Friday, August 26, 2016

Alma Mater Class Names Reflect Evangelical Mindset Changes

From the mid-1970s through to the mid-1980s America evangelicals underwent a highly significant change in how evangelicals saw themselves and in their interaction with the world. A shift in class names at my alma mater reflects how the evangelical mindset transitioned during this period.

As noted in an earlier blog, evangelical churches grew tremendously between 1966 and 1980s with a noticeable decline in mainline denominations. The growth corresponds with enormous social upheaval and stress. This was the period of the availability of the pill, desegregation, Vietnam and Watergate which caused the questioning of traditional social structures and authority, Roe v Wade, and the push effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Also, it was a period of tremendous economic upheaval that two major oil embargoes, gasoline and heating oil skyrocketing, gasoline rationing and odd-even gas purchasing days, and several years of double digit inflation.

Feeling validated by its numeric growth, the evangelical churches became increasingly militant in its language and interaction with the world. Its leadership was speaking how God had blessed them and that much greater growth was ahead. This was the age of mega conferences on church growth and the mantra of following the formula to growth that would double one’s church within 5 to 8 years. With the emergence of Moral Majority and other evangelical political groups this was the period when the evangelical church becomes wedded to the Republican party and the quiet mantra that a good Christian and being a Democrat was an oxymoron became more vocalized.           

At Asbury College (now Asbury University), an evangelical liberal arts college, has a traditions of giving each class a name. A clear transition takes place with the class names. Prior to the class of 1979 not a single class has a name that commonly carries strong religious connotation. Prior to the 1979 the classes were included Patriots, Cavaliers, Aztecs, Titans, Highlanders, Beavers, Eagles, Green Dragons, etc.

The Crusaders, the class of 1979, is the first class with a strong religious connection. If not for what followed, and what Freshmen were told during orientation in September 1975, the title could be viewed outside a non-religious context. During orientation the incoming Crusader freshmen were told that the class were named for the crusaders who defended faithfully the Christian faith and the holy land.

The class of 1980 was the Voyagers, a name not heavily laden with religious language and imagery as such. Starting with the class of 1981, with the exception of the 1988 Olympians, all class names carry a religious imagery and meaning, with names such as, Defenders, Overcomers, Victors, Heralds, Proclaimers, Seekers, Pathfinders, Anointed, Agape, Consecrated, Awakened, Ransomed, etc.

Was this a change triggered by the college's leadership? No, but it does reflect a change in evangelical views of themselves.