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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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?

Hope for Campus Christians?

If the decision at Duke left evangelical Christians bummed, this one from Iowa might lift their culture-war spirits. Not only did the Obama-appointed federal judge rule on the side of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, but she threatened to hit the offending college administrators where it hurts. And she included the Hawkapellas.

hawkapellas Iowa

I’m guessing the Hawkapellas didn’t think they’d be part of this culture-war battle…

Here’s what we know: According to Inside Higher Ed, federal judge Stephanie Rose issued her second ruling against the University of Iowa. Back in January, she ruled that the university could not fairly de-recognize Business Leaders in Christ. Now, she ruled not only that the university unfairly de-recognized Intervarsity, but that the university leaders should have known better. She intimated that specific administrators might be personally financially liable.

This ruling might change the climate of these campus de-recognition battles in two big ways. First of all, Judge Rose explicitly agreed that Christian groups can’t be singled out for their discriminatory policies. In Iowa, at least, plenty of other groups discriminate yet were allowed to remain on campus.

She lists several student organizations. The all-female Hawkapella singing club, for example, restricts its membership to women. The Tau Sigma Military Dental Club is only open to military-sponsored students. The Iowa National Lawyer’s Guild “excludes individuals because of their political views, even though such an exclusion constitutes discrimination on the basis of creed.”

As the judge ruled,

The University purports to apply the Human Rights Policy to RSOs [Registered Student Organizations] such that they may not speak about religion, gender, homosexuality, creed, and numerous other protected characteristics through their membership and leadership criteria. But whereas InterVarsity may not require or even encourage its leaders to subscribe to its faith, other RSOs are free to limit membership and leadership based on the Human Rights Policy’s protected characteristics.

How can a university allow the Hawkapellas without including the Intervarsities? How can it recognize some groups that discriminate in their membership and leadership policies and not others? Judge Rose thinks they can’t. At least, not legally.

Perhaps most important, Judge Rose ruled that specific university administrators could be subject to financial damages. I can’t help but think that that provision will make cautious administrators at other schools sit up and take notice.

Stop the Hostage Crisis in Campus Culture Wars

It can be difficult to know what to do on America’s college campuses. Recent cases from Baylor and Duke lead to some difficult questions: Do conservative Christian colleges have a right to discriminate against LGBTQ students? Do liberal schools have a right to discriminate against conservative Christian ones? In all these culture-war tiffs, one fact tends to get lost. Namely, students should not be the ones paying the price for culture-war hostilities.

Houston chronicle Rice LGBTQ

Even if we agree with them, should we be making students fight our battles?

First, a little background: At the recent Rice/Baylor football game, Rice’s band put on a gay-stravaganza to protest Baylor’s anti-LGBTQ student policies. Baylor had recently refused to recognize a campus LGBTQ student group.

Meanwhile, Duke’s student government voted to de-recognize Young Life, an evangelical Christian group. Why? Because Young Life will not allow LGBTQ students to be leaders or volunteers.

We can agree or disagree with the pro- or anti-LGBTQ policies at play. Me, I side with the LGBTQ students—I support efforts to eliminate anti-LGBTQ discrimination. But it’s not really as cut-and-dried a debate as some of my progressive friends seem to think. For example, I also think religious colleges should be free to set policies that accord with their religious views. And I think religious students should have maximum freedom to do the same, wherever they go to college.

While we try to figure out a way to square this circle—a way to allow religious students to express their religion without hurting the right of LGBTQ students to feel included and welcomed—why don’t we consider a tweak of our campus culture-war playbook? Consider a plea for something that should be obvious but seems to get lost in the shuffle?

Here it is: When colleges fight about these issues, why don’t we all agree to keep students out of the firing line? Why don’t we agree to give students maximum ability to experiment with different ideas and identities, instead of punishing them for advocating ideas that are near and dear to them?

Here’s what it could look like in practice: Instead of focusing on kicking off this student group or that student group, ALL student groups could be required to have a faculty advisor. The advisor could represent the student-group’s interests with the school administration. In principle, ALL student groups would be recognized, even if the school did not endorse their ideologies or theologies. It would take a lot to have a student-group de-recognized. The faculty senate—or whatever body represented faculty interests—would have to be agree that the group represented a harm to the university community, not just a disagreement with prevailing policy.

