Is Trump the Real Menace to Evangelical Higher Ed?

We’ve had a lot to talk about this week. When Beto O’Rourke told CNN he would try to revoke the tax-exempt status of any religious institution that didn’t recognize same-sex marriage, he set off a firestorm among the evangelical-higher-ed community. As two Democratic congresspeople pointed out this week, though, the bigger threat to evangelical higher ed might actually be coming from a very different direction.

As SAGLRROILYYBYGTH are aware, the discussions at evangelical universities and colleges about LGBTQ rights have been intense. By stating that he would revoke the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that did not recognize same-sex marriage, O’Rourke raised the specter of Bob Jones University v. USA. Back in the 1980s, that SCOTUS case proved that the government really could deny tax-exempt status to schools that insisted on maintaining racial segregation. Might the government make a similar move about LGBTQ rights?

Evangelical intellectuals reacted furiously. As John Fea commented,

Beto has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination. His campaign has been on life support for a long time and last night he probably killed it.  You better believe that his comment will rally the Trump base and legitimate the fears of millions of evangelical Christians.

In my opinion, too, Beto’s comment was a poorly considered response to a badly worded question. I’m no evangelical, but like Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta, I disagree with Beto on two counts. First of all, the government should not be in the business of policing religious belief. (When we want to talk about federal funds for student loans, we will need to have a different conversation.) Second, though, simply strategically, Beto goofed. In short, when the clown car of Trumpism is on fire, opponents should do everything they can to help people escape. It makes no strategic sense to lock people in.

Unnoticed in all the hubbubery about Beto’s comments, though, two Democratic congresspeople this week sent a letter to Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos. Representatives Andy Levin of Michigan and Jamie Raskin of Maryland complained that the Trump administration was selectively enforcing its rules about campus free speech.

As they noted, President Trump signed an executive order threatening to withhold grants from universities that do not welcome free speech. The idea was to punish public universities such as the University of California that de-platformed conservative speakers. As the congresspeople noted, however, the worst offenders against campus free speech are conservative evangelical colleges like Liberty University.

As the Congresspeople complained,

Despite Executive Order 13864, which directs the Department to ensure institutions promote free inquiry, you have failed to act in cases of suppression of ideas that involve the administration’s political allies, such as Liberty University.

It’s not just Liberty U., which by any standards is an outlier in the field of evangelical higher ed. As I’ve argued in these pages and in Fundamentalist U, free speech presents a unique challenge to conservative evangelical higher education as a whole. Restrictions on speech and belief are the defining feature of evangelical universities. Unlike mainstream colleges, evangelical colleges do not claim to represent forums for all sorts of controversial ideas.

liberty letter devos

Dear Queen Betsy:

Threatening to revoke the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that don’t believe in same-sex marriage might sound scary to conservative evangelicals. But Trump’s warning to revoke student grants from institutions that don’t recognize free-speech rights should be of more immediate concern. To be fair, Trump’s executive order specified that private institutions should only be pushed into

compliance with stated institutional policies regarding freedom of speech.

Presumably, that wouldn’t help Liberty much, but it would give cover to conservative evangelical colleges that respect their own official rules restricting student and faculty speech. However, in the big picture, by threatening to take federal action against schools that restrict free speech, Trump might be planting the seeds of a longer-term problem for evangelical institutions.

After all, the language of LGBTQ rights has some wiggle room. Plenty of evangelical institutions could plausibly claim to recognize the rights of LGBTQ students and faculty while still embracing their religious skepticism about LGBTQ “practice.”

When it comes to free speech, however, evangelical universities have been built on a promise of restriction. If they were forced to abandon those rules, it would force them to give up the biggest single feature that distinguishes them from mainstream higher ed. It is free speech, not LGBTQ rights, that is the most important thing separating evangelical colleges from others.

Beto is talking a lot, but the real danger to evangelical higher ed might come from the other side. It might be Trump, in the end, who blunders into undermining the very foundation of evangelical higher ed.

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Christian College? Or Hetero U?

What’s the problem? That’s the question I’ve heard from interested evangelical-higher-ed watchers the last couple days. Since I warned that Gordon College’s ‘uge new donation could put them in a difficult position, people have asked me to explain my concern. What is so bad about a gigantic donation? In short, I worry that huge donations—and even the promise of huge donations—has always threatened the religious mission of evangelical universities and colleges.

american studies conference 1966 program

…the plans for the canceled NFEC conference at Gordon:

First, a quick reminder: Gordon College announced last year that it was in financial straits. To survive, Gordon restructured its academic offerings and reduced its faculty. This week, Gordon announced a $75.5 million donation from an anonymous source.

