What is at stake for religious liberty in the latest SCOTUS decision?

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Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled on three cases: Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Altitude Express v. Zarda, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The court held that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In a previous post, I discussed what this ruling means politically, especially for the agenda of the Christian Right and their faith in Donald Trump. In this post, I want to discuss what it means for religious liberty in the United States.

Rather than pontificate, I want to simply call your attention to a few statements that reflect my views. First, here is a statement from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU):

Today, the Supreme Court issued a decision that extends federal protections to LGBT employees. At the CCCU, this is a decision that we have long recognized was possible, and is why we have been public supporters of legislation that would proactively balance the rights of religious communities and LGBT Americans. We believe it is essential that any protections for LGBT persons be paired with the essential religious freedoms that maximize freedom for all. Today’s ruling gives LGBT Americans more employment security, but it leaves important questions unanswered for religious employers. We call on Congress to address these uncertainties through legislation that makes explicit the religious protections important to a rich and vibrant civil society. We look forward to playing an important role in these vital conversations on behalf of our institutions and their First Amendment rights, and will continue to pursue strategies that protect the Christ-centered mission of our institutions and preserve and strengthen Christian higher education for the future.

At this point, I am not sure what this Supreme Court decision means for “Fairness for All.” In her piece at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey quotes University of Virginia Law School professor Douglas Laycock: “This will end all legislative bargaining over religious liberty in the gay-rights context…There is no longer a deal to be had in which Congress passes a gay-rights law with religious exemptions; the religious side has nothing to offer.”

And here is the National Association of Evangelicals:

The Supreme Court’s decision in three Title VII cases today redefines the word “sex” in a longstanding civil rights law. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that employers are legally prohibited from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in their hiring and other terms and conditions of employment. The decision provides significant protections for LGBT people, but leaves unanswered how the right for people and organizations to exercise their religion — to live according to their deeply held convictions — will be safeguarded.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. When Congress included the word “sex” in Title VII, Americans thought their representatives were creating a level playing field for women in the workplace. These recent cases before the Supreme Court argued that, whatever members of Congress were thinking back in 1964, the law they passed also covers employment decisions based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In doing so, the Supreme Court created a law that Congress has repeatedly considered since the 1990s and declined to adopt.

By reading into a venerable civil rights law newly discovered protected classes, the Supreme Court has teed up years of social conflict. Judicial decisions by their nature are blunt instruments between two parties that do not allow for nuanced distinctions between types of employers, such as religious employers, and types of employment decisions.

In Title VII, Congress recognized that a blanket application of a nondiscrimination policy based on sex would create a conflict for some churches, religious colleges and other faith-based organizations in which theological convictions mandate differentiated roles. Accordingly, Title VII, as amended in 1972, includes a robust religious employer exemption that allows faith communities to structure their communal life according to their religious beliefs. With the Supreme Court’s expanded definition of sex, this exemption will be more important than ever, as a wider range of employment practices come under legal restrictions.

As a matter of church-state relations, the government should not interfere in the employment decisions of religious employers. The 1972 exemption has enabled all Americans of goodwill to coexist in a spirit of mutual respect. The National Association of Evangelicals is grateful that Justice Gorsuch’s opinion includes a reaffirmation of the ministerial exception, Title VII religious employer exemption, and Religious Freedom Restoration Act protections.

Since questions about religious freedom remain unanswered, the NAE will work in the courts and Congress to safeguard the freedom of religious organizations and individuals to follow their conscience and beliefs. We urge lower courts to respect and uphold this right in cases that come before them in the years ahead. Ultimately Congress should pass legislation that will ground in the act itself — not just a court decision — protection of the rights of all employers and employees to live according to their deepest convictions.

I will try to keep writing on this in the next few days. Stay tuned.

The Challenge of Christian Liberal Arts in This Pandemic and Beyond

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Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota will cut thirty faculty positions this week. Today, at Messiah College, we learned about how the administration will cut seven million dollars from our budget over the course of the next five years. I don’t feel comfortable sharing details, but, as you can imagine, it has been rough. And Bethel and Messiah are not alone.

Over at his blog, The Pietist Schoolman, history professor Chris Gehrz reflects on this reality, and the future of Christian higher education, in the context of Eastertide. Here is a taste of his post, “‘Nothing for your journey’: The Future of Christian Liberal Arts“:

Whether the future takes me far from Bethel, or finds me still walking its hallways, I know I’m being challenged to “take nothing for” my journey. Whether I stay at Bethel or leave that “house of God” for the welcome of another, I need to shake off my dependency on whatever promises predictability, stability, and security and go forth in the name and power of the one to whom we bear witness.

(Big talk. We’ll see if I can live up to it.)

But Bethel and almost all of its religious competitors also need to welcome the same kind of unburdening. As much as Christian individuals, Christian institutions need to take much less for their journeys.

For example, while I’m glad that our students can choose from so many options — not just academic programs, but the extracurriculars and amenities that history conditions us to associate with a college experience, it’s possible that we’ve been so focused on what students want that we’re not giving them what they truly need. (Or making them pay too much for the package.)

But still more importantly, I can’t shake the feeling that preserving the status quo of Christian higher education has required that we linger in houses whose welcome was always conditional or incomplete.

I’ve often argued that the humanities prepare students for gainful employment, but it’s possible that we ought to be less responsive to economic forces that deepen inequality and diminish dignity. I’ve often praised my discipline for cultivating prudent, empathetic citizens, but it’s possible that we need to speak out more strongly against political authorities that abuse their power and neglect their responsibilities.

Most often of all, I’ve rejoiced that Christian scholars like me get to participate in God’s mission as part of the larger Body of Christ, but it’s possible that we need to ask harder questions of Christian denominations and churches whose support has always been tempered by their suspicion of free inquiry and expression.

All that seems impossible right now. How will we draw students if we don’t treat them as customers, or if we antagonize their pastors? How will we attract private donors or public funding if we criticize the wealthy and powerful? It’s much more likely that our educational institutions will make more compromises, not fewer.

And so my greatest fear right now is not that Bethel will close, but that it will try to stay open by drifting further from its core mission as a liberal arts college that bears witness to Jesus Christ: seeking the truth found in him, transforming students in his likeness, and spreading his kingdom.

