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Chronicle of Higher Education offers shallow view of Christian colleges and student marriages

Chronicle of Higher Education offers shallow view of Christian colleges and student marriages

Before you get too far along, you might want to click on the video above and watch this introductory video from Cedarville University in Ohio.

Yes, it's a promotional thing, but it also captures the gestalt of this rather theologically conservative evangelical school.

I believe such understanding will help as you evaluate a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education that gives somewhat short shrift to the notion that one happy byproduct of Christian education is a crop of Christian marriages. That implied negativity, among other issues, is one of the journalistic problems I found in the article, headlined, "‘Ring by Spring’: How Christian Colleges Fuel Students’ Rush to Get Engaged."

Let's start with a slightly longish excerpt:

It was "surreal" for Nikki Garns when Cedric Martin got on one knee in Pennsylvania’s Caledonia State Park, framed by a beautiful waterfall and mountains, to ask her if she would marry him. When she exclaimed, "Yes!," Ms. Garns was only a sophomore.
Mr. Martin’s proposal, although it felt surreal, wasn’t a surprise. For about a month before the engagement, both Ms. Garns and Mr. Martin had talked with her parents, assuring them that they were mature enough to be engaged. Initially, her parents said they thought she was too young. After talking with their daughter one-on-one, however, Ms. Garns’s parents gave Mr. Martin their approval.
Ms. Garns isn’t the only student at Houghton College, a Christian college in western New York, who’s engaged. Like many Christian institutions, Houghton is gripped by a trend known as "ring by spring," which refers to the aspiration among many students to be engaged by the spring semester of their senior year.
And, like other colleges, Houghton acknowledges the trend, and even advances it. The college’s counseling center offers a couples retreat for seriously dating or engaged couples, which brings 12 to 15 couples to a local camp to listen to a renowned speaker discuss the Biblical fundamentals of marriage. Six weeks after the retreat, the couples meet up again for a "Great Date Night."

I realize the Chronicle is a secular newspaper and I have no idea of the faith background, if any, of the reporter and editors involved with this story. But think about this: students at Christian colleges find themselves "gripped by a tend" in which these young adults want to get engaged and be married. Shocking, isn't it?

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John L. Allen, Jr., notes some behind the scenes tension about the people's pope

John L. Allen, Jr., notes some behind the scenes tension about the people's pope

So the pope's quiet little tour of the deep blue zip codes in North America's media corridor is done and now, largely behind closed doors, the 2015 Synod of Bishops in Rome is up and running.

If you read the headlines, this gathering is essentially about the moral status of homosexual relationships, attempts to modernize church teachings on divorce and, oh yeah, there is that whole family crisis thing that Pope Francis has been talking about so much (cue: yawns in offices of elite editors).

There are huge, complex topics on the docket at the Vatican right now and reporters, sitting outside the closed doors, are doing what they can to follow the action.

Naturally, one of them is Vatican veteran John L. Allen, Jr., of Crux. We give him a lot of ink around here because, frankly, he produces a lot of ink and many of this analysis pieces contain more on-the-record information than other scribes' hard-news features. And every now and then he writes something really unusual, showing readers what is going on in his mind as he looks at the bigger picture.

Consider the Crux essay that just ran under this headline: "Pope Francis is playing with house money in betting on the 2015 Synod."

The basic thesis, as I read it, is that Pope Francis is letting lots of loud, even tense, debates play out -- because he knows that in the end he has the only vote that matters. Does that sound like the "people's pope"? Meanwhile, it seems that the "teflon pope" strategy is evidence that Francis believes he can live in his own papal narrative, in part because -- at this point -- the mainstream press remains convinced that he is steering his church toward compassionate, pastoral "reform" -- which means changing many of those bad doctrines.

This led to a series of very blunt tweets from Ross Douthat of The New York Times, who is both an active Catholic and a doctrinal conservative: 

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New York Times seeks political (as opposed to pastoral) content of Wedding at Cana

New York Times seeks political (as opposed to pastoral) content of Wedding at Cana

The Pope Francis guy is still traveling around down there in South America and, gosh dang it, he keeps preaching sermons. Isn't that unkind of him?

These sermons, of course, mix commentary about Catholic teachings and life in the public square -- as if the pope was arguing that faith and life are on the same level, as opposed to real life being on the ground floor in the created order, with religious truth claims either (a) locked in a private closet or (b) mysterious things that are stored, with God, in an attic above our heads (perhaps one without a pull-down ladder, even).

Once again, I am not arguing that journalists have to believe what the pope believes. I am not arguing that they need to produce sermon summaries or evangelistic pamphlets. I am saying that, in order to accurately cover him, journalists need to understand that this man is not delivering political stump speeches as he stands at pulpits next to altars at which he will celebrate the Mass.

Pope Francis is preaching. The faith elements are part of the content, not words that create an irrelevant frame for the real news, which by definition has to be about politics.

This conflicts, as I said the other day, with the "mainstream journalism Grand Unified Theory" stating that "no matter what the pope cites as his reasons for visiting a land or region, he is actually there for political reasons. He is there in an attempt to impact the lives of real people through political ideas or actions (as opposed to through sacraments, biblical truth, etc.)."

Now, to its credit, the New York Times team attempted, the other day, to cover a sermon while leaving some of the religious language intact. There is even a biblical reference in there! Here's the lede:

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