The Christian College Conundrum

Second Born wants to go to a college where she can enjoy Christian community and deepen her faith. At sixteen she’s not very political, but she’s left-leaning probably because her mom and dad are libs. She also wants to go to a college with a solid academic reputation.

The rub is most explicitly Christian colleges have theologically conservative evangelical roots which lead them to take decidedly conservative positions on pressing contemporary issues upon which reasonable people disagree. For example, here’s an excerpt from Wheaton College’s “Statement of Faith and Educational Purpose” originally penned in 1924:

WE BELIEVE that God has revealed Himself and His truth in the created order, in the Scriptures, and supremely in Jesus Christ; and that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing, so that they are fully trustworthy and of supreme and final authority in all they say.

Wheaton, Billy Graham’s alma mater, is opposed to homosexuality. Recently apparently, some Wheaton alumni and students have organized to challenge the college’s position on homosexuality and support gay and lesbian students and alum. Here’s their OneWheaton letter of protest. Worth noting, it doesn’t appear as if they’re an officially recognized group and it’s unclear how much attention the administration has paid to them.

Any college that squelches open-ended inquiry compromises their academic reputation. For example, many biologists believe people’s sexual orientations are in large part genetically determined. Any self-respecting science program would pose it as a question to be investigated—Is one’s sexual orientation genetically determined? When the institution declares homosexuality is wrong, they’re stifling inquiry, crippling their science program, and compromising their academic reputation more generally.

Sorry Azusa Pacific Admissions peeps, after I reflected on this with Second Born a few nights ago she decided to cancel her visit. I told her she’d probably get a better education at a school that prioritizes inquiry and creates an environment in which conservative and liberal points of view are freely expressed. One where all students’ voices—whether conservative or liberal; straight or gay; religious, areligious, or antireligious—are encouraged, protected, and respected.

While not explicitly Christian, some outstanding colleges value and encourage religious life including Goshen and Earlham. Many ELCA Lutheran universities emphasize social-justice and embrace more moderate or liberal expressions of Christianity. And of course there’s the Jesuits who have a reputation for melding their social justice oriented Catholicism with very good academics.

Moral of the story, any student seeking opportunities to grow spiritually and intellectually should make sure whatever religious-based institution they’re considering acknowledges the complexity and ambiguity of the modern world and prioritizes open-ended inquiry.

6 thoughts on “The Christian College Conundrum

  1. Check out St. Olaf college in Northfield, Minnesota (one of the ECLA Lutheran colleges you mention). I taught there two years while in grad school at the U. of Minnnesota, and while there is a clear Christian focus, it seemed at least then to be very open in terms of inquiry. I was originally disappointed no full time jobs opened up there when I finished my Ph.D., though now I’m glad to be in Maine!

  2. It also has an excellent academic reputation and is world class in its music programs. I was ABD and taught covering for a professor on sabbatical, and then later a professor doing “global semester” (taking students around the world for a semester’s credit). They don’t usually have grad students teach and I had to prove I could do it before they hired me, so don’t let that dissuade you from considering St. Olaf!

    • They never should have let you go. Know St. Olaf well. You’re right, very good school, and beautiful campus. First Born is across town and Second Born’s best friend visits St. Olaf next month.

  3. Hi Ron,
    Have second born check out some of these schools in Ohio: Ohio Wesleyan (home of the Battling Bishops, and Methodist), College of Wooster (Presbyterian), Hiram (Disciples of Christ), and Denison (fabulous institution-not sure if it is connected with any religion, but very liberal, and well-respected academics). I’ve had friends’ kids go to all, and all the kids have done well, and loved their experiences. OWU is right up the road from where I work. If you check it out, let me know! OWU has a big discount rate, (tons of scholarships).

  4. Almost forgot a favorite of mine: Blufton. It is Mennonite. Wonderful school, dedicated and service-minded staff and faculty. Close to nothing. Worth a look. President is a unbeliveable! This little college showed tremendous strength of character a few years ago when they several baseball players were killed in a bus accident that made national news.

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