New York City does not seem to be a very welcoming city. Certain people belong there, while the presence of others that fail to fit a certain stereotype are considered by a major media institution in the city as "jarringly out of place." Such was the portrayal by The New York Times of a conservative Christian institution of higher education that recently took up residence in the Empire State Building. The following is the lead of the article, which was printed Friday:
Out of the myriad and random tenants that fill the Empire State Building, there is one that seems both perfectly situated, yet jarringly out of place.
It is the King's College, an evangelical Christian school that is all but hidden in plain sight, occupying three of the building's floors -- two of them subterranean -- since 1999. On the one hand, it seems apt that a school claiming close adherence to God's word would occupy New York's tallest skyscraper.
On the other hand, most of the college's 258 students are politically and economically conservative, opposed to abortion and generally against gay marriage, drunkenness and premarital sex. The polar opposites, in other words, of the kind of boozing, godless, kick-up-your-heels, bed-hopping liberals that Manhattan supposedly draws.
Perhaps the NYT believes King's College should issue an apology to the city for failing to fall into the city's stereotypical liberal groovyness. But if you read the NYT's own blogs, you would find out that drunkenness is what has been out of fashion in NYC for like 10 years.
Nevertheless, based on previous reporting from Tmatt, King's College does not mind being considered out of the ordinary. In fact, they seem to welcome it:
"We love it when people mock us," said Oakes. "But we honestly believe that, if we keep doing what we do here, in about two decades people are going to be saying, 'Even though we don't agree with them, those King's people are interesting.' We want to make it hard for people to avoid us."
When the ever-snarky Washington Post style section wrote earlier this year about the college's move to NYC, Tmatt noted that they were crudely selective in telling its readers the names of the college's houses. Fortunately, the NYT expanded the list to show that the college does in fact admire people beyond Thatcher, Reagan and Churchill:
Clues about the college's philosophical underpinnings reveal themselves here and there. One bulletin board recently listed the activities of the various houses, the King's College version of sororities and fraternities. The houses are named after Christian and conservative heroes (Ronald Reagan, C. S. Lewis and Margaret Thatcher) and historical activists (Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton and Sojourner Truth).
Unfortunately, the NYT fell into the same trap as the Post in failing to accurately describe the school's attitude and policies towards premarital sex:
Unlike many other Christian schools, the King's College does not ban dancing, drinking, gambling, smoking or premarital sex. Still, with the exceptions of smoking and dancing, its students say they are far less likely to indulge in such pastimes than most other college students in town.
"One of the reasons we're not interested in getting drunk like 'typical' college students is because our faith teaches us that being responsible, and in some cases abstaining from those things, offers the most fulfilling life," Jonathan Seidl, 21, a senior from Manitowoc, Wis., wrote in an e-mail message. The same applied, several students said, to premarital sex.
So now premarital sex is considered a college pastime along with gambling, smoking, drinking and dancing? Someone notify Tom Wolfe that his perception of undergraduate life is now in the mainstream news, and for some students sex before marriage is just a way to pass time when they should be studying or doing something to benefit the world.
As Tmatt reported in his column, the school require students to pledge to follow the requirements of an honor code supported by a handbook that "precludes premarital and extramarital intercourse, homosexual practice and other forms of sexual behavior incompatible with biblical admonitions."
The honor code requirements at Christian schools do not seem to catch-on with journalists. While journalists tend to be rightly or wrongly fascinated with rules regarding sexual practices in institutions of higher learning, they should probably expect schools founded on traditional Christian principles to in one way or another forbid, prohibit or do something a lot more significant than simply discourage premarital sex between their students.
Overall, however, the NYT coverage was not that off and ultimately presents a fairly nuanced view of what King's College is doing in NYC. One has to wonder though how they ended up covering this story nearly an entire year behind their competitors the Post in Washington, D.C.
Image of the Empire State Building from Broadway used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.