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Waterloo Of Christian Colleges

If you read nothing else today, make it Carl Trueman’s massively important piece [1] on the coming capitulation of conservative Christian colleges and universities to the LGBT movement. Trueman prophetically sees the stakes in this clash, and the elements of how it is likely to be resolved. Excerpts:

The expansion of the scope of Title IX legislation by the Obama administration makes colleges that hold to traditional Christian moral positions on homosexuality and transgenderism vulnerable to loss of government funding and to damaging legal actions. We might add the related matter of accreditation: Failure to conform to Title IX will be punished with notations and probable loss of accreditation. Perhaps even more deadly than these threats is the role of the NCAA, as schools that are not “friendly” to LGBTQI students will find that they are unable to compete in sporting events. Sadly, while the choice between sport and one’s faith should not merit a second thought, I expect that this will be the point at which many colleges crack.

How Christian colleges respond to all this will be critical. The desire expressed by some to dialogue with their opponents on this matter is not a good sign. At worst, it represents the cynical prelude to capitulation: “We listened, we heard, we changed.”

He says that conservative Christian college administrators who think that opponents are actually interested in good-faith dialogue are guilty of naïveté that “verges on criminal negligence.” The Law of Merited Impossibility is infallible in these matters: “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.”

And there’s this:

In conversation after conversation over the last few years with friends at Christian liberal arts colleges, I have encountered the assumption that few administrators will choose fidelity to their faith over institutional prestige. And administrators are only half the story. There are also the professors. The dominant philosophy in so many secular humanities departments—that there is nothing so complicated in history or literature that it cannot be reduced to a simple question of power and exploitation—has allowed academia to be hijacked by those who are marked less by their knowledge of their subject than by their ability to spout angry clichés about privilege and power and hegemony. These people represent the spirit of the age, and their language is seeping into Christian discourse. In some colleges, it may not be the administrators who lead the charge for change.

This is true in my more limited experience as well. You may recall that last year, the president of the Society of Christian Philosophers, Notre Dame’s Michael Rea (who now holds Alvin Plantinga’s old endowed chair [2] in philosophy), and its executive director, Calvin College’s Christina Van Dyke [3], issued a public apology after the eminent Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne mentioned briefly in an SCP lecture that the Christian moral tradition holds homosexuality to be sinful. Read Edward Feser for a quick recap of that controversy. [4] Shortly thereafter, when a foul-mouthed Yale philosopher posted on Facebook how much he hated conservative Christians, Van Dyke responded with a smiley emoticon, which she quickly retracted — but not before a screenshot could be taken. [5]

The point is not that all Christian philosophers agree with them. The point is that when one of the world’s most important living Christian philosophers cannot affirm Scripture and Tradition on the matter of homosexuality, and in the mildest of terms, without sparking a massive row among other Christian philosophers — well, Christian colleges are in trouble.

To Trueman’s broader point about how the dominant secular humanities department discourse driven by anger and intersectionality cliches seeping into Christian colleges, note well that those conservative Christian colleges that tolerate this kind of poisonous discourse around race and gender will not be able to defend themselves against the same thing manifesting itself around sexuality. This is happening right now, as a moment’s Googling will reveal.

Trueman also despairs of what Christian colleges are likely to do if the NCAA forces them to accept full LGBT rights, or surrender their athletic programs. He ought to despair of it. The real religion of a lot of these places is football and other athletics, as we shall soon see.

A couple of paragraphs in Trueman’s piece deserve a long essay on their own (I hope we’ll see one from him). He says that the old arguments in favor of the traditional Christian teaching on sexuality do not work anymore, because young people have been formed by a culture of emotivism, not reason. Syllogisms are swords of spaghetti in this new environment. The real battlefield is in the imagination. 

Trueman is blunt:

With Trump in the White House, Christian colleges have four, maybe eight, years in which the cultural and political tide might not flow as strongly against them as it did under Obama. Now is the time to organize, externally and internally. Colleges with a mutual interest in religious freedom and in preserving Christian standards of sexual morality and human personhood should talk to each other, abandon pipe dreams of “dialogue,” and coordinate their legal actions and political lobbying. They have the constitutional right to do so. America is still a free country. The whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. But time, focus, and realism are of the essence.