Read the entire post here.

Shirley Hoogstra of the CCCU Explains Fairness for All

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Last week we introduced readers to the Fairness for All Act.

Over at The Anxious Bench blog, historian Chris Gehrz has published his interview with Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU).  The CCCU is one of the bill’s sponsors.

Here is a taste:

For those who haven’t been following this story until now… What is being proposed in Fairness for All?

For the past three years, the CCCU has been engaged in conversations with a broad coalition of faith and LGBT leaders, two “sides” that have often viewed their protections as being violated by the existence of protections for the other.

The result of this dialogue is a bill called Fairness for All, a balanced legislative approach that preserves religious freedom and addresses LGBT civil rights under federal law.

Fairness for All is centered on two core principles:

  1. Religious persons should not be forced to live, work, or serve their community in ways that violate their sincerely held beliefs.
  2. No American should face violence, harassment, or unjust discrimination, or lose their home or livelihood, simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Fairness for All provides long-term protections for Christian higher education and other faith-based organizations. The proposed legislation ensures that Christian colleges and universities can hire for mission, maintain their accreditation, maintain access to federal student aid, maintain their tax-exempt status, and continue to offer professional licensure — all while remaining true to their religious convictions.

Tell us a bit of the history of FFA: when did the CCCU begin to consider advocating for it? Why did it come back into the spotlight this year?

Over the last decade, Christian colleges and universities — along with adoption agencies, rescue missions, and others — have been at the tip of the spear for religious freedom challenges, many of which have stemmed from the expansion of LGBT civil rights. These challenges make it possible to imagine a future where Christian colleges that maintain a biblical perspective on marriage and sexual ethics lose accreditation, community support, partnerships, and grants, and where their students lose access to student aid, practicums, and professional licensure because of their religious beliefs and practices.

While executive orders and attorney general memos on religious freedom are helpful, they have a possible built-in expiration date— they can simply be undone by a subsequent president. Likewise, while litigation will always remain necessary to overturn clear constitutional violations, the court strategy is limited to the question presented and offers a piecemeal approach to addressing the numerous tension points that have or will arise between government, Christian higher education, and other religious organizations. Further, research by law professors shows that when religious freedom protections are created by legislation, the Supreme Court upholds them almost 100 percent of the time. But when the First Amendment is the only basis, religious freedom wins only 50 percent of the time.

In short, in addition to short-term executive orders and the Constitution itself, legislation adds a long-term, comprehensive, certain, and specific way to secure religious freedom protections for hiring, funding, accreditation, and more for Christian higher education and many other religious organizations and interests.

This spring the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a bill that codifies sweeping LGBT civil rights at the expense of religious freedom. As written, the Equality Act would be devastating for Christian higher education, as it would threaten every Christian college and university’s ability to deliver on its missional promise. The Equality Act would also impact churches, hospitals, relief agencies, and businesses large and small.

We are working with a broad coalition of religious organizations and LGBT organizations who believe it is essential that any protections for LGBT persons be paired with the essential religious freedoms that maximize freedom for all. The way forward is proposed legislation called Fairness for All, which allows the religious and LGBT communities to resolve conflicts in a comprehensive, balanced, and enduring way. This approach represents two groups who have been historically at odds coming together to acknowledge deep differences but also a common desire to lead proactively to solve real problems for the most Americans. And, most importantly, Fairness for All protects our convictions as Christians and recognizes the needs of our LGBT neighbors.

Those committed to civic pluralism in the United States should seriously consider getting behind Fairness for All.

A Morning with Christian College Provosts and Student Life Leaders

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Justin Giboney of the AND Campaign.

I was in St. Petersburg, Florida yesterday with the provosts and student development administrators from schools affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).  I spoke at a session titled “Christian Colleges in the Age of Trump: Challenges and Opportunities.”  Thanks to CCCU Vice President Rick Ostrander for the invitation.

At some point I might post or publish my lecture, but here is a taste:

As Rick mentioned, in June 2018 I published Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In that book I tried to explain why white evangelicals voted in such large numbers for Trump in 2016.  I argue that they preferred Trump for three reasons.  First, they privileged an approach to public life defined by fear over an approach to public life defined by hope.  Second, and somewhat related, they privileged the pursuit of political power as a means of bringing change to American society over an approach to civic engagement characterized by humility.  And third, white evangelicals privileged an unhealthy nostalgia for a Christian golden age that is never coming back, or may have never existed in the first place, over a hard, honest, and difficult look into the past.

I have been spending a lot of time on the road with Believe Me, mostly at independent bookstores and college and university campuses.  When I visit these places, I usually make my case for a few minutes and then sit down to listen to people’s stories. Folks tell me why they think Trump is good for America.  Others talk about the spiritual and emotional wounds they have suffered from Trump-supporters in their churches.  My wife tells me that listening is not one of my strong suits, but as I tried my best to overcome this social deficiency in places like Lynchburg, Virginia, Charleston, West Virginia, Louisville, Kentucky, and Columbus, Ohio, it brought more nuance to some of the arguments I made in the book.  At the same time, my experience with readers in these places and others like them also convinced me that the book’s central message is right.  (Not all reviewers agreed!)

We are now two years into the Trump presidency.  My task this morning is not to revisit my arguments in Believe Me.  Donald Trump is now the President of the United States.  I will focus instead on what Trump’s administration has wrought–and how Christian colleges might respond in the next two years and beyond.

Like any good evangelical jeremiad—I have three points.

First, Donald Trump has exacerbated a longstanding American propensity for conflict and incivility. And Christian colleges are ideally suited to enter the breach.

Second, in the Trump administration truth, evidence, and critical thinking are under attack.  But Christian colleges must be places where these things are central to our missions.

Third, Christian colleges must not neglect the church.

I shared this session with Justin Giboney, a co-founder of the AND Campaign, an organization committed to educating and organizing Christians for civic and cultural engagement that “results in better representation, more just and compassionate policies and a healthier political culture.

Giboney unleashed a jeremiad of his own.  One observer said that he had never seen a standing ovation before at a morning session of chief academic officers! As Thomas Jefferson said about his debate with Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton: The Musical, Giboney “brought the thunder.”

