November 16, 2011- Issue 9 Backpage

College Identity Manifesto (pt. 1)

By JONATHAN BALMER
Back-page Editor/ Long-winded fool.
 
 

In my mind race questions I now realized I left un-vocalized and unanswered for too long for fear of controversy. What does our status as a “Christian college” mean and what should the future of our college entail? To aide me, I reference two Christian historians and scholars. The first: George Marsden who wrote “The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship” in 1997. Marsden claimed Christian academics do not explore their faith in scholarship because “our dominant academic culture trains scholars to keep quiet about their faith as the price of full acceptance in that community.” What a shame! As I have heard it said, “Wherever the cross is planted the academy follows.” From Thomas Aquinas to modern scientists such as Francis Collins, Christianity carries a rich intellectual history. On the flip-side, historian and evangelical Christian Mark Noll, in 1995, wrote a book entitled “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” Noll serves a scathing attack on anti-intellectualism far too pervasive in evangelical circles. As an evangelical myself, this is painful medicine. Noll asserts bitingly: “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” We would do well to avoid any such scandal— “evangelical” or not. So how do we powerfully support the “outrageous idea of christian scholarship” while escaping the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind?” Let us examine various “types” of Christian colleges and decide where our bets are best placed for the future.

The continuum: while Georgetown College keeps a list of its own “benchmark” institutions of similarly- sized liberal-arts institutions, in this list I often reference larger, private, religious and formerly religious universities aiming for more visible examples of each “type” of school.

1) Bible Boot-Camps Examples: Liberty University, Bob Jones University

Watching R-rated movies, cursing and sitting in rooms of opposite sex students will lead a swat-team of RAs to your door at these colleges. These schools require strict signed creedal and behavior contracts from students. Convocation is held three days a week at Liberty and at least four days a week at Bob Jones. For perspective, compared to Bob Jones, Liberty is a moderate school. BJU did not allow interracial dating until 2000 though it has since apologized for its former policy. Both Liberty and Bob Jones teach Young-Earth Creationism (though BJU has scored highly in robotics competitions and its students scored in the top 25 percent on the MCAT in the past decade). If fundamentalist robots attack you only have yourself to blame for underestimating them. (Cylons from “Battlestar Galactica,” anyone?)

2) Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) Examples: Cedarville, Carson Newman, Campbellsville, Wheaton College

Members of the CCCU are accredited institutions required to, among other standards, “hire as full-time  faculty … only persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ” (and unlike GC’s broader range of Christian faculty, many only hire only Protestants). While not “Bible Boot Camps” by any means, most CCCU schools have mandatory chapel services multiple times a week and some require signed student conduct agreements which may prohibit such activities as gambling and drinking even while off campus.

Some students at CCCU schools even hold “root beer keggers” celebrating this shared communal standard and parodying some aspects of mainstream university social life. It is safe to say the students attending CCCU students are (mostly evangelical) Christians. With an environment markedly different from GC, if any students are not Christians, their parents and peers probably do not know about it. Academically, Wheaton, sometimes called the “Harvard of the Evangelical World,” is highly ranked (on Forbes’ list #66 overall and #59 in private colleges. Georgetown jumped 80 positions to #300 this year).Oh… and one of their alumni is a music composer whom wrote for the Halo video-game series. Mark Noll, whom I referenced earlier, both taught at and graduated from Wheaton (he now holds professorship Notre Dame).

2.5)Non-CCCU Christian Colleges Examples: Baylor University (and perhaps Georgetown College, with some adjustments).

Baylor, a mid-sized school of 15,000, is a nationally-recognized,  tier one, Christian institution in Waco, Texas, which only hires faculty members from Judeo-Christian faiths. The college believes “the recognition of a student organization represents University endorsement and approval of the goals and purposes of that organization as being consistent with and in support of the goals a mission of Baylor University.”

Their mission emphasizes the “value of intellectually informed faith and religiously informed education … an environment that fosters spiritual maturity, strength of character and moral virtue.” The university does not recognize student religious organizations outside the Christian faith nor any organizations specifically promoting a morality which the university itself cannot support.

Unlike GC, Baylor does have a chapel every Monday and Wednesday but its requirements for attendance vary (i.e. freshman are required to take a Chapel course attending three out of four meetings, upperclassman requirements are lesser).

