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]
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.