Campus Scenes

Christians and Capitalism

An evangelical college declines to renew the contract of a liberal professor, much to the dismay of left-wing evangelicals.

By 8.20.07

Send to Kindle

Colorado Christian University, presided over by former Republican Senator William Armstrong, has declined to renew the contract for one of its more liberal faculty. More specifically, Armstrong was apparently concerned about the professor's critique of capitalism.

The Rocky Mountain News publicized the termination, reporting that Andrew Paquin is leaving the school "amid concerns that his lessons were too radical and undermined the school's commitment to the free enterprise system."

It is all very frightening, this new trend of termination of professors not sufficiently supportive of free enterprise!

In fact, the university probably has only greased Paquin's way into employment with secular academia, which otherwise would have shunned almost any applicant from a conservative Christian school. A martyred victim of the Religious Right like Paquin likely is already sorting through his new job offers. Not all of them will be from secular schools. Ostensibly conservative evangelical schools, increasingly anxious to showcase how different they are from Pat Robertson, have been filling their social science departments with liberal evangelicals for years.

Old-time Sojourners activist-leader Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics, is rapturously received on evangelical college campuses. Wallis repeats the slightly burnished mantras of his 1960s student protest glory years, and he is hailed as a prophet for the novel idea of equating the Kingdom of God with The Welfare State.

The Rocky Mountain News reported that Professor Paquin distressed his superiors by using Wallis's material in his course. Also cited were the works of Princeton University's resident ethicist Peter Singer, who is renowned for his advocacy of euthanasia, infanticide, and bestiality.

On Wallis' Sojourners website, liberal Episcopal priest Randall Balmer of Columbia University bewailed the new oppression descending on Christian campuses, with Professor Paquin its latest victim. According to Balmer, who frequently writes about evangelical topics, Paquin was fired for the "temerity" of having students read Jim Wallis and "animal-rights activist" Peter Singer. Balmer declined to mention that among the "rights" that Singer advocates are carnal activity between humans and orangutans, among other "higher" species.

Reportedly the Colorado Christian University's library maintains the works of both the dreaded Jim Wallis and the even more dreaded Peter Singer. So the school is not trying to cocoon its students from particular authors. The school's president, the former Senator Armstrong, presumably thought Paquin's presentation of Wallis and Paquin was overly fulsome.

Colorado Christian University aims to "impact our culture in support of traditional family values, sanctity of life, compassion for the poor, biblical view of human nature, limited government, personal freedom, free markets, natural law, original intent of the Constitution and Western civilization." To Balmer, all of that sounds pretty "Religious Right," and no doubt much of it is. But at least the school is upfront about its goals. The school also has no policy of tenure.

Southern Baptist seminaries excepted, the story of Christian colleges in America is one of almost inevitable liberalization and secularization. Mainline Protestant universities were shedding the trappings of Christianity by the late 19th century and most by now have only nominal church affiliations. Roman Catholic schools have struggled with similar issues. Purportedly conservative evangelical schools were among the last hold outs. But the supposedly resurgent Evangelical Left is largely a phenomenon of evangelical academia, much of which still oddly craves acceptance by secular academia, despite the growth and influence of evangelicals.

Balmer himself, author of Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical's Lament, embodies the perpetual discomfort of evangelical academics. A professor at Columbia University's Barnard College and narrator of a PBS documentary on evangelicals, Balmer is perpetually angry about conservative evangelical influence. Recently ordained into the now gay-friendly Episcopal Church, Balmer still professes to be evangelical, but more enlightened than most.

No doubt Colorado Christian University has in mind "evangelical" academics like Balmer when it seeks to protect its specifically conservative Christian perspective. Professor Paquin insists that he recognizes the strengths of capitalism. His Internet-available writings are few, but what is available indicates that he is a left of center evangelical. He faults Africa's poverty on the legacy of colonialism rather than failed experiments in socialism. Paquin believes that extreme poverty in the Global South exists as a "systemic" sin. Perhaps so, but Paquin seems quick to fault Western trade policies and globalization more than Third World failures to guard property rights or encourage investment. Paquin heads a small non-profit called "10/10" that organizes mico-enterprise loans for nascent African businesses, which sounds laudable.

The Rocky Mountain News noted that Armstrong, in his dismissal letter, recognized Paquin's religious faith. "God may be calling you to a full-time ministry with 10/10," Armstrong wrote. Armstrong admits that Christians can disagree about economics but explained: "The university exists because the trustees and the president and our predecessors sought to create an institution in which we can pass on the knowledge and values and traditions that we cherish."

Sarcastically, Balmer wrote about the controversy at Colorado Christian University: "I guess we suspected it all along, but now we have proof: Jim Wallis is a left-wing, anti-capitalist." Of Armstrong's behavior, Balmer opined: "Capitalism, in fact, appears to be Jesus' preferred economic system."

Contrary to the methodology of religious leftists, most conservative religionists do not believe Jesus in His earthly ministry addressed economics much at all. If conservative Christians support free markets, it is largely because they believe experience proves they are most productive in alleviating poverty, a goal of all Christians. Professor Paquin, with his vague concerns about "systemic" injustice in the global economy, would probably qualify as a tame moderate on most secular campuses. But Colorado Christian University has a specific worldview that is quite different.

Perhaps Professor Balmer, ensconced at Columbia and now a visiting professor at Yale, can help Paquin find new work in a friendlier environment.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.