Read the whole thing. [1] “Realism” is exactly the right word. There are so many conservative Christians who are determined to close their eyes to what’s right in front of their noses. They think that the name-brand Christian colleges they’ve put their faith in are holding the line. They trust their churches and Christian high schools to form their children in the faith. This is extremely unrealistic! There might be churches, Christian schools, and Christian colleges doing these things, but there are many fewer of them than most Christians think.

Dialogue is not possible with power-holders who think you are evil and that goodness requires you to be crushed. This is the situation orthodox Christians and their institutions are in now, and it will only get worse. As I say in The Benedict Option [6], hope is not the same thing as optimism. There is no reason right now to be optimistic. If we are going to be hopeful — that is, if we are going to have solid reason to believe that we can endure, and that suffering for our faith is a blessing — we are going to have to accept certain realities, and act in the face of them. Carl Trueman gets it.

In 2014, before Obergefell, Ross Douthat wrote that the debate on same-sex marriage had shifted: [7]

But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.

Which has a certain bracing logic. If your only goal is ensuring that support for traditional marriage diminishes as rapidly as possible, applying constant pressure to religious individuals and institutions will probably do the job. Already, my fellow Christians are divided over these issues, and we’ll be more divided the more pressure we face. The conjugal, male-female view of marriage is too theologically rooted to disappear, but its remaining adherents can be marginalized, set against one other, and encouraged to conform.

This is the new reality. Even if a conservative Supreme Court somehow permitted these institutions to teach and govern themselves from within their own tradition, there can be no doubt that the social and cultural price those colleges will pay will be severe. Graduates can expect that their degrees will be shunned. And for that matter, the students who still bother to attend will have likely come to them with imaginations catechized by popular culture, not any kind of robust church.

The lines between the church and the culture on this issue are not where many Christians think they are. They run right through the heart of churches and Christian institutions. The sooner orthodox Christians accept that fact, the better informed and, one hopes, the more effective, our survival strategy will be. Blind optimism serves us not at all.

67 Comments (Open | Close)

67 Comments To "Waterloo Of Christian Colleges"

#1 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 27, 2017 @ 12:02 pm

Most of our educators at Christian colleges have taken up the spirit of the age, and simply don’t think homosexuality is a big deal.

Its not a big deal. Some people embrace religious doctrines in which it is taboo, others do not, or embrace doctrines in which it is not. Its of no greater significance than Jews and Muslims don’t eat Pork, Muslims and Baptists don’t drink alcohol, Chinese eat dogs, Americans love dogs, Muslims consider dogs taboo. Now everybody shut up and go home and live your life.

But ideologues live in a bubble, the Reich was supposed to last a thousand years, communism was the way of the future, the mission was accomplished, the arch of history bends toward justice, our side won so shut up and crawl inside your rock and on and on

Wise words. And socialism is going to make a big comeback too. It may be the only hope social conservatives have of upending these infantile disorders.

I’m not aware of any Christian precept that requires one to discriminate against non-heterosexual people in an educational context, especially not when one is relying on taxpayer-subsidized loan programs to make budget.

What a narrow-minded bigot you are. (Smileyface). Christian colleges endeavor to provide an OPTION where people who have voluntarily chosen to confess certain doctrines can live, work, and study with people who share that commitment, and live it out, without the distraction of all the other people who adhere to different doctrines, or no doctrines, and have every right to live differently.

So, they have a private campus, where this is feasible. They know there are other types of people with other beliefs, mores, ethics, preferences in the world, they interact with them often, grew up with them, know that they will see them again in many contexts and venues all their life… but they want to study and develop a campus life with people who share the same set of beliefs.

Since these beliefs are not Established, are not enforced by the police powers of the state, are not mandatory for all educational institutions, there are plenty of options for people who wouldn’t fit in, on this campus, to find a great education elsewhere.

As for student loans, those primarily benefit the individual student, and it is their choice to apply to any given school.

