With memories of high school graduation still fresh on their minds, millions of parents will send their children off to college in the coming weeks. For parents, the time is a bitter-sweet milestone. For students, it marks the beginning of a quest for freedom.
But what students and parents don’t realize is that today’s campuses are functioning as an indoctrination into the realm of liberalism. As early as the 1790s, Yale college students were openly disavowing Christ. Despite periods of revival, the denial of Christian beliefs and the acceptance of secularism have persisted and gained strength through the years.
In April 2000, Tufts University in Massachusetts decertified a Christian student group “for its refusal to allow a lesbian to run for president,” as columnist Matt Kaufman reported on Boundless.org. The decision was later repealed.
Yet, six years later, students at the University of Michigan may sign up for “Lesbian Worlds: Subject, Object and Representation,” “Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender and Queer Studies” and other homosexual-based offerings for the 2006 fall semester.
It is obvious that the Left has a prominent place on public, private, secular and Christian campuses and is so convincing that some Christians are denying their faith while other students are forming a personal set of beliefs for the first time.
In his book University of Destruction, David Wheaton cites research by Dr. Gary Railsback and the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. Wheaton wrote, “Depending on the type of college attended, as many as 51% of students who claimed to be ‘born-again Christians’ as freshmen said they were no longer born-again Christians four years later.” (See chart on facing page.)
“The trial everyone has heard about – but most people underrate – is the sheer spiritual disorientation of the modern campus,” wrote J. Budziszewski in a Focus on the Family magazine article.
“Methods of indoctrination are likely to include not only required courses, but also freshman orientation, speech codes, mandatory diversity training, dormitory policies, guidelines for registered student organizations and mental health counseling,” Budziszewski added.
“[T]he modern university, having lost its moral convictions, has attached itself to relativistic doctrines such as tolerance and diversity, which mean, in practice, tolerance of anything but Biblical faith and traditional morality.”
Budziszewski’s claims ring true for Noah Riner, who was the 2005-2006 student body president at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire – a college founded in 1769 to provide Native Americans with a Christian-based education.
Riner delivered the university’s convocation speech last fall. In it, he named Jesus as the solution to flawed humanity and as the ultimate example of character based on His sacrificial love. Riner intended to challenge students to think about what kind of people they would become.
“So in talking about that I couldn’t help but talk about Christ. … [and] living for Him and knowing what our purpose as humans is,” he explained. “[After all], what is the purpose of education, if not to use it for Him?”
But many – both friends and foes – in the Dartmouth community felt differently and spoke out in e-mails as well as articles, op-ed columns and a retaliating cartoon in the student newspaper, The Dartmouth. The controversy even resulted in the resignation of one of the student assembly’s vice presidents, Kaelin Goulet, who claimed she could no longer work with Riner because she considered “his choice of topic for the Convocation speech reprehensible and an abuse of power,” according to The Christian Post.
The Post also reported that the editorial board of The Dartmouth wrote, “The problem with Riner’s speech was his insinuation that turning to Jesus is the only way to find character.”
“I definitely knew that a lot of people would disagree with me in terms of calling Jesus the best example of character and also claiming Him as Savior,” Riner admitted. “I didn’t anticipate the reaction being … as passionately opposed to me as it was, though.
“[I]t was hard [for people] to believe that somebody, some educated, intelligent person believed in God, believed in Jesus Christ and was willing to talk about it,” he explained. “I think it represents [that] a lot of people haven’t heard the Gospel – even in our country.”
Although some of his relationships were strained, Riner took time to respond in person to the people who were upset by his comments. Doing so allowed him to meet new people and gave him the opportunity to talk to some who were contemplating Christianity.
“I don’t think I necessarily changed a lot of people’s minds, … but it was good in that people felt like they had been heard,” Riner explained. “They understood me a little more, and I understood where they were coming from.” And perhaps a seed was planted in the process.
The need for evangelism in addition to the school’s superior academic reputation is the reason this Kentucky-raised, Baptist-bred home schooler attended Dartmouth – a campus where religion is not taken seriously and where humanism is perceived as the predominant worldview.
“[I] just believed that I could make a difference there,” Riner said. “I think that … our calling that Jesus has mandated is to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. So I think it’s pretty sad when Christians abandon entire areas of our culture, and … I think it’s pretty dangerous to let bad ideas go unchallenged.”
But what does it take for a college student to get to this point where he can stand firm in his beliefs despite the pressures of liberal opposition?
For Noah, as for anyone, it’s all about salvation and spiritual preparation.
“Being a ‘good kid’ wasn’t going to be nearly enough to survive college. …” Wheaton wrote of his first few weeks at Stanford University. “My (paltry) desire to adhere to the Christian values with which I had been raised was overwhelmed by the temptations and pleasures of college life.”
These temptations can turn to assaults when exacerbated by sin. Kaufman said students should expect to be assaulted intellectually, emotionally and socially.
To combat the intellectual assault, Kaufman believes Christian students “shouldn’t have an inferiority complex about Christianity.” Rather they should deepen their thinking and consider what it means to be a Christian by immersing themselves in great Christian literature.
“[K]nowing that the Christian worldview is viable and that it makes sense to look at the world from a Biblical standpoint [is so important],” Riner added.
When it comes to emotional and social preparation, Kaufman said it is important for students to plug into a church and to get into relationships with other Christians, both peers and mentors.
“But there’s also the spiritual preparedness that just comes from knowing God and walking with God and knowing His will,” Riner said.
Therefore, Christians need preparation of both the heart and head, according to author Nancy Pearcey.
“If all we give them [young people] is a ‘heart’ religion, it will not be strong enough to counter the lure of attractive but dangerous ideas,” Pearcey wrote in her book Total Truth.
“Young believers also need a ‘brain’ religion – training in worldview and apologetics – to equip them to analyze and critique the competing worldviews they will encounter when they leave home,” she added.
“Parents should try to make sure that their children are grounded in apologetics before sending them off,” said Dr. Richard Howe, a writer in Christian apologetics and a former college professor.
“Training young people to develop a Christian mind is no longer an option; it is part of their necessary survival equipment,” Pearcey wrote.
“This does not mean that the students would have to have all the answers before they go,” Howe added. “But it does mean that, if the need arises for an answer, they will know where to go and with whom to consult when the intellectual battle starts to rage. And it most certainly will rage.”
• How to Stay Christian in College by J. Budziszewski (Th1nk, 2004)
• Fish Out of Water by Abby Nye (New Leaf Press, 2005)• University of Destruction by David Wheaton (Bethany House, 2005)
ABOVE: Noah Riner