The Movie that Will Save Our Children

A Florida lawmaker has offered a new definition of a summer must-see movie.  According to the Hollywood Reporter, State Senator Alan Hays has promised a bill that would force all public high-schools and middle-schools to screen Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine the World without Her.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, D’Souza’s film seems to be another conservative exercise in shadow-boxing.  The film assumes that American history teachers are pushing an ideologically inspired hatred against the United States.  Historically, that just hasn’t been the case.  As I argue in my upcoming book, conservatives have exerted outsized influence over the kinds of history their kids learn in public school for decades.  The notion that schools have been taken over by a scheming cabal of sneaky progressive educators and historians just doesn’t match the historical record.

Nevertheless, it is a notion that resonates strongly with conservatives.  As Senator Hays put it,

I’ve looked at history books and talked to history teachers and the message the students are getting is very different from what is in the movie.  It’s dishonest and insulting. The students need to see the truth without political favoritism.

Ironically, Senator Hays’ plans might just prove the case.  As the Hollywood Reporter points out, Hays’ bill might actually pass, given the political landscape in Florida.  If it did, or even if it made a strong showing, it would demonstrate the continuing influence of conservative activism on public education.

 

America: Schools Taken over by Scheming Progressives

What sorts of history did you learn in school?  As I argue in a recent commentary published on History News Network, conservative thinkers and activists have often insisted that school history has been taken over by a scheming, America-hating, progressive history cabal.

It looks as if Dinesh D’Souza’s new film dives headfirst into that tradition.  In America: Imagine the World without Her, D’Souza denounces American education as woefully slanted.

In a recent interview about the film, D’Souza accuses even the best schools of teaching a “doctored account” of history.  Young people, D’Souza believes, have all been taught a skewed leftist history.  In his film, D’Souza hopes to counter this horrible history with a heroic counter-argument.

But as I found when I researched the twentieth-century history of conservative activism in the United States, I found that conservatives have exerted just as much influence over the nature of American education as have progressives.

So why do conservatives like D’Souza continue to insist that schools have been taken over by dunderheaded progressives?  If you want to read my humble opinion, you’ll have to check out the HNN essay.

Christian College Leader Admits Wrongdoing

Dinesh D’Souza broke the law.  He recently admitted it.  Some conservative pundits insist that his prosecution is politically motivated.  Is this the end for a spectacular conservative career?

Wunderkind Admits It

Wunderkind Admits It

The conservative Christian writer and celebrity has always had something of a tin ear when it comes to conservative evangelical culture.  A couple of years ago, for instance, he was ousted from his post as president of The King’s College when he appeared in public with a woman who was not his wife.

Nevertheless, D’Souza’s brand of high-sounding punditry has made him hugely popular among American conservatives.  His books and films, such as What’s So Great About Christianity and 2016: Obama’s America, have secured D’Souza’s place as a top name among conservative activists.

This week, D’Souza pleaded guilty to illegal campaign contributions.  In order to help the ailing fortunes of Republican Senate candidate Wendy Long, D’Souza set up “straw donors” in order to exceed legal limits on campaign donations.  In his plea, D’Souza agreed that this action was “wrong” and “stupid.”  He admitted that he knew his actions were illegal.  But he also complained that he was the victim of selective prosecution.

Other conservative pundits agree.  An editorial in the Washington Times lamented,

Whether guilty or not, the fact that Mr. D’Souza has been singled out for prosecution while others skate past freely reveals President Obama’s thumb on the famous lady’s scale.

Some conservative writers take a different line.  Writing in The American Conservative, Rod Dreher insisted that D’Souza must take his lumps.  As Dreher argued,

I have no trouble believing that D’Souza may have been selectively prosecuted. But even if he was, that does not justify his knowingly breaking the law. Does this really have to be explained to conservatives, of all people?  We can’t call for law and order, but carve out special exemptions for our political allies.

Does this spell the end for D’Souza’s career?  As a non-conservative, I would be surprised if any conservative institution were to clamor to be associated with D’Souza after this.  But I’ve been surprised before.

 

Celebrity to Nerd: New Leadership at The King’s College

Who will train a new generation how to bring America to Christ?

The leaders of The King’s College decided a nerd can do the job better than a celebrity.

After its unhappy breakup with headline-grabbing conservative icon Dinesh D’Souza, The King’s College will now be led by Southern Baptist theologian and administrator Gregory A. Thornbury.

Image Source: The King's College

Image Source: The King’s College

The bowtie-wearing, Carl-Henry-loving, religious-school administrating Thornbury seems to be the exact opposite of D’Souza, at least within the world of conservative Christian higher education.

Thornbury’s career has been squarely within the world of conservative evangelical higher education.  Before Manhattan and The King’s College, Thornbury served as the founding dean of Union University’s theology school.  His academic background as a philosopher with degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Messiah College puts him in a different league from the sometimes-fevered punditry of D’Souza.

Leaders of the evangelical establishment love him.  Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention called Thornbury “Jonathan Edwards meets Rolling Stone magazine.”

Thornbury himself seems to prefer the Jonathan Edwards part.  His recent book about theological Carl Henry hopes to make Henry “cool again.”  Unlike other leaders at The King’s College, who stress its Manhattan location as the ideal spot to influence mainstream American culture, Thornbury himself notes the location’s close ties to the strongest intellectual giants of American evangelicalism and conservatism, including Jonathan Edwards, Alexander Hamilton, and Carl Henry.