GIboney slammed those evangelicals who claim that the Bible does not teach social justice.  He pointed out that we all believe in social justice, especially when it affects us and our loved ones.  In other words, the problem is not a belief in social justice, but the failure to apply social justice equally.

He challenged Christians to engage public and political life, but to resist making politics “an ultimate thing.” The political Right claims to be about truth.  The political Left claims to be about love.  But the choice between truth and love is never a choice that a Christian should be forced to make.  It is time to “disrupt” the political arena for the sake of a better Gospel witness in the public square.

Giboney added that attempts to be always conservative or always liberal on all issues is “intellectual lazy.”  We cannot be “ideological zombies.”  For Christians, “partisan loyalty” is not “Gospel loyalty.” Christians must always be on the right side of history–“redemptive history.”

Finally, Giboney criticized the “mob mentality” that he sees in American politics today.  Mobs, he argued, always judge people on group identity.  They are successful when they demonize the enemy.  Mobs do not want to reconcile with the other side because they believe the other side will never change.   Mobs must always be judged by clear thinking and reason.

Check out more of Giboney’s work at the AND Campaign.  I would encourage you to invite him to speak on your campus.

As for me, I am back home for a couple days. Then it is a quick visit to Southern California for a lecture at USC before coming back to Messiah College to enjoy our annual Humanities Symposium!

More on “Fairness for All”

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What is “Fairness for All”?  Get up to speed here.

Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron covers a motion championed by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the National Association of Evangelicals that is bound to bring more division to the evangelical community.  I was happy to contribute to Shimron’s reporting.

Here is a taste:

Last week, World Magazine reported that two respected evangelical institutions, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, both quietly adopted a set of principles that call for comprehensive religious freedom protections combined with explicit support for LGBTQ protections in employment, education, housing and adoption, among others.

Neither group is backing down from the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. But the two groups want to work toward federally recognized protections for sexual orientation and gender identity alongside strong religious exemptions.

Specifically, they plan to soon unveil a draft of a bill they are working on with input from legal scholars, theologians and LGBTQ advocates that they say accomplishes those goals. The evangelical groups hope several members of Congress will sponsor the bill, tentatively called “Fairness for All,” in the session that begins Jan. 3.

“Fairness for All says we have to do this together because there are interests on both sides that ought to be protected,” said Stanley Carlson-Thies, director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance and a consultant in discussions about a possible bill.

Read the entire piece here.

A Southern Baptist Theologian Suggests that the CCCU-NAE “Fairness for All” Motion is the Work of Satan

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I am not sure which part of Wayne Grudem‘s theology Midwestern Baptist Seminary professor Owen Strachan admires more:  Grudem’s belief that women should serve as “compliments” to their husbands or his belief that the gift of prophecy is real.  (Side note:  I wrote about Grudem’s views of prophecy here).

In a recent post at Midwestern’s website, it seems like the later.  Strachan disagrees with a decision by the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities and National Association of Evangelicals to propose an legislative initiative that would protect religious liberties alongside liberties for the LGBTQ community.  Read our post here.

Strachan writes with a sense of prophetic urgency.  “Are you paying attention?, he asks his fellow conservative evangelicals.  He adds: “The evangelical movement–and the religious community more generally–seems largely asleep in the face of its peril.”  But Strachan does not just have an honest disagreement with the CCCU and NAE.  He seems to be pretty certain that he is on God’s side and the dozens of Christian colleges in the CCCU and denominations in the NAE are on the side of Satan.  Here is a taste of his piece:

It is remarkable to observe the church’s silence or quiescence on these matters in our time. The evangelical movement seems not to know of the danger it faces in America. We do not wage war against flesh and blood, no, but we cannot miss that the LGBT lobby and its many willing partners seek to target and shut down Christians and Christian institutions who stand against the new sexual orthodoxy. If we are paying attention, we are seeing all sorts of quiet policing taking place on social-media platforms. Vimeo, Twitter, Patreon, Facebook: these and other organizations believe they are advancing justice by silencing those who dissent from mainstream orthodoxy. Free speech is challenged today, but not only at the more identifiable public level (the government). Free speech (and free thought) is increasingly imperiled at the private level, where it is especially difficult to spot and oppose. All this, by the way, is seen as righting the wrongs of the 2016 election, making America a more just society, and bringing gender equity to our body politic. This is, in other words, a system of righteousness, secular righteousness, and it comes by a new law that is ironically shorn of religion but championed with religious fervor.

Let us think for a moment of the broader conflict here. Part of Satan’s strategy is to use any means he can find to shut down the church. Satan’s major target is not the intellectual dark web. Satan’s major target is the body of believers who love and promote the gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected for depraved sinners like us (1 Peter 5:8). In every country on the earth, among every people group there is, Satan wants to do everything he can to destroy access to the gospel, belief in the gospel, and the very people who are claimed by the gospel. He is a waging a massive, multi-front war across every inch of the globe to deny God his rightful glory and to shred the blood-bought people of God. He does this not only by tempting Christians to sin, but by creating public and private structures that limit access to the truth. This world is not a neutral place. It is God’s world, but Satan wants it for his own. So, he works with great cleverness, great subtlety, and great daring to do everything he possibly can to oppose the work of God and the people of God.

We see an example of how to respond to Satan’s stratagems in the apostle Paul’s capture by the Romans (see Acts 22-26). I doubt your average evangelical has heard a solitary syllable about the significance of Paul’s self-defense for matters of conscience and public faith, but it matters greatly for our conversation. Satan will use any government, any body of leadership, he can to shut down the proclamation of the gospel. When he succeeds in his aims, and the state (or any group or leader) acts to quiet the church, what should Christians do? Paul shows us. When the Romans catch him in their net, Paul does not go quietly. He does not say, “Well, the life of the church matters, but the affairs of state don’t rate. I guess it’s prison for me, and then death.” No, Paul appeals to his Roman citizenship (beginning in Acts 22:25). He lives to fight another day. He refuses to accept his easy persecution and silencing. Even in prison, he continues the fight, as Acts shows, and he redeems the extra time his maneuvers buy by writing several epistles of the New Testament. Think about that: if Paul hadn’t made his citizenship appeal, and hadn’t fought his unjust persecution, we would not have the New Testament we have.

