Can a firmly conservative Christian college save America? Or should it focus on saving souls? This is a question conservative evangelicals have been asking themselves for almost a century. As I detail in my 1920s book, the first generation of Protestant fundamentalists hoped a new clutch of truly Christian colleges could heal America’s benighted culture.
The recent dust-up at The King’s College over the personal life of celebrity president Dinesh D’Souza illustrates this inevitable tension.
According to a recent article by Melissa Steffan in Christianity Today, The King’s College has moved itself away from the hurly-burly of D’Souza’s brand of cultural politics. When asked if the college would keep D’Souza’s trademark political obstreperousness while finding new leadership, interim president Andy Mills replied, “[TKC] is a Christian college. Period.”
According to Steffan, TKC has changed its self-description:
“In the presidential search that led to D’Souza’s hiring, TKC published a list of ‘”true ideas” that distinguish King’s within … higher education,’ including ‘biblical competition’ and the right to ‘seek prosperity and risk bankruptcy.’ TKC no longer lists these on its website.”
Even more intriguing, Steffan points to similar changes at similar schools:
“Gene Edward Veith, provost at Patrick Henry College, says his school’s conservatism has become ‘more sophisticated’ since its founding in 1998. What he described as a ‘meltdown’ in conflict between faculty and administrators six years ago ‘was mainly a matter of the institution maturing and going through some disillusionment struggles,’ he said. ‘I see that happening across the board. Christian activists who get involved with politics soon find that things are not so simple as getting Christians elected.’”
What direction for Patrick Henry and The King’s College? Without their distinguishing dedication to ferociously conservative politics, do they become quiescent Christian colleges? In the case of TKC, the question is whether they return to a long previous life avoiding headlines instead of chasing them.