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In a report titled "Christian Academics Cite Hostility on Campus," NPR tackles a perfectly legitimate question:
Do universities discriminate against religious conservatives? Some professors and students say they do, but it's not an easy charge to pin down.
The report cites a Rice University study that suggests many top university scientists believe in God but practice a "closeted faith" out of fear that colleagues might view them as politically conservative or advocates of an Intelligent Design stance on issues of creation. As further evidence of a possible bias, NPR references a poll in which more than 1,200 academics who responded "said they have unfavorable feelings toward evangelical Christians."
But then there's this:
Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Columbia University and an Episcopal priest, disagrees.
"I haven't encountered that hostility at all," Balmer says. "I've been a visiting professor at places like Emory and Northwestern and Yale and Princeton and other places. And I simply have not encountered that sort of hostility to my claims of faith or my professions of faith."
Now, while the report doesn't come right out and say it, the connotation is that Balmer is an evangelical and hasn't faced the alleged discrimination. At first blush, that surprised me because I don't typically associate Episcopalians with evangelicalism (although in my Associated Press days, I did write about "evangelical-style" preaching at a then-Episcopal Church in the Dallas area).
Randall Balmer, an evangelical himself, authored Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America, in which he claims that right-wing "zealots" have hijacked the evangelical faith and distorted the gospel.
In fact, Balmer's online bio identifies him as an editor for Christianity Today, the leading evangelical magazine, started by the Rev. Billy Graham in 1956.
Therefore, let's grant Balmer's progressive evangelical credentials and ask another pointed question: Is he really the best source NPR could find to respond to whether universities discriminate against religious conservatives?
Of course, a person can be religiously conservative but not politically conservative. But in the context of this news report, it seems pretty clear that the two go hand in hand. And it also seems pretty clear that Balmer is not your typical evangelical.
In a YouTube video by Baylor University Press, which published his book "The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond," Balmer acknowledges his political bias and says, "Frankly, I don't see much that I would identify as Christian in the actions and the agenda of the religious right." Hmmm, and he's not facing discrimination on campus for such a conservative viewpoint? Who woulda thunk it?
In "The Daily Show" clip above, Balmer suggests that most Americans see religion as a proxy for morality, and that's why they want to know where political candidates stand on faith issues. Referring to the administration of former President George W. Bush, Balmer tells host Jon Stewart, "I thought many times over the last eight years, as we've been dealing with our travails as a nation, what if someone had followed up with George W. Bush when he declared that Jesus was his favorite philospher and said, 'Governor Bush, your favorite philosopher calls on his followers to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies, to care for the least of these. How will that affect your policies as president?'" Again, to think that he's able to make such statements and not encounter any hostility on campus ...
Seriously, I realize that space and airtime are limited, but the NPR report needs a whole lot more context about Balmer (read: any context at all). He's certainly not your average-Joe evangelical academic as the report makes it appear.