Second, a disclaimer: I have absolutely no inside information about the goings-on at Gordon. I do not know anything about the goals of the anonymous donor. I don’t know if there were any formal strings attached to the donation. Plus, I have no skin in this game. I am not an alumnus or financial supporter of any evangelical colleges. I’m just a mild-mannered secular historian with a lot of respect for evangelical academic life.

Third, the history: Back in the 1960s, Gordon faced a similar dilemma, as did many conservative evangelical colleges. As I described in Fundamentalist U, Gordon’s president in the 1960s was excited about a new funding source. The National Freedom Education Center offered evangelical colleges financial support if presidents signed their schools up. Participating schools would agree to align their teaching with free-market/free-enterprise conservatism. As the NFEC leaders put it,

Objective: Inclusion in the curricula and teaching emphasis in Christian colleges of a pervading high regard for Freedom in its spiritual, economic and political dimensions and to create an informed student-citizen leadership needed to safeguard and extend Freedom in the years ahead.

President Forrester was on board. Faculty members on campus pushed back. When President Forrester announced his plans for a big free-enterprise conference on Gordon’s campus, faculty rejected the plan. One influential faculty leader said Gordon was against a merely political program. He insisted Gordon would not ever indoctrinate students with “a program of education in conservative thinking”. His vision, and the vision of most faculty members at the time, was that their conservative religion was far broader than mere political conservatism. Even if many of them personally supported free-market ideas.

national freedom education center letterhead

There are ALWAYS strings attached…

Fourth, the problem: Back in the 1960s, evangelical intellectuals at Gordon and elsewhere rejected the pressure to adapt their teaching to only one secular conservative goal. They also rejected the funding that went along with it.

Today, institutions such as Gordon College are taking a lonely stand in favor of conservative evangelical thinking about gender identity and sexual morality. As today’s President [and, full disclosure, a former postdoc colleague of mine] D. Michael Lindsay told evangelical journalists, his school has become a “city on a hill” in secular New England.

In my view, this presents a 2019 version of Gordon’s 1965 dilemma. If they take money from people who want them to over-emphasize only one part of their evangelical mission, it is a dangerous move. It threatens to narrow their traditionally broad evangelical emphasis to only one issue. Yes, many conservative evangelicals today hope to emphasize traditional sexual morality and marriage rules, but that has never been the sole defining issue of their religion. It has certainly never been the sole defining issue of a Gordon College education.

Back in the 1960s, faculty leaders had the power to reject the free-marketeering imposition of the National Freedom Education Center. They rejected the pressure and temptation to turn their Christian college into a single-issue education center.

Today’s faculty members at Gordon and other schools might not have the same power. They are very aware of the effects of financial hard times, with programs slashed and faculty positions eliminated. But the danger seems the same. To survive, will Gordon and other evangelicals schools take money that pushes them to emphasize only one aspect of their complex Christian goals? Will they give up their goal of being an evangelical Christian college to focus on being primarily a Traditional-Marriage University?

A Dangerous Payday for Evangelical Colleges?

Is it worth it? Evangelical college-watchers are agog about a huge new donation to Gordon College in Massachusetts. I have to wonder if this is part of a new culture-war playbook for evangelical higher ed. Will the hidden costs of this largesse end up being too steep? After all, back in the 1960s, Gordon’s faculty turned down this kind of financial support.

Here’s what we know, and it’s not much: Christianity Today reports an anonymous donation of $75.5 million to Gordon. As CT describes, this is a very unusual event in the world of evangelical higher education. Only a handful of evangelical universities have ever received gifts this large.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH will recall, this comes on the heels of Gordon’s recent belt-tightening announcement. Last May, Gordon restructured its academic offerings. Faculty were let go, budgets were cut. It wasn’t a stretch to wonder how long Gordon would survive.

Now, for a little while at least, the financial wolf seems to have been chased from Gordon’s door. We don’t know why, but it seems fair to assume that the anonymous donor wanted to see Gordon continue its evangelical mission.

We’re only guessing, but it seems reasonable to assume that the donor might have shared the belief that Gordon played a unique role in its region. As CT described,

[Gordon]’s both a well-known liberal arts college among Christians and an evangelical bastion in increasingly secular New England, surrounded by some of the most competitive, prestigious universities on the planet.

