would not be accepting of that behavior intentionally elicited from my residents. Alive/ CF provides almost parallel programming. There is always something legal and free to do under the group’s direction. This is an excellent thing, as not all of my programs will suffice for all of my residents. However if the events that Alivers go to are dictated to them, then we have an issue. I have never seen an email that says “Thou will meet here at this time or though goes to hell,” so therefore I am not terribly worried about it. However it is something to be advised about. I could also use their programming ideas to implement in the hall or the floor. Some of my most entertaining experiences at Drake have been because of Alive social programs. Some of their political views are very different from my own. I firmly believe in the first amendment, especially the right to free speech, and the right to freedom of religion. However, both must be taken with a grain of salt. The right to free speech does not mean that if a resident of mine is gay, I will let anyone abuse them in anyway, regardless of what grounds. The reverse holds true. In fact this morning a student in my class was ripping into another student on their views of intelligent design/creationism. Civil discussions are fine. Verbal abuse is not. Whatever the opinion is, I may not agree with it, but I will fight like hell to make sure no one takes it from you. I do not have any instances of knowledge, nor do I expect any. It is undisputed that this group does not support homosexual marriage, which could get very interesting in the next few years in Iowa. My biggest fear though is summed up quite nicely in the TD article (Linked Earlier) “Some people believe those who attend ALIVE live a sheltered life. It doesn't necessarily center on a "no drugs, sex, or alcohol" policy, but rather those in ALIVE might miss out on diversity and ways of thinking beyond just what one is told.”
There are definitely some excellent aspects of this group. They provide one amazing support system to members. I also feel as if I could approach many of them should I have an issue. I see a very strong and unwavering sense of loyalty to each other in the group. I personally wonder if this loyalty would remain should someone decide the group was not for them. The discussions, when kept civil by both sides, really expand your mind. College is about bettering yourself. Learning to express opinions creatively and thinking from a different perspective is what half of this experience is about. That is the reason students leave their friends, families and homes: top live the life of the mind. Alive and CF certainly allow one way to challenge that.
Dr. Bakari has confirmed this is not a cult(see attached email). That is good enough proof for me. It has been a very interesting journey researching this paper, any questions or discussions feel free to contact me at

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