Christians in the twenty-first century should learn from Paul. We should not work with the Roman government to hammer out a way we can bow to Caesar, but also bow to Christ. We should follow Christ only. 

Read the entire post here.

I don’t have any other word but “fundamentalism” to describe Strachan’s post.  He is right.  Other Christians are deluded by Satan.  Everything is black and white.

The National Association of Evangelicals and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Adopt a “Fairness for All” Motion

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The National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities have endorsed “Fairness for All,” a legislative initiative to protect religious liberties alongside liberties for the LGBTQ community.  This means that these organizations are endorsing so-called Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) laws, or laws that add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classifications.  The NAE and the CCCU believe that the support of SOGI laws is the best way of protecting religious liberty for their institutions.

Shirley Mullen, the President of Houghton College in upstate New York, authored the NAE motion.  Mullen is a Christian historian with Ph.Ds in History (University of Minnesota) and Philosophy (University of Wales) and a former president of the Conference on Faith and History.

Here is the motion:

Motion

That the National Association of Evangelicals support principles calling on Congress to consider federal legislation:

  • We believe that God created human beings in his image as male or female and that sexual relations be reserved for the marriage of one man and one woman.
  • We support long-standing civil rights laws and First Amendment guarantees that protect free religious
    exercise.
  • No one should face violence, harassment, or unjust discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or
    gender identity.

Background Overview of Fairness for All and Possible Future Legislation (Based on principles)

Written by Shirley Mullen (President of Houghton College and member of NAE board & executive committee)

Cultural Context

While the United States of America was founded on principles that sought to provide both freedom from a potentially coercive established state religion (“separation of church and state”) and freedom for the flourishing of religious activity according to the conscience of individuals (“free exercise” clause) this balanced tension has been difficult to preserve in practice. This framework of pluralism where multiple perspectives on religion — and other matters of worldview — are fostered and legitimized in the public square has been much more difficult to imagine and to realize than either the alternative of a dominant religious tradition or the alternative of secularity.

Though there was no established religion in 18th and 19th century America, the dominant cultural religious tradition— for historical rather than legal reasons — happened to be Protestant Christianity. For a range of reasons, including perceived tensions between science and religion, increased immigration from non-European contexts, the growing politicization of religion around particular ethical issues, this consensus changed in the 20th century. (For a fuller analysis of this transition, see Robert Putnam, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” 2010). Increasingly, religious conviction is considered a matter of private conscience leaving the public arena dominated by the assumptions and the “faith” of secularity.

This cultural shift has, so far at least, left institutional churches protected under the legal tradition of “religious freedom.” It has resulted in the narrowing of the notion of “free exercise” of religion especially as this relates to institutions that carry on non-religiously explicit tasks but are nevertheless motivated by faith and informed by faith. These tasks\ include higher education, in addition to humanitarian organizations, adoption agencies and rescue missions, to mention just a few.

For example, in the past five years alone, Christian colleges and universities have faced challenges from the government to their right to accept state financial aid grants, legal challenges to their right to hire faculty and staff based on considerations of faith, limitations in their opportunities to post jobs in the bulletins of professional organizations or in certain online contexts, opposition to their prerogative to claim exemptions to Title IX legislation in the context of NCAA — and this trend shows every sign of continuing.

Timing

We believe that now is the time to take deliberate action to reclaim the space for religious freedom that was intended in the founding of the United States. While religious freedom is no longer a noncontroversial bipartisan issue as it was in 1993 when Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, there is likely to be more sympathy for protecting religious freedom in a Republican Congress than in a Democratic Congress. The Equality Act, which would undermine the provisions of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and significantly threaten the ability of religious organizations to hire according to their faith convictions, has gained increasing favor each time it has been reintroduced in Congress. It is also heavily funded by a range of lobbying interests.

Strategy

Despite the challenges of passing legislation in today’s partisan environment, we strongly believe that this religious freedom is best secured in a legislative context rather than by executive order or rulings by the attorney general —both of which have expiration dates and can be undone by subsequent presidents and attorneys general. There is strong evidence that the Supreme Court supports religious freedom protections much more readily when these are grounded in specific legislation and not just appeals to the First Amendment.

While there is some legislative support for the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), this support is less than the support for the Equality Act. Since the Hobby Lobby decision in 2014 and especially since the Obergefell decision in 2016, it has been easy for legislation supporting religious freedom to be seen as simply permission to discriminate.

As Christian higher educators, we are increasingly persuaded that the most viable political strategy is for comprehensive religious freedom protections to be combined with explicit support for basic human rights for members of the LGBT community. (These rights include basic legal and human rights related to housing, credit, jury duty and employment — and do not imply affirmation for particular lifestyle or moral choices.)

This proposed legislation known as Fairness for All, in no way argues against FADA, but seeks to offer an additional legislative option — one that we believe can garner bipartisan support.

As you can see from the material provided from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, this proposed legislation seeks to secure basic human rights for the LGBT community at the national level in exchange for strong and perpetual protections for religious freedom. The fact that these basic human rights for the LGBT community are already secured for nearly 60 percent of the country at either the state or local level suggests that the window for this exchange of protections at the national level is narrow There is an opportunity in this moment that is not likely to last.

Critical Need to Support an Expansive Vision of Religious Freedom

While the explicitly religious work of the denominations of the National Association of
Evangelicals is not currently under threat from opponents of religious freedom, the work of the Church in the United States has never been seen as narrowly confined within the walls of church buildings. Churches have been vital to the volunteerism that created and sustained the humanitarian and charitable spirit in this country long before welfare was considered the work of the government. This is the moment when we as the NAE must stand up and affirm those who would advocate for a large vision for religious freedom — one that allows for one’s daily life to be informed by one’s fundamental spiritual and moral convictions, one that allows for religious conviction to be part of legitimate dialogue in the public square, and one that allows our society’s institutions to be seasoned by the motivations and insights of religious perspectives.