In this set-up, Duke’s student government could not simply vote out a Christian group it didn’t like. Baylor’s administration would be prodded to allow LGBTQ students to organize. It wouldn’t stop the arguments about student groups, but it would make it less likely for students to be penalized for caring about the world around them. It would turn faculty members and administrators into the ones doing the fighting and make it less likely for students to be directly embroiled in bruising culture-war battles.

It would encourage—not discourage—smart, engaged students to get together to make their school and world a better place. And isn’t that what college is supposed to do?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Pumpkins ripened this week and Bernie released a video praising teachers as working from “the bottom up.” Plus bellydancing creationists, protesting students at Liberty U, teaching for Trump, and a whole lot more in our weekly roundup:

Why don’t more kids learn about evolution? At the Atlantic.

The only high-school biology class I took was in ninth grade, and it was apparently so uninteresting to me that I don’t remember my teacher’s name. (My former school district did not return a request for comment.) My teachers were for the most part religious, though they appeared to stay firmly within the bounds of the state-mandated curriculum. In another class, my teacher showed us diagrams of the human eye, then snuck in a remark that the complexity of the eye is convincing evidence that there is a Creator.

Can schools save society? Larry Cuban reflects.

I used to think that public schools were vehicles for reforming society. And now I think that while good teachers and schools can promote positive intellectual, behavioral, and social change in individual children and youth, schools are (and have been) ineffectual in altering social inequalities.

larry cuban reform concHave evangelical colleges avoided the “comfort college” dilemma? At PS.

In my classes and others, in faculty and student research, I see nothing like what Gerrard calls “the devaluing of knowledge” or “social death” for those on the wrong side of “wokeness.” In the humanities at Bethel, I see people continuing to ask complicated questions of themselves, each other, and the authors and audiences of the texts they read, with humility, hospitality, empathy, and in no expectation that things will resolve neatly. We make each other uncomfortable, make mistakes together, apologize to each other, and continue to seek better answers together.

“Evangelical” has lost its meaning, says Alan Jacobs at The Atlantic.

of all the traits that attracted evangelicals to Reagan, perhaps the most important was his sunny and fervent patriotism. Already white American evangelicals had a tendency to associate Christianity closely with the American experiment, and to think of their country as a “Christian nation.” . . . This transformation of evangelical from a theological position to a “racial and political” one is not just bad for serious Christians; it’s also a prime driver of the increasing hostility of liberals to religion in almost any form.

No evangelicals among the Blue Devils: Duke students reject Young Life as anti-LGBTQ. At RNS.

the student government senate unanimously turned down official recognition for the Young Life chapter, because it appeared to violate a guideline that every Duke student group include a nondiscrimination statement in its constitution.

Liberty U students against Falwell Jr. At NPR.

We organized this protest in response to both articles that dropped this week. We really are protesting President Falwell’s habitual behavior of – various allegations of misconduct, especially ones of sexual harassment, and the habitual abuse of his subordinates as well as students and various Christian leaders that he’s attacked on Twitter as well.

Turkish creationist Harun Yahya goes on trial for running a blackmail cult. At NCSE.

How a science teacher should answer a radical creationist, at AU.

“This is science, and science deals with facts. It doesn’t deal with belief. It doesn’t have to be a dilemma or a concern for someone to choose between Christianity and evolution – that’s not what this is about. You can actually embrace both. It’s my duty as a teacher to teach science and not teach religion. That’s the separation of church and state.”

Conservatives win one in the wedding-cake LGBTQ wars. At AZC.

Duka and Koski create invitations and other handmade artwork for weddings and events. The women — who hold the religious belief that marriage should only be between one man and one woman — do not want to design invitations or other custom artwork for LGBTQ couples because they believe it would be the equivalent of endorsing the marriage.

The women are represented by Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group challenging similar laws across the country.

Check out the connection between $$ and quality in Ohio’s public schools. HT: PG.

Ohio schools realHow to get fired in Fort Worth. A teacher loses her job for tweeting to Trump to do “anything you can do to remove the illegals from Fort Worth.” At DN.

Florida Man (and Woman) had one heck of a night, at USAT.

A Florida couple is facing multiple charges after they started having sex in the back of a police car — after they were already under arrest on DUI charges.

How do religious scientists feel about non-religious ones? Insights from Tolstoy at JTA.

