Confession: I have at many points caved under peer pressure.
Additional Confession: I do not believe there are many good forms of peer pressure.
When talking about the negative aspects of peer pressure, most conversations tend to focus on pressure to drink underage, smoke, or have sex outside of marriage. Maybe even peer pressure to participate in bullying. But negative peer pressure can be so much more than that, and limiting the conversation to these focal points allows people (myself included) to believe they do not suffer from peer pressure.
College is the place I suffered from peer pressure the most. It’s not surprising really, as college is a place filled with peers from varying perspectives, each pushing to show its true worth. I was also 18-21, pretty formative years as far as independence is concerned. I want to be open about this issue: I was pressured to make fun of others, to dress differently, to talk differently, to treat teachers differently based on who I was with, to say inappropriate things, and the list goes on.
Let me confess one specific example. During my sophomore year of college (again, this is at a Christian college), a new vocabulary word emerged: “Denzel.” A denzel was someone who was awkward/out of place/dumb/socially inept. You could be a full denzel, or you could just do “denzel” things. It was used as frequently as you might say “bro” or “dude.” Additional fact: This was most popular among the Biblical studies majors. One night, a “Denzel Cup” was created and a bracket was made with 64 student names (some being those who were participating, others being social outcasts). The Denzel Party was going to meet one evening at a church youth house and they would vote each round on who was the biggest Denzel. Now I was planning on attending this party (I was one of the 64 names in the list, but I never really took offense), but I did not have a car and so I stayed in my room on campus, feeling left out of the fun. Well, word got out about the event, and obviously you can imagine the hurt several people felt, especially the people who were often made fun of anyway. To make this all worse, the on campus spiritual devotional was led by about 7 of these guys who initiated the whole thing. How are you supposed to witness the love of Jesus when you spend your evening laughing at other people who are awkward and don’t fit in? The Thursday night devotional time prompted all seven of these men to come forward and with tears admit to all the students present what had happened. They showed repentance, and I 100% believe it was genuine. Here’s the catch – I was asked to keep the devotional running while these men went to a side room to pray and prepare their statement to the student body. I couldn’t help but think: The only reason I’m not in that side room confessing right now is because I don’t have a car and couldn’t get to the party.
I share all of this so that you can see how harmful peer pressure can be. I am a seminary student. I have been studying theology and ministry for five years now. And while this was only a year and a half into that journey, even people who try to do good things and treat others right can fall into the trap of peer pressure. In the Bible, the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter are both known for the great spiritual works they did. Peter is often heralded as one of the lead apostles and closest to Jesus. As the church began, there was a pretty big split on the necessity of circumcision. You see, circumcision was needed to be a proper Jew. Christianity started with the Jews, but when it was spread to the Gentiles, all of a sudden many Jewish Christians were concerned about the lack of circumcision among these Gentiles. God made the declaration to Peter in a dream that Gentiles are not unclean, and nothing should prevent them from becoming Christians. Peter even addressed this at a big church council. Well, some time later Peter is eating and hanging out with Gentile believers. Then some of those who believed circumcision should be required came and visited. And Peter stopped hanging out with the Gentiles! Paul ends up rebuking Peter about the situation, but it’s clear that even people with the strongest of faith in Jesus will fall into the trap of peer pressure. The account of this is found in Galatians 2:11-14, told through Paul’s point of view.
Resisting peer pressure is not easy. You need support, and you need plenty of it. You need confidence that the values you have are true, but at the same time you cannot let rigid faith in your current values prevent you from seeing life from others’ points of view. Peer pressure can be to change your values, but it can also be pressure to disregard values you don’t agree with. I can’t advocate that it is easy, but I must advocate that resisting peer pressure is necessary. Especially in such a political time in the USA as it is right now, I implore you not fall under the pressure of sharing posts on Facebook that denigrate people. Do not attack people with your words or your looks or even your thoughts. You do not need to agree with everyone in order to avoid peer pressure…but you certainly need to avoid treating people poorly, whether to their face or behind their back. People are not stupid just because they view gun control or gay rights differently than you. People are still people, and they ought to be treated with love and respect and dignity, even in the face of vast disagreement.
Peer pressure is oppressive and literally never stops so long as you are involved in society. The oppressive dragon will come at you time and time again. If it breathes its fire upon you, and you succumb to it, I would ask that you admit the damage it does and repent of any peer pressure you fall under.
May you conquer this terrible beast this week and the rest of your life, and may you encounter more majestic and honorable dragons. Peace to you all.