The very nature of the Protestant tradition with its many branches means that there is no central focus of authority or legitimacy within evangelicalism. There is no obvious circle of support for the work of Christian higher education in a moment like this when its very core mission is threatened. As one of the associations that seeks to secure the place of evangelical faith in our culture and in our world, it is in the NAE’s interest ultimately to secure the work of our colleges and universities so that they may continue to partner with the work of churches in preparing young men and women to serve as gospel salt and light in our world. 

Evangelical Witness

It is a matter of strategic importance to support the CCCU in their work of securing space for religious freedom in our time. But that may not be the strongest argument for supporting this motion. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to imitate his example of creating hospitable and surprising spaces in the world where the Holy Spirit can be at the work of drawing people to repentance and discipleship. We have often as evangelicals been more associated with judgment than grace-filled hospitality. We believe that Fairness for All legislation offers the best opportunity to create a civic society that secures freedom of conscience for all individuals and space for the grace and power of the gospel to be at work.

You can find this document here.

So far the best reporting on this development comes from D.C. Derrick at World Magazine.

Not all evangelicals are on board with this idea. Back in December 2016, a group of Christian leaders (mostly evangelicals and conservative Catholics, 68 male and 7 female and a small number of people of color) signed a statement opposing the support of SOGI laws.  Some of the signers of that statement included Daniel Akin (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), Ryan T. Anderson (Heritage Foundation), Robert Benne (Roanoke College), Charles Caput (Archbishop of Philadelphia), D.A. Carson (Gospel Coalition), Jim Daly (Focus on the Family), David Dockery (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), Tony Evans (Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship), Robert George (Princeton University), Timothy George (Beeson Divinity School), Franklin Graham (Samaritan’s Purse), David Lyle Jeffry (Baylor University), John MacArthur (Grace Community Church), Eric Metaxas (Christian radio host), Al Mohler (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Russell Moore (Southern Baptist Convention), Paige Patterson (formerly of Southwestern Baptist Seminary), R.R. Reno (First Things), Samuel Rodriguez (National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference) , Justin Taylor (Gospel Coalition), and George Wiegel (Ethics and Public Policy Center), Thomas White (Cedarville University).  According to Derrick, Samuel Rodriguez is the only NAE board member to sign this statement.  Seventeen signers are affiliated with CCCU institutions.

Here is more from Derrick:

Critics argue that any legislation in the mold of Fairness for All would protect explicitly religious entities, such as churches and Christian schools, but not Christians in the secular marketplace—including florists, bakers, and other professionals who have faced litigation and fines under SOGI laws….

We will try to do more coverage of this issue here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

What is Happening (Again) at Taylor University?

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In March we posted on disgruntled conservative employees at the evangelical Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.  Today we learn that a Taylor professor kissed and inappropriately touched a student rape victim who sought his counsel.

Here is a taste of an article at Inside Higher Education:

A professor at Taylor University, who built the evangelical institution’s well-known professional writing program and is renowned in Christian publishing circles, has resigned amid accusations dating back 14 years that he kissed a student without her consent and has inappropriately touched other women.

Taylor officials were told at least three times of Dennis E. Hensley’s alleged misconduct over the 21 years that he worked at the university before they ultimately suspended him. He stepped down the same day, according to a statement the university issued Thursday.

One of his former advisees reported in 2004 that in a closed-door meeting, after she told Hensley that she had been raped just hours before, Hensley hugged her and kissed both her face and mouth while she cried. During this incident and on other occasions, Hensley was confronted and reprimanded, the university said, though it appeared he was never removed from his position. The university announced Thursday it had suspended him after fresh allegations surfaced.

Read the rest here.

I hope this is an isolated case.  Taylor is a great school and a model of Christian higher education.

The Author’s Corner with Adam Laats

9780190665623Adam Laats is a professor of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership at Binghamton University. This interview is based on his new book, Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Fundamentalist U?

AL: Over the years, as I researched the history of conservatism and evangelicalism in American education, I couldn’t help but notice the enormous influence of the network of conservative-evangelical colleges and universities. Back in the 1920s, the parlous state of higher education was one of the first concerns of conservative-evangelical intellectuals and activists. Back then, the linchpin of fundamentalist culture-war strategy was the notion of establishing their own, independent, interdenominational, fundamentalist colleges and universities. I wanted to know how the network of these evangelical institutions developed over the course of the twentieth century.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Fundamentalist U?

AL: Evangelicalism stubbornly resists definition. In order to understand it, we should look at the dynamics of its institutions, not only at the statements of its leaders.

JF: Why do we need to read Fundamentalist U?

AL: Anyone who hopes to understand American evangelicalism should study its institutions, and colleges, seminaries, institutes, and universities have been among the most influential evangelical institutions. Why did “fundamentalists” separate from “evangelicals?” How has creationism evolved? What does it mean to be a good, godly spouse or parent? How can white evangelicals confront the legacy of white Christian racism? These issues roiled evangelicalism throughout the twentieth century, and institutions of higher education were often the stages on which the debates played out.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American historian, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

AL: I fell into it backwards. I taught high-school history and English and became fascinated with the weird ways schools function as social institutions. I wanted to understand schools, so I began studying their history. I’m still hoping to figure it out.

JF: What is your next project?

AL: I’ve moved back in time to the early 1800s. Back then, a British reformer named Joseph Lancaster promised he had found the solution to urban poverty. By implementing his “system,” cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Boston hoped to develop schools that would teach low-income children how to read, write, cipher, and show up on time for work. It didn’t work. I’m trying to figure out why so many prominent leaders, including Governor DeWitt Clinton of New York and philanthropist Roberts [sic] Vaux of Philadelphia believed in what one early historian called Lancaster’s “delusion” of school reform.

JF: Thanks, Adam!

What is Happening at Taylor University?

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Taylor University is an evangelical Christian college in Upland, Indiana.  It is a great school.

According to this piece at Christianity Today, the school appears to have a faction of conservative faculty and staff who believe that it is moving in a “liberal” direction.

These disgruntled employees started an anonymous newspaper titled Excalibur.  The creators of Excalibur–a philosophy professor, a biblical studies professor, the men’s soccer coach, and the university’s marketing director, eventually came clean.

Christen Gall of Christianity Today has it covered.  A taste:

True to its namesake, the controversial newsletter sliced through campus conversation, drawing students and staff to take sides in classroom discussions, op-eds, and official communications since its February 21 release.

