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Monday, February 4, 2013

Final-Year University: Morality Discrimination

Before I had even joined my fellow-students in lamenting the rejection letters from medical schools, my heart turned to another post-university option. The spark to know all I could about God and His Word had been fanned into a roaring flame; it’s all I could think about most days. Folks suggested some great Bible Schools and I phoned each one, wanting my information right then, not whenever they found time to answer my questions. Waiting for letters from medical schools was enough waiting for this over-enthusiastic soon-to-be-graduated student. I have listed below the responses I received when I made those long-distance calls…definitely, not what I had expected!

“Hello. My name is Sojourner and your Bible School was recommended to me. I’ve only been a Christian for three years. I’ll graduate next month from university, but I want to learn all I can about the Bible and God before making any lifetime decisions. Can you tell me what I need to do?”

“Well, dear, isn’t that nice. Congratulations on graduating. Let me ask you a few questions so I will know how best to direct you.”

“Okay. Uh, I’m calling long-distance, so...” The lady on the other end of the phone interrupted me at this point.

"Okay, I understand. Let me just ask you this: Are you married or single?”

“I’m not married. But I was for a short time”

“Oh my, well, dear, you’re divorced then?” The tone in her voice sent red flags soaring in front of me and my heart sunk.

“Er, uh, kinda; I guess I am. They called it annulled, but I guess it’s the same thing as divorced, isn’t it?”

After a costly silence the lady resumed the conversation. “I’m sorry, but you’re not allowed to go to this school. We are against divorce. God is against divorce, you know. We have only single students or married students admitted as a couple, in this school. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not for divorce either,” I said to the dead line. “Okay, well, I’ll try the next school.” The receiver in my hand didn’t respond to my words.

I had been surprised but not discouraged. The next person may be more welcoming of students eager to learn about God and study the Bible. I gave the same opening and this was the response from the receptionist:

“So, you were married but aren’t now?”

“The lawyer said my marriage had been annulled and it was the same thing as never having been married. That’s the law, but since I was married, it seems dishonest to say I wasn’t, if you know what I mean. But, legally, he said I should say I‘m single.”

“Hmm? Well, then, that does change things a bit.”

“Does that mean that I can’t go to your school? I really want to learn and--” The lady interrupted me.

“No, no dear; it doesn’t mean that at all. Well, the policy is that you can attend the classes but you’ll be required to live in the dormitory. You will not be allowed to participate in any of the clubs or activities of the school, because we have only single students in those activities. The married students have their own activities and, most certainly, you can’t join them; none of the singles can either. If you will agree to that, I can send you the application packet.”

I was dumbfounded to learn of the restrictions. What in the world did she think I was going to do with those single students …like I was some kind of dangerous risk to the single students? “I’m only twenty-two, Ma’am. Let me think about it and get back to you, okay?”

I moved to the last school on my list and, hesitantly, took hold of the receiver. Should I tell them the real truth or the legal version of the truth? Who would know so far from here that I had ever been married for two years? The law says I wasn’t, so why can’t I say I wasn’t? The struggle continued as I dialed the number. The scenario played out the same way, down to the dividing question.

“Are you single?”

The reason these ladies were all asking me this question was not related to my moral status in the eyes of the Bible School administration, but to get an early idea of housing needs. Schools had married-student housing and dormitories for the single students. When a student inquired of the school, it was natural to know what kind of housing the student would need. It meant something else for me, however.

“Yes, Ma’am, in the eyes of the law, I am single.” Brother, that sounded as weird to me as it surely must have to her. “Look; the deal is that I was married for two years but it was annulled. So, the law says I can tell you I’m single.”

“Uh-huh. Hmm? Well, if you’ve ever been married, I think God would consider that you are now divorced, and I’m pretty sure the admissions committee would, too.”

“Okay, so does that mean I can’t go to your school?”

“No, it doesn’t. Of course, you may go to this school. It will be good for you, and I know the teachers here will be able to help you.” I was beginning to release the breath I’d been holding. Maybe things would work out, after all. “But, we do have a policy for divorced students. You will be required to live in the dorm and to be in your room by eight o’clock each evening, seven days a week. You may not participate in any of the social activities of the school.”

“Uh, well, I’ll think it over and get back to you if I want you to send me the admission packet, Ma’am. Thanks for your time”

The lady was probably relieved that I didn’t just give her my mailing address. There were no personal computers in those days, so email communication and downloading applications didn’t exist. I just couldn’t believe it. I had no idea that my having been married for any length of time would carry such a moral stamp…did I have a letter glowing on my forehead for everyone to see, or was it just the Bible School people?

