Arielle Fischer, features editor
José Reyes, asst. features editor
To kickstart 2022, nearly 60,000 young adults gathered in the Mercedes- Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta to partake in an event known as the Passion Conference. Held annually at the start of the new year, since 1997, this conference brings young Christians from all across America together in a themed, weekend-long worship session. Along with sermons led by Christian speakers, Passion hosts Christian-based singers, influencers and novelists who preach their message to thousands of individuals. According to Passion’s website, the conference and organization’s movement have a “singular mission,” calling the world’s youth to “live for what matters most,” which to the Passion leaders, is “the name and renown of Jesus.” Passion believes that through this uniting movement and conference, they will inspire today’s young adults to change the climate of faith around the globe.”
After surveying several students on campus, it is apparent that this year’s conference sparked controversy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some students feel as though Passion was unsafe and should have been postponed or held virtually due to health concerns. Other Berry students who attended Passion feel it was a fantastic way to start 2022 and that they grew tremendously in their faith.
Emily Perry, junior, believes that Passion was a major risk this year with the onset of the COVID-19 virus.
“I definitely feel it was unsafe to hold Passion this year,” Perry said. “At least from my understanding, there weren’t many, if any, safety precautions taken. In a lot of the videos and pictures I saw, no one was wearing a mask inside and everyone was packed in the Mercedes- Benz Stadium like sardines. Especially with it being so close to the return to campus, I got a very bad feeling from it.”
According to Perry, Passion could have explored other alternatives to an in-person conference, such as virtual meetings or being postponed altogether. Another alternative Perry mentioned was holding the conference in-person, but with enforced safety measures like masking, social distancing, or sharing a negative COVID-19 test result.
Perry said that many students believe Passion’s message of hope is especially needed in these trying times but going to a big event under today’s circumstances is counterintuitive. She said that going to a personally desired event and neglecting public health seems selfish.
“I think so many people support Passion this year because they just want to be done with Covid,” Perry said. “I get it, I hate not being able to go out and have fun like I used to, but it’s important to think about others during this time as well as ourselves.”
Heidi Sawyer, sophomore, spoke about her time in attendance at Passion Conference and believes the conference was a great way to begin the year.
“My main takeaway from Passion was learning who God is, what His character is and the relation of Jesus to us,” Sawyer said. “Attendees got a feeling of the presence of God from worshiping as a whole and a community, which has a lot of power in it. Passion is just as much a celebration as it is an educational and learning experience.”
Sawyer said that Passion was incredibly uplifting, which is why the conference is highly anticipated every year. According to her, the encouraging messages remind people what they can do and where their identities are found as Christians, which is something that gets lost in the mundaneness of life. Sawyer believes that starting off the new year with Passion, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, was a great way to get a boost of hope and reminded her of “what [she’s] doing life for.”
Sawyer said that there is the possibility for Passion to have been considered unsafe for its attendees, with the majority of people not wearing masks in a crowded space.
“We can’t be insensitive to the fact we are in a pandemic,” Sawyer said. “But because Passion was canceled last year, I think it was worthwhile and well-received. Everyone attending knows we’re in a pandemic, and safety implications were tried. There are definitely good and bad implications to the conference, but as somebody who attended I still found it life-changing and enjoyable. I don’t think Passion’s imprudent lack of masks was justified, but I think most people are still glad it happened.”
The polarization of Passion this year is strongly influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and health concerns, according to Sawyer. She said that, on one hand, people are put off by the decision to hold such a big event given the current circumstances, as it doesn’t seem caring or considerate to others with health conditions. But on the other hand, others say Passion should happen even if there are risks because it doesn’t directly guarantee danger to others, and the messages are important for young Christians to hear. Sawyer said Passion was a unique experience and is grateful to have attended.
However, a female sophomore, who wished to remain anonymous, found herself torn between the two sides of the debate, as a dedicated Christian highly concerned about the pandemic.
“It was definitely unsafe to go to Passion this year,” she said. “It’s weird to me because you think Christians are supposed to be the people who love everyone and care about everyone, spreading love not Covid. But there seems to be a correlation in the type of people who go to conferences like that and the type of people who choose not to wear masks and keep other people safe. It’s very contradictory.”
According to this individual, while “anytime is a good time to hear an inspirational message like those at Passion,” and many people were probably excited to go to Passion, an alternative to the conference would’ve been a better idea. She said that Passion could’ve sold fewer tickets, gone virtual, or enforced social distancing, but instead people took to social media to “brag about the overwhelming numbers attending this year.” She said it wasn’t necessary to put all attendees in a potentially dangerous situation and said almost everyone she knew who went contracted COVID-19.
“The polarization for Passion exists for the same reason politics are so polarized right now,” she said. “There’s such a difference in what people think is right and wrong. There’s a huge separation between republicans and democrats, and Christians and non-Christians, so I think it’s not necessarily the conference that’s the problem, it’s the type of people that went to the conference this year and the circumstances surrounding Passion.”
This individual emphasized that the conference itself wasn’t necessarily bad, but the timing seemed wrong given the current global situation.
“The same people that are willing to go to a big event like Passion, are the same people who are not concerned about the severity of COVID, and how it can impact people in different ways,” She said.
As seen from surveying multiple students, Passion Conference 2022 produced polarized views, with some students in support of the movement and messages, and others concerned with the lack of COVID-19 precautions.