Its a valid point, more generally, that education has become so dependent on federally backed students loans for much of the expansion of education, but that is a much broader discussion.

in the real world, most people (certainly my LGBT friends) are just trying to live their lives. They don’t care one bit about what happens in churches or Christian schools. It’s not even on their radar!

True, but they are “represented” by self-appointed spokespersons who loudly demand (in their name) all kinds of things that are indeed not on anyone else’s radar.

#2 Comment By russ On July 27, 2017 @ 12:29 pm

@A Southern Baptist
Read Rod’s secion in the About page on this site:

Rod Dreher, senior editor, focuses on social and cultural conservatism, with a particular interest in religion in the public square.

It’s literally his job to write on issues that rub against social and cultural conservatism and religion.

The faithfulness of Christian colleges to Christianity in light of the liberal cultural and political forces that are pressuring them, from without and within, is very much part of what he’s paid to write about. And I’m not sure where else I’d get this perspective if not Rod (Carl Trueman is good, and he’s Presbyterian, which I love, but he is not nearly as prolific or broad in scope as our working boy). Thanks, Rod! Keep it up.

#3 Comment By Alan On July 27, 2017 @ 12:56 pm

Jesse says: “A conservative vision of social peace that includes the right to discriminate doesn’t seem to be very peaceful to me or my LGBT friends.”

You probably don’t care that what you call “discrmination” is a right in the Constitution. It’s called “Freedom of Association.” Per the Const, ANY private business can decide not to do business with ANYONE for ANY reason they choose. If you open a restaurant and decide you won’t serve Christians, guess what? That’s totally your right. Of course the hypocrisy of this was exposed when dress makers refused to make an inauguration dress for Melania Trump, and they all cheered. Yes, that was totally their right (as I’ve already stated). They hypocrisy though was the fact that the people cheering the dress makers were the same ones forcing bakers and photographers to do business transactions they didn’t want to do.
Rod and I (and countless others) are more than willing to live in a pluralistic society where PRIVATE businesses are left alone (dress makers on the left and cake bakers on the right). It’s fascist folks on the left like you who will have no part in that.

#4 Comment By Alan On July 27, 2017 @ 12:58 pm


And “Civil rights law” is clearly unconstitutional because it overrides freedom of association in the Constitution.

#5 Comment By Alan On July 27, 2017 @ 1:09 pm


Yep. “Christian” students today are turning away from God in massive droves. Such is the spirit of the age. You’re right, that is reality. But please don’t lecture us Christians that the answer is to change the 2,000 year old beliefs of Christianity and follow the culture right into the sewer.

#6 Comment By grumpy realist On July 27, 2017 @ 1:12 pm

Perichoresis–if an Orthodox Jew applied to work at a law firm and indicated during his interview that he refused to work with female clients, it’s not his religion that’s going to keep him from being hired. It’s his future behavior, and the burden that it places on the law firm.

Read what I wrote again. You misunderstood what I was getting at. I can’t see an IP law firm refusing to hire someone with traditional marriage beliefs because it’s irrelevant. I can see a family law firm located in an urban area with a sizable gay and lesbian population being dubious about hiring someone with traditional marriage beliefs, particularly if said applicant a) either indicates he will demand to be excused from working with any married gay couples, or b) indicates he disapproves of gay marriage to the point that he may not conduct himself professionally. In the first case, the guy may not end up pulling his own weight. In the second case, the law firm is opening itself up to accusations of malpractice. (Of course, if the candidate has a sterling history of representing clients, gay married or not, then the firm would be nuts not to hire him.)

#7 Comment By number before 2 On July 27, 2017 @ 1:21 pm

Southern Baptist, that IS kind of low. Why would a book store take back the book unless there is some sort of defect, like missing pages?

#8 Comment By Perichoresis On July 27, 2017 @ 1:47 pm

grumpy realist: “if an Orthodox Jew applied to work at a law firm and indicated during his interview that he refused to work with female clients, it’s not his religion that’s going to keep him from being hired. It’s his future behavior, and the burden that it places on the law firm.”