“We’re, respectfully, a city on a hill in this part of the world,” [President D. Michael] Lindsay said. “When our chapel services meet, it’s one of the largest gatherings of evangelical Christians in the Northeast. We’re the largest evangelical employer in six states.”

I agree with President Lindsay. His school really does represent a lonely conservative evangelical voice in the Boston metro area. Under his leadership, Gordon has tacked in more conservative culture-war directions. Five years ago, President Lindsay affirmed Gordon’s established policy against sex outside of heterosexual marriage. And at the time, some conservative evangelicals offered Lindsay some advice that turned out to be prophetic. As one conservative writer wrote in 2014,

To Michael Lindsay, the gifted president of Gordon, and to the board of trustees, I remind you: Many eyes are watching you, knowing that the decisions you make could either strengthen or dishearten many other schools that will soon be put under similar pressure.

I have no idea who Gordon’s anonymous benefactor might be, but I can’t help but wonder: Is this huge gift meant to keep President Lindsay’s evangelical “city on the hill” alive and kicking? …to maintain a conservative evangelical citadel in New England? Was the donor one of the many people watching Lindsay back in 2014, and is this donation a result of Lindsay’s conservative stances?

If so, it presents a difficult dilemma for evangelical college leaders worldwide. Yes, taking a firm political stand might earn you huge donations like this one. But they also change inexorably the mission of your school. Instead of focusing primarily on educating young people in evangelical ways, Gordon might now be tempted to organize itself in ways that satisfy big culture-war supporters.

Again, all this is pure speculation at this point. However, none of it seems outlandish. And the danger is clear: If evangelical colleges tack to the political right to attract big donors, will they be able to continue their traditional mission of providing excellent liberal-arts educations to new generations of evangelical students?

In the twentieth century, the faculty at Gordon College rejected attempts to transform their school into a merely politically conservative institution. Today, the power on Gordon’s campus has clearly shifted. Will Gordon and other evangelical colleges resist the allure of a big payday, if it means watering down their traditional liberal-arts focus?

Great Enrollment Crash—Evangelical Edition

There are a lot of jobs I’m glad I don’t have. Being admissions director at a small or medium-sized evangelical liberal-arts college is just one of them. As a recent commentary in Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription only, sorry) makes crystal clear, these are dark times for some mainstream colleges. I can’t help but think they’ll be even darker for evangelical ones.

wheaton-website-proofs-102817-1

How much will families pay for fancy buildings and philosophy degrees? …for Christian ones?

Bill Conley, enrollment guru at Bucknell University in Ohio, describes a “perfect storm” of declining enrollments at private liberal-arts colleges like his. Yes, there have been panics before, but this time it is serious. Especially in “soft” non-professional majors, enrollment since the financial crash of 2008 has plummeted. As Conley grimly describes,

with each demographic blip, and with every crossing of a new are-you-kidding-me? threshold for cost of attendance, colleges still reported record selectivity, robust enrollments, and financial-aid programs that, for some, effectively reduced sticker shock. Indeed, reports of a higher-education bubble about to burst appeared to be greatly exaggerated. American higher education seemingly had an elasticity that could withstand periodic, short-term fluctuations in demand and cost.

Then came 2008. The Great Recession devastated university endowments, shattered the majority of family wealth and income, and confounded the predictive modeling of enrollment managers. The near-term chaos was very real. Somehow, at varying rates, most colleges managed to survive, but in order to do so they established a “new normal” that would allow them to claim renewed stability for the long haul. That brings us to the summer of 2019, when the cracks in this new normal really started to show.

What does the future hold for private colleges like Bucknell? Conley is not optimistic. As he concludes,

Higher education has fully entered a new structural reality. You’d be naïve to believe that most colleges will be able to ride out this unexpected wave as we have previous swells.

Not all universities are in the same boat. Public universities with lower tuition sticker prices are booming. Technical and professional programs are doing fine. But parents and students are increasingly unlikely to shell out big bucks for liberal-arts degrees. What will this mean for the world of evangelical higher ed?

As I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, when it came to admissions numbers, evangelical colleges and universities shared the historical patterns of mainstream institutions.

