Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Infiltrating Liberty University

I'll be honest--I'd never heard of Liberty University until relatively recently. While it might be a lightning rod to people on the left, I'm not convinced that that school is "important" in the grand scheme of things. People have heard about UCLA, about the University of Arizona, about Purdue, about Penn State, about the University of Washington, about the University of Miami, about the University of New Orleans, even about little ole West Point. But Liberty? I'd have to look up which state it's in. I have a hard time believing that if I know next to nothing about a school, that the average person on the streets of Sacramento would know much of anything about it.

In other words, outside of Virginia (ok, I looked it up) and the Falwell followers, Liberty University just isn't a big deal at all.

So when I read that a Brown (Rhode Island, right? Ivy League) student "infiltrated" Liberty, spent a semester there and is now writing a book on it, you can imagine where I thought the story was headed.

I was pleasantly surprised.

"As a responsible American citizen, I couldn't just ignore the fact that there are a lot of Christian college students out there," said Roose, 21, now a Brown senior. "If I wanted my education to be well-rounded, I had to branch out and include these people that I just really had no exposure to."

I call that experiencing diversity, and I applaud young Mr. Roose for entertaining such thoughts. But wait, there's more.

He lined up a publisher - Grand Central Publishing - and arrived at the Lynchburg campus prepared for "hostile ideologues who spent all their time plotting abortion clinic protests and sewing Hillary Clinton voodoo dolls."

Instead, he found that "not only are they not that, but they're rigorously normal."

So he admits to having a negative preconceived notion about what he'd encounter, and was mature enough to challenge that notion when the facts contradicted his expectations.

Students quoted in the story didn't mind his deception, but the school administration isn't entirely pleased.

He never blew his cover, even ending a blossoming romantic relationship rather than come clean. He revealed the truth on a return trip to campus. He grappled with guilt during the entire project, but said he ultimately found forgiveness from students for his deception.

"If he told me he was writing an expose or maybe if the book turned out to be what I considered unfair, then I might have been more troubled," said Brian Colas, a former Liberty student body president who befriended Roose.

The university administration has been less receptive. Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said in a statement that Roose had a "distorted view" of Liberty before he arrived and gave an incomplete portrait of the school.

"We appreciate Kevin's generally positive tone toward LU but he admittedly comes from a culture that has very little tolerance for conservative Christianity and even less understanding of it," Falwell said.

It was deception, after all.

I won't ruin the ending for you. Go read the article yourself to find out how this semester "transformed" Mr. Roose.


Ellen K said...

What I found interesting is that he admitted going to Liberty with pre-conceived notions about what he would encounter. That's popularly known as "prejudice"-to judge before knowing. I don't know that I would agree with everything taught at Liberty, but I don't think I would go there expecting to find a negative story. It seems much more telling that he found so little to protest against because that flies in the face of the media's image of evangelicals, conservatives and middle America. What I would hope he takes away from this is that what he is told is true, is not as valid as what he sees is true. Too many people rely on the narrow views of a few people to form their opinions. If you can't read both Daily Kos and American Spectator and make a personal judgment somewhere in the middle, then you aren't exercising the brain God gave you. And that's why I object to the people who condemn talk radio without having listened to it. They rely on comments by Franken and Garafalo for their opinions and that's just lazy thinking.

Pomoprophet said...

I graduated with my masters degree from Liberty. It is the largest evangelical christian university in the country. It was only founded in 1971 so it has grown very quickly. Its not some small school like Bob Jones or Oral Roberts. I think its influence is going to continue to grow even as the christian cultural warriors lose their grip on their political power.

Can you imagine if someone infultrated a primarily black school to write about it and went in having prejudices?

MiaZagora said...

From the article: "After a gunman at Virginia Tech killed 32 people in April 2007, a Liberty student said the deaths paled next to the millions of abortions worldwide - a comment Roose says unfuriated him."

I suppose he meant it "infuriated" him, but the article doesn't say why.

allen (in Michigan) said...

I've got some serious doubts about a kid who professes to be a lefty but is willing to investigate the fond preconceptions that allow him to think himself morally and intellectually superior. There's a dangerous degree of humility implied in an unwillingness to uncritically accept your conceits.

I predict that when, if, we next hear from this young man it'll be because he ran afoul of some common currency of the left and, in a demonstration of militant open-mindedness, he's ejected from some organization. Perhaps from Brown.

Intellectual curiosity is to be encouraged provided the right questions are asked and the right answers aren't questioned.