3) Semi-secularized universities Examples: Notre Dame, Georgetown University.

Both of these universities happen to be Catholic Universities who underwent some secularization in the 1960s. Both attract great prestige and acclaim.

Although Catholic, one is more apt to recognize the fame of Notre Dame’s football program before remembering its Catholic identity. Faculty members are not required to follow any sort of Christian faith but merely to “respect” the college’s heritage (at the same time, there are a good number of stunning Christian scholars including George Marsden and Alvin Platinga who have found an academic home at Notre Dame).

Notre Dame does not recognize pro-choice student groups and has denied all atheist and agnostic groups applying for recognition. The college does, however, officially recognize Muslim and Jewish student groups. Why the double standard? Clearly Notre Dame’s selective secularization causes tension.

The college attempts to keep its moral standards while allowing different religious organizations’ official recognition. Why shouldn’t atheists or pro-choice activists expect the same privileges Muslims and Jews are given? Selective secularization is a poor compromise because it causes the college to appear arbitrary when it does seek to keep part of its religiously influenced convictions. I do not mean to assert the slippery- slope fallacy (because if one person starts using a slippery slope argument then EVERYONE will!) but it is hard to keep an institution’s identity intact with unclear policies such as these

4) Ivy League

These universities’ academic reputations precede them. I include the Ivies because they began as decidedly religious centuries ago. To generalize and caricaturize (somewhat), their current attitude concerning religion is: “LOL, religion? Oh. Maybe if you’re a Buddhist or some sort of ‘non dogmatic’ faith….” The rest of the details you may fill in through Hollywood’s depictions of these schools like those found in “The Social Network.”

Having examined these different sorts of religious and formerly religious colleges, I believe the best place for our college to promote Christian scholarship in our current environment is at the “2.5” range, perhaps not unlike Baylor University —with some adjustments (i.e. dropping mandatory chapel and adding a requirement for an all-Christian faculty, without exception).

Allow me to clear up three possible misconceptions and then propose three principles for the future as I close an exploration of what the best Christian College Georgetown can be might look like.

A) There is no such thing as an all-affirming community. Every community has standards for its members without exception. Can you imagine a Planned Parenthood board member who preached against birth control or an NRA trustee who preached at every meeting about the necessity of strict gun-control laws? The organization would not tolerate this for long until they “politely request the resignation” of that leader. Having standards is not a fault but a feature of any organization. It is not necessarily the beliefs a community supports which make it oppressive or welcoming but the way a community treats those “on the outside.”

B) Firm convictions do not necessarily make one dangerous. Just because one’s beliefs are somewhat secularized or “moderately religious” they are not inherently safer or more beneficial than being “distinctly religious.” It all depends on what values one holds (rather than the intensity of them). When did you last hear of an Amish terrorist? You don’t hear about Amish terrorists because they hold “non-violence” as one of their extreme religious views. So our college too may have “loving our neighbor” as a disposition we take to the extreme while remaining committed to our faith and morals (even if, unlike the Amish, we use electricity).

C) Obsessing over or idolizing diversity alone breeds an unhealthy sort of conformity. George Will, in his recent op-ed “Forced conformity in the name of diversity,” points out a trend represented in the specific case of Vanderbilt University which has decided to force student organizations, including Christian organizations, to adapt its “non-discrimination” policies promoting “diversity of thought and opinion.” What is wrong with that? These rules even go to the point of prohibiting religious requirements in all student organizations meaning Christian student groups are unable to insist the leadership of a their organization must be, in fact, Christian. Institutions which view diversity as the sole good insist all must conform to their standards promoting diversity. Even supposed “universal affirmation” may coerce the student body to hold the same nebulous “accepting” moral standards as the college And universal conformity of the student body should not be what Georgetown College seeks.

Instead, hospitality should mark our vision. An attitude of hospitality allows us to maintain our convictions and bestow healthy respect unto those who disagree. President Crouch said it rightly in his “Vision for Georgetown College,” “The balance is to be firmly in Christ without throwing stones at those who see issues differently.” How is this possible? Next week, I will list three principles which I believe may light our path.
Disclaimer: The contents of The Back Page reflect the opinions of its editor solely. This article is part of a two-week opinion series concerning our collegiate identity. Please read The Georgetonian’s own Dynamic Duo’s explanation of our financial situation on the front page.

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