Weeks after Taylor president Paul Lowell Haines condemned the anonymous publishers for “sow[ing] discord and distrust, hurting members of our community,” four members of the faculty and staff came forward online as its creators: Jim Spiegel, professor of philosophy and religion; Richard Smith, professor of biblical studies; Gary Ross, men’s soccer coach; and Ben Wehling, marketing director.

They apologized for the uproar, but even their website was pulled due to the controversy.

“The newsletter aimed to fill a growing conservative void” on the Upland, Indiana, campus, Spiegel explained in an email to CT.

Organizers came up with the idea in the fall, naming their project after King Arthur’s sword—a reference to the biblical imagery of the sword as a symbol of truth and justice. They thought if their publication were anonymous, they could focus on ideas rather than personalities.

In their debut newsletter, Excalibur promoted the conservative and orthodox Christian values its writers believed were being replaced by more politically and theologically liberal views among Taylor’s student body, campus speakers, and faculty publications.

Read the rest here.

Christian College President Compares LGBT Students to Members of ISIS

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Oklahoma Wesleyan University left the CCCU a few years ago.  Read all about it here.

In a recent op-ed at The Washington Times, Oklahoma Wesleyan president Everett Piper is up to his old tricks.  Here is a taste:

As a college president, I’d argue there are some things that should be confronted, some that should be confessed and some about which we can have a conversation. As a teacher, it is my goal to produce students who are able to distinguish between these three categories.

Let’s consider the anecdote of abortion as an example. Simply put, why would anyone be open to a “conversation” about murdering young children? Surely, we don’t believe we can “converse” about genocide rather than confront it, do we?

And, if I am wrong, are we ready to have a “conversation” about the relative merits of Pol Pot’s killing fields? How about the pros and cons of Robespierre’s guillotine? Maybe we should start a “conversation” about Mao’s cultural revolution and its 70 million dead?

All moral people draw moral distinctions between behaviors that are worthy of “conversation” and those that are not. There are some things we simply condemn, and rightfully so.

Now, if we can agree that there is definitely a category of immorality (i.e. sin) which should be repudiated rather than debated, then why have we decided that sexual immorality is somehow in a different class, a class that should be measured by “conversation” rather than conviction?

Ours has become a culture of expression and choice. We now believe ourselves to be an amoral people where right and wrong are not determined by consistency and objective resolve, but rather by “fluidity,” “conversation” and subjective social constructs. In other words, when it comes to sex, everything is a moving target.

Here’s the question: If we have decided the self-evident truths that condemn genocide and the killing fields of Pol Pot do not likewise exist in matters of human sexuality, shouldn’t we be asking what’s next?

For example, if there is no moral compass other than “conversation” to give us direction concerning the morality of same-sex intercourse then why not have a “conversation” about consensual pederasty? Why not discuss the merits of adultery? Why not have dialogue about how those who identify as incestuous need “safe spaces” where they can be affirmed, and loved for who they are?

Any rational people understanding the basic principles of cause and effect must at least be willing to ask where this logic will end.

If you’re still not feeling a bit unstable on this slippery slope, I recommend this simple exercise: Go to any article in any magazine or website that argues for “conversations” about sexual morality and simply replace the acronym of the day with another set of letters.

For example, every time you see LGBTQ in an article, simply replace those letters with ISIS. Change nothing else. Do this throughout the entire column in question.

In doing this, something will quickly become quite obvious. Sentences will emerge such as these: “Love is love and ISIS has the right to love who they want to love.” “The ISIS community simply wants to be accepted and affirmed.” “What right does anyone have to refuse to bake a cake for an ISIS wedding?”

Read the rest here.  I would hate to be an LGBT student at Oklahoma Wesleyan.  Christian colleges are perfectly within their rights (I hope) to affirm traditional views on morality, but there is a difference between affirming such views and treating those who disagree as members of ISIS.

And yes, I do want to have a “conversation” about Pol Pot, Robespierre, and Mao in my classes.  I want my students to understand why they did what they did.

And yes, I do want to have a “conversation” about abortion.  Even if everyone in the room thinks abortion is a moral problem, there should still be a robust debate about how to curb the practice.

Piper does not seem to grasp the difference between a college and a church.  He is afraid of certain questions.  Fear should never be the spirit that defines a college or university, even a Christian one.

What does the Wesleyan Church have to say about this?

Is Lipscomb the First CCCU School to Make the NCAA Basketball Tournament?

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I am currently watching Lipscomb University, a Churches of Christ college out of Nashville, trying to hang with the North Carolina Tarheels in a first-round NCAA tournament game.  Lipscomb is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges & University, a network of Christian colleges that includes Messiah College, Wheaton College, Calvin College, Westmont College, Gordon College, Bethel University and many, many others.

As far as I know (I could be wrong), Lipscomb is the first CCCU school to make it to the “Big Dance.”  Am I correct?

NOTE:  Liberty University has played in the tournament, but they are not a member of the CCCU.  The same is true of Baylor and Belmont, both Christian universities.

I also just learned that Pat Boone is a Lipscomb graduate.

Are American Evangelical Students Really Interested in the History of American Evangelicalism?

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I am not in Dallas this week for the 2018 CCCU International Forum, but I have been following along via Twitter.  (Thanks to all of you who are tweeting from the conference!)

I was struck by a couple of tweets:

I really wish that Molly Worthen was right about this.  I really do.  But I just don’t see it.  With a few exceptions, I rarely encounter evangelical students (or students of any faith for that matter) who “crave a sense of knowing who they are….”  If there are students who are “hungry for a historical renaissance,” I have not met them yet.  I am sure that there are professors at other CCCU institutions who might be able to tell a different story.

I wrote about this at length in a May 2014 post after I learned that only a handful of students signed-up for a class I offered at Messiah College on the history of American evangelicalism.  The course had four regularly enrolled students and two auditors.  Here is how I would describe the students:

  • A female Catholic history major who knew nothing about evangelicalism but was intellectually curious.
  • A female non-traditional student and an employee of Messiah College who was interested in the topic.  (She was an auditor)
  • A male religion major who was basically there to criticize the evangelicalism of his childhood.  (He was also an auditor)
  • A male history major who was raised in evangelicalism but didn’t know it until he started recognizing some of the ideas we discussed.
  • A female history major who knew very little about evangelicalism.
  • A male history major who was a progressive Christian curious about American evangelicalism.