That’s what I said. But *absent* a declaration from the applicant of a refusal to do certain work, if the employer declines to hire because of his orthodox judaism, or because of the orthodox jewish nature of the college he attended, that is a discrimination violation. So any “shunning” of orthodox believers qua believers by employers is going to carry the risk of litigation.

#9 Comment By Perichoresis On July 27, 2017 @ 1:48 pm

Alan: “And “Civil rights law” is clearly unconstitutional because it overrides freedom of association in the Constitution.”

Could be, in a theoretical sense, I haven’t looked into that. But under the current precedent and Supreme Court, discrimination due to religious belief is a violation of those laws.

#10 Comment By Oakinhou On July 27, 2017 @ 7:22 pm

in the real world, most people (certainly my LGBT friends) are just trying to live their lives. They don’t care one bit about what happens in churches or Christian schools. It’s not even on their radar!

True, but they are “represented” by self-appointed spokespersons who loudly demand (in their name) all kinds of things that are indeed not on anyone else’s radar.”

Just like small o-orthodox are “represented” by the people that are making sure the same sex spouses of public employees are stripped of their employee benefits, like health insurance.

Probably, most small o-orthodox will tell us that stripping health insurance from these people is not high in their list of priorities, but it is being done in Texas right now, in their name.

What do you or Rod recommend small o-orthodox do about it? Shrug because it’s not their problem if gay people lose health insurance? Applaud? Or denounce these things being done “in their name” as evil?

#11 Comment By TR On July 27, 2017 @ 7:28 pm

Exactly how many colleges are we talking about and of those how many are intellectually worthwhile.? In the past, when readers contributed names of “orthodox” colleges, half were two-bit Bible schools where you can bet the biggest dirty word was “Darwin.”

Taking government money is always fraught with peril. Churches and their followers in the United States are not poor–they should find a way do without government largesse.

#12 Comment By Nobody in particular On July 28, 2017 @ 12:32 am

Acts 5:39

“But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”

But hey, by all means go out and work on getting political support for the Kingdom of God. Nothing problematical there….

#13 Comment By TR On July 28, 2017 @ 11:33 am

Alan: Read the 14th amendment and then the case law arising from it. Then read the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and note that it was ruled constitutional.

#14 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 28, 2017 @ 1:32 pm

What do you or Rod recommend small o-orthodox do about it? Shrug because it’s not their problem if gay people lose health insurance? Applaud? Or denounce these things being done “in their name” as evil?

First, I’m not small-o orthodox, so I can’t speak for that school of thought, or way of life. I’m a heterodox Christian Bolshevik with low tolerance for infantile disorders. Rod seems to have spoken eloquently for himself — what more would you have him do?

Second, I favor tuning out these raucous voices, and getting on with the important things in life. I do, however, have nuanced positions on some of these issues. Gay people exist, so if we’re not going to burden or suppress them, we need to make a little social space for them to live their non-normative lives. We don’t need to rearrange whole institutions for them. Nor do we have to rearrange school curriculum to satisfy obsessive people like Ken Hamm.

Civil rights law does not ipso facto over-ride freedom of association. It only does so if someone tries to apply it in a manner that over-rides freedom of association. E.g., the Massachusetts public accommodations law that was at issue in Hurley v. GLIB. The Supreme Court didn’t strike down the law, they did say it cannot be applied to an expressive event such as a St. Patrick’s Day parade.

#15 Comment By VikingLS On July 28, 2017 @ 1:58 pm

Conservative Christian Colleges that wish to remain Christian are going to have to look organizing with one another. They aren’t going to make it on their own.

#16 Comment By James On July 31, 2017 @ 12:04 pm

I think you might be mistaken on a few motives for Christian students and others not alling in line on homosexuality and other teachings in the conservative church. I have a few observations to share.

