Open letter to all students contemplating going to an evangelical college “Don’t let them ruin your life”

Open letter to all students contemplating going to an evangelical college “Don’t let them ruin your life” February 10, 2016

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Before you choose a college such as Wheaton, Gordon or Liberty University consider this: your degree will cost you dearly in terms of future opportunities. It’ll be next to worthless, about as useful to you as a degree from the grand wizard of the KKK.

 The evangelical fundamentalist college movement is painting itself into a backward hate-filled corner. Don’t let them ruin your life. 

On the brink of the massive defeat that the 2016 presidential election is about to hand the Republicans and their hateful candidates–Trump and Cruz–and all that these massively unpleasant sociopaths stand for, evangelical colleges have hooked their wagon to the GOP right as never before. “Wrong side of history” hardly covers it. 

They have latched on to a pernicious idea that religious rights equals their right to discriminate against gay people and women. Gordon College has put itself on record via a letter from Gordon’s president to President Obama asking for the right to discriminate against gay people. He calls this defending “religious rights.” 

Wheaton College denies women working for them the right to get coverage for contraception along with their health insurance. All of this is done in the name of religious rights. Meanwhile the culture is moving in the other direction toward a more inclusive generous view of all people’s right to be treated as equals and with dignity. 

If you choose to go to a school known for discrimination it’s going to cost you. In fact It will hurt your chances in life. As Paul Rosenberg notes in “This is the religious right’s radical new plan: The very real efforts to create an American theocracy in plain sight” :


In the past several years, as the inevitability of gay marriage has grown clear, the religious right has unceasingly shifted focus to a new field of battle—one that they call the battle for “religious freedom.” “Gay rights will trample Christians’ religious liberty!” they claim.

But the worst violations of religious liberty actually came from the anti-gay religious right itself—from a 2012 constitutional amendment in North Carolina, which criminalized the performance of gay marriage. The law was successfully challenged by the United Church of Christ in 2014. “By depriving the Plaintiffs of the freedom to perform religious marriage ceremonies or to marry,” the UCC argued, “North Carolina stigmatizes Plaintiffs and their religious beliefs”—and the court agreed, finding it to be an unconstitutional violation of their rights

Which is why it’s not surprising that UCC’s general minister and president, the Rev. John C. Dorhauer, wrote the preface to a major new report, shedding new light on the right’s decades-long campaign to redefine religious freedom into a tool for their own theocratic domination. “Removing someone’s civil rights by empowering the government to protect and preserve my religious homophobia is not my idea of religious liberty,” Dorhauer writes. But that’s exactly how the religious right has tried to stand the idea of religious freedom on its head. “What they want to call religious freedom is in fact the kind of oppressive religious tyranny that my ancestors left their homeland to escape,” Dorhauer added.

“When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right,” published by Political Research Associates on Jan. 12, was written by Frederick Clarkson, PRA’s Senior Fellow for Religious Liberty, author of “Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy” and co-founder of the blog Talk to ActionThe title highlights a key aspect of the religious right’s long-term strategy, taking the time-honored principle of religious exemption, intended to protect the individual right of conscience, and expanding it recklessly to apply to whole institutions, even for-profit businesses—as seen in the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, in a process designed to fragment the common public sphere and carve out vast segments of American life where civil rights, labor law and other core protections simply do not apply.

This strategy was kicked into high gear back in 2009 with the “Manhattan Declaration,” a widely endorsed manifesto linking “freedom of religion” specifically to “sanctity of life” and “dignity of marriage,” which religious progressives are just beginning to effectively counter-organize against. This report represents a significant beacon, shedding light on that strategy, the battlefield it’s waged on, and the kinds of long-term responses needed to counter-organize against it.

“When Christian Right leaders talk about religious liberty, they often really mean theocratic supremacism of their own religious beliefs inscribed in government,” Clarkson points out. The report presents a detailed account of how their Orwellian agenda is unfolding, combining up-to-the-minute analysis of recent developments with an historical account dating back to the 1970s and the birth of the modern-day religious right, defending Bob Jones University’s “right to discriminate,” based on religion. As noted in the report:

As recently as the 1980s, Christian Right activists defended racial segregation by claiming that restrictions on their ability to discriminate violated their First Amendment right to religious freedom….

Instead of African Americans being discriminated against by Bob Jones, the university argued it was the party being discriminated against in being prevented from executing its First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court disagreed….

Two things are worth noting here: first, the primacy of discrimination as a political motivation, and second, the “envious reversal” of victim and victimizer that lies at the heart of the conservative victimhood shtick. Elaborating on the first point, the report also notes:

The case, which began during the Nixon administration, became a cause célèbre of the then-budding Christian Right as it advanced over the course of a decade. The late conservative strategist Paul Weyrich and historian Randall Balmer, among others, credited Bob Jones as the catalyst that politicized a wide range of conservative evangelicals….

…..even before the issues of abortion and homosexuality became the policy priorities of a newly politicized Christian Right, its leaders fought the perceived threat of racial equality at conservative Christian academies by claiming their religious freedom to discriminate. This legacy should remind us that the Right’s religious liberty campaigns mobilize old arguments around new targets, and that their agenda extends beyond questions of contraception coverage, or marriage and nondiscrimination in the LGBTQ context.

In short, Bob Jones University is not just an old case, irrelevant to what’s happening today. It represents, at its core, the exact same argument that conservatives are making today. As Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even the past.”


The Evangelical movement is now so out of step with the general culture that soon an academic degree from an evangelical institution like Gordon is going to mean not just lost opportunities but the loss of the investment you or your parents put into your college education.

The kind of willful  outsider status that used to be reserved for stubbornly racist bastions a bigotry like Bob Jones University, is now associated with what used to be mainstream evangelical schools. Places like Gordon and Wheaton too are now thought of as backward bigots.  


Larycia Hawkins, associate professor of political science at Wheaton College and the only tenured woman of color in the school’s 156-year history, is just the latest case to hit the headlines. After initially suspending Hawkins for asserting in a Facebook post that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, Wheaton has initiated proceedings to terminate her claiming that she has violated the school’s statement of faith that she, like all faculty, had signed.

It was recently revealed that Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones called the remark itself “innocuous,” and that other Wheaton faculty who recently expressed solidarity with Islam have been let off the hook with much simpler clarifications. Many commentators, including some prominent evangelicals and Wheaton faculty, are thus not buying the administration’s rationale for its treatment of Hawkins.

“Dissenting professors are being purged, non-conforming students are being intimidated, speech is chilled, and academic freedom is on life support.”

“Laura” (not her real name), a Wheaton alumna who studies Christian theology, sent RD the following sobering assessment: “Several dimensions of the current situation at Wheaton raise serious doubts as to whether an evangelical Christian liberal arts education is in fact possible.”

“The education I received at Wheaton suggested so,” she continued, but, in her view, the “ominous overtones of evangelical complicity in racism and sexism cloaked in theological language [suggest otherwise].” This is particularly true now that discrepancies between how Hawkins and other professors have been treated have surfaced.


A degree from Wheaton College or Gordon or other schools of the kind that defend “religious liberty” as their right to live in the thirteenth century and propagate hate will not be worth the paper it’s printed on in the larger world. Think hard before you waste your money. Evangelical schools are committing suicide. Don’t let them take you with them. 



P.S. Think I’m exaggerating? Falwell Jr. at Liberty just endorsed the loser of all losers, Donald Trump. Before that he urged students to carry loaded guns on campus to protect the school from Muslims. That’s how far out of touch with reality the evangelical movement is. Do you really want to have a degree from these schools?


Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace

Available now on Amazon





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