These were great students, and I enjoyed teaching them, but most of them were just there to fulfill a history requirement that fit their schedules.

I am sure there a lot of reasons why this course, which was capped at 25 students, was so under-enrolled, but I am guessing that lack of interest in the subject was at the top of the list.

I doubt many students will ever be interested in this subject at Messiah College.  Yes, we have A LOT of evangelical students, but we have very few professors in the humanities and liberal arts who self-identify as evangelicals or who might be interested in exploring evangelical identity with students.  This is just not how we assimilate our students into the life of the college.  Evangelical identity not a priority.  Sadly, we do a disservice to hundreds and hundreds (thousands?) of students from evangelical backgrounds.  They will learn very little about their heritage. For most of the students at the Christian college where I teach, a course on evangelicalism will be viewed as just another elective–a course that students think about in the same way that they think about a course on the American Revolution or world religions.

 

Coalition for Christian Colleges and University on the End of DACA

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Here is the CCCU’s statement:

Today it was announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will end in six months without congressional action. The CCCU urges Congress to act immediately. We stand with the nearly 800,000 DACA participants, as well as their families, fellow students, teachers, co-workers, employers, and others with whom they interact, who are devastated and directly impacted by this news. This decision will have far-reaching consequences for these valuable, deeply loved individuals, and so we call on Republicans and Democrats alike to look past party lines and come together to create a legal solution that respects both the God-given dignity of every person and the rule of law.

The people participating in DACA have lived in the United States since they were children, and their life in the United States is all they know. In order to participate in DACA, they have all been thoroughly vetted, registered with the federal government, undergone background checks, and paid fees in exchange for peace of mind in the form of protection from deportation and work authorization. This greater certainty allowed participants to deepen their involvement with and contribution to their communities, including as students in CCCU institutions.

As I mentioned in my recent letter to President Trump, we support ambitious, driven, intelligent students who have dreams of contributing to their communities and want to pursue an education. If Congress does not act to replace the essentials of the DACA program, the federal government is hurting both participants and those who benefit from their contributions. The Cato Institute estimates that repealing DACA will cost the government $60 billion and the economy $200 billion over 10 years.

We recognize that the situation is complicated. The current administration is faced with the same broken immigration system that has existed in the United States for far too many years, and too many people, like those in the DACA program, have been caught in the midst of uncertainty. Now is the time for Congress to get to work – but time is short. We support such proposed legislation as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act as ways to achieve this goal. We urge our lawmakers: Make the hard calls. Protect these individuals who call the United States their home but, through no fault of their own, entered the country illegally. Use an incremental approach or use a comprehensive approach—but please don’t use the excuse that it cannot be done.

We will continue to advocate for policies that recognize the dignity with which God has endowed all people, regardless of their ethnicity, race, or legal status, alongside our friends on the Evangelical Immigration Table and other partners in this work, like the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC), the National Hispanic Leadership Conference (NHCLC), the American Council on Education (ACE), and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).

***

The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of more than 180 Christian institutions around the world. With campuses across the globe, including more than 150 in the U.S. and Canada and nearly 30 more from an additional 18 countries, CCCU institutions are accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities whose missions are Christ-centered and rooted in the historic Christian faith. Most also have curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. The CCCU’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth.

How Much Money Do Christian College Presidents Make?

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Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz has the answers.

Here is a taste:

In 2013 I parsed some data from The Chronicle of Higher Education to see how well evangelical college and university presidents were paid. Since the Chronicle just released an updated version of the study, today thought I’d revisit that question.

Four years ago about a third of the presidents in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) were included in the Chronicle set, with the median CCCU president earning just a shade under $300,000 in total compensation — over $80,000 lower than the median for all private college presidents in the study. Just seven CCCU presidents were in the top half of earners. But if you expressed presidential compensation as a share of overall institutional expenditures, then the CCCU set exceeded the overall median. By that standard seven CCCU presidents were in the top 100, with Bill Ellis (Howard Payne) and Dub Oliver (East Texas Baptist, now at Union University) cracking the top 50.

And now? Thirty-five CCCU presidents appear in the newest version of the Chronicle exercise with data from 2014 (the most recent for which numbers were available). In general, they were paid much less than their peers (only 86.5% of the national median for private colleges). But eight were in the top half of the rankings, and presidential compensation again accounted for a larger share of institutional expenses at CCCU schools than at most other private colleges.

By two newer measures — ratios of executive compensation to average student tuition and to average salary for full professor — the CCCU presidents were right in the national middle, with earnings equal to the tuition paid by just over 12 students and the salary earned by 4.4 senior faculty members.

Here’s the full Google Sheet, if you want to see the full data. One thing to note: there are only three women on this list, and the highest-paid (Kim Phipps of Messiah College) earns 10% less than the median compensation for private college presidents.

Read the rest, including charts and rankings, here.  Thanks for your work on this Chris!

Teaser:  Jerry Falwell Jr. is the highest paid Christian college president in the country.  He makes about $896,000 a year.  Only the presidents of Arizona State, Texas, Texas A&M, Florida, Indiana, Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa make more than Falwell.

The highest paid president in the Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities (Liberty University is not a member of this coalition) is Randy O’Rear of Mary Hardin-Baylor University.  He makes $549,165.  Philip Ryken of Wheaton is close behind at $516,148.

Political Diversity at Christian Colleges

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I want to call your attention to a nice piece at Inside Higher Ed on Christian colleges and political diversity.  It is written by Thomas Albert (Tal) Howard, a historian at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana and former director of the honors program at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.

To get a fuller picture of the Christian academic landscape, one would need to visit institutions such as Bethel University in Minnesota, Calvin College in Michigan, Dordt College in Iowa or East Texas Baptist University, among hundreds of others. They “represent a slice of America that most secular liberals don’t know anything about,” according Molly Worthen, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of a much-discussed book on evangelical higher education.

