Times! Finish the Ivy Christians story

The sterling New York Times reporting team of Laurie Goodstein and David D. Kirkpatrick served up a fine story idea this past weekend under the headline “On a Christian Mission to the Top.”

The basic question: What happens when very traditional Christians attempt to reestablish a base in what was once a haven for high-level discourse about faith — the Ivy League schools?

And the Times report about the “Christian Union” organization — which is reported in a very calm and fair manner — delivers the goods, at least at first. Here is a solid chunk of that, focusing on missionary Tim Havens and his work at Brown University:

Like most of the Ivy League universities, Brown was founded by Protestant ministers as an expressly Christian college. But over the years it gradually shed its religious affiliation and became a secular institution, as did the other Ivies. In addition to Buddhists, the Brown chaplain’s office now recognizes “heathen/pagan” as a “faith community.”

But these days evangelical students like those in Mr. Havens’s prayer group are becoming a conspicuous presence at Brown. Of a student body of 5,700, about 400 participate in one of three evangelical student groups — more than the number of active mainline Protestants, the campus chaplain says. And these students are in the vanguard of a larger social shift not just on campuses but also at golf resorts and in boardrooms; they are part of an expanding beachhead of evangelicals in the American elite.

There you have the problem, slipping in there at the end of these summary paragraphs. Instead of focusing on a truly interesting trend — evangelicals trying to engage elite academic culture, rather than flee it — the story veers off into ultra-familiar territory about evangelical niches and the movement’s rising clout in other areas of American life, business and, of course, politics.

Yes, those subjects are connected to the Ivy League story. But the Times report dedicates so much attention there that — quite literally — the story never delivers the goods on the subject in the lead. It seems that the story gets hijacked a third of the way in and it never recovers.

Here is another glimpse of what could have been:

Now a few affluent evangelicals are directing their attention and money at some of the tallest citadels of the secular elite: Ivy League universities. Three years ago a group of evangelical Ivy League alumni formed the Christian Union, an organization intended to “reclaim the Ivy League for Christ,” according to its fund-raising materials, and to “shape the hearts and minds of many thousands who graduate from these schools and who become the elites in other American cultural institutions.”

The Christian Union has bought and maintains new evangelical student centers at Brown, Princeton and Cornell, and has plans to establish a center on every Ivy League campus. In April, 450 students, alumni and supporters met in Princeton for an “Ivy League Congress on Faith and Action.”

I hope this is the start of a series of articles, but I doubt that is the case.

In the end, it seems that anything linked to religious believers has to get hooked to the true religion in the Times newsroom — politics. That is, after all, what life is all about.

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Pingback: Midwestern Mugwump (mw)2

  • http://www.xanga.com/branthansen Brant

    You’re right about what the interesting take would have been. But this is, kinda strangely, part of their “Class in America” series, so they took the tired “rising clout” angle.

  • metagirl

    I’m confused by the whole idea that it’s a good thing for Evangelicals “to reclaim the Ivy Leauge for Christ”, let alone the Evangelical movement in the US government that wants to be in charge of all US policy.

    Despite the now popular myth that America was founded as a Christian nation (read anything by or about Thomas Paine or Thomas Jefferson, among others), the fact is that our country was founded as a nation that has freedom OF religion. Not freedom From religion, not founded By religion or even For religion, just freedom to practice whatever religion you wish without interference from the government.

    That’s a two-sided coin, like it or not. In order to have religion without interference from the government, we must have government without interference from any religion.

    I’ve attended Church with friends who are Fundamentalist Christians over the years, and have yet to meet or hear from a leader of that particular religion who respects any other religion, let alone all of them.

    I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who attends a Fundamentalist Church. Please tell me how one Faith taking over a large section of Our governemt is a good thing for all Americans, or is it just plain selfishness? By selfishness, I mean that some people of a particular religion will do whatever it takes to get their way.

    I don’t “believe” in the Constitution the same way I believe in Jesus Christ, but I chose to live in a country that is supposed to be ruled by the Constitution and who’s leaders take an oath to uphold it, not change it to their religious liking. If I want to live in a country that’s ruled by one religion I only have to look at Iran, and then shudder.

    Power corrupts. Just look at Tom DeLay.

  • http://www.crashgroundzero.com Glenn A.

    metagirl, I guess I don’t attend a fundamentalist church, but depending on who you are asking, I think I might be labeled a fundamentalist.

    I don’t particularly think that I want a large section of the government “taken over” but a particular faith. I will have to assume here that we are not considering secularism as a faith, which I’m not entirely sure is the case.

