Pensacola Christian College: The Republicans’ New Feeder School

I usually pay little attention to the State of the Union address, since it rarely amounts to anything more than political theater. I had it on in the background last week, but I only listened to some of it, and even less to the official Republican rebuttal, which was delivered by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a congresswoman from Washington state. My offhand impression was that Rodgers’ speech was heavy on gauzy rhetoric and bromides about religion and God, but devoid of any actual policy proposals. Coming from a party that’s decided its sole reason for being is to oppose everything Democrats want to do, that wasn’t surprising.

I did notice that Rodgers spoke about being the first person from her family to get a college degree, which I’ll reproduce from the transcript:

My dad drove a school bus and my mom worked as a part-time bookkeeper. They taught me to work hard, help others, and always, always dream for more. So, when I showed my 4H animals at the county fair, my parents used to say to me, “Cathy, you need to save this money so you can go to college one day!” So I did – I saved, I worked hard, and I became the first in my family to graduate from college.

But I didn’t think anything more of that line – until this week, when I came across an article by Sarah Posner on Religion Dispatches pointing out where Rodgers went to college:

While those of us in Spokane are already familiar with our congresswoman, little is known about her alma mater, Pensacola Christian College.

That brought me up short, because I do recognize that name. Pensacola Christian College is one of the most notorious ultra-fundamentalist Christian private colleges in the U.S., similar in many ways to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University but even stricter. PCC teaches young-earth creationism in its biology classes, shuns all translations of the Bible other than the King James Version, and proudly announces that “The goal of our Bible program is not to fill our students’ minds with doubts and questions raised by liberals, but rather to fill our students’ souls with the Word of God itself.” As Matthew Rindge points out, the college also takes pride in its incestuous, isolated intellectual community: the vast majority of its faculty are themselves graduates of PCC.

But in my experience, what makes PCC most infamous is its elaborate and draconian code of conduct, reminiscent of North Korea or other totalitarian states, that governs every aspect of its students’ lives both on and off campus. Students are required to attend on-campus church services four days a week [p.39]. Their movements are strictly regulated; they’re not allowed to leave campus overnight or travel further than fifty miles from the school without requesting a pass in advance, and their movements are tracked by computers and ID cards:

You are responsible to scan out when you leave and scan in on time when you return. At each residence hall lobby desk, there are touch-screen computers for scanning out to general local locations or checking out after obtaining an approved pass. Use your PCC Card to scan out, answering the questions that appear on the screen. [p.37]

There’s a list of “restricted” off-campus locations where no student may go, including “bars, clubs, casinos, movie theaters” [p.19]. The internet on campus is filtered, obviously; but what’s more shocking is that PCC also claims the right to search any personal electronic device, like a smartphone [p.27], and forbids students from possessing “personal network equipment” that could presumably be used to set up an illicit network hub.

PCC’s policies also enforce strict gender segregation. Male and female students must be “distinctive in their appearance”, so men aren’t allowed to wear “effeminate” apparel [p.15], and women aren’t allowed to wear “masculine hairstyles or pants” [p.16]. Unmarried opposite-sex students aren’t allowed to have any physical contact whatsoever; there are gender-segregated parking lots, elevators, and stairways [p.17]; and even leaving the grounds in a mixed-sex group is forbidden without a college-approved chaperone. There’s also this amusing bit:

The seductive nature and worldly music of most forms of dancing are contrary to biblical principles. PCC wants students to have a wholesome relationship with members of the opposite gender without the temptations that are often associated with dancing, so dancing is not permitted. [p.14]

And I couldn’t resist quoting one more piece of random kookery:

The martial arts are popular and practiced by many. However, because of their direct ties to Eastern Mysticism, which contrasts biblical beliefs, PCC prohibits all martial arts. [p.19]

Years ago, I used to read The Student Voice, an underground, unsanctioned e-newsletter by a PCC alumnus that criticized the college’s totalitarian practices, but in 2013 the college sued for trademark infringement and gained control of the domain. The associated forum still exists, though, and there seems to be a mirror site.

Needless to say, there are any number of questions that we can raise not just about the academic credentials, but the mindset of someone who’d willingly choose to attend a place like this. It wasn’t too long ago that PCC would have been considered the far, far fringe of the Christian right, a place so extreme that they saw Bob Jones University as a squishy gang of liberals and compromisers. Now they’re producing members of Congress. It’s bad enough that a cultist like this could get elected to high office – but what’s even worse is that the Republicans have elevated her to their standard-bearer!

Image: A metaphor for the ideal PCC mind: intellectual imprisonment and emptiness. Via Shutterstock.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • GCT

    Haven’t they ever seen Footloose?

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Of corse not. Footloose is of Teh Devil.

  • smrnda

    I’m not sure if this particularly politician truly agreed to go to that college; many conservative Christian parents don’t offer much choice, but given that she’s made references to *her money* make me think she must have had a choice.

