The big story in Friday's Washington Post was headlined "God, Country and McCain." The article was less on those three subjects and more an attempt to demonstrate the current mindset of young conservative evangelical Republicans on the eve of what could be for many of them their first electoral defeat as active voters. Reporter Anne Hull spent a good amount of time and space describing the atmosphere, events and politics at Virginia's Liberty University through the eyes of the school's college Republican club president. In that sense the article is somewhat limited since assumptions, stereotypes and pre-suppositions are all filtered through a single student. Personally, I would be more interested in seeing a profile of a more conflicted young evangelical student at a conservative Christian university than someone who is committed to seeing John McCain win.
Early on in the article, there is an implicit assumption that Liberty University has always been a Republican stronghold. The irony created by the Republican Party's choice for a nominee in 2008 is made explicit midway through the story is Republican nominee John McCain's 2000 statement that the school's founder Jerry Falwell was an "agent of intolerance." Nevertheless, the school's students and administration still seem to support the GOP's candidate.
The topic of prayer is a frequently occurring theme throughout the article, but much of the substantive content is about the politics, such as voting (a professor views voting rights as a bad thing), welfare programs (the young Republican who happens to be Nigerian thinks welfare holds back African Americans), and the economy (Americans have become soft and expect too much).
Here is a good example of how the article paints the scene:
To be a college Republican in the face of Obama Nation takes a measure of fortitude. For Ayendi, it also requires tons of prayer and caffeine. McCain's poll numbers are sliding. Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign is a bottomless pit of money and energy. Even the hay bales on the rolling hills of once solidly GOP Lynchburg are painted red, white and blue with the name "Obama." And at Liberty University, founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1971, the first student Democratic club has sprung up.
For eight years, Liberty students have had one of their own in the White House with George W. Bush: a conservative Christian who has spoken about his conversion experience and funded abstinence-only sex education, appointed two antiabortion Supreme Court justices and supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. A pipeline of jobs stretched from evangelical colleges such as Liberty to the executive branch.
Now a new dawn threatens, and young activists such as Ayendi are fighting hard to the final hour, in part to prepare for the new phase of activism they foresee in the event of an Obama victory.
"It's the same impulse that Democrats have, the same passion," Ayendi says. "Aside from moral issues -- homosexuality and abortion -- I advocate small government."
The bulk of the article is in a section titled "New Generation of Evangelicals." The article makes clear that this school isn't normal. In fact, it's from another universe, at least from this reporter's perspective:
On the cold and bleak Friday of homecoming weekend, Liberty holds a 10 a.m. church service for students in the 10,000-seat basketball arena. Convocation is mandatory three times a week, and this morning's service features a parade of sleepy students lugging laptops and coffee mugs. They wear skinny jeans and hipster high-tops and Ugg boots, but Liberty operates in a parallel universe from other colleges. Alcohol and sex are prohibited. Students caught watching R-rated movies are brought before a court of their peers. Bulletin boards around campus advertise "Pre-Marital Workshops" and the bookstore sells T-shirts that say "I [Heart] Christian Boys." An ad flashes on the screen at morning convocation for a workshop aimed at "Beginning the Process of Lust-Free Living."
Just a few days earlier on Wednesday, The New York Times published an article about the problems university administrators are having with college binge drinking. I guess in some ways Christian colleges that place limits on alcohol consumption do operate in a different world from the schools profiled in the Times.
The article concludes with an lengthy but amusing exchange between the article's main character and a Liberty student who happens to be an Obama supporter. The ultimate conclusion for the Liberty student is that the leaders of the school's Democratic club and her Republicans should join together for a time of prayer the night before the election because she believes that "When things don't go your way, you get on your knees and pray to God." Amen?
Image of the monogram of Liberty University, on Candler's Mountain, as viewed from near campus used under a Wikimedia Commons license.