Asbury Revival 3.0 - An Alum Plays Devil's Advocate
A revival at Asbury University, my old Christian College, has gone viral on social media, so I thought I'd share my perspective as an alum, and um, play devil's advocate. Revival was part of our college lore at Asbury. Some universities bragged about national championship trophies, we humble bragged about spiritual outpourings. None more famous than the Asbury Revival of 1970. I heard about it from my parents and was reminded of it constantly upon arrival at the college in 1994. Every new class hoped they'd be lucky enough (we said, "blessed") to witness one during our four years. Professors talked about it, students prayed for it, and the college scheduled a weeklong revival every year, hoping the Holy Spirit would get the memo. The college practiced a brand of Christianity that emphasized personal holiness. This often took the form of legalism (militant daily devotions and Bible reading, three chapel worship services a week plus Sunday church, and lots of spiritual one-up-man-ship - "I love Jesus yes I do, I love Jesus more than you!"). Looking back on my own experiences at Christian College, the emphasis (obsession) on holiness often manifested itself as sexual repression. We weren't allowed in the dorms of the opposite sex except for a couple hours once a month with the doors open and both feet firmly planted on the floor. We weren't allowed to dance, except for military balls and weddings, but only if we allowed room for the Holy Spirit (roughly six inches). We sang about Amazing Grace, but rarely were we allowed to indulge in it for ourselves or offer it without conditions to our gay friends. During my freshman year, we had a spontaneous weeklong revival like the one happening now. Our revival was a confession revival, like a spiritual Purge, where we were given immunity to tell all our worst deeds from the pulpit without recourse. Students, myself included, confessed our (sexual) sins and fell onto the altar where students embraced us and prayed forgiveness into us. Classes were cancelled, the counseling center was packed the following week, and news spread gradually to other colleges and churches about the Asbury Revival 2.0 (we didn't have Tik Tok!). The experience was monumental for me at the time, because I was so repressed and self-righteous, I never dared let anyone know the things I was really struggling with for fear of being judged and exiled. That is the thing about religiosity, it doesn't allow a lot of room for vulnerability.
To put it more bluntly, the general culture of shame around sexuality that exists on many Christian college campuses, makes confession revivals needed. For conservative evangelicals like I was at the time, and many at Asbury still are, you have to wait and wait and wait for a moment like this, a brief pocket of grace in a long history of religious suppression. Thankfully, I've found so many more of these liberating spaces outside the confines of conservative evangelicalism. Asbury has come a long way since my days as a student. Many of the policies we found oppressive, like dress codes and curfews, have been lifted, or at least loosened, to attract and retain new generations (thanks Millennials!). There is growing diversity of culture and perspective on campus, and a lot of humble and gracious staff and faculty. However, there are still antiquated beliefs and attitudes, especially around sexuality and orientation (one Asbury alum reported that it's easier to be an atheist at Asbury than gay). I don't doubt or discount the experiences students are having now during Asbury Revival 3.0, I only hope this revival ends in more than additional worship services. I hope it breaks down the spiritual repression built into the structures of conservative Christian theology, I hope it troubles the waters of students' political ideology, and takes them outside insular religious communities, so they can be changed by the larger world outside of Wilmore, Kentucky.
photo credit: asbury university website