    And I would disagree that freedom from religious interference in the government is quite what was in mind from the founding fathers. Yes, I’ve read Paine and Jefferson, but I’ve read a few others as well.

    What I do want to see in the government though, and who I vote for are those who I do believe have similar beliefs to mine. I mean, when it comes down to it, isn’t that to some degree what we fought the revolution over, the fact that we had no representation in the British government.

    I think that for many evangelicals, they feel that same way now. There may be many that claim to support them, but occasionally even us evangelicals can see that that is only lip service. So a current theme is to try to be sure that the next generation of evangelical leaders is educated in such a way that they are capable and willing to take a seat at the table of democracy.

    To me the effort about “reclaiming the Ivy league for Christ” is more a matter of balance than anything. I would doubt that most would think that a balance would be a bad thing, and a few evangelicals at these universities are hardly likely to overthrow the vast liberal nature of those institutions.

    As for the selfishness comment, to be honest, my religion is the bedrock and cornerstone of my life, it affects everything I do. I can’t bifurcate my life into two separate components. So yes, I would agree that we should vote for leaders that take an oath to uphold the Constitution, at the same time, I don’t want their religion to be a Sunday only thing. I expect it to influence and affect their actions.

    I simply refuse to vote for someone who is capable of ignoring their faith on issues of importance.

  • metagirl

    Glen A.:

    “I simply refuse to vote for someone who is capable of ignoring their faith on issues of importance.”

    I guess that depends on what’s important to you. What give you the right to pontificate and dictate to others what should be important to them? Pride? Selfishness? YOUR faith? The faith that GWB claims to have, yet has yet to display in any way except for lip service?

    “As for the selfishness comment, to be honest, my religion is the bedrock and cornerstone of my life, it affects everything I do.”

    My religion is the bedrock and cornerstone of my life. It affects my personal life, my family life, the selfless acts I perform in my communtiy, how I treat the world that God has allowed us to tread upon until I’m called home, how I treat the poor, and how I try my best to live the way that I believe that Jesus Christ wants me to.

    I try to live my life the way I believe Jesus Christ would want me to. Jesus didn’t condemn people of other religions nor their religions. He treated them with respect. I have no respect for anyone who acts like they know more than Jesus Christ.

    I should also add that for many terrorists, their faith is the bedrock and cornerstone of their life, too. They only want to force others to believe what they believe is “right”. What makes you any different? Oh! Because your preacher told you that you were right if you believed what he told you to?

    What makes me any different? I don’t try to force my beliefs on others through politics or any other type of coeresion.

    “I can’t bifurcate my life into two separate components. So yes, I would agree that we should vote for leaders that take an oath to uphold the Constitution, at the same time, I don’t want their religion to be a Sunday only thing. I expect it to influence and affect their actions.”

    I’m sorry, but that’s such a crock. Is that an attempt to try to say that you think that the Constitution is just peachy as long as it serves your religious purposes and that the leaders you hope to elect for all americans should put your faith before the Constitution in a “nice” way?

    “What I do want to see in the government though, and who I vote for are those who I do believe have similar beliefs to mine. I mean, when it comes down to it, isn’t that to some degree what we fought the revolution over, the fact that we had no representation in the British government.

    I think that for many evangelicals, they feel that same way now. There may be many that claim to support them, but occasionally even us evangelicals can see that that is only lip service. So a current theme is to try to be sure that the next generation of evangelical leaders is educated in such a way that they are capable and willing to take a seat at the table of democracy.”

    Are you actually trying to play the “minority” card with me? Ah, the poor evangelicals, they’re such a minority that they have to fight for representation in government! That’s quite the load you’re carrying. Self-inflicted hypocrisy.

    If Jesus Christ felt that he wasn’t up to the task of sitting in judgement of others while he was alive, what gives you the right now?

    If the government gives any of us the freedom to practice our faith in any way we see fit, then we have representation, no matter what religion you are. What you’re asking for is religion IN government because that’s what you selfishly want. And not just any religion, either. You want Your religion to represent all of us. Selfish and short sighted.

    This is America, founded with the Constitution. Love it or leave it, as some people were fond of saying when any dissent about the Iraq war was being censored. I will not allow this to become yet another Iran, despite the best efforts of those politicians like Frist DeLay, and GWB, who are more than happy to USE the people who want to inflict their religious beliefs on all of us, a totally UnAmerican thing to do.

  • metagirl

    I forgot one thing:

    “I don’t particularly think that I want a large section of the government “taken over” but a particular faith. I will have to assume here that we are not considering secularism as a faith, which I’m not entirely sure is the case.”

