HERE'S A LOOK at my latest column, to be published by American University's student paper, The Eagle and the folks at benladner.com
by Josh Kraushaar
I was having a conversation with my wonderfully liberal friend the other day at a London coffee shop, and the topic turned to evangelical Christians. We were talking about Israel, and I expressed my gratitude for the many religious evangelicals who have offered first-hand support to the Israelis threatened by terrorism. I also mentioned the dedicated work many evangelical Christians have accomplished in Africa, feeding the malnourished and treating the sick. My friend was skeptical. "They’re nuts," she said, suggesting that they had ulterior motives behind their altruism. Specifically, they want to convert people – to Christianity.
Forty percent of Americans are evangelical Christians, a proportion that seems abnormally high to many of the secular elite throughout the cities on the East and West coasts. That statistic only includes the evangelical adherents of a certain religion. But evangelicals cover a much broader group. Dogmatic environmentalists desperately want to convert skeptics to their cause – the most hardcore of them chaining themselves to trees to prevent them from being cut down. The gun lobby instinctively invokes the Second Amendment when any gun control legislation is proposed, and the gun control proponents are equally convinced that gun owners are evil and guns should be banned. The laudable Habitat for Humanity organization is evangelical. They’re convinced in the merits of building housing for the less fortunate and continually try to get students to sign up to their group. Even fraternities and sororities are evangelical. Every semester, each one tries to convince as many students as possible to rush and pledge.
So not all evangelical activity is inherently bad. Far from it, in fact. But judging from the news on campus these past weeks, I’d conclude that evangelical activity is much higher and more dangerous among so-called American University peace protestors than at any Southern Baptist convention – or Delta Chi rush, for that matter. Dozens of students lay on the floors of Mary Graydon Center portraying Iraqi war victims, spreading the message that Iraqi people will die during the war. There was no mention of the horrible repressiveness that defines the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, where scores of Iraqis are murdered and tortured daily for the same political dissent that these students crave. Four obnoxious students interrupted Chris Mathews’ "Hardball" show on campus trying to express their incoherent anti-war views. And in the most blatant example of evangelism at American University, certain professors canceled two days of classes in protest of the war on Iraq to organize a "teach-in." Looking at the guest list, which included some of the most flaming anti-war activists and precious few serious scholars, this hardly can be called a teach-in. Call it a preach-in. Or a laugh-in.
Most of this evangelism is pretty harmless stuff. Chris Mathews, no pro-war hawk, told the immature foursome to "sit down and shut up." It made for some pretty funny television, even though it was at the expense of AU’s reputation. Very few people took the "corpses" lying in Mary Graydon seriously. If anything, their lack of seriousness hurt their cause. But when professors cancel classes to express explicitly political views, it’s a cause for concern. Using an academic class as a platform for political views has long been the habit of many left-wing liberal arts professors. Imposing their views on the student population, as was done this past week at AU, is shameful.
Part of this professorial evangelism easily stems from their belief that any pro-war view is just nuts. This is plainly evident from the comments made by the professorial teach-in organizers in the Eagle last week. "Clearly people who are educated and have a more profound sense of ethics are very uncomfortable with [the Bush administration’s Iraq] policy, " history professor Peter Kuznick said in The Eagle. What arrogant pomposity. He apparently hasn’t seen polls showing over 70 percent of Americans supporting the war.
Many of these left-wing professors talk all about academic freedom and the right to dissent. SIS Dean Lou Goodman defended the professors’ right to protest by invoking that famous "academic freedom" cliché. "Each faculty member has complete freedom to conduct their class in a way they see as most productive for their course; that’s an essential part of academic freedom," he said. So it’s an obligation to dissent if you’re anti-war, but at the teach-in, there wasn’t a single pro-war voice. Look at the list. The director of Women’s Action of New Directions. Oxfam America. Africa Action. These are hardly significant organizations. Our nation’s capital has a wealth of think tanks and experts from all sides of public opinion. Cato, Brookings, American Enterprise, you name it. Yet no members from them – liberal, libertarian or conservative – were represented. In fact, using the word ‘think’ to describe most of these "pro-peace" speakers would be inaccurate. If these professors were serious about their job, they would invite a broad representation of scholarly opinion. Instead there was a unanimous chorus of anti-war activists, including Karin Lee from the Friends Committee on National Legislation. The peace movement’s constant invocation of McCarthyism is a bad joke. The war protestors themselves are among the least open to opposing opinions. Kuznick’s comment to the effect that all smart people agree with me is incredibly self-serving. That won’t win him a lot of converts.
Professors certainly should not feel constrained by a campus atmosphere where the ability to express opinions is quelled. I have had many outstanding professors in my three years at AU and most of them have been – surprise! – liberal. And the best ones occasionally express their views on certain issues. But they do not preach. They respect debate and do not have a political agenda in their classrooms. They certainly wouldn’t cancel class in order to attend an on-campus rally. Even the anti-war liberals would certainly concede the many merits of removing one of the world’s most hideous and brutal regimes – one that cuts off dissidents’ tongues and murders men, women and children. These evangelical professors hardly mentioned Saddam’s laundry list of atrocities. They were totally unserious and dismissive of any national security threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. They want to convince you that peace is paramount, but at what cost?
Nobel Peace Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel recently wrote in the LA Times, "Though I oppose war, I am in favor of intervention when, as in this case, because of Hussein’s equivocations and procrastinations, no other option remains…We have a moral obligation to intervene where evil is in control. Today, that place is Iraq." Such a serious scholar and thinker shouldn’t be confused with the gaggle of evangelicals in Batelle-Tompkins last week. It would be easy to compare them to the many evangelical Christians who believe strongly in their religion and try to convert others to their cause. But many of these Christians back up their words with action. They travel to Africa to administer medical care, food and – yes – religion to the afflicted. They sometimes risk their lives to help others. They ride with Israelis on the buses targeted by suicide bombers, giving them much-needed moral support.
In contrast, these evangelical professors hold preach-ins. Some cancel class, getting two paid days off from their job. They’re more avid than Jerry Falwell in trying to convince others of the righteousness of their cause. But their words are cheap and they are abusing a noble profession. They have the potential to mold young minds, but instead waste it on empty slogans.