In an August, 2005 article inThe American Prospect, author Christopher Hayes claims that students at evangelical Christian colleges and universities are taught “to live out a Christ-centered existence in all facets of their lives. But what they learn is to become Republicans.”
Hayes’ article is entitled “Student Body Right: At Evangelical Colleges Like Pat Robertson’s Regent, What They’re Taught and What They Learn Are Two Very Different Things.” In it he accurately chronicles what he calls a “U-turn” in evangelical college attitudes toward student interaction with the world. Where once many evangelical colleges considered it their mission to protect and separate students from culture, now many evangelical colleges encourage student “engagement” with culture. Once upon a time many evangelical colleges emphasized personal faith to the point of exclusion of any concern for social or political responsibility. Now, most evangelical colleges promote an active application of faith to all of life, including politics.
Hayes isn’t entirely comfortable with this shift, because he thinks it is driven by partisan designs and people like Regent University’s Pat Robertson, a person for whom he clearly holds little esteem.
Keying on Pat Robertson is Hayes’ first misstep. Robertson is better known for his broadcasting and run for the presidency than for any real leadership in Christian higher education, and he clearly has a knack for making imprudent public comments. In recent months he has almost become a caricature of himself, but in any event he is not representative of evangelical college leaders or faculty members. Hayes doesn’t seem to make this distinction.
Hayes is also bothered by the “worldview” concept common to the language and mission of many evangelical colleges. Hayes says that worldview at its best “pushes students to rethink settled positions, to wrestle with what a Christian’s duty is to the poor or the infirm or those on death row. It can create a sense of mission and moral obligation that produces students who sound strikingly like liberals…” At its worst, Hayes says, worldview “reduces to an uncritical acceptance of a handful of issue positions that have come to dominate the political energies of the religious right; it is the ideological bus that picks people up at church and drops them off at the voting booth.”
What disturbs Hayes is that a biblical worldview “cleaves the world in two, identifying in one column those first principles that are taken as given…and, in the other column, the many beliefs, values, and positions that one might hold that are less certain.” He doesn’t like the idea that abortion is considered morally unacceptable or that defense of “traditional marriage” may be viewed as foundational to a Christian worldview. He likes it even less that people who adopt these viewpoints have in recent years voted Republican.
So for Hayes, a worldview is good if it leads you to a politically liberal point of view, and it is bad if it leads you to a politically conservative point of view.
Hayes does acknowledge that political positions are heatedly debated among some Christian academics, that evangelical colleges have in recent years expressed more interest in “social justice” issues, and that surveys indicate evangelical college students exhibit little overall consistency in issue positions. But it still bothers Hayes that many of these students eventually vote Republican.
Hayes is apparently unaware of the fact that evangelical Christian institutions like Cornerstone University, though theologically conservative, take pains to encourage students to apply their Christian faith across the spectrum of political partisanship. At Cornerstone, we have repeatedly said to students, “both major political parties need Christian participation, influence, and ‘salt and light.’ Christians ought to get involved in both the Democratic and the Republican Party.”
We’ve also encouraged students to understand that while a biblical worldview makes clear what our perspective should be on moral issues like abortion and human sexuality, there are no “chapter and verses” that tell us what we should think about tax policy, modifications in Social Security, or even flag burning. The Bible speaks to moral absolutes, but it is not a political much less a partisan handbook.
God gives us trustworthy principles in his word and he expects us to apply them. He grants us truth, than commissions us to apply that truth in its propositional form to complex contemporary challenges. He wants us to think, to spiritually discern, and to use our Christian liberty and our reasoning capacity to live out our faith in the real world.
At a given point in time, this divine commission may lead Christians to vote Republican or Democrat. It may lead us to assume a Liberal, Moderate, or Conservative position. It may require that we pursue what some may call an extreme, radical, reactionary, or revolutionary platform.
The point is this: a truly biblical worldview is never captive to any political party or ideology, because a biblical worldview is permanently relevant in a way that no humanly devised philosophy or program can ever be.
Evangelical college graduates may be voting Republican these days, but that says more about perceived public morality than it does about the supposedly partisan intentions of evangelical colleges. I wonder what Hayes would say about the partisan outcomes of the public university experience?
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005
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