Before World War II, the few fundamentalist colleges that offered more than Bible-institute training had more students than they could manage. One survey in the late 1940s found that enrollment at a group of seventy evangelical colleges doubled between 1929 and 1940. In 1936 alone, the enrollment at Wheaton College in Illinois jumped by seventeen percent.

By the 1960s, however, due largely to an infusion of federal money from the GI Bill, the number of evangelical colleges had grown so rapidly that they struggled to fill their classrooms. Suddenly, liberal-arts colleges like Wheaton faced a new dilemma. Students just weren’t coming. In 1964, 8,528 high-school students requested information about Wheaton. By 1967 that number dropped to only 6,403, with only 1,101 actual applicants.

Clearly, Wheaton College survived that 1960s slump and one might be tempted to think Conley’s worries today are similarly exaggerated. I’m not so sure. What would convince parents and students to spend tens of thousands of extra tuition dollars to attend an evangelical college instead of an academically comparable (or superior) state college?

In the past, the answer has always been the uniquely evangelical environment of evangelical colleges. Where else can a family be sure that all the professors share their faith? That most of the students do? That the entire mission of the college is to teach students in a specifically evangelical manner?

The hard truth is that families will have to figure out how much those things are worth, in dollars and cents. Will they pay $100,000 extra? $50,000? $200,000? It doesn’t take much of a historical perspective to see that the magic number will likely shrink past the point colleges can stand. If they pay more to maintain their high-quality evangelical environment, can they compete with cheaper state schools?

These days, as schools like Bucknell see their traditional family loyalties dry up in the face of unmatchable price competition from state schools, evangelical colleges will face similar storms. For more and more families, college will be a chance to learn professional skills, not form Christian faith. If the price difference is steep enough, families will let their churches do the Christian part, and state schools do the higher-ed part.

Why Don’t Christian Colleges Brag about This?

If you’re interested in evangelical higher education, you’ve probably read Daniel Silliman’s piece in Christianity Today by now. And you may have asked why more Christian colleges don’t advertise their sensible approach to deepening students’ faiths. Today the other shoe drops over at the fundamentalist creationist ministry Answers In Genesis.ham on evang colleges

Silliman was following up on new survey data that show students in evangelical colleges are

more likely to feel unsettled about spiritual matters, unsure of their beliefs, disillusioned with their religious upbringing, distant from God, or angry with God than their peers at secular schools as well as those at mainline Protestant and Catholic institutions.

As Silliman found, in many cases, evangelical colleges actively promote religious crises in their students. Why? Because true faith requires it. As one college president told Silliman,

It’s part of the design of college and part of the design of being a young adult. Struggle is built in. What we try to provide are professional staff and faculty who are rooted in their own faith and able to journey alongside, in ways that honor the journey of the student.

Sounds smart, right? Especially for secular people like me, this kind of approach to Christian education makes admirable sense. So why don’t more evangelical institutions brag about it?

As I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, evangelical higher ed has always been ferociously divided about this approach to faith formation. Lots of administrators, families, and faculty members have always shared this vision. They have agreed that young Christians need to be open about their doubt, just as they are about their faith. The goal of evangelical higher education—in this vision—has been to be there for students when they doubt, guiding them lovingly and Christian-ly through this predictable crisis.

But not everyone has agreed. As fundamentalist creationist Ken Ham recently charged, Christian colleges who don’t protect their students from doubt don’t deserve to call themselves Christian at all. As Ham accused, colleges that help their students struggle with doubt

compromise God’s Word beginning in Genesis & aren’t teaching creation apologetics & a truly Christian worldview.

The right way to protect faith, Ham argues, is not by challenging it. Instead, evangelical students should be taught how to “stand against the secular attacks of the day,” not how to doubt and question. For parents who agree, Ham offers his list of “Creation Colleges,” staunch conservative schools that promise not to challenge faith.

So why don’t more evangelical colleges brag about their approach to faith formation? Because the world of conservative evangelical higher education has always been divided about it. Not just between more conservative schools and less, but even within many schools themselves.

At less-conservative schools like the ones Silliman talked about, I’ll bet dollars to donuts some faculty members and some trustees hope for a less-wishy-washy approach to student doubt. And at more-conservative schools like the ones Ken Ham praises, I bet there are faculty members and students who yearn to be in an environment in which they can talk more openly about their doubt and struggle.

Christian College Apocalypse: October 8, 2019

The leaders of America’s conservative evangelical colleges are freaking out, and I don’t blame them.  An upcoming SCOTUS case threatens to upend the entire premise of evangelical higher ed.