What’s next for The King’s College under its new president?  In the words of one enthusiastic King’s College alum, Thornbury will lend new life to The King’s College mission: “a counter cultural Christian college in New York City that leads with academic excellence and ‘convictional civility.’”

 

The King’s College and Christian Higher Education

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.

Shake Up at King’s College

If you look at the $30,000,000 box office sales for his film 2016: Obama’s America, it would seem that Dinesh D’Souza is very in.

But at King’s College in Manhattan, D’Souza is out.  According to a recent story by Warren Cole Smith at WORLD magazine, D’Souza has stepped down as the high-profile president of King’s College.  Smith had reported a few days earlier on the tensions among King’s leadership.  D’Souza had ruffled some feathers when he appeared with a woman who was not his wife, shared a hotel room with her, and introduced her as his fiancee.  D’Souza had separated from his long-time spouse, but had not yet been officially divorced.

More interesting for ILYBYGTH readers than the Gossip Girl-ing involved, the story sheds some revealing light on the nature and institutional structure of King’s College itself.  As historian John Fea has remarked, the leadership of King’s College embarked on a remarkable re-branding in the mid-1990s.  It shifted from a small, quiet, conservative evangelical Westchester County college to an aggressive culture-war college in the heart of Manhattan.  The “new” King’s College narrowed its scope, offering only business and politics/economics majors.  The goal of the revised school was to bring conservative evangelical leadership to the heart of New York City.

As journalist Amy Sullivan noted in her piece in The New Republic about the King’s College shake-up, the rivalry between long-time provost Marvin Olasky and D’Souza likely contributed to the scandal.

It seems charismatic conservative evangelical leaders will continue to struggle with such issues.  King’s College represents a long tradition of “new” approaches to fundamentalist higher education.  Liberty University was founded in 1971 with the same purpose.  Even further back, this goal of teaching a new generation of conservative evangelical students to compete for the levers of cultural and political power has roots in the culture-war struggles of the 1920s.  As I argued in my 1920s book, college and seminary founders such as those at Dallas Theological Seminary and Bob Jones University explicitly set out to create schools that would train fundamentalist leaders for mainstream politics, religion, and culture.

Back in the 1920s, such schools wrestled with the same tensions that bedevil King’s College today: How can we institutionalize the uncompromising theology that so often thrives only under the leadership of charismatic individuals?  How can we remain true to our mission of training students in the specific doctrines of our faith while preparing them to engage with the wider world?  How can we retain the loyalty of those who want a firmly conservative evangelical institution, while convincing the world that our graduates have had the kind of broad education they might get at a more pluralistic college?

Governor Haley and the Changing Face of Fundamentalist America

Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina has a new book out.  The cutely titled Can’t Is Not an Option may be a bald-faced bid for the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nomination, but it can also tell us something about the ways Fundamentalist America is changing.  The book itself sounds sugary, but Haley’s personal story is compelling.

Haley is an Indian-American child of immigrants.  The fact that a dark-skinned female politician whose father wears a turban can succeed as a conservative Republican politician in a state known for racism and evangelical Protestantism means a lot. 

Haley joins a small but growing list of non-white conservative heavy hitters: businessman/politician Herman Cainwriter Dinesh D’Souza, politicians Bobby Jindall and Allen West, and jurist Clarence Thomas, among others.  Such a showing, especially among African Americans, makes a good deal of sense from a fundamentalist perspective.

Conservative intellectuals, notably those at the Heritage Foundation, have made a concerted strategic effort to overcome fundamentalism’s traditional connection to white supremacist ideology.

But although it may make strategic sense, it is a tall order politically.  African Americans have been tightly linked to the Democratic Party since the 1930s.  Before that, African American voters stuck just as close to the Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln.  For most of American history, the vortex of race and race consciousness has overwhelmed all other identity issues, pushing most African Americans to vote first as African Americans, and only second as conservatives, liberals, secularists, religious, etc.

But beyond party politics, African Americans tend toward a deep fundamentalism.  Gallup polls consistently demonstrate this.  For example, one 2005 poll showed that about seven in ten African Americans called themselves “evangelical” or “born again” Christians.  African Americans, according to a 1999 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll are significantly more likely (85%) to support school prayer than are whites (69%).  This conservative religiosity among African Americans has influenced cultural attitudes among African American young people as well.  A 2002 poll found that only 8% of African American teens say they drink alcohol, compared to 25% of white teens, likely due to higher rates of conservative religiosity.  Among non-whites in general, according to a 2003 poll, only 52% think that premarital sex is morally acceptable, compared to 59% of whites.

Race is a tough issue for fundamentalists.  There are plenty of fundamentalist whites who seem to cling to traditionalism in their white supremacist ideology, just as they cling to traditionalism in religion, education, and culture.  But non-whites, in large majorities, are fundamentalists in everything except party politics.  If more non-whites like Nikki Haley continue to emphasize their cultural conservatism, and if they tie that cultural conservatism to political conservatism, then more and more non-whites may continue to embrace all the meanings of Fundamentalism.