Make no mistake about it: we will work in the day or the night. But we should take no comfort in the closing of the American mind. We want as much possibility for gospel witness on American campuses as we can get.
In one of the more stunning turns in recent American life, faculty at Middlebury College have responded to the “Middlebury Mob” with what you could call the “Middlebury Counter-Revolution.” In the face of violent attacks on Charles Murray and Allison Stanger, one might expect the faculty to drop back. But something vital still pulses at Middlebury, one of America’s top schools. According to the Wall Street Journal, faculty members Jay Parini and Keegan Callanan drafted a statement of principles to frame educational instruction and campus debate in our fractured age. The statement is clear and elegant, polished like a diamond. It strikes a note for free speech on campus so strong it practically quivers.
At this writing, over 85 faculty members from a host of disciplines and perspectives have signed the document. This is a show of force. It is unprecedented in modern American education. This may well be an inflection point on the polarized American campus, as the key stakeholders of our schools—professors—push back against the gleeful threshing of intellectual diversity. How heartening.
Still, much work remains for Middlebury to truly strike a blow for campus freedom. As Princeton’s Robby George has pointed out, Middlebury has still not enacted disciplinary proceedings for the students and community members who injured Murray and Stanger. Further, as reported in The Weekly Standard, faculty members from areas like sociology, gender studies, and education helped fan the flame of protest. They encouraged students to rebel and urged the resistance strategy of “Simultaneous Dialogue,” which is a fancy-pants term for “rudely shouting down a speaker and shutting down their presentation in the most infantile manner.”
The school has not yet brought justice to bear on this situation. Middlebury should engage the engine of discipline for guilty students and professors alike. It is not enough to issue statements in support of free speech. It is not enough to communicate concern over how Murray and Stanger were treated. Direct action, in terms of both condemning and holding to account the violence of protestors and the insubordination of professors, is needed here.
If Middlebury does not act in this way, be assured that other such protests will occur. More than this, the American college will lessen its already-tenuous purchase on free speech. Free speech is of tremendous importance to a free and civil society. Free speech, after all, is the expression and guarantor of free thought. If you can only think what you want to think, but cannot speak what you believe, you are not free.
This entire conversation has great import for Christ’s church. The battle over free speech matters hugely for Christian work on campus. We sometimes hear that it will be a good thing if the lights go out in America, because then the city on a hill will shine more brightly. This is a possible outcome, to be sure, and I love the Godward optimism in this view. God, after all, does not wait for a permission slip from the culture to advance his kingdom.
However, I look at the church being wiped out in North Africa during the rise of Islam, for example, or during the post-Reformation period in France, and I see that persecution and silencing, and conversely freedom and kingdom advancement, often work hand in glove. Is anyone, for example, pointing to the church in Siberia as a major multiplier for global missions work? Some may know of subterranean work in such places, I suspect, but I think we can guess the general answer here.
Make no mistake about it: we will work in the day or the night. But we should take no comfort in the closing of the American mind. We want as much possibility for gospel witness on American campuses as we can get. The mob at Middlebury, and the faculty’s surging counter-revolution against it, may seem disconnected from normal Christian life and ministry. But it is not. You’ll find the next generation of trained atheists, or trained believers, at such schools. The stakes are high.
In such perilous times, let us pray for common-grace justice, and especially for ramped-up gospel presence, at schools all across America and beyond. Our God is great. He’s building a movement no protest can stop, no rioter can intimidate, and no principality or power overcome.
You could almost call it a counter-revolution.