A little background: In October, SCOTUS is slated to hear a trio of cases about LGBTQ rights. At issue is whether or not LGBTQ sexual and gender identity deserve the same legal protections as other factors such as male/female gender, race, and religion. Not surprisingly, conservative evangelical colleges are alarmed.  An anti-discrimination ruling could have a serious impact on the way they house students, hire faculty, and earn accreditation. (To be clear here, I don’t agree with most evangelical colleges on LGBTQ issues. I would love to see LGBTQ protections deepened and extended. I DO agree with evangelical leaders that this SCOTUS decision is a big deal.)

If SCOTUS decides that LGBTQ people are covered under Title VII and Title IX, for example, universities that don’t recognize transgender identities could be forced to do so, or give up their federal student funds. That would hurt, but it wouldn’t necessary be deadly. As I examined in Fundamentalist U, conservative evangelical institutions have withstood similar shocks in the past. Bob Jones University famously gave up its tax-exempt status back in the 1980s over racial segregation. BJU took a big financial hit, but it didn’t wither and die. BJU might even have benefited in the long run.

In this case, however, the core premise and promise of conservative-evangelical higher education might be disrupted. Since their foundings in the 1920s, colleges in the fundamentalist (and later conservative-evangelical) movement have promised students something other colleges couldn’t. Namely, institutions such as Wheaton College and Bob Jones University promised that all of their faculty members would reliably agree to a “pure” evangelical statement of faith.

This promise about “safe” and “pure” teachers has always been at the core of the conservative-evangelical college appeal. Back in the 1920s, for instance, Bob Jones Sr. could promise,

Fathers and mothers who place their sons and daughters in our institution can go to sleep at night with no haunting fear that some skeptical teachers will steal the faith of their precious children.

And even in the twenty-first century, as the case of Larycia Hawkins at Wheaton shows, evangelical colleges insist that their faculty members endorse a “safe,” “pure” sort of evangelical faith. At least when anyone is listening.

What does any of this have to do with the SCOTUS LGBTQ case? As evangelical colleges and their allies have accurately protested to SCOTUS in an amicus brief, if they lose their ability to be very selective about their faculty, they lose their entire raison d’etre. As they write in their brief,

A religious university identifies itself and its community by religious teachings that ‘cover the gamut from moral conduct to metaphysical truth.’ Hosanna-Tabor, 565 U.S. at 201 (Alito, J., concurring). Because ‘the content and credibility of a religion’s message depend vitally on the character and conduct of its teachers,’ a religious university’s ‘right to self-governance must include the ability to select, and to be selective about’ its employees. Id. For  many religious universities, ‘the messenger matters,’ id.—as do tenets of faith and standards of conduct, see Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2625 (2015) (Roberts, C.J., dissenting).

In plain English, evangelical colleges complain that they must be able to discriminate when they hire their faculty. If they can no longer promise that their teachers will embody parents’ vision of proper evangelical faith—which for a lot of parents has no room for LGTBQ Christians—they will no longer have any unique appeal for the conservative evangelical public. They will no longer be able to fill the unique role they laid out in the 1920s: An entire college filled only with professors who agree on key matters of evangelical faith.

The worst case scenario is troubling indeed, from the perspective of evangelical higher ed. If they lose their ability to insist on the beliefs of their faculty, they lose everything. If they can no longer force faculty to sign their annual statements of faith, they can no longer promise students and parents a “pure” or “safe” evangelical college experience.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

A professor fired for threatening Christians. Christians fired up about Trump the Blasphemer. Christian colleges on the rocks. And, yes, racist organic farmers in Indiana. All these stories and more made our list this week:

How can a professor get fired in Iowa? By saying, “It’s not pretty, and I’m not proud, but seeing what Evangelical Christians are doing to this country and its people fills me with rage, and a desire to exact revenge.” At IHE.

White evangelicals once changed their minds about lovin a president. Will Trump be next? At WaPo.

“Whether we like it or not, a major problem we face as evangelical Christians today is the identification in the popular mind of the religious position we represent with the Nixon administration and its actions. We are ‘middle America,’ the group sector that gave President Nixon his ‘mandate.’ We are the war party, the white backlash (if not racist) party, the Watergate scandal party.”

nixon graham wapoSome evidence that younger white evangelicals are already giving up on Trumpism, at 538.

