Young evangelical Republicans cope

liberty university signThe big story in Friday’s Washington Post was headlined “God, Country and McCain.” The article was less on those three subjects and more an attempt to demonstrate the current mindset of young conservative evangelical Republicans on the eve of what could be for many of them their first electoral defeat as active voters.

Reporter Anne Hull spent a good amount of time and space describing the atmosphere, events and politics at Virginia’s Liberty University through the eyes of the school’s college Republican club president. In that sense the article is somewhat limited since assumptions, stereotypes and pre-suppositions are all filtered through a single student. Personally, I would be more interested in seeing a profile of a more conflicted young evangelical student at a conservative Christian university than someone who is committed to seeing John McCain win.

Early on in the article, there is an implicit assumption that Liberty University has always been a Republican stronghold. The irony created by the Republican Party’s choice for a nominee in 2008 is made explicit midway through the story is Republican nominee John McCain’s 2000 statement that the school’s founder Jerry Falwell was an “agent of intolerance.” Nevertheless, the school’s students and administration still seem to support the GOP’s candidate.

The topic of prayer is a frequently occurring theme throughout the article, but much of the substantive content is about the politics, such as voting (a professor views voting rights as a bad thing), welfare programs (the young Republican who happens to be Nigerian thinks welfare holds back African Americans), and the economy (Americans have become soft and expect too much).

Here is a good example of how the article paints the scene:

To be a college Republican in the face of Obama Nation takes a measure of fortitude. For Ayendi, it also requires tons of prayer and caffeine. McCain’s poll numbers are sliding. Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is a bottomless pit of money and energy. Even the hay bales on the rolling hills of once solidly GOP Lynchburg are painted red, white and blue with the name “Obama.” And at Liberty University, founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1971, the first student Democratic club has sprung up.

For eight years, Liberty students have had one of their own in the White House with George W. Bush: a conservative Christian who has spoken about his conversion experience and funded abstinence-only sex education, appointed two antiabortion Supreme Court justices and supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. A pipeline of jobs stretched from evangelical colleges such as Liberty to the executive branch.

Now a new dawn threatens, and young activists such as Ayendi are fighting hard to the final hour, in part to prepare for the new phase of activism they foresee in the event of an Obama victory.

“It’s the same impulse that Democrats have, the same passion,” Ayendi says. “Aside from moral issues — homosexuality and abortion — I advocate small government.”

The bulk of the article is in a section titled “New Generation of Evangelicals.” The article makes clear that this school isn’t normal. In fact, it’s from another universe, at least from this reporter’s perspective:

On the cold and bleak Friday of homecoming weekend, Liberty holds a 10 a.m. church service for students in the 10,000-seat basketball arena. Convocation is mandatory three times a week, and this morning’s service features a parade of sleepy students lugging laptops and coffee mugs. They wear skinny jeans and hipster high-tops and Ugg boots, but Liberty operates in a parallel universe from other colleges. Alcohol and sex are prohibited. Students caught watching R-rated movies are brought before a court of their peers. Bulletin boards around campus advertise “Pre-Marital Workshops” and the bookstore sells T-shirts that say “I [Heart] Christian Boys.” An ad flashes on the screen at morning convocation for a workshop aimed at “Beginning the Process of Lust-Free Living.”

Just a few days earlier on Wednesday, The New York Times published an article about the problems university administrators are having with college binge drinking. I guess in some ways Christian colleges that place limits on alcohol consumption do operate in a different world from the schools profiled in the Times.

The article concludes with an lengthy but amusing exchange between the article’s main character and a Liberty student who happens to be an Obama supporter. The ultimate conclusion for the Liberty student is that the leaders of the school’s Democratic club and her Republicans should join together for a time of prayer the night before the election because she believes that “When things don’t go your way, you get on your knees and pray to God.” Amen?

Image of the monogram of Liberty University, on Candler’s Mountain, as viewed from near campus used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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  • Jerry

    will talk to anyone about how she thinks that Obama’s promise to redistribute wealth

    That republican talking point is presented as gospel truth when in fact his plan is not that at all. That assertion should have been fact checked and stated not as a fact but as something she said, presuming she did, along with a bit of detail about Obama’s real plan.

    When things don’t go your way, you get on your knees and pray to God. Amen?

    It’s too bad that story ended there because I would have loved to have read the followup question and answer: Why would you not get on your knees and pray no matter what happens?

    I also wish there had been a larger view of Liberty University now that we’re seeing the start of a less one-sided student body there.

    But my biggest issue is that the following struck me as racial stereotyping and that should really have been explored further in the article:

    Rumors fly around campus that Ayendi is a plant for the Obama campaign.

  • Chris Bolinger

    The article makes clear that this school isn’t normal. In fact, it’s from another universe, at least from this reporter’s perspective

    That’s a shocker. Everyone knows that WaPost reporters are middle-of-the-road and not biased in any way.