As institutions that host many first-generation college students and are also replete with Ph.D.s from major universities, Christian colleges can provide a bridge between elite opinion and “red-state” America. How might they rise to the occasion?

First, they must practice what they preach. The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus as saying, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” In an age when conservative intellectuals often find themselves “disinvited” to speak on prominent campuses, Christian colleges should make certain that they invite articulate and diverse voices, including liberals and secularists, to their own campuses. When I oversaw a center at my former (evangelical) institution, Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., our lecture series included the well-known atheist Bart Ehrman as well as Cornel West, John Kerry and Susannah Heschel — hardly icons of the right. We also regularly hosted Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim speakers. Charity begins by hearing what another is actually saying, not encountering it secondhand in caricature.

Second, Christian colleges can contribute to the common good by continuing to teach and even expand curricular offerings in the conservative intellectual tradition, perhaps one of the biggest causalities of the recent anti-intellectual insurgence. Authors whom one would find neither by Trump’s bedside nor trumpeted in the curricula of most elite colleges deserve a robust hearing: Edmund Burke, Friedrich Hayek, Russell Kirk, Irving Kristol, C. S. Lewis, Adam Smith and Richard Weaver, among others. Liberals should welcome thoughtful young conservatives lest their own identity become deformed in obsessions against Trump. Beware, Nietzsche once warned, for you can easily become the monsters you seek to slay.

Third, in what some have dubbed our “postsecular age,” Christian colleges should point the way by teaching, through empathy and analysis, how religion functions as a dynamic and complex phenomenon in human affairs. At elite colleges and universities, too often religion is viewed strictly through the lenses of race, gender and class — or else through some of the grand explanatory schemes of the academy, including that of Karl Marx (religion as ideological superstructure), Sigmund Freud (religion as coping mechanism or neurosis) and Michel Foucault (religion as a mask for power). Some of these schemes have yielded valuable insights, to be sure. Nonetheless, as Brad S. Gregory, a history professor at the University of Notre Dame, has argued, they often come with the presumption “that religion is not something that can be or ought to be understood in its own terms.” As such, explaining subtly and sometimes readily yields to a more reductionist explaining away, denying students insights wrought by the messier, more difficult process of empathetic engagement.

Finally, permit me to offer a modest proposal — one that would require no small dose of philanthropic support and administrative imagination. Christian colleges and elite secular institutions should seek out one another to promote student exchanges, either for a short visit or a semester of study, similar to one suggested by David J. Smith in a previous article in Inside Higher Ed. A Bay Area student at the University of California, Berkeley, would have much to learn from spending time with peers at, say, Goshen College, a Mennonite school in northern Indiana. A top-notch conservative Lutheran student at Concordia University in Seward, Neb., would greatly benefit from a stint at Williams College in Massachusetts. Stereotypes might well erode, exposing leftist, rightist, secular and religious groupthink in the process.

Read the entire piece here.

Adam Laats on Evangelical Colleges and Trump: Concluding Thoughts

6258d-clintonatmessiahAdam Laats has now had a chance to respond to my critique of his HNN piece .  I am not going to go into too much detail here, but I think we will just have to agree to disagree on some of the key assertions he makes.

Consider this paragraph from his response:

The leaders of all schools, not just evangelical ones, have to remain excruciatingly aware of a kind of “third rail” in American higher education.  To remain alive—and don’t forget that mere survival cannot be taken for granted these days—institutions of higher education must preserve at all costs their reputations.  This has always been and will always be a maddeningly frustrating and imprecise challenge.  At all schools, reputation becomes an unpredictable mix of academic prestige, numbers of applicants, perceptions of peers, athletic performance, and a host of other factors.  Not just to thrive and prosper, but simply to continue to exist, administrators must guard their schools’ reputations relentlessly.  A good reputation means more applications, which means a higher selectivity ranking, which means more applications, which means more tuition dollars, which means improved facilities, which means more applications, etc. etc.

Evangelical colleges share this dilemma, but with an added factor.  Evangelical schools need to maintain and defend their reputations as academic institutions, but also as safe havens for evangelical youth.  In addition to the challenges faced by every college administrator and trustee, the leaders of evangelical schools need to wrestle with the ever-changing and ever-contentious nature of evangelicalism itself.

However the boundaries of evangelicalism are defined, whether in 1935, 1963, or 2016, schools need to remain squarely within them.  More relevant, they need to be seen by the evangelical public as remaining squarely within those boundaries.  If school administrators fail, students and alumni will vote with their wallets, taking their tuition dollars and donations elsewhere.

This does not mean that faculty, students, and administrators won’t push those boundaries. In fact, at many schools there is a long tradition, almost an expectation, that faculty and students will do so.  But we need to be careful not to mistake this tradition—what Fred Clark aptly callobama-and-hillarys the “faculty lounge” perspective—to be the entirety of evangelical higher education.  It’s not.  Rather, even the winked-at toleration of such boundary-pushing only underlines the vital fact that every school has certain poorly defined lines that no one is allowed to cross.  Or, to be more precise, it means that the evangelical public needs to feel confident that the school as a whole is not crossing those lines, even if some students and teachers are.  Or are rumored to be.

There is a lot of good stuff in these paragraphs that people who study evangelical higher education need to keep in mind.  For example, constituency, boards, and donors obviously play a major role in institutional identity. Boards do indeed guard reputations.  Donors and constituencies do have a voice.

But I return to the argument posed in Laats’s original piece.  Laats argued that evangelical Christian colleges were one of the main reasons why so many evangelicals turned to Trump.  I still disagree.

Frankly, part of me wants to agree with Laats.  I wish vast numbers of evangelicals paid attention to what Christian colleges have to offer evangelical political and cultural witness. Sadly, then do not.

In the quoted paragraphs above, Laats assumes that there is a correlation between a board concerned with a college’s Christian reputation and that board’s support or endorsement of Trump.  It is certainly possible that the leadership or board members of a Christian college that wants to define itself in certain confessional ways on issues related to other world religions, gay marriage, doctrine, religious liberty, etc. can still reject Trump.  Many did, although it is hard to gauge since many Christian college boards are not always in the business of endorsing or not endorsing presidential candidates.

Let the conversation continue in the comment section.