I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another busy week: Here are some ILYBYGTH-themed stories that came across our desk recently:

Can a creationist parent successfully sue a school district for teaching evolution? Not in PA, at NCSE.

READING

Words, words, words…

Are international students a higher-ed security threat? FBI director says yes, at IHE.

Conservative college professor to conservative UCLA students: Don’t invite Milo, at WS.

“Any reasonable person will agree…” At HXA, Musa Al-Gharbi points out that reasonable people are actually better at disagreeing, with three suggestions for better cross-culture-war communication.

How Protestantism shaped the modern world: An interview with Alec Ryrie at R&P.

Was this the most gruesome battle in human history?

RIP Billy Graham, at CNN.

What’s wrong with Black History Month? At The Progressive.

School shootings:

Ted Cruz: The Democrats are the party of Lisa Simpson. GOP is for Homer, Marge, Bart, and Maggie. At USA Today, HT: BM.

What’s wrong with standardizing student assessment at colleges? Molly Worthen tees off at NYT.Bart reading bible

West Virginia teachers go on strike, at CNN.

How Liberalism Failed: Albert Mohler interviews Patrick Deneen.

Conservatives need to confront campus radicalism, by Noah Rothman at Commentary.

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A Socialist in the Liberty Lion’s Den

Ronald Reagan. Mitt Romney. Ted Cruz. Jeb Bush. ….Bernie Sanders?

For decades, Liberty University has played host to leading conservative politicians. From Reagan to Romney, (Jeb) Bush to Cruz, presidential hopefuls have visited the campus to make speeches about Jesus and American greatness. So it’s no surprise that a leading presidential candidate will make a speech at next month’s convocation. But hold on to your fair-trade coffee: This year the presidential hopeful on the Liberty docket will be none other than Bernie Sanders. Why would this self-proclaimed non-religious socialist rabble-rouser from the hippie hills of Vermont want to journey to the unofficial headquarters of fundamentalist politics? Why would Liberty want to include him?

Could he grab some votes?

Could he grab some votes?

First of all, let me admit that this is old news. I’ve been on vacation recently and I’m just now catching up on all the latest culture-war headlines. A few weeks ago, Liberty published its schedule for its fall convocation. Along with predictable right-wing notables such as Texas’s Louis Gohmert and presidential hopeful Ben Carson, Liberty will welcome Senator Sanders.

As the SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, I’m up to my eyeballs in research for my new book about the history of evangelical/fundamentalist higher education. Liberty was a latecomer to that story, but it soon became a 500-pound gorilla in the world of Christian higher education. Thanks to its huge and lucrative online program, Liberty can claim enormous cash reserves. It has used that money to build big sports programs, big libraries, and big convocation rosters.

Yet in spite of all its parvenu riches, Liberty has struggled to overcome its image as a fundamentalist madrassah. When Ted Cruz made a speech on campus a few months back, outsiders like me gasped that Liberty’s students were forced to attend. The school, journalists exclaimed, still imposed rigid lifestyle requirements on its students. The school, some writers implied, was trapped in the past.

Perhaps the invite to Bernie Sanders resulted from an ambition to overcome this provincial reputation. As current president Jerry Falwell Jr. told the Washington Post, his school is only doing what great universities do. Liberty, Falwell said, is taking up the mantle of true higher education. As he put it,

A university is supposed to be a place where all ideas are discussed. . . . That’s what we’re doing.

But what’s in it for Senator Sanders? In a statement, he explained that he hoped to pull a Pope Francis at the conservative campus.

It goes without saying that my views on many issues — women’s rights, gay rights, education and many other issues — are very different from the opinions of some in the Liberty University community. I think it is important, however, to see if we can reach consensus regarding the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in our country, about the collapse of the middle class, about the high level of childhood poverty, about climate change and other issues.

Before we pooh-pooh Sanders’s dreams, let’s remember that today’s Liberty University is much different from the rigidly political campus of the 1980s. Back in Jerry Falwell (Sr.)’s heyday, the school was a proud incubator of right-wing politics. These days, as faculty member Karen Swallow Prior has argued, there is much more cultural wiggle room for students.

The dress code has been lifted. There has even (briefly) been a College Democrats club.

This leaves us with a few tough questions to consider:

  • Is it possible? Can Liberty University transform itself from a southern fundamentalist college to a Great American University?
  • And, could Senator Sanders convince any Liberty students that they are part of a progressive alliance, part of a left-leaning movement that has excited the base of the Democratic Party?

