Randall Balmer, one of the deans of the study of religion in America, has a blog post at the Huffington Post praising the mission of Messiah College. The primary focus of the piece is my colleague Richard Hughes’s new book Christian America and the Kingdom of God. (Yes, Richard and I are mining similar fields, although my forthcoming book will be a bit different. I have blogged about Richard’s book before).
In promoting Richard’s book, Balmer has some nice things to say about Messiah College:
So how does this superb book illustrate the internal diversity of American evangelicalism? Consider that Hughes is himself an evangelical and that he teaches at an evangelical college, Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. This places him in direct opposition to those evangelical and fundamentalist voices on the Religious Right who insist, even in the face of the facts, that the United States is a “Christian nation.”
And consider further that one of Messiah College’s graduates, recently in the news, was Monica Goodling, the official in George W. Bush’s justice department who was in large measure responsible for firing the U.S. attorneys who didn’t conform to her Republican ideas. Goodling went from Messiah College to Pat Robertson’s law school to the justice department, where she sought to prosecute her own hard-right agenda.
The media had a field day with this story, as various reporters went out of their way to portray Messiah as yet another Bible-thumping, fundamentalist, backwater college that is more Republican than Christian. The presence of Richard Hughes as one of the prominent members of the faculty belies that. Hughes is part of the growing ranks of evangelicals willing to stand up to the unbiblical, ahistorical and (in my view) immoral conflation of evangelicalism with hard-right Republicanism.
That is not to say that Messiah and comparable evangelical colleges don’t have their share of right-leaning students. After I lectured at Messiah a couple of years ago, some thoughtful soul sent me links to several student blogs containing snarky comments about my critique of the Religious Right. Fair enough. But the presence of thoughtful folks like Hughes suggests, at the very least, that schools like Messiah defy easy categorization.
And so too with evangelicalism itself. As evangelicals continue to struggle with their identity in the post-George W. Bush era, let us hope that gentler, more reasonable voices like that of Richard Hughes prevail over those that prefer stridency and partisanship.
Although it is doubtless the case that voices from the right have been louder and more insistent in recent years (even decades), other, more measured voices like Richard Hughes are beginning to be heard.