    What gives you the right for the “either your with us, or you’re my enemy” sort of attitude as far as Our government goes? What makes you think that anyone who doesn’t subscribe to your brand of faith is a secularist, and therefore deserves to be mocked?

    I don’t brand someone who wants to keep government out of religion and vice versa as a “secularist”. What makes you believe that just because they aren’t serving what you percieve to be your best interests that they’re secularists?

    BTW, what is your definition of a secularist?

  • http://www.crashgroundzero.com Glenn A.

    I’m not entirely sure where I get the antagonism here? I’m terribly sorry for whatever some evangelicals have done to your image of them.

    What I might ask makes you believe that I am somehow less selfless than you, that my faith is not based on the example of Jesus Christ? By my identification as an evangelical?

    I just don’t think you can pull religion out of everything and assume it doesn’t exist, or that it is indeed, antithetical to everything public. I don’t buy into that dichotomy, I’m sorry.

    I’m not entirely sure where I slipped into judgmentalism, where was I judging anyone in any of my statements. I apologize for any mocking tone. I can’t imagine where I indicated my own selfishness and my own short sightedness in the matter, and no I was not asking for religion in government.

    And how do you blithely assume that I am unable to come up with any opinions that my preacher did not give to me? Again, because you have some hatred for evangelicals or as you dub them, fundamentalists. Some of us think too, perhaps even in proportion to the rest of the populace.

    You accuse me of judgmentalism and unChristian behavior, and if so, I apologize sincerely, though I don’t think there was any given, and certainly none intended.

  • Brad

    I think people who are surprised that Evangelicals might want to influence the Ivies might be forgetting what “Evangelical” really means.

    By definition an Evangelical will want to work to change people, to help them to become Christians (as Jesus told us to do in the Great Commission of Matthew 28).

    To many (myself included), one of the most logical places to do this in the greatest numbers with the greatest effect on the society at large would be areas that are simultaneously influential and generally free of religion and, hey, what fits that combination of characteristics more than Ivy League schools?

    I think it’s common sense that Ivy League schools would be targeted and I wish them great success!

    To the point of this discussion, I too am queasy about getting government too explicitly involved in (and talking about) religion. The visits to churches by pandering politicians, etc. annoy me and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a politician that consistently acts on Christian beliefs when governing (after all, wouldn’t both abortion and war be greatly frowned upon by the consistent Christian? Who among our current crop, then, is consistent?).

    But then, the principles and philosophy by which people govern have to be based on something. What better thing to base that governing philosophy on than the principles espoused in the Bible?

    Brad

  • Fred

    It is natural that a missionary religion would go to what it would perceive as barren fields to bring the word of God. I’m surprised it didn’t happen earlier.
    In the name of diversity, tolerance and intellectual cross-pollinization , all esteemed value of great universities, I am certain these liberal institutions will welcome the evangelicals.

  • Beth

    I’m not sure I understand all the facts in this case, but it’s important to remember that the Ivy League schools are PRIVATE schools, and that, as the article points out, many were founded by explicit Christians. I wonder if people like metagirl have a problem with a private school that uses the doctrines of a church to guide its curriculum and its policies?

    And if that’s OK, why can’t individuals seek to evangelize and share their faith with others in a personal or club environment? Last time I checked, that was permitted by the Constitution, too.

    I may have missed something in the article, but I didn’t see where “the government” was involved at all in this.

  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    “In the end, it seems that anything linked to religious believers has to get hooked to the true religion in the Times newsroom — politics. That is, after all, what life is all about. ”

    I think your insistence that the Times report as you would have them shows your need to see a story as you would like as opposed to how the editorial board sees it. Take it up with the editor! Or better yet, write for them yourself and show them “how it is done”.

  • http://www.douglasbass.com/blogger.html Douglas

    Other bloggers have noticed similar things about this article. The Times seems to have downplayed the aspect of what remarkable individuals Havens and Bennett are, and seemed to portray them as your average Christian.

  • wildwest

    “In the name of diversity, tolerance and intellectual cross-pollinization , all esteemed value of great universities, I am certain these liberal institutions will welcome the evangelicals.”

    After all, evangelicals are just another minority group wanting toleration. That’s all. They don’t want to “take over.” They just want some warm and friendly conversation in the name of free speech, just like all the other minority groups. To be part of the loving, pluralistic community of intellectuals on the Ivy League campuses. Just like their own campuses, only with evangelicals to completely round out the pluralism. I mean, would “evangelicals” complain if they heard that Scientologists were “targeting” their campuses? Of course not.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X