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.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Back to school; back to … losing our religion? Christian colleges that challenge faith, secular colleges that challenge ideas, Rosa Parks Barbie and, of course, Professor Matthew McConaughey all made this week’s list of must-read stories from around the interwebs:

So…now there’s a Rosa Parks Barbie. A triumph for Civil Rights history? Not exactly, at HNN.

The problem is that the more in-depth narrative that historians have worked hard to reconstruct is continually lost in public consumption.

rosa parks barbieHow does Barbie tie in to Newt Gingrich, Bertie Forbes, and the history of racism in the US? The ILYBYGTH take.

How can colleges foster true intellectual diversity? At NYT.

Is the point of a university education simply to provide students a forum in which they can air their political views, no matter how poorly informed? Of course not — and one reason that some students are reluctant to speak in class is because they are confronted, for the first time, by information that undermines their pre-existing assumptions. So how can professors keep exposing students to uncomfortable facts — because that’s our job — while encouraging them to speak their minds and hear out arguments they find outrageous?

Losing your faith at an evangelical college? Don’t worry; it’s always been part of the process. At CT.

At some evangelical schools, religious crisis is provoked by design. Nyack College in New York City offers a slate of first-year classes coordinated with chapel talks meant to challenge students’ beliefs.

“It’s almost that we have to deconstruct their faith, but in a nice way,” said Wanda Walborn, associate professor of spiritual formation at Nyack. “We have to carefully and lovingly get you back to Jesus, get you back to the grace of God, outside of performance.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Queen Betsy DeVost at EdWeek:

There are no shortage of cabinet appointees to take issue with. But I think there’s something particularly egregious with what’s happening with Betsy DeVos in the Department of Education because it’s not just somebody who’s taking the department in a direction I disagree with. She’s somebody who, in my view, is actively undermining the very purpose of the department.

Recruiting top faculty:

From the Big Surprise file: Turns out better pay can attract more teachers. At FP.

Alumni sue NY Jewish school for sexual abuse, at CNN.

The lawsuit accuses former principal George Finkelstein of targeting the children of Holocaust survivors and then imploring them “to not add to their parents’ suffering by telling them about his assaults.”

She’s not racist, but…this Michigan city council candidate wanted to keep her community white. Because the Bible. At FA.

Why do 55% of teachers hope their kids won’t become teachers? At Curmudgucation. The issues are

tied together with the single thread of distrust and disrespect for teachers. . . . we’ve had decades of federal and state programs meant to force teachers to do a better job. In the classroom, much of these “reforms” have sounded like “You can’t do a good job unless you are threatened, micromanaged, and stripped of your autonomy.” There is a special kind of stress that comes from working for someone who says, in effect, “You have a big important job to do, and we do not trust you to do it.”

Teachers do not experience disrespect only on a national level. Talk to individual teachers about their own work circumstances and you will often hear about district and building administrators who treat teachers like children.

“Gifted & Talented” program is out in NYC. What comes next? At Chalkbeat.

“The label is something that people really crave,” said James Borland, a Teachers College professor who studies “gifted” education. “The fact that the curriculum is very weak in lots of gifted programs — or the fact that it’s not that different — it’s a problematic situation,” he added.

What’s it like to be a progressive Christian in a conservative state? A review of American Heretics at R&P.

we hear Walke describe something of a conversion narrative. She transformed from a Southern Baptist in the pews of a church whose pastor was teaching that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for sin into a different sort of Christian—one who now leads in the charge of Mayflower UCC’s vote to denounce racism and become a sanctuary church.

The most touching moment in the film gives us a glimpse of the toll of Walke’s conversion. We sit in the passenger seat of her truck as she drives away from her grandmother’s home, where we’ve just seen the two women reflecting awkwardly (but with great compassion) on their connection as Christians, despite their current theological and political divide. The two women sang together an old-time hymn about heaven. But the voices in unison could not cover up the palpable tension, as her grandma, Novella Lore, appeared to struggle to find something to say about her granddaughter’s making headlines in the local paper for public LGBTQ advocacy. In the truck afterward, Walke confides that Lore is worried about her granddaughter’s eternal salvation. “I just want to know one thing. Are you going to go to heaven when you die?” she says Lore asked her.

Liberty U.’s president gives another big $$$ gift to an attractive young man, at Reuters.

“The concern is whether the university’s president wanted to do his personal trainer a favor and used Liberty assets to do it,” said Douglas Anderson, a governance specialist and former internal audit chief at Dow Chemical Co, who reviewed both the transaction and Liberty’s explanation of it at Reuters’ request. That would be bad governance, he said. “At a minimum, the terms suggest the buyer got a great deal and Liberty got very little.”

Hellfire in the Amazon: fires split Brazilian evangelicals from other faiths, at RNS.

“Due to their alliance with Bolsonaro, the evangelicals started to oppose the protection of the environment. They assimilated the idea that environmentalism is a disguise for communists and for international leaders who want to take the Amazon from Brazil,” said Renan William dos Santos, a researcher at the University of São Paulo who investigates the relations of Christians with environmentalism.

amazon fire

Evangelicals…support it?

Christian colleges watch SCOTUS nervously about LGBTQ cases, at DN.

“Student housing standards would face new pressure. Affiliated clinics and hospitals could be compelled to provide religiously objectionable medical procedures. A religious university’s tax-exempt status could be challenged or revoked,” the brief explains.

