Campus has always been something of a heated cultural battleground, but now more than ever it has reached a fever pitch, with clashing ideas, ideologies and beliefs constantly at the forefront of college life. In the midst of all this, one author argues that “the cultural Battle of Waterloo” will be fought “on the campuses of Christian colleges,” and there either one or lost.
At First Things, Carl Trueman writes that this battle will be fought on two separate fronts. The first, he claims, will involve Title IX, which, expanded under the Obama administration, “makes colleges that hold to traditional Christian moral positions on homosexuality and transgenderism vulnerable to loss of government funding and to damaging legal actions.”
Trueman also points out that “failure to conform to Title IX will be punished with notations and probable loss of accreditation.” Perhaps more threatening to some schools is the threat that “schools that are not ‘friendly’ to LGBTQI students will find that they are unable to compete in sporting events.”
“[W]hile the choice between sport and one’s faith should not merit a second thought,” Trueman writes, “I expect that this will be the point at which many colleges crack.”
The second front, he writes, is a battle of ideas—and Christian colleges need to be prepared to step up their game in this way. “Christian colleges,” Trueman says, “cannot win merely by shouting Bible verses, however sophisticated their idiom. Nor will they win by good old-fashioned arguments resting on logic and reason. That’s not how it works any more.”
I became acutely aware of the latter fact some years ago, when I was challenged by a student while delivering a guest lecture on gay marriage at a very conservative Christian college. My arguments did not work, because . . . well, they were arguments, and did not take into account how the mind of my young critic had been formed. She had not been convinced by any argument. Her imagination had been seized by an aesthetically driven culture, in which taste was truth and Will and Gracecarried more weight than any church catechism or tome of moral philosophy.
In such a world, arguments, even irrefutable arguments, will not suffice. We need something more comprehensive, something to capture imaginations. We need a philosophy of undergraduate education that offers visions of beauty, that connects the fields of knowledge our modern world has torn apart and isolated, and that speaks to the human desire for meaning. A good start might be making the study of poetry, that medium which at its best makes human language carry almost more significance than it can bear, a compulsory course for freshmen. If the narrative and aesthetic of the world are gripping, then we must show that ours are more gripping, rooted as they are in real beauty and real truth.
With Trump in the White House, Christian colleges have four, maybe eight, years in which the cultural and political tide might not flow as strongly against them as it did under Obama. Now is the time to organize, externally and internally. Colleges with a mutual interest in religious freedom and in preserving Christian standards of sexual morality and human personhood should talk to each other, abandon pipe dreams of “dialogue,” and coordinate their legal actions and political lobbying. They have the constitutional right to do so. America is still a free country. The whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. But time, focus, and realism are of the essence.
College campuses, Trueman says, “will be in the legal and cultural frontline. Now is the time to take that truth to heart and to act upon it.”
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