GOP Race Kicks Off…at Fundamentalist U

…and they’re off! Senator Ted Cruz of Texas plans to announce his formal candidacy for president today, according to the Houston Chronicle. And he’s making the announcement at Liberty University.

Why Liberty? As the Sophisticated and Good-Looking Regular Readers of ILYBYGTH (SAGLRROILYBYGTH) are well aware, I’m working on a history of fundamentalist higher education. These schools–places like Liberty, along with more liberal cousins such as Wheaton College and Biola University, and more conservative ones such as Bob Jones University—are central institutions of American conservatism.

Cruz at Fundamentalist U

Cruz at Fundamentalist U

Not only do they represent conservative evangelical belief, but also a vaguer (and politically powerful) sense of cultural traditionalism. The campuses of Wheaton, Liberty, and Bob Jones are not just in-your-face religious environments, but also places where you wouldn’t see until recently a man with long hair or a woman with a short skirt.

Not only that, but college campuses also represent cutting-edge learning. Fundamentalist and evangelical colleges are not only religious, not only conservative, but also forward-looking places. By hosting scholarship and teaching, evangelical schools represent the future.

For all these reasons, at least since Reagan, GOP candidates have made it a point to campaign at these campuses. As CNN noted this morning, everyone from Romney to McCain, Rick Perry to Michele Bachmann has put in an appearance.

It makes sense. And it leads us to an interesting question: If you planned to run for president, where would YOU make your announcement? I have an idea of what I’d do.

Are Conservatives Secretly Racist?

No matter how much they may deny it, conservative intellectuals and activists these days are often accused of being secretly racist.  Influential African American conservatives such as Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, and Ben Carson are accused of being suckers and “Uncle Toms.”  As an article in the New York Times argues, perhaps the racial strife in Ferguson, Missouri will give conservatives a chance to prove their anti-racist claims.

Is this the "conservative" side? ...

Is this the “conservative” side? …

As I argue in my upcoming book, racial thinking among white conservatives as a whole has changed dramatically over the course of the twentieth century.  In the 1920s, school battles did not pit conservatives as the “racist” side against “anti-racist” progressives.  Indeed, in fights about evolution in the 1920s, mainstream scientists such as Henry Fairfield Osborn often supported the white-supremacist notions of writers such as Madison Grant.  White conservatives in the 1920s were mostly guilty of what we would call racism, but then again, so were white non-conservatives back then.

By the 1950s, mainstream conservatives had changed their thinking on racial issues dramatically.  First of all, the tumult over school desegregation led some conservative intellectuals such as William F. Buckley Jr. to support “states’ rights” over racial desegregation.  And in the massively resisting South, white resistance to desegregation often became coupled with a conservative anti-communism.

But outside the South, white conservatives often tried to insist that their opposition to school desegregation was not due to racism.  In Pasadena, for example, a progressive superintendent’s plan to desegregate the district met with ferocious opposition from conservatives.  But those conservatives insisted that they were not racist.  They insisted that their opposition to desegregation did not mean that they thought non-whites were inferior.

...Or is THIS the "conservative" side?

…Or is THIS the “conservative” side?

Similarly, in the school controversy that engulfed Kanawha County, West Virginia in 1974, white conservative activists insisted that they were not racist.  They opposed new textbooks that included passages from racial firebrands such as Eldridge Cleaver and George Jackson.  But, as conservative leader Elmer Fike put it,

The protesters do not object to authors because they are black, but they do believe convicted criminals and revolutionaries like Eldridge Cleaver should not be recognized.

Since then, mainstream white conservatives have worked hard to prove that their conservatism does not make them racist.  Does this new racial firestorm in Missouri give them a new chance to prove their sincerity?

In a recent article in the New York Times, journalist Jeremy W. Peters suggests it might.  Peters cites the nervousness of conservative leaders such as Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Erick Erickson.  All three conservatives, Peters notes, have spoken out against the massively militarized police response to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.  Peters says that this sort of conservatism marks a shift.  Since the late 1960s, conservatives have traditionally been the side of law and order.  These days, Peters wonders, conservatism might find itself embracing instead a renewed emphasis on limiting the power of government.  What conservative, Senator Paul might ask, wants to see a militarized police force bearing down on protesting citizens?

But the Missouri conflagration suggests another important question as well.  If conservatives really are the anti-racists many of them claim to be, this Ferguson situation might offer white conservatives a chance to side with African American conservatives as a united anti-racist conservative voice.  Legitimate protests against overweening government power could certainly rally conservative support, white and black.

