Will Fundamentalist U Crush Trumpism?

Don’t be fooled by the noises coming out of Lynchburg. Though Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University might be shameless (and just kind of weird) in his white-evangelical support for Trump, the overall landscape of evangelical higher education might be driving younger white evangelicals off the Trump train. We have to ask: Did the efforts of evangelical school administrators in the twentieth century lay the foundation for Trump’s political demise?

white evangelical youth immigration

Did ‘Fundamentalist U’ teach young evangelicals to value immigration?

Here’s what we know: Recent surveys show that younger white evangelicals don’t share their elders’ anxieties about immigration. As Daniel Cox wrote recently at 538:

Two-thirds (66 percent) of young white evangelical Christians (age 18 to 34) say that immigrants coming to the U.S. strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents, a view shared by only 32 percent of white evangelical seniors (age 65+). A majority (54 percent) of older white evangelical Christians believe that immigrants are a burden on American society.

That’s bad news for Trumpism. If younger white evangelicals don’t dislike immigration, they might waver in their support Trump. It might just crack his electoral base.

How does any of this relate to evangelical higher education?

As I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, many evangelical universities had a long and shameful racist history, just like most of the rest of American higher education. Starting in the 1950s, though, white evangelicals participated—and often took the lead—in promoting anti-racist attitudes among white Americans.

Institutions such as Wheaton College often floundered, but in the end they added new curriculum about African and African-American history and culture. They recruited more non-white faculty and students. They did not succeed as well as we might hope, but evangelical faculty members and administrators at many colleges worked hard to fight against white racism at their institutions.

What’s the upshot? In some cases, such as at storied Nyack College, the racial climate on campus has been utterly transformed. Nyack might be drowning in debt, but it has succeeded in attracting and retaining non-white evangelical students. When a white evangelical student attends a school like Nyack these days, she gets a very different sense of what it means to be a “good Christian” than her grandmother would have.

It’s not only Nyack or Wheaton. These days, evangelical colleges are far more racially diverse than they were in the past. As Cox notes,

On Christian college campuses, which have seen enrollment gains in recent years, young white evangelical Christians are part of an increasingly diverse student body. White students account for 62 percent of the student body on the roughly 140 campuses affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, down from 82 percent in 1999.

Younger white evangelicals, in other words, are experiencing life as part of a new kind of America, one in which white evangelicals no longer assume that they have a special role to play as the ‘real’ Americans, one in which Making America Great Again is not such a compelling battle cry. In large part, evangelical colleges and universities helped teach each new generation that diversity and immigration are not dangers, but strengths.

And because white evangelicals play such a large role in supporting Trump, today’s evangelical colleges could be spreading a message that will spell the end of Trumpism.

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  1. Did the efforts of evangelical school administrators in the twentieth century lay the foundation for Trump’s political demise?

    If anything, this probably has it backwards.

    Trump never had a political life until recently. And Trump never should have had a political life. He only has a temporary political life because of an incredible blunder by Evangelicals. And they will come to regret that blunder.

    • I think I understand where you’re coming from, but I disagree. I think Trumpism is more than a blunder for white evangelicals. Trump, IMHO, stumbled into an evangelical electoral gold mine by announcing that he could “Make America Great Again.” That sort of bitter nostalgia has long been a driving force among a lot of white evangelicals. I’m hoping that younger white evangelicals might soon split away, pulling a lot of older white evangelicals along with them.

      • I would say that Trump hit a conservative gold mine. But, without evangelical support, that would not have been enough to get him elected.

        On the other hand, Trumpism is quite clearly contrary to Christian doctrine. That’s what makes it a serious blunder for evangelicals. Young evangelicans are still inspired by the idealism of Christianity, and have not yet bought into the cynicism of older evangelicals. That’s likely why the young evangelicals are rejecting Trumpism.

      • “Trumpism is quite clearly contrary to Christian doctrine.” Agree 100%. It seems like a lot of Christians, though, don’t prioritize Christian doctrine. I’m not blaming them, I’m only pointing out that most people don’t live by ideas but rather by habits.

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