But there are increasing signs of a generational rift: Younger white evangelicals have not fully bought into Trump’s politics and are less receptive to Trump’s message of cultural decline. The age gap among white evangelicals in some ways just mirrors the age gap among the public overall with regards to Trump, but in conversations with a number of younger white evangelical Christians, many said they are reexamining the way their faith informs their politics and whether the two have become too tightly intertwined. . . . 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.

evangelical youth and trump 538

…still a lot of Trump-ism in there.

…or maybe all the blasphemy will drive evangelicals away? At WaPo.

Trump is neither the “Second Coming of God” nor the “Messiah.”. . . .

I am a conservative evangelical who cast my vote for Trump for the very same reason many other evangelicals did: his conservative stance on issues concerning abortion and religious freedom. I visited Washington last October for a briefing at which faith leaders listened to White House officials address many policy issues. . . .

We must . . . vocally denounce [Trump’s] blatantly egregious actions, including not only Wednesday’s tweets but also his consistently negative interactions and dialogue with people of different races, genders and ethnicities.

Christian mom vs. teacher-led school prayer, at Christianity Today.

Though I understand it’s pleasant for some to hearken back to a day when a tight-bunned teacher led children through a crisp Pledge and a Prayer (no matter what her heart, mind or soul actually believed) as somehow holier, better, safer, they weren’t. Schools with teacher-led prayer refused to admit black children. Schools with teacher-led prayer burnt to the ground. Students were still bullied. They still had sex, got abortions, and got high. Homes were still broken. Kids were still confused and frightened by their sexuality. Even back then. Even with all that prayer.

Yoga: Banned in Alabama, at CBS42.

“I don’t know if it is the school system or if it is a polarized subject, like abortion or common core,” Gray said. “It’s one of those things that people think is bad.”

Another good time not to be the mayor of Bloomington, Indiana. What are they supposed to do with racist organic farmers at their farmers’ market? At NYT.

Bloomington has declined to remove Schooner Creek from the market. Mayor John Hamilton said the farmers had First Amendment rights to their personal views as participants in a city-run market, and said the farm did not appear to be breaking any written rules about how vendors should behave at the market.

While some in Bloomington want Schooner Creek to leave, others said they wished protesters would drop their cause. In late July, an associate professor at Indiana University was arrested as she held up a paper sign in front of the Schooner Creek stand. Protesters yelled “Shame, shame!” as police officers escorted her away from the market.

racist farmers NYTTough times for evangelical colleges, at WORLD.

Nyack College, a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) school in the New York City area, received an independent audit in 2017 with an opinion any institution dreads: “substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.”

What will the future hold for LGBTQ exemptions? Will evangelical institutions be forced to comply? At The Atlantic.

For religious groups and institutions that teach that homosexuality is a sin, and that men and women were created as such by God, the prospect of this kind of legislation is worrying. “It would be years of litigation—that’s what we would look forward to under the Equality Act as currently drafted,” Shirley Hoogstra, the president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), told me. For the nearly 140 Christian institutions that are members of her organization, she said, the bill “would put federal funding, it would put accreditation, it would put hiring rights, it would put campus student-life policies all at risk.” Fundamentally, these kinds of groups want to be able to preserve what they see as religious integrity in their own spaces—and they object when that is described as bigotry. “The Equality Act as currently drafted has caused Christian institutions to really wonder about whether their particular educational contribution is valued in America,” Hoogstra said.

Send in the clowns: A historical review of clownish leaders at HNN.

Making fun of those who have power over us is a small blow against authority. But the clown princes go further. What could be more anti-elitist than to take politics to the polar opposite extreme? Elitists read books, use evidence to make arguments, rely on science, demand proof; the clown prince needs no such intellectual crutches; they rely on passion, emotion, feelings. Lashing out is their feel-good option.

Women, transgender women, and sports. What is the fair solution? At Arc.

Free speech on campus: A new book argues that conservative gripes are bogus, at IHE.moskowitz IHE

Is denying someone admission to a college a threat to that person’s free speech? Is failing someone in a class a threat to their free speech? Is a student not being able to disrupt a class whenever they want a threat to free speech? We take these limits as a given, and even a positive in colleges, yet when it comes to students requesting or demanding that colleges not allow professors or students to say racist, transphobic and other offensive language without punishment, that becomes a step too far for administrators. So I would question whether they’re really afraid of limiting speech (which, as I said, they do all the time), or whether they’re afraid of confronting just how common and ingrained transphobia, racism and other forms of oppression are on their campuses.

