If you heard that the ultra-hip Washington Post Style section was going to do a feature story about a conservative Christian college located in the heart of Manhattan -- in the Empire State Building, for heaven's sake -- you would assume that certain issues would come up and be used in a rather snarky manner. And you would be right. There's the whole fresh-faced innocents in the big city theme, mixed with a note of biblical literalism. There are remarks about proselytizing and creationism. And, of course, the whole thing is framed in a "Sex in the City" template that is most amusing.
By all means, read it for yourself. You will find few surprises.
But there was one passage that shocked me, in the section describing how the King's College provides housing. Here is the passage, in context:
All of the King's students are assigned to "houses" with names like Thatcher, Reagan and Churchill. Throughout the year, they compete -- in scavenger hunts, in basketball games, in a race for the highest GPA, in good works.
An academic year at the King's costs $29,000, though nearly all the students get some form of financial aid or scholarships from a variety of private donors and foundations. The fee includes housing, which the King's rents in two high-rise buildings, one for men, another a few blocks away for women, both on Sixth Avenue near the Empire State Building. Each apartment is a one-bedroom for four people; the bedroom has two sets of bunk beds. Dating is permitted. There are no rules against sex, but it's quietly discouraged, by students as well as faculty.
Sex, however, is a topic that Manhattan has a way of bringing up, regardless of your views on the matter.
By the way, that line about the houses requires a bit of unfolding. That three-person list sounds rather nakedly political, doesn't it? As it turns out, there are nine houses and the whole list (names selected by students a few years ago) is a bit more complex, consisting of Elizabeth I, Sojourner Truth, Winston Churchill, C. S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Clara Barton and Susan B. Anthony. That's a conservative list, but much more culturally nuanced than the Post's crude edit.
But, I digress. What stuck me the most was the statement that King's College has "no rules against sex," which is a strange fact -- if true -- about such a conservative institution. I mean, even moderate Christian colleges have some codes of discipline linked to sexual morality.
So I checked up on that and, while doing that research, decided to do a Scripps Howard column about King's College. I have been interested in this college for years, especially during its 2005 showdown with the state Board of Regents over accreditation.
Truth be told, the college does not have "rules" about sex. It has an honor code, but that honor code is linked to a system of discipline for students -- including standards for sexual behavior. You can read about that online (click for the .pdf) in the student handbook. There is a very conservative statement of Christian doctrine about sexuality, noting, in part, that the college:
"... promotes a lifestyle ... that precludes premarital and extramarital intercourse, homosexual practice and other forms of sexual behavior incompatible with biblical admonitions."
So I think that the Post might want to consider printing a correction. Don't you?
If you are interested in seeing my column about the college, then click here. To make a long story short, I do think it is interesting that evangelicals are trying to build a college in mid-town Manhattan. Why? Here is how my column begins:
Any list of great cities in the ancient Mediterranean World would have to include Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch and Corinth, or some other crucial crossroads near what would become Constantinople.
Thus, these cities became the five patriarchal sees of Christianity in the first millennium.
"From day one, there was a commitment to the dominant cities and regions of that time," said J. Stanley Oakes, chancellor of King's College in New York City. "That's where the early church flourished. That's where the early church did its work. ... People who care about nations and culture and economics have to care about what happens in great cities."
Yet any study of American Protestantism in the early 21st century would focus on Colorado Springs, Colo., Grand Rapids, Mich., Wheaton, Ill., Orlando, Fla., and, perhaps, Dallas. It would not include New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Houston, Washington, D.C., or the other great cities that shape this culture.
Oakes thinks that's tragic, which is why he has dedicated a decade -- backed by Campus Crusade For Christ's vast network -- to building an evangelical college in the Empire State Building. The leaders of King's College are convinced that if their students can make it there, they can make it anywhere.
Like I said, this is an interesting subject -- if you are actually interested in Christian higher education.