In May of 2005, The New York Times ran a story — as part of a series of stories on “class” issues in America — about efforts by the Christian right to increase their presence on Ivy League campuses as the number of evangelicals and religious conservatives attending those institutions increases. The article focused on one group, the Christian Union, which was founded to provide a counter for committed Christians to the secular pressures and hostility to faith they encounter in the modern academic environment — and, yes, to provide support for communicating and spreading their faith to the wider university community.
Although the Times article was neither fawning nor fretful — was in fact pretty fair and thoughtful –some of the responses they chose to publish as letters from readers reminded me how often self-defined ‘liberals’ defeat themselves by making the claims of the fundamentalist right about religious persecution and ‘liberal’ intolerance seem legitimate. I wrote this letter to point that out. It was not published.
27 May 2005
The response of Beryl Minkle and Haakon Chevalier and your other correspondents on the subject of evangelical Christians in the Ivy league (27 May 2005) demonstrates why groups like the Christian Union are necessary. Say Minkle and Chevalier:
“College provides a forum for expression of different opinions and varying religious views. It is spiritually disrespectful and a violation of the premises of a liberal arts education to impose any one religion upon the rest of the student body.
“As Brown University parents, we are appalled that these students and their mentors view the campus as a place to proselytize and recruit.
“Colleges are meant to open people’s minds, not close them…“
So colleges are supposed to open minds unless it makes them open to this particular brand of religion?
Colleges provide a forum for expression of different opinions and varying religious views — excepting that those particular opinions and religious views are to be silenced?
Proselytizing and recruitment by a Christian group with no university affiliation or endorsement — but not proselytizing and recruitment on behalf of Marxism or Utilitarianism or Feminism or Afro-Centrism or any of the other myriad -isms that contend for the students’ attention and commitment in the classroom and through student organizations with the official imprimatur and blessing of the university — constitutes an appalling imposition of those views?
Note the objection was not to the details or implications of particular philosphies or policies, which might be debated and refuted; it was to the very presence of those philosophies on the campus, to the very idea that you might need to engage in that debate or bother to ignore it.
I have my own antipathy to proselytizing in general and to that brand of Christianity in particular, but your correspondents’ attitude is exactly why those evangelicals feel they are persecuted by the “secular left”.
© Copyright 2005, Augustus P. Lowell