 

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.

Fundamentalist U Review

It is nerve-wracking waiting to hear what the experts have to say. The latest academic review of Fundamentalist U is in and I’ll be taking the rest of the day off to celebrate.

Gloege Guaranteed Pure

The experts weigh in…

Tim Gloege was the reviewer. Dr. Gloege is author of the terrific book Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism. He knows all there is to know about the history of evangelicalism and evangelical higher education. Naturally, I was dying to hear what he had to say about Fundamentalist U.

The good news: Not only did he conclude that Fundamentalist U is “essential reading for anyone interested in the history of modern evangelicalism,” he claimed that the book succeeded in making three contributions to the history of American evangelicalism. Namely,

Fundamentalist U . . . challenges three persistent myths that have also been targets of the new evangelical historiography. First, it demonstrates evangelical “orthodoxy” was an aspiration, a dream—and a fleeting one at that. . . . Second, Fundamentalist U challenges the myth of fundamentalist “withdrawal from culture” between 1920 and 1970. . . .Finally, Laats demonstrates the utility of defining evangelicalism as a social network anchored by educational institutions. . . . Fundamentalist higher education may be an oxymoron to many outsiders, but Laats has convincingly demonstrated it has been central to American evangelicalism.”

Thank you, Dr. Gloege, for this generous and meaty review! Almost makes me want to read the book.

The Weirdest Good News for Fundamentalist U

It has never been easy to run a mission-driven evangelical college. These days, though, it seems like it might be harder than ever, with storied institutions like Gordon and Nyack Colleges forced to make harsh budget cuts. Even worse, evangelical colleges—like all colleges—are plunged into a facilities “arms-race” that no one can win. For small liberal-arts universities, it feels as if any bit of institutional bad news might just make the wheels come off. A new study of higher-ed scandals, however, might give evangelical administrators a bitter ray of hope.

bj jr who touched me

There will always be scandal in the world of evangelical higher ed…

Turns out, when universities endure high-profile scandals, their fund-raising efforts can actually improve. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the recent blow-ups at Baylor, Michigan State, and Penn State did not close alumni wallets, but the opposite. As they put it,

While headline-grabbing scandals involving rogue administrators and structural failures often generate steep legal fees, criminal charges, and public outrage, high-profile universities have seen donations — and sometimes enrollment — rise in the aftermath.

One fund-raiser at Penn State, for example, found that some alumni, though not all, became MORE generous after the ugly scandal.

One donor called in the months after the scandal broke and offered a million-dollar donation — “a birthday gift to myself,” [Penn State fund-raiser] Kirsch recalled him saying. Others were symbolic gestures, he remembered. . . . Those kinds of donations make psychological sense, said Dennis Kramer. . . . He said high-profile athletics scandals could, in a convoluted way, encourage alumni to show financial support.

What does this mean for evangelical colleges? As I found in Fundamentalist U, the top-down institutional structures of schools such as Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, and Liberty University gives them some advantages, but it leaves them prone to wave after wave of scandal.

The twenty-first-century scandals at Bob Jones, for instance, in which administrators were found to have been cruelly ignorant of sexual-abuse laws, were only the latest. Throughout the twentieth century, Bob Jones University endured schisms and scandals such as the Ted Mercer affair of the 1950s or the Dorothy Seah episode of the 1930s.

In tough financial times, it might seem as if those scandals would spell the end of conservative colleges, but they never have. As one expert told the Chronicle of Higher Education,

when there’s a scandal, or when there’s something that causes us to question the viability of something we hold dear, we may respond with supporting that entity more.

That sort of circle-the-wagons support has been evident throughout the history of evangelical higher education. Especially for the more conservative fundamentalist schools, such as Bob Jones, every scandal tended to divide the university community, driving some people away but leaving supporters more firmly entrenched than ever before.

Would it make sense for evangelical college administrators to provoke a scandal, then? To intentionally cultivate the scorn and contumely of outsiders? Not really. As CHE concludes, scandals can be dangerous, too.

[T]here’s one instance in which that changes: if a scandal exacerbates or publicizes an already-existing institutional problem — an institution known for lax academics that becomes embroiled in a cheating scandal, for example.

Said [institutional strategist David] Strauss, “If it’s reinforcing of a problem the school already has, watch out.”