May 15th, 2002
On May 1, Seekers Christian Youth Fellowship sponsored its annual Jesus Day. Seekers advertised Jesus Day with signs posing questions such as, "What are you hungry for?," "What are you thirsty for?," and "Who do you trust?" long in advance of the event.
In response, another group of students expressed their opposition to Jesus Day by initiating their own "Roman Culture Day." The name alludes to the fact that the Romans had condemned Jesus for spreading ideas that conflicted with traditional Roman paganism. Similarly, Roman Culture Day was held to protest the spreading of Christian beliefs in school.
According to senior Alex Fridman, one of its creators, Roman Culture Day was a combination of a humorous "poking fun" at Jesus Day and a political statement encouraging people to "question the beliefs you were brought up with." While dissenters to Jesus Day have every right to express their opinions, it should not have been in such an intolerant manner. Signs such as, "Roman Culture Day: cos there's no font called Times New Christian," seemed excessively mocking.
Although Fridman said Roman Culture Day was not intended to "offend the Christian kids and mock their Savior," there were also other, more offensive signs that read: "Is that a cross in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me? Happy Jesus Day." Because of their sexual reference, Seekers President Norman Yung removed these posters from the building.
In spite of the posters and the students who mockingly wore togas to celebrate Roman Culture Day, nobody seemed to condemn them. In fact, some students found it humorous.
But would it be funny if a swastika were drawn on a wall, or anti-gay remarks were made on Gay Day? Interestingly, it seems that Stuyvesant condones it when Christians, a group normally in the majority, are ridiculed.
Yung acknowledges that opposition to Jesus Day is expected. In the past, he says, anti-Seekers students have put up posters proclaiming, "Satan is your friend," along with other signs that announced bogus meetings, with the wrong times and meeting places. Yung believes that such tactics are "not the most effective way to intelligently challenge Christianity."
Opposition to Jesus Day comes from many angles, not just that of the participants in Roman Culture Day. Many believe that religious events should not be allowed in public schools at all because it violates separation of church and state. There are many schools around the city, such as Townsend Harris, where the administration is so hesitant to deal with religion that students are not even allowed to start Seekers clubs.
However, since Seekers is a Stuy club, it therefore follows that like any other club, it should also be allowed to hold club events and to advertise those events around the building. Jesus Day is not especially endorsed by the administration. In fact, because of its religious content, Jesus Day is only allowed to be held after school hours.
What makes Jesus Day different from and possibly more controversial than other events such as Gay Day is that whereas the latter is not aimed towards making students change their sexual orientation, a part of Jesus Day involves evangelism. But Seekers Vice President Sharon Fan explains, "Jesus Day is an invitation. It presents what we believe in. We're asking you to come hear what we have to say."
Students who do not wish to take part in Jesus Day are not confronted with proselytizing; a person must actively choose to go into the cafeteria if he wants to learn what the Seekers have to say. Students who are against Jesus Day should simply avoid the cafeteria after 4:15 on that one day.
Perhaps Seekers, in addition to Jesus Day, which involves praying and glorifying Jesus, should also sponsor a day to objectively present information about Christianity. For example, the Muslim Students Association sponsors an assembly where an Imam, or Muslim religious leader, comes to teach Stuy students about their religion. Seekers can hold a similar event.
The Student Union could also start a series of forums about religion, in which Roman Culture Day participants and others can constructively voice their opinions.
Ultimately, however, it is up to us, the students, to extend to others the same respect and acceptance we wish to receive. We don't all have to agree with the Seekers, but we should respect them and their right to hold a Jesus Day.