What Makes a Conservative Christian College?Roundup
tags: Christianity, higher education, critical race theory
Andrea L. Turpin is Associate Professor of History at Baylor University and a Resident Scholar at Baylor’s Institute for the Study of Religion, and the the author of A New Moral Vision: Gender, Religion, and the Changing Purposes of American Higher Education, 1837-1917.
Grove City College, a small liberal arts institution in Pennsylvania, has been in the news. Its Board of Trustees recently released a report investigating allegations of “mission drift.” Because Grove City identifies as a Christian college and I am a Christian historian of religion in American higher education, I read this report with interest.
But the mission drift in question turned out to be much more about the school’s political identity than its religious one. Let me explain.
Grove City identifies as a “conservative Christian college.” (This is the subtitle that comes up for the college if you run an internet search for it.) It’s an ambiguous phrase. It can refer to theologically conservative Christians, in the sense of historically orthodox Christians. Or it can refer to politically conservative Christians, in the sense of Christians holding a range of theological beliefs who all vote Republican. The report makes it clear that Grove City’s Board means the latter.
The Board’s investigation was prompted by allegations that the college endorsed “Critical Race Theory” or “CRT.”
These allegations were enumerated in a petition submitted to President McNulty in November by parents and former students, in a second petition in December responding to his reply, and in an open letter by some anonymous faculty members in February. Together these statements alleged that resident hall directors, chapel speakers, one particular course, and the Office of Multicultural Education and Initiatives had all recently taught CRT. They further alleged that doing so violated the college’s stated mission.
The Board’s investigation, conducted by six white Board members (verified by internet search), concluded that CRT had in fact been taught, though not as extensively as feared, and that it violated the college’s mission. It suggested various forms of redress and noted those already taken.
To understand this conclusion, we need to unpack two things: (1) what the Board understands CRT to be, and (2) what the Board understands the mission of Grove City to be.
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