I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

You may still be on summer break, but here at ILYBYGTH International we are back to school. And that means back to reading headlines and crying in our coffee. Here are some of the stories that upset us this week:

“The Lynching Industry:” W.E.B. DuBois’s 1916 account of a lynching, at Slate.

lynching crowd

The ugly historic truth…

The Maryland mess: Big-time-sporting unto death, at IHE.

Free college tuition? Or 2020 election scam? At Chalkbeat.

Americans aren’t the only ones who don’t know their history. Almost half of Russians are not aware of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, at the Guardian.

“This will go down in your permanent record:” Florida’s new hyper-surveillance of students, at Curmudgucation.

Suddenly, the same-sex rules matter at an Indiana Catholic school, at FA.

Colorado’s no-gay-wedding baker back in the courts, at RNS.

Banning Alex Jones: Steve Coll at the New Yorker.

It’s not that white evangelicals are supporting Trump in spite of their religion. Some Trumpists are making Trump their religion, says Alex Wager at the Atlantic.

Trumpism proposes a system of worship formed in direct opposition to bourgeois moral logic, with values that are anti-intellectual and anti–politically correct. If mainline Protestantism is a bastion of the educated, upper-middle class, the Church of Trump is a gathering place for its castoffs.

Higher education on the ropes this week:

Conservative Master’s University is in danger of losing its accreditation, at The Signal.

Evangelical journalists blast evangelical university’s censorship, at World Magazine.

Test score fever: Larry Cuban tells a 1970s tale of test nuttiness.

Wowzers: Teaching a flat earth, at FA.

Canadian evangelical university scraps its mandatory student rules, at CT.

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Are Christian Colleges No Longer Possible?

The dream has been the same for a hundred years. Is a recent move by Trinity Western University a sign of changing times? Must more-conservative evangelical colleges and universities choose between their two most cherished purposes?

twu_primary-logo_cmyk_0

Christian sexuality? Or Christian lawyers?

Here’s what we know: According to Christianity Today and Inside Higher Education, TWU has elected to drop its mandatory “community covenant” for students. The Canadian Supreme Court had blocked TWU’s efforts to establish a law school, based on the discriminatory anti-LGBTQ covenant. In short, in order to open an evangelical law school, TWU has eliminated its core lifestyle rules for students.

What’s the big deal?

As I argue in my book about the history of evangelical higher ed, schools like TWU have always promised to do two things at once. As a special sort of religious school, they promised to shepherd and guide the faith of their students in specific directions. At the same time, though, they have insisted that their graduates would be perfectly prepared to enter the professions. Going to a “Christian” school, in other words, wasn’t supposed to be a retreat from the world, just a better, particularly evangelical preparation to thrive in that world.

As Bob Jones—one of the most famous evangelical college leaders of the twentieth century—put it in 1929,

It is our plan to train and educate strong, outstanding Christian leaders.  This is what America needs—lawyers, doctors, business man, teachers, preachers, all strong leaders.

Evangelical colleges have always promised both halves of this equation. Students would receive top-notch professional training as well as relentless Christian guidance.

In its recent decision, TWU seems to have had to choose between preparing evangelical lawyers and insisting on its conservative definition of evangelical lifestyles. TWU will no longer force students to agree to its many rules, including the legally problematic ban on sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage.

Previously TWU students had to “affirm” the following statement:

sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman, and within that marriage bond it is God’s intention that it be enjoyed as a means for marital intimacy and procreation.

From now on, students will apparently no longer be bound by the rules of TWU’s covenant. But they will be free to become lawyers. [Insert gratuitous Jonah Hill gag here, at :52 in the clip below.]

For the most conservative sorts of evangelical colleges, does this mean the end? Must they choose between their two goals?

Required Reading: Who’s Afraid of Evolution?

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.  I started this blog when I discovered many of my secular, liberal friends and family shared my ignorance about the complexities of life in Fundamentalist America.  One academic acquaintance once asked me regarding young-earth creationists, “What’s wrong with these people?”  She didn’t mean to be patronizing, but she dismissed a huge group of Americans with one sarcastic comment.

As we’ve noted here before, American creationists embrace a wide variety of beliefs.  Calling oneself a “creationist” doesn’t necessarily mean one believes in a six-thousand-year-old planet, or a literal six-day creation.  But it might.

Venema. Image source: Trinity Western University

Dennis Venema of Trinity Western University recently shared some of his experiences teaching evolution at an evangelical Protestant university.  Writing on The BioLogos Forum, Venema discusses the thrill he experiences when he shares his evidence for evolution with his evangelical students.  As he describes, some of his students resist accepting the evidence.  Even when they do recognize the power of chromosomal similarities, students still reach individual conclusions about how this science impacts their faiths.

Venema’s reflections demonstrate the complexities of creationism within the borders of Fundamentalist America.  We outsiders must be careful not to lapse too glibly into a simple evolution/creation binary.

As Venema relates,

“For me personally, the most difficult circumstances to watch are students who feel torn between the evidence and their faith. In some cases these are extremely bright students, who easily see the strength of the evidence, but feel the need to remain unengaged and uncommitted because they fear a backlash from their churches, or (especially) their parents.  While an evangelical university can be a wonderful, safe environment for students to explore these issues, that environment doesn’t follow them home. These struggles are painful to watch, and I’ve spent more than a few hours in prayer for students facing them.”

This experience is different at an evangelical university than it would likely be at a mainstream school.  For starters, the assumptions about students’ home lives would not be the same.  No matter how caring and sympathetic a professor might be at a mainstream college, he or she would not likely assume that evolution would cause such struggles for his or her students.

Students who learn about evolution at my institution, for example, would do so under the auspices of David Sloan Wilson’s EVoS program.  This is a wonderful and powerful academic experience for undergraduates.  But the students in the program generally assume that anyone who does not embrace the science of evolution is trapped somehow in a bizarre and archaic subculture.  My chat about the intellectual culture of creationism with a group of bright and talented students in the EVoS demonstrated the intense secular bias of the program.  (You can listen to a podcast of that conversation here.)

As Venema continues, at an evangelical college, the situation is vastly different.  Many students come from churches and families in which the word “evolution” has long been associated with every sort of rank sin.  At Venema’s school, for instance,

“evolution matters. That intensity of student engagement is invigorating, and the students feel it too. Regardless of where students ultimately decide to “land” on the issue, many report that they enjoyed the process – the exchange of ideas, the discussions and debates, and the new understandings gained.”

So who’s afraid of evolution?  Many of my secular friends and family would likely assume that students at evangelical colleges are taught simply to hate and fear the truths of modern science.  As Venema shares, the real experience is a much more complicated thing.