The Common Good

Understanding the Faith of Cathy McMorris Rodgers

The Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech introduced many Americans to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. While those of us in Spokane are already familiar with our congresswoman, little is known about her alma mater, Pensacola Christian College.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. Photo: Gage Skidmore via RNS

Study of the Bible is a major concern at PCC, and every student is required to take Bible courses. The treatment of the Bible at PCC is somewhat extreme. The Florida school has a particular (and peculiar) attachment to the King James Version (published in 1611), noting on its website, “it is our practice to use only the Authorized Version [KJV] in the pulpit and in classroom instruction.” Their obsession with the KJV is at odds with scholars who consider dozens of alternative English versions (the New Revised Standard Version, for example) to be more faithful translations since they, unlike the KJV, are based on more ancient (and reliable) biblical manuscripts. A brief introduction to PCC might help illuminate some of the formative ideas that have shaped the faith and religious views of this rising star within the GOP.

Academic or scholarly approaches to the Bible seem to be shunned at PCC. The seminary associated with the college seems to relish this lack of an academic approach: “Pensacola Theological Seminary has a biblicist approach in its graduate Bible program in contrast to the pseudointellectual approaches of our day. In an attempt to be academic, many focus on teaching erroneous views of liberal theologians. The goal of our Bible program is not to fill our students’ minds with doubts and questions raised by liberals, but rather to fill our students’ souls with the Word of God itself.”

So it’s not surprising that not one of the faculty who teaches the Bible at PCC is a trained scholar in biblical studies. None of the “Bible” faculty are members of the world’s largest and most established academic guild of biblical scholars, the Society of Biblical Literature. Dan Rushing, dean of the Division of Biblical Studies at PCC, does not have a Ph.D. in biblical studies, and he received all four of his degrees from PCC and Pensacola Theological Seminary.

Throughout the college there seems to be a lack of academic rigor. Of the 117 full-time faculty at PCC, only 13 (11.1 percent) have Ph.D.s. Perhaps even more noteworthy is that 89 of their faculty received at least one of their degrees from PCC. Far from welcoming or valuing external perspectives, PCC embraces its exclusionary mindset: “Without meaning to be unfriendly or unkind, we feel it only fair to say that Pensacola Christian is not a part of the ‘tongues movement’ and does not allow students to participate in or promote any charismatic activities, nor do we permit students to promote hyper-Calvinism.”

Although McMorris Rodgers graduated with a B.A. from PCC in 1990, the school itself was not accredited until last year. Its accrediting body, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, itself had difficulty receiving federal recognition. Its first such attempt (in 1987) was denied, and its successful effort in 1991 followed a federal advisory panel’s repeated recommendations to the contrary. In the mid-1990s TRACS was placed on probation for 18 months.

TRACS currently accredits 55 schools, including Bob Jones University, Epic Bible College, Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College, Shorter College, Visible Music College, and the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology (formerly Mars Hill Graduate School). Schools seeking to be accredited must supply “a biblical foundation statement,” “a mission statement,” and a “Christian Philosophy of Education” statement.

In its accreditation manual, TRACS offers schools a series of suggestions to include in their biblical statements: “The unique divine, plenary, verbal inspiration, and absolute authority of all sixty-six canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as originally given. The Bible is the only infallible, authoritative Word of God and is free from error of any sort, in all matters with which it deals, scientific, historical, moral, and theological.”

In its 14 articles of faith, Pensacola Christian College echoes many of these same sentiments. It states, for example, “Eternal hell was created for Satan, his demons, and people who do not believe in God.”

Religion is the only subject in which some people are proud of believing the same thing at age 40 that they believed when they were 6. It is the only field in which development in critical thinking is seen by some as regression. With religion, people think their opinion is as legitimate as a trained professional. And the consequences are not merely academic: People unwilling to engage in a critical study of religion or the Bible are destined to worship a God and Jesus of their own making.

This peculiar brand of nonthinking religion might help explain how a person of “faith” might vote against giving women equal pay to men (Lilly Ledbetter Act), or vote against including gays, lesbians, Native Americans, and immigrants as people that should be protected against domestic violence (Violence Against Women Act), or vote to cut food to hungry children and the elderly.

It might also help explain how a person of “faith” might embrace idolatry in viewing Christianity and the American dream as one and the same. As McMorris Rodgers said on Tuesday: “With the guidance of God, we may prove — proves ourselves worthy of His blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Matthew S. Rindge is an associate professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University. He is currently writing “Cinematic Parables: Subverting the Religion of the American Dream.” Follow him on Twitter at @mattrindge. Via RNS

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