1) We saw how you handled race in the 60’s and 70’s. Sons of Noah were supposed to teach us that black people are irrevocably different and lesser, God hates race-mixing, etc. We know our uncles loved George Wallace. Open anti-blackness was a ridiculous, shameful political position wrapped in Bible pages. Christian tradition failed. Christianity changed for the better.
2) We watched the old backlash against equality for women, and we saw the church dragging her feet as the rest of the world saw what smart, strong women could accomplish. The church is still the unique place where women have to hear quotes from scripture to sit down and shut up. Pastors? No. Elders? No. Deaconess? What’s that? Diaper changing? Why yes ma’am, this is your calling!
Recent studies are showing that Evangelical men who are spotty church attendees commit more acts of domestic violence than any other religion. Any other. And Christian home-schooled kids are at higher risk of being killed than any other group of students, with adopted home-schooled kids at the greatest risk of all. We are widely missing the mark on yet more social/political issues. There is a lot to be done here, the trads are not looking very loving, kind or practical. And the track record is looking worse.
3) Next up are our LGBT neighbors. The church has tried to tell us that they are mainly child molesters and predators (not true, usually is in the family or a coach, close friend, etc). From the pulpit it goes like this, “…they can’t reproduce so they recruit!” Surely all the church sex scandals have humbled us enough to quit the finger-pointing nonsense.
In this age when those with same sex attraction stopped swallowing the all shame all the time that the church was dishing out, some of got to know these neighbors. We found real, complex friends, not a cartoonish stereotype, people who want a family, care about children. You couldn’t continue to portray them as freaks, and we saw that they are mostly wonderful people.
And pretending that baking a cake was all of the sudden a kind of holy sacrament was never going to work. Cakes go to stag parties with strippers, to celebrate divorce, for grad parties of kids who cheat, for re-marriages, to celebrate businesses who exploit workers and on and on.
Baking a cake has never meant an agreement with a cause. People who insist on this fight are going to have to end up offering memberships to baking clubs or some such, because public businesses cannot discriminate.
Imagine 30 yrs from now that your local baker will not take orders from English speakers..absurd there and then and absurd now.
4)Christian schools and unis have always had parents more than kids as the customers. Deans are to protect kids from not just temptation but from unorthodox pov. Trying to create an alternate reality on campus is failing. I mean, where should the SS attracted pastor’ daughter get her education? We cannot feel good about her being locked out, as much as the parents are comforted. This just doesn’t work anymore in a world of global information.
Many of us found that that the Wizard of Oz was just the pathetic guy behind the curtain, the conservatives we admired cozied up to predator and cheater Trump, and it did not inspire respect.
The old guard needs some better tactics, honesty and a lot more love.
I’m hoping for better days.

[NFR: Whatevs, man. — RD]

#17 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 3, 2017 @ 10:44 am

We saw how you handled race in the 60’s and 70’s.

Yawn. That line is getting very tired very fast. What do you mean “we” kimosabe? You are probably too young to have “seen” anything except old news reels. You apparently missed all the clergy, many from socially conservative traditions, who marched with Martin Luther King.

You also miss that, indeed “race” is not an ancient or indelible concept, but a rather recent opportunistic subjective designation, whereas, whatever the merits, sexual dimorphism is a REAL distinction.

We watched the old backlash against equality for women

There have been articulate, independent women against equality, and pentecostal denominations that ordain women. Which “old backlash” are you talking about? If it moves you to be an atheist that churches do stupid stuff, then be honest and leave it at that. It has nothing to do with whether LGBTQWERTY claims are valid, or not, in part, or in whole.

Next up are our LGBT neighbors. The church has tried to tell us that they are mainly child molesters and predators…

Which church? There are quite a lot. In case you haven’t noticed, there isn’t an Established Church in this country, and no faith can even claim a majority of adherents. No doubt you can find a preacher somewhere who says that.

But its a straw man as far as what Rod has been pushing here. He hasn’t said gays are predators and pedophiles. Rather, he has said that voluntary consenting homosexual acts are disordered in a transcendent, teleological sense, which is not binding on those who disagree, but is a valid body of theology for those who believe it to be true, and may be worth considering if you care about the salvation of your immortal soul.

You got a problem with that? Maybe you’d also like to forcibly pour wine down the throats of Muslims, dogs will be quartered by force of law in Muslim homes, Jews will be required to eat ham twice a week, Hindus will have beef force-fed to them daily?