May 27, 2014
The trigger warnings trend shouldn't keep us from exploring ideas in Scripture that might make us comfortable.
See, we need to distinguish between students being "offended" or "made uncomfortable" (too bad) and students with PTSD. Those are two very different student populations, and only the PTSD student is probably in danger of debilitating breakdowns.
I think trigger warnings on syllabi are not the way to go, though, as they create the impression that students can opt out of readings they dislike. The way to handle it is through the university's Office of Disabilities: if a student really has PTSD, and if the student really does need to be at least temporarily shielded from certain types of content, then the student can register with the Office, which can send a letter to the student's faculty members indicating that this student should be given alternate readings/viewings in the case of content depicting x, y, and z. The same system is already in place for other kinds of accommodations. But without a real diagnosis, I think the student should just confront the readings for what they are intended to be: a learning experience.
Blanket trigger warnings will cause more problems than not, I think. I agree that students generally need to learn to grapple with tough content. There are some exceptions; which in my experience in higher education can usually be handled exceptionally. As Christians, God arms us very well to discuss His Word, even the hard to accept material. Stephen mentions a problem of openly discussing David's adultery, for example, but shying from his polygamy. I personally haven't seen much shying like that. But these are things that give great weight to scripture and affirm that God is author and not men: we see all the warts of the men and women of scripture. Polygamy was the custom in those days...but I challenge you to find Sister Wives "happiness" in any polygamous marriage described in the Bible. The weaknesses and failures of Abraham and Sarah are aggravating to read, but what comfort we have as weak and failing people when we see Abraham's and Sarah's faith is counted as righteousness, broken people though they were. Trigger warnings will cause students to miss these testimonies to God's authorship and His ultimate goodness.
Thank you to both James and Chris for thinking with me through this issue and your willingness to discuss it further. Both of you raise excellent points while expanding on some of the arguments made in the piece. James, as a professor I agree that the issue of PTSD is a vastly different one that requires the use of an office dedicated to assisting students with disabilities. This is currently the avenue I employ when necessary. And Chris, you are spot-on to recognize the inherent value of preaching the "whole counsel of God." We grow in our understanding of grace like we do our appreciation of the sun, once we are confronted with the rain. Thanks again for reading.
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