On a scale of 1-10, how Christian are you?
In the past two years The King’s College has wrestled with a number of issues: the search for a new campus, the two month move from midtown to the financial district, a hurricane resulting in week-long power outages, finding new student housing in lower Manhattan, losing one president and searching for another, lacking a head provost, searching for new professors and a growing student body. Yet somehow TKC alumnus Sean McElwee thinks it should be in the front of our minds to obliterate 10 years of history and tradition for 30 percent of the student body. McElwee contends that the house namesake status of Reagan, Churchill and Thatcher deserves the boot because “none of these leaders grappled with the Christian tradition in any significant way.” He has used this accusation and selective supporting evidence to (1) measure broken human beings with a scale of how Christian are you? and (2) misrepresent the noble aim of the House System. Both of these goals are useless in a conversation about how to better the King’s experience because they don’t consider the nature of The King’s College.
As a member of The House of Clara Barton, I can attest to the fact that Clara Barton also did not openly wrestle with the Christian tradition in any significant way. She committed her life to serving in the medical field and education. Only later did she become loosely affiliated with the Universalist Church of America, and she spoke very little about her faith. How does one even measure the degree to which a historical figure “grappled with the Christian tradition?” What is the namesake-worthy amount of grappling? To fully extend the implications of McElwee’s claim would lead to the end of all 10 namesakes. Does Clara Barton’s lack of obvious grapple negate the public schools she started, the wounds she nursed during war, or the foundation of the American Red Cross?
All House namesakes—and all people for that matter—grapple(d) with life and difficult decision-making. McElwee spends 75 percent of his article listing the errors of the House namesakes in question. He claims these errors make them ‘not Christian enough’ to be admirable. Is this our standard for measuring someone’s faith? I know I wouldn’t want my list of errors to determine how much I’ve wrestled with the Christian tradition.
Measuring these historical figures on this kind of scale not only misunderstands humanity, but also misunderstands the purpose of the House System. My experience serving in House leadership has shown me the role that House namesakes play in the House system. As a former helmsmen, I remember planning community-building events—not namesake-loving events.
We don’t exclusively aspire to emulate these namesakes. Instead, we are trying to be more like Jesus. However, people like Barton, Thatcher, Churchill and Reagan are still admirable to us because we can look back through history and learn from their lives.
Our understanding of our namesakes comes not from a list of their “dos and don’ts,” but rather from looking back at their lives, participating in a narrative about them and being inspired by the positive elements of their legacy. The purpose of the House System is to build community by creating a space for students to develop relationships, confront struggle, grow academically and deepen their understanding of the Lord. The list of ‘un-Christian’ decisions made by House namesakes is irrelevant to this purpose.