Joe , thanks for bringing this fascinating development to our attention. If faith-based dorms become a model that other schools emulate, it could lead a sea change in the way Americans (both believers and unbelievers) experience college.

Given the increasing level of legal, regulatory and administrative conflict at American colleges over religion, I expect this model will be watched carefully by other schools. Colleges would love to have a way to get rid of the nightmare headaches created by believers. “You want to live Christianly? Go live in the Christian ghetto.” It solves all their problems. I’m surprised nobody’s tried it before now. If it doesn’t get tossed out by courts, or crash and burn in some spectacular fashion, I expect it will be emulated.

I don’t think the legal question is all that hard to settle, at least in principle. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly (it just reaffirmed it this past term, if memory serves) that some forms of racial discrimination are permissible in college admissions on grounds that “cultural diversity” is a compelling interest that colleges must be permitted to pursue, even to the detriment of fair play for individuals. By any possible standard, admissions must be more eligible for court scrutiny than dorm arrangements; what’s more, dorm arrangements establish cultural diversity on campus far more clearly than discriminatory admissions do. So if cultural diversity on campus is compelling enough to justify racial discrimination in admissions, it must justify faith-based dorms.

(Unless, of course, the court’s rulings on racial discrimination represent an unprincipled imposition of the justices’ partisan preferences, justified with spurious reasoning that the court would never apply in cases where its political biases were on the other side. But that’s an unthinkable proposition.)

My concern is not so much whether this is lawful as whether it is helpful ( I Cor. 6:12 ). When Christians withdraw into cultural ghettoes, the mainstream culture almost immediately begins to redefine itself against Christianity. The history of Evangelical Protestantism in the U.S. in the twentieth century could almost be reduced to that sentence. Perhaps we think the mainstream culture on the U.S. campus is now so far gone against Christ that it can’t fall further. But another lesson of twentieth century history is that cultures can always fall further. (C.S. Lewis: “Evil is fissiparous and could never in a thousand eternities find any way to arrest its own reproduction.”)

I appreciate that religious communities can provide a unique formative environment that is beneficial for some people in some contexts. And the Christian household in particular should always be such a community. But when that becomes the dominant mode for Christian cultural life more generally, ghettoization results. The household exists to nurture people so they can leave the household and go live in the culture, not so they can go out and build little Christian households in their schools and workplaces and so forth, and never be in the world. That is what it means to say that the church is “in the world but not of it.”

I believe the introduction of faith-based dorms would almost certainly result in massive ghettoization of Christianity on campus. All on-campus activity outside those dorms (including the teaching in the classrooms) will immediately become more anti-Christian. Anyone who complains will be told to go live in the ghetto. Moreover, because college is itself such a formative experience for at least the upper socioeconomic half of the American population, the ghettoization of Christianity on campus would probably lead toward a broader ghettoization of Christianity in American life generally.

Let’s not forget that while we are Christians, we are still Americans. If we can’t live as members of American culture, that bodes very ill both for our discipleship and for American culture.

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