01.16.16: Hallelujah, College

Students at a five-day college missionary conference in St. Louis in 2016 sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

By Molly Worthen

Contributing Opinion Writer

LAST fall, as student activists around the country protested racism on their campuses, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas dismissed secular universities as havens for “leftist, coddled kids.” The protests proved that these schools teem with “psychotic Marxists,” declared “The Daily Caller,” a conservative website.

When conservative Christians map the culture wars, they cast secular universities to the far left periphery — the region that medieval cartographers would have marked “here be dragons.” A cottage industry of books with titles like “How to Stay Christian in College” has long warned pious 18-year-olds that college is a place where the “Prince of Deception” will set “spiritual snares.”

American evangelicals have a venerable tradition of painting the ivory tower as the bastion of unbelief and leftist ideology. As mainstream culture becomes more diverse and moves further away from traditional Christian teachings on matters like sexuality, we might expect evangelical students on elite secular campuses to feel more embattled than ever. Yet that’s not what I found when I spoke to a range of students and recent graduates.

Contrary to conservatives’ warnings about the oppressive secularism of the modern university, these students have taken advantage of their campuses’ multicultural marketplace of ideas. They have created a network of organizations and journals that engage non-Christian ideologies head-on. It’s true that many schools’ nondiscrimination policies have made life more difficult for Christian ministries that require student leaders to assent to a statement of faith. But some students have seized on this challenge as an opportunity.

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Image credit: Paul M. Walsh/Leader-Telegram via AP