The Crisis of the Christian Colleges

We are often told these days, quite plausibly, that Christian universities and colleges are in acute crisis. The threat comes from campus radicals in alliance with the federal government’s educational machinery, itself operated by radicalized functionaries. “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,” writes Carl Trueman in First Things. “Failure to conform to Title IX will be punished with notations and probable loss of accreditation.” Trueman fears, also plausibly, that the institutions will not withstand the pressure and will compromise their integrity and forfeit their Christian mission in exchange for being allowed to continue.

What we are not told is that (on the principle that the sin begins within) this crisis in the Christian institutions is largely of their own making. If however-many hundreds or thousands of intellectuals who populate the Christian universities and colleges cannot (or more likely, will not) mount a defense of their calling and institutions against encroachment by the Federal government, then they have only themselves to blame. Are we being asked to believe that professional scholars cannot find the time or resources to research and write the necessary articles and books to defend basic Christian and Western principles (for example, due process of law or the presumption of innocence) from the largely adolescent ranks of the sexual left? Then why (if I may ask in the name of God) do they make no attempt to do so? Academic scholars (leaving aside those ideologues who are themselves enthusiastically supplying the rationalizations for the federal measures) are almost completely silent on these matters, and Christian scholars are no exception.

Secular scholars and journalists outside the universities, by contrast, are not silent at all. They are now launching a vigorous counter-offensive against the dishonest and destructive use of Title IX by the sexual left to politicize the universities and criminalize students and faculty. Read Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson’s excellent new book (not their first on this subject), The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities (2017), Wendy McElroy’s Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women (2016), Laura Kipnis, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus (2017), or Robert Shibley, Twisting Title IX (2016). Many other powerful exposés by reputable scholars and journalists like Cathy Young, Ashe Schow, Hans Bader, Caroline Kitchens, Barbara Kay, Stephen Henrick, Christina Hoff Sommers, and most recently Bettina Arndt could also be cited. But you will not find the names of academically employed scholars among the contributors, even when the principal setting for all this turmoil is, after all, higher education (Johnson is the exception)—and this includes scholars from Christian colleges. Indeed, the few who add their two cents invariably parrot the platitudes of the sexual left and tag along with the radical mob invoking Title IX to silence dissent and punish the innocent.

This is all the more remarkable because it is precisely the Christian institutions that stand to benefit from public disgust at the decadent ideologized and sexualized culture of the secularized institutions. Christian codes of sexual and other conduct could present themselves as shining alternatives to the hook-up culture of secular campuses that created the conditions for the federal intervention. It is therefore in their own self-interest to lead by example, especially on a matter so basic to Christian doctrine as sexual morality. Yet they won’t even lead by scholarship. They seem more intent on finding excuses to capitulate, as Trueman suggests, or to avoid confronting the matter altogether, as Trueman himself essentially advocates. Like many of his colleagues, Trueman sees the problem primarily as one of aesthetics. “We need a philosophy of undergraduate education that offers visions of beauty … and that speaks to the human desire for meaning.” He recommends that more emphasis on poetry might help.

I am in favor of more poetry as much as the next academic, but I am not sure it is the most effective weapon to defend innocent citizens against political militants whose methods include violent mobs and systematically fabricated criminal charges to further a political agenda. Nor do I understand Trueman’s peculiar characterization of a student heckler: “Her imagination had been seized by an aesthetically driven culture, in which taste was truth and Will and Grace carried more weight than any church catechism or tome of moral philosophy.” The subject being same-sex “marriage,” I am fairly sure what she was expressing had little to do with aesthetics and everything to do with a radical political ideology—one that is not meeting much opposition on campuses or any other venues, secular or Christian. Couldn’t just a few of us (perhaps those in fields like political science or journalism, for example?) take on this ideology directly? Isn’t debating and criticizing ideas supposed to be what intellectuals are for? Indeed, those who try are more likely to be seen as an embarrassment to their own institutions, and they certainly will not be published in First Things.

The reason of course is fear. There is now almost zero discussion, even among Christian academics, because everyone lives in constant fear of being branded, if not a “hater” or “bigot” or “homophobe,” then an “apologist for rape/sexual harassment/domestic violence” (etc.). If some student is “offended” (and it takes only one), and the attorneys are mobilized, one risks being shown the door.

It is glaring enough for scholars at secularized universities to remain mute, year after year, on unethical and unconstitutional government measures that are bankrupting their own institutions with crushing suits and legal costs and chilling the expression of ideas in institutions where ideas are their very raison d’etre. It is quite stupefying that scholars who populate the Christian institutions of higher learning (much like the churches) cannot marshal their learning, credentials, paid leisure, and public platforms to create or even contribute to a dialogue on the radical politicization of sexuality even to the limited extent of defending their own institutions from impending destruction, let alone to fulfilling their larger duty to be voices in defense of justice and to help the rest of us comprehend the far-reaching ramifications for our entire society. We are supposed to be, you know, intellectuals after all, no?

Stephen Baskerville

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Stephen Baskerville is Professor of Government at Patrick Henry College and Research Fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, the Independent Institute, and the Inter-American Institute. He holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and attends an Anglican parish in Virginia. His most recent book The New Politics of Sex: Civil Liberties and the Growth of Governmental Power is published by Angelico Press.

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