The problem is that those of us who have an abiding religious faith also believe in science. . . . We recognize that you present an objective truth, and that your approach is worthy of careful deliberation. But we get little in return. When you look at us, you can barely conceal your contempt. What you see is little more than confusion, superstition and folly.

Bernie releases a video celebrating teachers’ strikes in WV.

Razzing Christian Athletes

The tradition continues. At yesterday’s Rice/Baylor football game, Rice’s band poked one of Baylor’s culture-war soft spots. Will it do any damage?

Houston chronicle Rice LGBTQ

Take that, conservative Christianity!

It’s not the first time. Back in the 1920s, when Des Moines University in Iowa declared its allegiance to the fundamentalist movement, its football foes used to taunt the Des Moines team with chants of

Darwin! Darwin! Darwin!

Now, the Rice band has apparently updated that anti-fundamentalist tactic for the twenty-first century. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Rice band

played pro-LGBTQ song “YMCA” by the Village People as dozens of students and alumni rushed the field with rainbow flags at its football game against Baylor University on Saturday night.

The Rice band was protesting against Baylor’s decision to withhold official recognition for a student LGBTQ group.

Did it work? Well, not on the gridiron. Baylor trounced the Owls 21-13. In the long run, however, I wonder if increasing pressure on LGBTQ issues will force Baylor to change its tune.

When the Saints Come Backtracking In

Bibles in schools, yes. Anti-LGBTQ sentiment, no. That was the combo pleaded last week by NFL quarterback Drew Brees. To this reporter, the most important question is not about Bibles in schools or Brees’s personal attitudes, but rather about the status of anti-LGBTQ organizations among other conservative evangelicals. Can anti-LGBTQ groups claim much support at all?

Here’s the story: Brees recently recorded a promo video for “Bring Your Bible to School Day.” In the short little clip, Brees tells kids what his favorite Bible verse is, then says,

I want to encourage you to live out your faith on Bring Your Bible to School Day and share God’s love with friends.

So far, so good. But a few progressive New Orleanians tracked down the sponsor of Brees’s video and accused Brees of sharing the anti-LGBTQ animus of Focus on the Family. Reporters asked Brees if he really was as anti-LGBTQ as FoF and he backed up faster than a [insert football-related sports analogy here.]

As Brees put it,

[My school-Bible video] was not promoting any group, certainly not promoting any group that is associated with that type of [anti-LGBTQ]] behavior. I know that there are, unfortunately, Christian organizations out there that are involved in that kind of thing, and to me that is totally against what being Christian is all about. Being Christian is love. It’s forgiveness, it’s respecting all, it’s accepting all.

There are a lot of things we could talk about. First, is it cool for kids to bring their Bibles to their secular public schools, hoping to “share God’s love with friends”? Absolutely. Religious kids in public schools are totally free to be as religious as they want, as long as they aren’t disruptive of school procedures.

The only thing that is necessarily “secular” about public schools is the school’s administration itself. Teachers are no longer allowed to preach any religion, nor are they allowed to imply that some religions are better than others. Students, on the other hand, can do whatever they want—pray by the pole, preach during lunch, whatever. As long as the school doesn’t imply its support (like with the famous Kountze cheerleaders), religious kids can religion all they want in public schools. More power to em.

We could also wonder if Drew Brees were still as awesome as we thought. But then we’d remember the time on the Bear Grylls Show that Brees tackled an alligator.

Finally, we’d get down to the really important issue, from the ILYBYGTH point of view. Namely, this episode makes us wonder if Focus on the Family has really lost its base. If FoF no longer can claim the support even of conservative evangelical Christians like Drew Brees, whom can it appeal to? If evangelical celebrities like Brees won’t allow themselves to be associated with FoF, is there any hope for FoF?

If I were an anti-LGBTQ ministry like Focus or Answers In Genesis, I’d be doing some serious soul- (and Bible-) searching.

Why Would a Christian Tell Kids to Cheat?

Usually whenever arch-creationist Ken Ham says something shocking, it is because of the zombie science or harsh anti-LGBTQ animus involved. This time, however, I was shocked to see that Ham seemed to be teaching creationist children to cheat in school.

ken ham gay wedding

Mean-spirited? Sure. But Ham’s recent advice goes even further…

To see why he would do such a thing and to read my take on why Ham’s advice is actually GOOD news for the rest of us, click over to Righting America for my two cents.

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.

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.