How We Lost the Colleges and Universities


How were Christian institutions like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton lost to the humanists? There was no crossing of swords or firing of weapons. The presidents of these institutions were not kidnapped and held for ransom if Christianity was not expunged from the curriculum. The takeover came by way of a generous spirit of acceptance of less orthodox views in the name of tolerance by the institutional heirs. At his founding, Harvard required students to base their studies on the foundation of a comprehensive biblical worldview with Jesus Christ as the foundation. The directive was codified in 1636 in the following statement:

Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him. Prov. 2, 3

Harvard remained steadfast in following the guidelines of this simple but profound statement of belief until the presidency of Increase Mather, who served from 1685 to 1701. “His young colleagues regarded him as too conservative, or unmovable, out of touch with their generation.” Mather was frequently absent from the school. He often traveled to England in an attempt to secure the school’s charter and that of the Bay Colony itself. It was during these trips abroad that some began to promote “a new spirit of innovation on the campus. The main instigators of this ‘broad and catholic [universal] spirit’ were Thomas and William Brattle and John Leverett.”1

The changes were not direct attacks on theological orthodoxy or biblical morality. But there was as call for an attitude of tolerance for differing opinions in areas where compromise did not seem to affect core issues. In time, there was not only a breakdown in doctrinal beliefs but in morality as well. “If we continue to teach about tolerance and intolerance instead of good and evil,” Dennis Praeger insists, “we will end up with tolerance of evil.” Samuel Morison describes life at Harvard in the first quarter of the eighteenth century in rather modern terms:

It was an era of internal turbulence: for [President Benjamin] Wadsworth was no disciplinarian, and the young men resented a puritan restraint that was fast becoming obsolete. The faculty records, which begin with Wadsworth’s administration, are full of “drinking frolicks,” poultry-stealing, profane cursing and swearing, card-playing, live snakes in tutors’ chambers, bringing “Rhum” into college rooms, and “shamefull and scandalous Routs and Noises for sundry nights in the College Yard.”2

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By 1805, Harvard had appointed Henry Ware, a Unitarian, to the Hollis Chair of Divinity. Harvard was now lost. The tolerance door had been opened in the spirit of fair play and an irenic spirit. But once the intruders had made their way through the door, the original Puritan orthodoxy would be shut out forever.

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The history of Harvard’s slide into theological liberalism and moral libertinism was gradual and methodological. Those holding the minority and opposing worldview were willing to bide their time as conservatives set the stage for their own self-destruction. Conservatives believed that “playing nice” and inviting the opposition to the party in terms of “dialog,” “civil discourse,” tolerance, and pluralism would lead to acceptance and good will. Don’t believe it; don’t ever believe it!

Can you imagine if a Nazi had been invited to speak at a Jewish assembly? “I can believe what I believe, and you can do the same without calling me an uncaring Jew-hater.” But a Nazi is a Jew-hater! On such areas of disagreement, the Rodney King ethic (“Can’t we all just get along?”) does not apply. There are some things that are wrong no matter how often someone calls for toleration in the name of good will.

Like modern art, or an avant-garde poem, or the latest haute fashions, pluralism has always been hard to define. Though often stated with algebraic lucidity, its topsy-turvey logic is often as unintelligible as the dog-Latin of monkish hexameters. . . . In practice, it is an old attempt to forge a cultural consensus. It is the unspoken assumption that a happy and harmonious society can be maintained only so long as the sole common belief is that there are no common beliefs. It is the reluctant affirmation that the only absolute is that there must no be any absolutes.3

The latest trap is being set by those who want to dialog over the issue of homosexuality. Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Virginia, writes, “When it comes to homosexuality in public schools, we need not agree on what is right or wrong. But by bringing both sides of the issue into discussion, we can find peace.”4 Can you imagine what would have happened if this same approach had been taken with segregation or slavery? The anti-segregationists and civil rights leaders went into the moral and political battle with their feet firmly planted on high ethical ground. They weren’t going to concede to the claim of a supposed moral neutrality. Their best weapon was their claim that segregation and slavery were unjust. Their starting point was to insist that some things are wrong and some things are right. Anything less and Blacks would still be sitting in the back of buses singing “we shall overcome.”

Why doesn’t Mr. Haynes adopt the same methodology and appeal to evolutionists to leave the dogmatism of their position out of the debate over origins as they engage in “civil discourse” with Intelligent Design advocates and creationists? The Darwinists would have none of it. On this point, the Darwinists deserve credit. They defend their worldview against any and all opposition. They don’t give an inch. If only Christians were so valiant, and, dare I say it, dogmatic.

The primary goal of the pro-homosexual lobby is to break down the resistance to the homosexual lifestyle without ever discussing what homosexuals actually do and whether there is a moral component to their behavior. It’s obvious by the way rules for “civil discourse” are devised that the person with pre-conceived views on the immoral nature of homosexuality could not participate. All views are considered except for any view that maintains that not all views are right. Furthermore, there is no standard by which final moral decisions are to be made. In the end, all the two sides can agree on is to agree to disagree. Once this concession is made, the homosexuals have won.

For decades, religion in general and Christianity in particular have been expunged from public (government) schools in the name of the First Amendment. How many times have we heard the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State use the First Amendment to keep debates about religion and origins out of the schools? That’s why it is disingenuous for Mr. Haynes to claim the following: “Religious liberty and freedom of expression are inalienable rights for all guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.” The First Amendment is a one-way street. It is used to deny students with religious convictions the right to express themselves in the classroom. At the same time, the First Amendment is used to gain access to students who are cut off from parental authority and influence.

Once the public (government) schools have been homosexualized, the First Amendment will be used to exclude all opposing positions. The claim will be made that opposition to homosexuality is an “establishment of religion.” Abstinence education is often denied because many who advocate it are operating from a religious point of view. The same is true of abortion and Intelligent Design. Let’s not be fooled by “civil discourse” rhetoric; it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

It’s time that Christians set the guidelines by starting their own schools and establishing the ground rules for entry. Hopefully we’ve learned some lessons from what happened to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

  1. David Beale, “The Rise and Fall of Harvard (1636–1805),” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (Fall 1998), 94. []
  2. Samuel Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard 1636–1936 (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1964), 78. []
  3. George Grant, The Micah Mandate: Balancing the Christian Life (Nashville: Cumberland House, [1995] 1999), 88. []
  4. Charles C. Haynes, “A moral battleground, a civil discourse,” USA Today (March 20, 2006), 15A. []
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