The new Gallup poll on creationism is out. The upshot: Lots more people seem okay with evolution this year.

gallup creationism 2019

The problem with ed reform at EdNext:

Why am I able to anticipate these failures in education reform initiatives, while the people devoting fortunes to these efforts and their staff have such a hard time avoiding strategies that result in failure? I’m not that smart and they aren’t that dumb. I suspect the answer is that foundations have organizational interests and cultures that tend to draw them to a mistaken theory about education policy. In its essence, that theory holds that there are policy interventions that could improve outcomes for large numbers of students if only we could discover them and get policymakers and practitioners to adopt them at scale.

I begin with a different theory. I suspect that there are relatively few educational practices that would produce uniformly positive results. Instead, I’m inclined to think of education as similar to parenting, in which the correct approaches are highly context-specific.

Who “Gets” Left Behind

I remember reading the novels.  I read them in the gym of the high school I taught in.  Sometimes students would ask me about them, and I’d say they were about the end of the world.  But I also sometimes wondered if people would think I was a fundamentalist, an end-of-the-worlder, a kook.  Now that the new movie is out, friend of ILYBYGTH Daniel Silliman has offered a thoughtful essay about what it means to be a fan of Left Behind.

For those of you who haven’t heard, the Left Behind series blew a lot of minds when it came out in the 1990s.  Fundamentalist writer Tim LaHaye and his colleague Jerry Jenkins set out to present another gripping fictional story of the end of the world.  But not just any end of the world.  Left Behind told the story of the way many American fundamentalists have come to interpret the Bible’s eschatology.

Clarence Larkin's theological charts were very popular among the first generation of fundamentalists in the 1920s.

Clarence Larkin’s theological charts were very popular among the first generation of fundamentalists in the 1920s.

Since around the beginning of the twentieth century, many (but by no means all!) fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have embraced the theology of dispensational premillennialism.  This interpretation of the Bible sets out a series of ages, or “dispensations.”  Our current Age is set to expire sometime soon.  When it does, this theology predicts, Jesus will lift all true believers to meet him “in the air.”  This event will be known as the “rapture.”  After the rapture, those who have been left behind will suffer through seven years of tribulation before Jesus returns in glory.  Once Jesus and his angelic hosts have defeated the Antichrist on the field of Armageddon, a thousand years of peace and love will follow on earth, the millennium.

That’s a quick and dirty summary, but for our purposes, it will do.  Tim LaHaye was not the first prophecy writer to fictionalize this story.  As many evangelicals of a certain age will remember, an older generation of films such as A Thief in the Night told a similar story, in a similarly dramatic fashion.

But LaHaye’s Left Behind series took this Bible apocalypse into the mainstream.  Millions of people read the books.  And evangelical sorta-star Kirk Cameron made a series of movies to bring the message to even more fans.  And now, for some reason, there’s a new movie version, this time starring Nicholas Cage.

For nerds like me, the interesting question is not whether the new film is good or bad.  (Although I couldn’t find a single review that said it was good.  Just bad, really bad, and “God-awful.”)  Instead, I want to know what it can tell us about American religion.  Specifically, I want to know why so many people gobble up these fundamentalist bedtime stories.  Is America really that sympathetic to fundamentalism?  Does some part of our national psyche still yearn for this sort of stern hellfire morality play?

Daniel Silliman tackles this question of audience.  Take a few minutes to read his whole essay.  In short, he demonstrates that we can’t really assume much about America based on its seeming never-ending appetite for Biblical apocalypses.  Just because millions of people read these books, we can’t assume we know if those readers bought into the fundamentalist end-of-the-world story.

Left Behind

Some people, Silliman notes, will watch this movie ironically.  That is, they will rush out to see the movie to see just how silly those Christians will get this time around.  Like the infamous Snakes on a Plane, many movies become popular because of their badness.

But Silliman also gives some examples of people who seem to embrace the film precisely because they embrace the theological message.  Just because the story seems outrageous to me doesn’t mean that other viewers are not watching it with very different attitudes.

In other words, we must be careful about assuming too much from this film.  If it flops, we will not be able to say that America has turned its back on fundamentalist theology.  And if it’s a huge box-office success, we won’t be able to say that America is still a fundamentalist fief.

Does Science Hate God?

If God loves science and scientists love God, why do we keep hearing that they hate each other?

It’s the $64,000 question Daniel Silliman asked yesterday on his terrific blog.*  As Silliman points out, the “warfare thesis” between religion and science just doesn’t hold water.

Yet films such as The Unbelievers attract enormous attention and support.  In that upcoming documentary, leading science pundits Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss apparently insist that true science must crush false religion.

Silliman could have extended the point on the other side, as well.  Plenty of religious leaders have encouraged the legend of warfare between true religion and “science falsely so-called.”  Young-earth creation leader Ken Ham, for instance, insists on the importance of this “struggle over the question of authority.”

Silliman ends with a great question for fans of The Unbelievers:

The real question that this documentary raises, though, is why there’s such a market for the conflict thesis. Why does it persist in its obfuscations and false oppositions so long after it was demonstrated to be historically bankrupt as a theory and demonstrably empirically false?

Is it because a fight is just more interesting than a compromise?  Is it due to our reality-show culture in which viewers insist on drama?  Or are there substantial differences, necessary hostilities, that persist in the face of historians’ denial of the warfare thesis?

*You can tell it’s a great blog because he lists yours truly as one of his links.  Thanks!