BY JOHN FEA
Today's Washington Post has an interesting article about The King's College, an evangelical college that occupies three floors in the Empire State Building. The article presents Kings as a sort of urban Patrick Henry College, the Virginia school that got a lot of attention last year thanks to Hannah Rosin's God's Harvard. Kings recently hired Marvin Olasky as its provost. Olasky, the editor of World Magazine and a journalism professor at Texas-Austin, is the man behind the term "compassionate conservatism."
I have no reason to doubt that The Kings College is positioning itself as an institution at the intersection of evangelicalism and poltical conservatism, but this is not the Kings College I remember as a North Jersey teenager who for a time lived within its evangelical orbit.
For much of the 1950s, 60s and 70s Kings was at the center of New York metropolitan area evangelicalism. It was founded by Percy Crawford, a youth evangelist who was an unofficial mentor of Billy Graham. The college would have ties to "Youth for Christ," the evangelistic ministry that Graham helped to found. In 1955, the college moved from the Jersey shore (where it was founded in Belmar in 1938) to Briarcliff Manor, New York, a posh Westchester County village. It attracted evangelical and fundamentalist students from throughout the metropolitan area. (I remember hearing stories about its competition for students and fierce rivalries on the soccer field and basketball court with neighboring Nyack College, the Christian Missionary Alliance school located just across the Hudson River). King's president Dr. Robert Cook became one of the region's most popular evangelicals. His daily radio broadcast, "The Kings Hour," was a staple on Christian radio. (I remember my parents listening to it in the 1980s. Cook ended every broadcast with the phrase, "Walk with the King today and be a blessing.") This was the kind of warm, pietistic, evangelistic, subcultural, and apolitical fundamentalism that Joel Carpenter writes about in his book Revive Us Again.
Financial hardship forced Kings to close its doors in 1994. Five years later it reopened in the Empire State Building with a more pronounced culture war agenda. The Washington Post piece today reminded me of just how much the goals and values of American evangelicalism--and some of their colleges--have changed in the last few decades.