Denali Christian students are uncomfortable with jokes regarding Christianity

By Angela Hwang

Denali News Editor

When she first got to Summit Public School: Denali, senior Andrea Atayde did not feel comfortable sharing a large part of who she is: her beliefs. 

“I was scared about receiving backlash because I’d heard so many jokes going around, and I’d heard a bunch of people talking down to Christianity,” Atayde said. “That made me really scared to come out and be like, ‘This is what I believe and this is who I am and this is what I rely on for everything.’”

Christianity is one of the world’s most wide-spread religions with a presence in at least 193 countries, according to World Population Review. The study appears to contain the 193 nations that are member states of the United Nations but not the two (the Holy See and the State of Palestine) that are not. (There are 195 countries in the world.) 

Christianity and its values have been interwoven into the history of the United States since the pilgrims left Europe in search of religious freedom. Many know the American Pledge of Allegiance; the last part states, “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The Declaration of Independence also includes many references to Christian beliefs. Both are associated strongly with American culture and government. For a very long time, Christianity has had a strong influence on America.

In the United States, 70.6% of people state their religion is Christianity. In the Southern parts of the United States, 76% of adults identify as Christian; the Bible Belt (a region in the Southern United States where Christianity plays a strong role in most areas of life) is part of this data.  

According to the Pew Research Center, though, there is a “steady decline” in “religious commitment.”

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This may be the most prevalent in the Bay Area: 48% of adults in the San Francisco Metro Area are Christian, with 35% of the 15% non-Christians saying they’re not religious and 20% of the same non-Christian 15% are nothing in particular, according to the Pew Research Center

Kalyn Olson, the dean of instruction and school culture for the Expeditions team, believes “there’s definitely a perception that technology and Silicon Valley culture and faith don’t mix”. Still, she said that being a Christian in the Bay Area might not be as difficult as people make it out to be. 

“That spirit of wanting to make the world a better place, wanting to impact the people you care about and your community and come up with things that make people’s lives easier, is very much aligned with my faith,” Ms. Olson said. “So I think they go hand-in-hand, and I think that being a Christian in the Bay Area helps me be grounded in the ‘why’ behind the choices I make.”

At Summit Denali, students report seeing the same trend, that it does not have as large a presence. Students agree that religion is hardly talked about, even amongst those who identify as believers in any religion. 

Atayde’s story was not the only of its kind among the Christian students attending Summit Denali. However, it was also not the norm. Some students said that they have felt accepted amongst the members of the community. 

“I feel like Denali’s really open about a lot of religions, and I haven’t come across any situations where people wanted to hurt anything. I feel like Summit’s a very open community, which is nice,” Denali sophomore Steven Johnson said. 

Other members of the community concurred. When talking about the culture and its effect on religion at Denali, Denali junior Jerry Tang said, “Denali’s very neutral about it. Nobody stands out for them, but nobody tries to bring them down, and I think that’s a nice environment.”

Summit staff tries to create an accepting environment for everyone. “I know the policies about organized religion and I know that we create spaces where students can meet as long as everyone is welcome to attend, they can talk about faith, go through faith practices such as prayers or rituals,” said Ms. Olson. “So I think that I don’t necessarily notice it [religion] as much at Denali as, maybe, at a traditional high school that has a set place for clubs.”

That lack of mention of various religions has left many Christian students feeling uncomfortable or alone in their faith, despite the acceptance of the community. “I’m not sure as a whole, but sometimes I hear jokes being thrown around,” Denali sophomore Deborah Kim said. “Sometimes it made me want to hide it, or I wouldn’t tell other people unless they brought up the subject first.”

Atayde, the founder of the first NextGen Christian Club at Denali, agreed. “I feel like because of the public, Denali’s views of Christians tend to be very conservative … I feel like there has always been an apprehension towards the Christian community when it comes to members of Denali, and there tend to be jokes about it, and so I feel like it isn’t taken seriously as much as the members of the Christian community would want it to be,” she explained. 

“I feel like it’s one of those religions that is very talked about and isn’t respected like other religions, which is my personal view, but I feel like it’s treated as something to throw around as a joke,” Atayde added. 

Regardless of the reasons behind the jokes, the Christian students interviewed would like it if their religions were as respected as other religions. While they understand every individual’s right to state their opinions on any religion, they would like if opinions were stated in a respectful way and not in a way that pokes fun at believers.

What would help, and what Denali currently promotes, is openness. “Have an open mind and not slander or hurt anyone,” as Johnson puts it.

Even so,  some Christian students find it difficult to focus on their faith in the midst of the fast pace of Silicon Valley. Denali junior Ben Kim said, “Silicon Valley is a place where there’s a ton of major companies and lots of competition, it’s difficult for me to put God at the very top because if I do that I feel like some time would be lost and I wouldn’t be able to …. use it for school and studying.”

Others disagree, saying that the fast pace of Silicon Valley didn’t really extend to Denali and so they’ve grown since coming to Denali. “A lot of people usually aren’t super fast-paced, and they’ll take the time to sit down and talk to you about what you believe and what you want to do and learn,” Johnson said. “Before coming to Denali and really talking to people that have the same faith, I wasn’t as deep in my faith, and I feel like Denali has helped me quite a bit in holding down my faith and becoming deeper in it.”

Denali has grown very quickly, its culture with it. When it was first established in 2013 as a middle school, it only had one grade. Now, the high school class of 2020 is the first graduating class from Denali. Teachers agree that, while the school culture has grown from the earlier years, it is still settling into its identity as a school. Growing, settling and perhaps changing with it is each of the various communities within Denali, including the Christian community.

In any case, in the here and now, Christian students believe acceptance and love are what connects everyone. 

“That’s what I want out of the Christian community here: to be accepting of one another,” said Atayde. “You might believe this and I believe this, but we all share this one common thing. We all just need to love. And that’s anything connects all of us, as cheesy as it sounds.”

FEATURED IMAGE (at top of page): Bibles, like the one pictured above, are often pictured as a symbol of Christianity. PHOTO CREDIT: pxhere.com

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