Some of you may remember Kevin Roose. In 2007, as a student at Brown University, he went undercover for a semester at Liberty University and reflected on his experience in The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University. Here is a review of that book from Booklist:
Brown University student Roose didn’t think of himself as being particularly religious, yet he conceived the novel idea of enrolling at Liberty University, the school Jerry Falwell built, thereby transferring from a school “a notch or two above Sodom and Gomorrah” to the evangelical equivalent of Notre Dame or Brigham Young. His reasons were logical, though curious.
To him, a semester at Liberty was like studying abroad. “Here, right in my time zone, was a culture more foreign to me than any European capital.” He tells his story entertainingly, as a matter of trying to blend in and not draw too much attention to himself. One hardened habit he had to break was cursing; he even bought a Christian self-help book to tame his tongue. Throughout his time at Liberty, he stayed level-headed, nuanced, keenly observant. He meant to find some gray in the black-and-white world of evangelicalism, and he learned a few things. His stint at Liberty hardly changed the world but did alter his way at looking at it. That’s a start.
I did a post on Roose and his book on March 24, 2009.
Last week, Roose wrote another piece on Liberty University. In his New York Magazine post, Roose remarks on just how quiet Liberty has been on gay marriage during the Supreme Court’s consideration of the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. He concludes that Liberty students, like other young evangelicals, have been more accepting of gay marriage than their elders. Here is a taste:
Another Liberty student wrote me: “The general consensus from Liberty University students regarding the Defense of Marriage Act hearings has been surprisingly progressive. Obviously Liberty catches a lot of heat for being publically opposed to progressive views on gay marriage and abortion … but students at Liberty are free to form their own opinions.”
Liberty’s twin shifts on gay marriage — from vocal activism to quiet tut-tutting, and from unified opposition to a diverse mix of support, apathy, and skepticism — are likely in part a product of the school’s increased focus on growth over ideological unity. (As detailed in a recent Washington Post article, the school’s enrollment has quadrupled, to more than 75,000 students, since the elder Falwell’s death.) . . .
But what’s happening at Liberty also mirrors national trends. Pew’s poll of attitudes toward gay marriage has shown consistent growth in the number of evangelical Christians who are supportive, with gains especially concentrated among young evangelicals. The growth of evangelical acceptance has been driven in part by secular culture, but also by leaders within the movement. Last week, Rob Bell, a Christian writer and speaker who is immensely popular with the college-age crowd, shocked older evangelicals by coming out in support of gay marriage.
Liberty is still not a gay-rights hot spot. The school’s code of conduct, as of several years ago, still forbid homosexual conduct (though, in fairness, it forbid most heterosexual acts, too) and its curriculum still espouses Falwell-style Christian conservativism.
As you might expect, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. responded quickly to this piece in an attempt to affirm the university’s conservative views. Here is a taste of a letter he wrote to Roose after the piece was published:
Liberty does have a doctrinal statement that all faculty must affirm but it has never had an official position on any political issue. As you know, however, most of our faculty, staff and students are very conservative politically and theologically. I do not see that changing at all. For example, in Liberty’s voting precinct, Romney won 93% of the vote and that precinct had, by far, the highest turnout in the area. Students still are very much pro-life and pro-traditional marriage just like they have always been and the ones who voted for Romney indicated those two issues were the main reasons they supported Romney over Obama.
The only shift I have noticed in recent years has been more support among conservative Christians, especially young ones, for libertarians. In Virginia, only Romney and Ron Paul were on the ballot in the Republican primary and Ron Paul won at the campus precinct. So, if anything, our students are becoming more conservative on the issue of limiting the size and scope of government while remaining conservative on the social issues.
Read the rest of the letter and Roose’s take on it.