In 1987 sociologist James Davison Hunter published Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation, an analysis of attitudes and opinions of students at member colleges of the Christian College Consortium, an organization including schools like Trinity, Wheaton, Gordon, and Taylor.  I found the results on their attitudes on matters sexual–and mind you, this was 30 years ago now–frightening.  The number of these students with a casual, secularized, or weakly-convinced attitude toward sexual morality–and who weren’t afraid to let it be known—made me think when I read this book many years ago that Evangelicalism as a Christian movement was doomed.  These students were, by and large, the children of families willing to pay higher tuitions to be sure their children received Christian training.  Remember in the fifties Bishop Sheen telling Catholics that if they wanted their children to lose their faith, he recommended sending them to a Catholic school?  [This attribution, denied by some, seems reasonable to me–and even if Bp. Sheen didn’t say it, other good Catholics have.  Would you send your child to Providence College just because Anthony Esolen teaches there?  I’d have to think long and hard about it.]  Things haven’t changed in the mainline Catholic world, and Evangelicals have the same problem.

While very much in favor—in theory—of Christian colleges, I talked both my girls out of attending them, and am glad I did, and I am convinced they are stronger Christians for it.  It wasn’t hard with the older, because she’s in the hard sciences, and these schools are too small to purchase the laboratory equipment she needed for her research, even as an undergraduate.  The younger’s sojourn at a state university as a music major among artsy gays hardened up both her political conservatism and her Christianity.  The attacks on faith and reason at secular colleges are at least not carried on by allegedly Christian teachers who constantly urge their students to question the beliefs with which they were raised, while at secular schools Christian students have the ability to consider at first-hand the results of overt anti-Christianity, and decide for themselves whom they shall serve.

Given their history (cf. Marsden’s The Soul of the American University, Oxford, 1996), the burden of proof is firmly upon colleges that advertise themselves as Christian to demonstrate it to donors, alumni, and prospective students. I frankly do not see how this can effectively be done without (1) getting rid of tenure, (2) rejecting definitions of academic freedom that allow teachers to undermine its confession and moral code, (3) dismissing teachers who openly challenge the college’s stated beliefs, (4) risking the loss of accreditation by agencies that will not in fact accredit Christian colleges, and (5) willingness to be identified by detractors as illiberal or worse.  Such schools must also be careful not to retreat into anti-intellectualism, but, favoring a classical habitus, retain and support administrators with the necessary courage to maintain it.