More on the Christian College in the Pluralist Society

Are liberty of conscience and the separation of Church and State ideas that Christian colleges should affirm? Most of us would unhesitatingly answer “yes.” Thaddeus Kozinski, however, thinks this is a “privatizing of truth claims” that is out of step with the perennial Christian vision of the State.

I have to admit that this last section of the article “The Christian College in the Pluralist Polis,” the earlier sections of which I’ve linked in previous posts, threw me. In the earlier sections, Kozinski liberally cited Reformed philosophers and apologists in an approving manner, and I had assumed he was going to bring his argument home with some sort of Reformed covenantal model.

Pope Leo XIII

Instead, he says Christian colleges need to study papal critiques of the modern political order. 19th-century popes such as Gregory XIV and Leo XIII condemned the secularizing trend of European states and asserted that the best legal regime was one that officially recognized and obeyed the teachings of the Roman Catholic church. Kozinski is certainly correct that arguments of this type don’t get much of a hearing these days, nor do similar arguments from a Protestant standpoint.

Whether or not this political model is preferable to what we have now, Kozinski offers some interesting observations concerning internal workings of Christian colleges. One that stood out to me was the insistence that Christian colleges err in admitting students they know (or strongly suspect) will actively undermine the moral atmosphere of the campus. Although some colleges let such people in and tolerate their presence because students need to be exposed to “the real world,” this policy can easily threaten the Christian mission of the institution.

This point resonated with me because of a controversy on my campus two years ago concerning certain players (some of whom had been admitted with no character references of any kind) on the new varsity football team. In response to some serious violations of campus rules by some of these players, many voices were raised urging that we do “the Christian thing” by not suspending or expelling the players and instead keeping them on campus where they would (hopefully) be exposed to many good evangelistic influences; after all, our campus shouldn’t be a “bubble,” right? I remember one student’s approaching me for my opinion on the issue, and my disappointing him by saying that the institutional responsibility to maintain a safe and moral atmosphere on campus was greater than that of risking the school’s reputation and identity in the hopes of evangelizing “problem students” who had been caught dead to rights violating both campus rules and certain laws. “We” can try to reach people without exposing students to violence, sexual harassment, and unnecessary temptation.

Kozinski says some other worthwhile things about, for example, the dangers Christian colleges run by making material success their chief criterion for policy adoption. The article is certainly worth a look, although I’m not prepared to endorse his vision for the social order just yet.

About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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1 Response to More on the Christian College in the Pluralist Society

  1. Vic McCracken says:

    I can see why you’d be apprehensive to endorse his conclusion, Jason. I find his critique of pluralism and privatization overly hyperbolic. Surely Christian and secular universities permit the study of papal encyclicals like Mirari Vos and Rerum Novarum. The gist of the author’s argument seems to be that it’s terrible that we no longer live in a world where people believe that the church and the state should converge. He also seems to be one of those ultra-conservative Catholics who believes that Vatican II was a grave departure from the glory days of the 19th century (i.e. he doesn’t discuss much the softening of Mirari Vos by Vatican II–does he perhaps see Vatican II as a heterodox catering to religious pluralism?) Why not talk about Gaudium et Spes, a Vatican II Apostolic Constitution that we read in my graduate Christian ethics class, a document that is much more affirming of modern political culture, with its emphasize on liberty and conscience? n

    Further, all of the complaints about the privatization of religious belief are silly in my view. Religious citizens are free to make their religiously-based claims as they see fit; what they are not free to do is assume that these claims will be granted unmitigated authority from citizens who do not share their beliefs.

    In the end, Jason, I think you and I agree that this vision of a church hierarchy, with its infallible teaching office, would be a bad thing when wed to the power of the state. I was envisioning this conclusion to the previous part that you posted, and I’ve already expressed my objections to it. In a way, Jason, my arguments against this (not to mention the quasi-Reconstructionism that you half-heartedly espouse) are appealing back to some of the better notions latent in your libertarian position. I still don’t think you can have it both ways–arguing for liberty of the conscience and freedom of the individual, while at the same time yearning for a political order in which those who disagree with orthodox Christian belief are subjected to criminal sanction.

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