Now, I began to feel unclean. Yes, God forgave all of my sins and mistakes in judgment. Yes, there are consequences to sins/mistakes, even if God did forgive me. I had learned these things already. Did I really need to expect that I would never be allowed to socialize with Christian kids my own age again?

I longed to study the Bible, but it made me feel so awful to be excluded from contact with the other students. And, how would they know I couldn’t socialize with them? Would it be announced in class the first day or something? Or, would I just have to decline their invitations every time and say I just wasn’t going to the activity, without giving a reason? Would they forbid me from telling anyone I had been married or would they expect me to tell everyone so they stayed away from me? I didn’t know the answers, but the possibilities created a hurt nearly as deep as the dissolution of my marriage.

“Sojourner, take a look at this? Tell me what you think.” Cheryl was holding out a brochure she’d received from someone about a relatively new graduate program in Christian Studies. The school was in Canada and graduation from a university was one of their requirements. “I’m thinking of going here next year. It’d be fun if we could go together.”

“I don’t know, Cheryl; they might not take me.”

“Of course, they would. We could get a place together off-campus. Look; they include a list of places we can write to for housing. Some of them are boarding so our meals would be included. We could start there and see how it goes. Maybe we’d prefer to cook our own meals, but it’s a start. What do you think? Want to check it out?”

Of course, I did. It sounded wonderful, but would they let me come? Would they agree that I could be roommates with Cheryl? We had known one another for a couple years, through Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. Cheryl was one of the leaders of the singing group I was in. I agreed to look over the brochure she handed me and get back to her.

Wanting to avoid humiliation, I decided to phone them, without telling Cheryl. If they were more positive about my contact with other students, I’d tell Cheryl that I’d called. If not, and they had the same restrictions on students as tainted as I, then I’d simply tell her I wasn’t interested in going to that school. I knew I couldn’t bear to tell her I could attend classes but wouldn’t be her roommate or do stuff with her. Being in a new school was hard enough, but being there all alone was even worse. Plus, the school was in Canada, so it seemed far away from our comfort zone. Nope, I’d call first.

“Hello. My name is Sojourner, and let me tell you upfront, I’ve been divorced for a year. Well, not really divorced according to the law which says I’ve never been married because the judge annulled my marriage, but I’m not single, according to what God thinks or the Bible says.” My rush of words definitely showed the person on the other end of the phone how nervous I was. What a dummy! I hadn’t even let her identify herself before letting go the torrent.

“Okay, dear, well, I’m sorry for your situation. That must have been painful. My name is Ruth. I assume you are calling because you are interested in attending our school?”

“Yes, Ma’am, I am very interested in learning all I can about God and the Bible. I will graduate in about a week. I’ve only been a Christian for three years, but I’ll study hard and won’t give you any trouble.” I heard her stifle a giggle on the other end of the phone.

“I’m sure you won’t, Honey. All of the students here study hard; it’s a graduate program and a lot is expected of the students, academically. On the other hand, we have a wonderful community of faculty and students here. I think you’d find it warm and welcoming.”

“But, I was married for two years. Doesn’t that matter to you folks?”

“I’m not sure what you mean. I think such things are so painful for those involved, of course. But, Honey, God can heal all of our hurts; there’s nothing too difficult for Him, you know. We won’t keep you from studying here, because you had a marriage dissolved. Our students are serious about the Lord. If you are, too, and are ready to work hard, you’ll do fine here.”

“But, what about contact with the other students? The schools here won’t let me have any social contacts with other single students because I was once married. Is it the same there? I mean, I have a friend here at school who wants to go there and we could be roommates if I went there, too.”

“I think that would be lovely, Sojourner. We not only have no restrictions on your social contacts with single students, we have lots of social activities for our students. The students who are single and married fellowship together here; we’re a family.”

The Bible says that there are words that bring refreshment to our souls and these, most definitely, did just that! I would be accepted as a whole person at this school. A person without a mark on my forehead. In that instant, the pain of the other conversations was soothed by the balm of compassionate understanding Ruth had extended to me. There are no words to express the depth of that relief.

Cheryl and I were both accepted for the Graduate Program in Christian Studies, and made plans to head North at the end of summer. Cheryl would fly into the city and I’d take a bus. I’d always had a job, working my way through school. That’d been my plan, until I tried to cross the US-Canada border, that is! Surprises awaited me there!

****Study in Canada: Unexpected Revelations…Next Post

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