Does Trump have any support at evangelical colleges?

I haven’t much time to chat with my colleagues about politics this semester. I mostly go to campus to teach my classes and then return home for meetings and office hours via ZOOM. So I honestly don’t know if any of my colleagues are supporting Trump in November, but I imagine that if there are Trump voters among the faculty the number is small.

I don’t have a good pulse on the student body this year due to COVID-19, but I am sure there is a pro-Trump constituency among the student body.

So what is happening at other Christian colleges? Insider Higher Ed talked with Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & University. She was very diplomatic: “President Trump has taken actions on issues like abortion and religious freedom that are important to Christians…But President Trump’s actions distress many who have deeper faith practices. I think the president’s behavior has made it a hard choice.”

The reporter, Kery Murakami, also spoke with professors at Wheaton College, Union University, Calvin University, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Pepperdine University. Richard Mouw is also mentioned, but his name is misspelled.

Read the entire piece here.

Is encouraging “spiritual revival” the task of a university president? Thoughts on today’s Liberty University press release

Liberty_University_LaHaye_Student_Union_IMG_4121 (1)

Here is the press release:

On Friday, Aug. 21, the Board of Trustees held a special meeting and affirmed both the terms of Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s indefinite leave of absence and Acting President Jerry Prevo’s terms of employment.

The full Board unanimously ratified the directives previously issued by its Executive Committee for Falwell during his paid leave, including the directives that Falwell may not act as President, use any powers of the University president, and may not communicate with employees to manage, direct, or interfere with the operations of the University.  Falwell may be called upon by Prevo for consultation and background information.

The decision to vest all the powers of the University president in Prevo during Falwell’s indefinite leave of absence and approved the Acting President’s salary and benefits. Board members asked Prevo to use his time of Christian leadership to reset the spiritual focus and emphasis at the University and expressed support for the spiritual revival plans Prevo announced.

The decision whether or not to retain Falwell as President has not yet been made, and the Board requested prayer and patience as they seek the Lord’s will and also seek additional information for assessment.  The University and its Board members have decided to not publicly comment on the various rumors and claims about Falwell at this time.  Instead, the Board intends to use this time of leave to look into them as part of the process of determining what is in the best interest of Liberty University.  The Board and its Executive Committee contemplate this being a careful and deliberative process, but one that will yield a result that honors God and is befitting one of the largest Christian universities in the world.

The Executive Committee asked Falwell to go on an indefinite leave of absence on Aug. 7, to which he agreed.  While the full Board had previously been briefed by the Executive Committee on its actions, Friday was the first opportunity for a formal Board meeting to be held where business could be conducted.   The next scheduled Board meeting is Oct. 30.

The Board has “asked Prevo to use his time of Christian leadership to reset the spiritual focus and emphasis at the University and expressed support for the spiritual revival plans Prevo announced.” What does this mean? Is it possible to “announce” a spiritual revival?

The spiritual climate of a Christian college campus is always important. Jerry Falwell Jr. once said he plays no role in this dimension of Liberty campus life. But is encouraging “spiritual revival” the task of a university president?

Falwell Jr. was most concerned about building the sports program and using his platform to promote Donald Trump. Prevo wants to foster a “spiritual revival.” Neither of these Liberty University presidents seem to be concerned about building a strong and thriving academic institution.

Can Liberty University really be a place of spiritual revival when their most vocal spokespersons engage in gutter politics from their seats as Falkirk Center “fellows?”

If a spiritual revival leads to more Christian Trumpism, is it really a spiritual revival? Or is it something else?

What is Going On At Bryan College?

Byran University

The latest in our “what is going on at…” series focuses on Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. Bryan is an evangelical (fundamentalist?) Christian college named after William Jennings Bryan and located in the same town where he attempted to defend creationism at the famous Scopes Trial.  

I have actually been to Bryan College.  In 2008 I was doing a week-long Gilder Lehrman Institute seminar in Bledsoe County, Tennessee and drove over the mountain to Dayton on an afternoon off from teaching.  I toured the courthouse where the Scopes Trial took place and then drove through Bryan’s campus.

I am guessing that the Bryan campus is a lot less peaceful these days than it was on that warm summer afternoon in 2008.  According to a large group of student protesters, it appears that the Bryan administration has been clamping down on faculty who do not hold to a strict creationist view of human origins.  Here is a taste of an article from the Chattanooga Times-Free Press describing the student protest:

Dozens of students tied strips of black fabric to their arms to highlight the sadness on campus.
And at a morning chapel service, the last of the year, students stood up to announce their discontent and that Monday would be a day for students to speak out.
The student response came after weeks of controversy sparked by a February change to the school’s long-held statement of belief that embraced a more narrow view of creation. But issues on campus, professors and students say, go much deeper.
Many are upset over the secrecy and urgency that surrounded the clarification, leaving some professors little time to find other jobs if they couldn’t sign the revised statement. And many say the campus has been defined by distrust and division for weeks.
Some of you may recall that a couple weeks ago we reported on similar student unrest at Cedarville University in Ohio.  Like Bryan, the problems there also seem to be related to a powerful president who is trying to move the university away from mainstream evangelicalism and toward a more restrictive brand of fundamentalism.
As I read about what is going on at Bryan and Cedarville I can’t help but wonder what this says about the generational divide between college-age evangelicals and the more conservative baby boomer (or older Gen X?) evangelicals who are running some of these Christian colleges. Evangelical young people seem to be rejecting the strong-handed approach to leadership that has long been a hallmark of fundamentalist and some evangelical institutions.  As administrators at places like Bryan and Cedarville tow the fundamentalist line on issues such as gender, inerrancy and creation science, their students seem to be moving in another direction.  
I am a historian.  I am not in the business of making predictions.  But it would not surprise me if many young evangelicals start to vote with their feet and seek a college education at schools bounded by a more generous and open Christianity that celebrates the theological, social, and political differences that exist in the larger evangelical community.
Or perhaps, as my friend Kurt Peterson has noted, places like Bryan and Cedarville ARE the evangelical mainstream.