From the Mere Comments blog
If my observations are not incorrect, the path of the Christian school to secularism generally contains five steps.
At the founding the school is in the Confessional Phase. It knows why it exists, why this school is different from all other schools, and is energized by a missionary zeal that will without much hesitation eject teachers or administrators who do not cleave to its doctrinal and ethical Standards.
At what I will call the First Embarrassment Phase, the original denominational or confessional heritage of the school is downplayed—sometimes because of the difficulty of putting together a full or fully qualified faculty from the sect, but also because increased learning—particularly becoming, in Newman’s words, “deep in history”--frequently militates against its original beliefs. (This is never spoken of by those responsible for directing the school, for it would be professional suicide, causing them to be driven, in shame for their apostasy, out of a denomination where they have risen to high honor.)
Next is the Ecumenical Phase where the school opens its doors to other forms of Christianity. It begins hiring teachers who are not of its own tradition, claiming thereby to be serving the Church at large. Since no firm definition of the school’s beliefs has replaced the chartered confession, the latter becomes by degrees more loosely interpreted, or, if it is particularly bellicose or incompetent or otherwise indigestible, ignored. (A variation favored by Presbyterians is to add new confessions that contradict or blunt the edges of the old ones. They have also been know to spirit embarrassing phrases out of old Westminster when nobody’s looking. A rule: no such institution repents of past doctrinal error until it finally repents of once being Christian.)
The ecumenical door then opens as wide as the donor base is perceived to allow, and the school, surrounded by temptations to be “just like (academic) folks” on every side, without firm doctrinal mooring or consensus, and with liberality as the administrative watchword, gradually enters the General Religion Phase in which the faculty is expected to pledge allegiance to the conventional pieties of the group, but not adhere to a statement of doctrine.
At the end of this phase, the beliefs of the founders have become something to be lived down. Administrators and catalogs speak respectfully about the school’s denominational “heritage,” while at the same time making it plain, in so many words, this is a relic of the past that nobody really needs to fash themselves about. Or they will pretend, if they can get away with it, that the school is still faithfully what-it-was by obscuring the denomination’s past beliefs and/or drawing out and emphasizing aspects of the founders’ thinking with which it still agrees. (Luther liked beer and disliked a great deal of Roman dogma; so does the ELCA. During my days at LSTC the students were wearing T-shirts with the legend "Marty Would Be Proud." Doubt it.) Much fog is needed for this operation, but remember that it is the most intelligent and practiced minds in the denomination who are the operators here--people who get their jobs by being able to assure the heads--once again, in so many words--that they are in on the game. The last thing these people want is somebody up high who all of a sudden discovers what's going on and doesn't like it. If the school trains ministers, or is Catholic (given the current weakness of the Roman magisterium), this is its last stage: it cannot abandon “religion,” it can only redefine God. If it is not in this situation, it comes to the Final Embarrassment Phase, and is soon to trouble with the ruse no longer. When the givers of the most substantial gifts are perceived not to object much, the school, with a nearly audible sigh of relief, abandons religion except perhaps as an object of study.
Things appear often to come full circle. There may very well follow a Second Confessional Phase where the school’s mission is now as intensely as anti-Christian as its founders wished it to be Christian. The illiberality, the sectarian bias, the minute confessional requirements, the bars to accession, the quick repulsions, the forceful putting down of anyone who does not agree at every point, are re-instituted with a vengeance now unmitigated by the requirements of charity to which even the narrowest of Christians recognize themselves bound.
The case of Georgetown University, which has just, in God’s name, and with much prayer, through a letter from the Rev. Constance C. Wheeler beginning, “Blessings, and may God’s peace be upon you!” banned Evangelicals (but obviously not Protestant liberals) from its campus ministries, is interesting in this regard, about which more anon.