  • Ben

    So this article is “biased” now too? Oh, and so are many WaPost reporters, wink, wink. Seriously, people, we’ve got to get more precision on this word before tossing it around and sullying everyone’s confidence in journalism. This easy cynicism isn’t adding value.

    The reporter included a lot of details that pointed out the ways these teenagers are like any others — from the indie music on the iPod to the Razor scooter to the constant coffee. Is it biased to point out the ways in which the school is different? What percentage of colleges out there ban R-rated movies? It isn’t biased to point out when something is outside the mainstream, especially when you go out of your way to paint a more complicated, fuller picture.

  • Stoo

    In fact, it’s from another universe, at least from this reporter’s perspective:

    I think it *is* from another universe compared to the typical student experience.

  • Dale

    Ben wrote:

    So this article is “biased” now too? Oh, and so are many WaPost reporters, wink, wink.

    I didn’t perceive Daniel’s post as overly critical; but he correctly points out that describing Liberty University as a “parallel universe” is a bit of unhelpful hyperbole, especially when you put place the phrase before a list of things distinctive to Christian college campuses. Yes, the place is different, but it’s not entirely alien, and to frame the writer’s observations that way 1) causes a reader not familiar with Christian colleges to regard them as amusingly or threateningly odd; and 2) sends the message to evangelical Christian readers that they are “outsiders” compared to the readership of the Washington Post. If the Washington Post needs to retain a broad spectrum of the public, including evangelical Christians, as readers, this is not the way to do it.

  • Dale

    I think it *is* from another universe compared to the typical student experience.

    I guess you’re entitled to your bizarre opinions.

  • Stoo

    What’s bizarre about what I said?

    “Convocation is mandatory three times a week”
    “Alcohol and sex are prohibited. Students caught watching R-rated movies are brought before a court of their peers.”

    Is this normal for american university students? If so I guess i stand corrected. But i’ll be very surprised. For a lot of people sex and boozing are a big part of university life – leaving parents begind, trying new things etc etc.

  • Dale

    What’s bizarre about what I said?

    Sorry, my irony was apparently lost on you. Journalists are not in the business of asserting normative standards. Describing someone else’s way of doing things as occupying a “parallel universe” is as patronizing and dismissive as my labelling your opinion “bizarre.”

    For a lot of people sex and boozing are a big part of university life – leaving parents begind, trying new things etc etc.

    The fact that people choose not to do those things doesn’t make them alien, and the media should refrain from describing them as such.

  • Stoo

    There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging one standard as typical and other ones as differentunusual.

    Also you realise “parallel” doesn’t mean “bad” or “wrong”, yes? You’re always going to have a problem with the media if you actively look for ways to interpret it as patronising and dismissive.

  • Dale

    Stoo wrote:

    There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging one standard as typical and other ones as differentunusual.

    There is if the people interpreting what is and what isn’t “typical” are selected from a limited group. Journalists as a whole do not represent a cross-section of the American public, and when they presume to judge what occupies a “parallel universe,” they assert their own values as normative. That’s a way of stigmatizing people who are not like them.

    Also you realise “parallel” doesn’t mean “bad” or “wrong”, yes?

    And “bizarre” doesn’t necessarily mean something bad, either. So why do you object to my description of your opinion as bizarre? Perhaps because I’m placing your opinion beyond the bounds of “normal” people?

    You’re always going to have a problem with the media if you actively look for ways to interpret it as patronising and dismissive.

    The media is always going to have a problem with objectivity if it self-selects journalists who have no acquaintance with evangelical Christianity, sends them to places like Liberty University and then publishes stories that characterize its culture as strange. That’s not objective reporting; its reporting that asserts the journalist’s own culture as normative. Plus, the journalist’s normative judgements are just not necessary to the story–a description will do, and if something needs to be explained to an uninformed reader, an interviewee, who presumably knows something about the place, can explain.

    This is a minor flaw in a basically a good story, because the story generally allows the individual students at Liberty University to speak in an authentic voice. However, dpulliam correctly sees the crack about a “parallel universe” as a flaw.

  • Stoo

    I didn’t find bizarre insulting or anything, i just didn’t understand how the term applied.

    And I’m still willing to bet that what journalists consider “normative” is more common than a culture where “Students caught watching R-rated movies are brought before a court of their peers”.

  • Dale

    And I’m still willing to bet that what journalists consider “normative” is more common than a culture where “Students caught watching R-rated movies are brought before a court of their peers”.

    More common according to what standard? Does something that is a practice in less than a majority of the population mean that the practitioners exist in a “parallel universe”? What possible point is there in discussing the sexual mores and alcohol policy of Liberty University, when the article is purportedly about young evangelicals involved in this year’s election?

    You may or may not find the adjective “bizarre” insulting; but you have to concede that it can be used to marginalize that which it describes, just as “parallel universe” is used to marginalize Liberty University and its students.