Evangelicals and Their ‘Made-up Ideas’

by David French

I was going to waste an inordinate amount of time today responding to an essay in Inside Higher Ed that purports to lecture evangelicals on their “siege mentality” and their “paranoid and frankly made-up ideas” regarding the academy. Then I realized it was so devoid of factual content as to be nothing more than a rant — one whose over-generalizations ironically end up confirming that there is at least one academic at Kalamazoo College (where the writer teaches) who may be incapable of offering objective judgments about his more religiously devout students.  

(As an aside, I particularly loved his assertion that assigning opinion pieces regarding abortion or evolution in entry-level classes condemns evangelicals “to do poorly.” Why? Because “many of them would merely parrot the stock arguments they’d heard from their leaders with very little reflection or fresh argumentation of their own.” And I suppose that entry-level secular-Left students tend to make absolutely scintillating arguments about abortion or evolution.)

Evidence shows that academics have disdain for evangelicals. Evidence also shows that students at secular colleges tend to abandon both their faith and their faith practices. There is also absolutely no doubt that the campus has become quite decadent. If a professor looks at an academic world in which a majority of his colleagues have unfavorable opinions about evangelicals, where students stop going to church, where they move dramatically left on key social issues, where they’re highly likely to face negative consequences of a binge drinking culture, where Christian professors “fare significantly worse“ than their secular colleagues even “at similar levels of achievement,” and where even the ability of private Christian clubs to organize around a statement of faith is in jeopardy, and says, in essence, “Stop being so paranoid and conform,” then it’s simply hard to believe he’s put much scholarly effort into determining the truth of the matter on campus.

I don’t know a single serious evangelical leader who believes (as the author asserts) that “no degree of accommodation [with academia] aside from outright mass conversion is ever going to be enough.” In fact, I know quite a few serious Christians — including my colleagues at the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom — who have a much simpler, more modest goals, like free speech, freedom of association, and giving Christian scholars a fair chance at tenure and promotion in the academy.  

But maybe I just have a “siege mentality” and am in the grips of my leaders’ “made-up ideas.” Or maybe not. If the writer has an open mind, perhaps he can learn from the good folks at FIRE. The evidence does not lie.

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