    The idea of having someone who either would willingly submit to such a regime, or who could be forced to sit through it and not be critical in the end in GOVERNMENT I find utterly terrifying, as it means someone who has no problem with near total control and near total surveillance being applied by an authority figure to those under it is in a position to influence public policy. Even if she doesn’t believe the government should do this, what would her attitude be on surveillance by employers, schools, parents, insurance companies?

  • Alex SL

    Sounds a bit like what I would assume a university founded by the Taliban would be like, only women are allowed to show their faces…

  • Elizabeth

    I like how in the dress code neither men nor women may wear backwards baseball caps. Jesus cared a lot about that, if you recall.

    “Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me. So suffer not
    your brothers and sisters to see you in a backwards hat. It looks
    stupid.”

  • J_JamesM

    Sure, put the brainwashed authoritarian in a position of power. Sounds like a wonderful idea to me.

  • DoctorDJ

    You want lotsa discussion of such “establishments of higher education” (sorry I can’t write that with a straight face) go over to http://www.stufffundieslike.com/ and read the stories of the survivors of FundyU. They’re mostly still xtian, but have a good sense of the abuse they suffered at places like PCC.

  • ImRike

    Hemant had a blog on this:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/01/28/cathy-mcmorris-rodgers-who-gave-tonights-state-of-the-union-rebuttal-attended-a-fundamentalist-christian-college/
    It included this:

    This is the same Pensacola Christian College where, in the event of a fire, the protocol calls for women to be modest at all times:

    … all female students must be in “proper” attire before they leave their rooms for a fire drill. If
    you happen to be sleeping in pajama pants, you must take the time to
    put on a skirt before you try to escape the flames. If you should perish
    then at least you’ll know you died for the cause of not tempting the
    fire fighters to lust after you.

  • Alan Burnham

    My my, this is frightening!

  • David Simon

    PCC deserves very serious scrutiny and criticism, but calling someone a “cultist” merely because they studied there as an undergrad years ago isn’t valid.

    We can evaluate Rodgers based on what she actually says and does.

  • unbound55

    Keep in mind that the sales pitch you find at christian schools don’t point out the issues Adam listed above, or certainly don’t point them out in that way. Just like at every other college, you’d be hard pressed to find a student that actually read all the school documentation…usually the students rely on each other and more senior students to guide the way, and that guidance will be in the form of “We are only doing this out of love for you”.

    Although I haven’t visited that particular university, I have visited several others with varying levels of christianity involved. The lower end just involved an uncomfortable amount of christian phrases. The highest end I’ve been at included incense burning in the background, christian music playing the background, and more presentation about filling the students full of theology than there was on actual study matters (class sizes, degrees, etc). But it was all presented in an incredibly positive manner, and there was not discussion around restrictions of any kind, although I strongly suspect a number of restrictions are in place there. My daughter was creeped out immediately, so we only stayed for the initial presentation and not the actual tour.

    Another interesting thing of note (for me at least) is that the strongly christian college advertised tuition rates of around $35k / year (I assume to make it look like high end education), but in that presentation, they did state that absolutely everyone was guaranteed at least $17k / year in scholarships. Not sure why that particular approach was taken, but it certainly seemed rather deceptive to me.

  • http://thephyseter.wordpress.com The_Physeter

    This is terrifying. Especially that last link you shared, from ex-christian.net. Thank you for pointing this out.

    I feel like there’s a lot of Christians who also would be disturbed by this sort of thing if they knew.

  • http://thephyseter.wordpress.com The_Physeter

    We’ll see how she responds if anyone asks her about her college. A sane, rational person would complain about a place as extreme as that. A brainwashed cultist would feel right at home.

  • smrnda

    Deception seems par for the course with religious institutions.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Holy crap. I missed that post. They really are just like the Saudi morality police who won’t let improperly dressed women leave burning buildings, aren’t they?

  • ImRike

    Yes, and now, here is this:
    http://www.freep.com/article/20140206/NEWS07/302060178/Cathy-McMorris-Rodgers-Republican-leadership-House-Ethics-Committee
    It might not be really bad, but the least it will do is show that our elected officials don’t know how to handle money correctly. Maybe that’s why they don’t want us to have any….

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    The thing is, by all accounts, Rodgers doesn’t consider her time at PCC to be unrepresentative of the kind of person she is. She’s still sufficiently proud of having gone there to cite it in her campaign biography. It’s not a great leap to conclude that she’s comfortable with its kind of authoritarian governing style.

  • cipher

    You are responsible to scan out when you leave and scan in on time when you return. At each residence hall lobby desk, there are touch-screen computers for scanning out to general local locations or checking out after obtaining an approved pass. Use your PCC Card to scan out, answering the questions that appear on the screen. [p.37]

    If they had any integrity, they’d refrain from using devices created by non-believing, liberal, hell-bound scientists and engineers. Of course, expecting Christian fundamentalists to behave with integrity would be ridiculous to begin with.

    The good news is that ultra-Orthodox Jews are now no longer alone in the “insane gender-segregation” category.

  • Eva

    She got a MA from Washington State


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