And if conservative activists want to prove that they are not secretly racist, what better way to do so than to side with the protesting citizens of Ferguson, Missouri?

 

Cruz at Liberty: Freedom under Attack

Senator Ted Cruz told the commencement crowd at Liberty University that they were in danger. Unless they remained willing to sacrifice for their faith, unless the Liberty community remained willing to get active in politics, the religious liberties of the United States could be crushed under the heel of a metastasizing federal government.  Unlike some typical graduation speakers, he hoped the career path of his audience would include some time in prison.

In some ways, Cruz’s commencement address sounded very similar to such addresses at colleges all across the nation and all across the political and religious spectrum. In spite of the fact that Senator Cruz has earned a reputation of one of the staunchest and most outspoken religious conservatives in national office, his speech often seemed mere boilerplate graduation fare: he told the crowd they were all inspirational; he told a few mildly humorous anecdotes; he allowed himself to notice how very famous he was; and he exhorted the crowd to get on out there and change the world.

But in the context of Liberty University, founded in 1970 by fundamentalist leader Jerry Falwell, Cruz also included more ideologically charged material. He reviewed the conservative vision of the nature of the United States. Throughout United States history, Cruz insisted, we see nothing more starkly evident than the fact that “Faith and freedom are intertwined.”

The United States had weathered storms, Cruz said, but he warned ominously, “religious liberty . . . has never been more imperiled than it is right now.”

Cases such as the Hobby Lobby suit or that of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Cruz told the Liberty audience, demonstrate the dangers to religious freedom. These cases are not about contraception, Cruz warned. If religious people can be forced to go against their beliefs to satisfy the demands of big government, Cruz warned, then the generations of sacrifice by Godly Americans will have been for naught.

The folks at Liberty had a chance to change things, Cruz concluded. If they were brave enough to remember that they were “called to action as believers,” Liberty grads could “change the world.” But they had to be willing to suffer for it, to sacrifice for it. Like The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cruz told his Liberty audience, Christians need to be willing to go to jail to promote their beliefs.

“How many of us,” Cruz asked, “have been to prison for Christ?”

 

Year-End Quiz: Do You Speak Conservative?

It’s the end-of-the-year rush for every sort of retrospective.  Can you take the ILYBYGTH challenge?

Thanks to the folks at the Texas Freedom Network Insider, we have several lists of the most contumacious quotes from America’s conservative punditry.  One list describes the year in creationist/no-climate-change quotations, one from the anti-Islam contingent, and one from the continuing “War on Christmas” campaign.

Here’s the idea: The Insider compiled these quotes as a demonstration of the intellectual outrageousness of contemporary conservatism.  Here at ILYBYGTH, we have a different goal: Can we understand what these conservatives meant?  Can we see the point each speaker hoped to make?  Of course, we know that some quotations are just plain dumb.  This is not only true for conservatives, of course.  Every sort of political blabbermouth can say stupid stuff.  But in some cases, it seems that the quips that seem the most outrageous to liberal secular folks like me actually represent a coherent, compelling conservative worldview.

If you call yourself a conservative, can you explain these quotations in terms that might seem less outrageous to non-conservatives?

Or, if you think of yourself as non-conservative, can you try to put yourself deep enough into the conservative mindset to understand what each speaker was getting at?

So put down the pumpkin pie, stop donning your gay apparel, and try the quiz!

Quote #1: Pat Robertson on the definition of Islam:

I hardly think to call it a religion, it’s more of — well, it’s an economic and political system with a religious veneer.

Quote #2: Rafael Cruz, father of obstreperous Tea-Party favorite Ted Cruz, on the connection between evolution and communism:

You know most Americans have their head in the sand about evolution. I’ve met so many Christians that tell me ‘well, evolution is a scientific fact.’ Baloney! I am a scientist, there is nothing scientific about evolution. But you know something, Karl Marx said it, ‘I can use the teachings of Darwin to promote communism.’ Why? Because communism, or call it socialism if you think communism is too hard a word, necessitates for government to be your god and for government to be your god they need to destroy the concept of God. That’s why communism and evolution go hand in hand. Evolution is one of the strongest tools of Marxism because if they can convince you that you came from a monkey, it’s much easier to convince you that God does not exist.

Quote #3: Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, complaining about efforts to imply that Santa was not white:

Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?

How bout it?  Can you beat this year-end quiz?  What did these conservatives mean?  For folks like me, can you do the mental gymnastics to put yourself into a world in which these statements make sense?  Be sure to check out the fuller lists at the Texas Freedom Network Insider.

Happy 2013 and best wishes as we slide into 2014!