Patrick Henry College
Exhibiting a graceful repertoire of scholarship, poise, and Christian diplomacy, three Patrick Henry College students recently championed Patrick Henry College on a national stage, shattering stereotypes, dismantling myths, and, in some cases, disarming hardened skeptics. PHC seniors Rachel Williams, Judah Kiley, and Brian Wright appeared live, April 19th, on National Public Radio’s On Point roundtable talk show, hosted by Anthony Brooks, fielding questions about the school and current cultural issues, and reassuring callers perplexed by the College’s candid mission statement.
“It was outstanding; we had a lot of really good dialogue with the host,” Wright said. “The Lord really blessed the interview.”
On Point is NPR’s live morning news program, aired on more than 75 stations nationally and billed as “a hybrid of a talk program and a newsmagazine.” And as those familiar with NPR’s standard programming may suspect, On Point’s core audience is not ordinarily described as “conservative.” Hoping to successfully engage an audience with such deeply held and, in many cases, overtly hostile biases toward evangelical Christians, the PHC trio prepared for the interview beforehand, assigning one another specific news categories and rehearsing answers to hot topics. Their intent, said Williams, was to counter the myth of the harsh, judgmental Christian and shatter impressions of PHC students as policy wonks without hearts. Says Williams: “Judah pointed out, for instance, that Christians are called to love God and their neighbors. Changing policies can be a part of that.”
Launching critiques from across the cultural divide, host and callers alike confronted the students on a broad range of issues, from the separation of church and state and feminism, to pro-life arguments and the students’ take on creation, as well as the ongoing debate over religious and cultural tolerance. When one caller charged PHC with having an inappropriate political agenda, another jumped to their defense, noting how “all colleges have a specific agenda, whether they list it in their mission statement or not.”
Variations on that theme echoed throughout: responding to one woman’s claim that evangelical Christians oppose diversity, Wright replied, “Patrick Henry College doesn’t stand for intolerance. What Patrick Henry College is all about is actually thinking legitimately through issues and analyzing.” Kiley added that PHC students believe in loving people who disagree with them, but still holding strong beliefs.
The message resonated with at least one NPR listener, a self-described “liberal,” who e-mailed congratulations for the trio’s “eloquence and confidence.” He added: “I greatly enjoyed listening to your young men and woman, their beliefs and conviction (although many different from my own), and would consider our country extremely lucky to have individuals such as they ascend to positions of power and influence within our government and corporations.”
Other listeners were not so charitable. Jason Scorse, Assistant Professor with the Monterey Institute of International Studies, e-mailed an essay assailing PHC’s “extreme form of Christian fundamentalism,” and calling for “conversational intolerance” in dealing with religious believers. Scorse’s essay and questionnaire sparked a campus-wide, Department of Journalism-sponsored competition urging students to respond with “insightful thinking, clear prose, and sharp wits.”
As for Williams, Wright and Kiley, all expressed mild surprise that the interview proved largely non-confrontational and, generally, respectful. “I was very surprised,” Kiley said. “It was pretty tame.” Williams observed that host Brooks “didn’t try to trap us, though he did ask us some tough questions.”
Prior to their NPR debut, the three decided they wanted to emphasize three distinct biblical values: the family, particularly the value of human life; community; and their faith in Christ. Wright said he believed they achieved that goal. And while Kiley couldn’t predict what impact the show might have, he felt satisfied that it “showed that we’re bold and gregarious, but that we’re not people to be scared of right away.”
A number of PHC students tuned in, including freshman Peter Forbes, who hailed it as a virtuoso performance. “Just being able to hear Judah, Brian, and Rachel on air effectively communicating the essence of the college was great,” he said.
All three seniors have experience dealing with the media, and Williams recommends the experience as good practice for later in life. “I would like to work in public policy, so I would expect to be interacting with the media,” she said. “I was excited to get the opportunity to learn how to do that.”
Kiley said the interview exposed some of his weaknesses but underscored the necessity of standing up for one’s convictions. “If I really believe that Patrick Henry College is a good place to be, I need to sell it,” he said. “I need to be bold.”
Wright noted that, for his part, it allowed him to repay PHC for all the opportunities it has afforded him. “I want to give back if there’s a way I can help the school.”
PHC journalism student Nathan Curby contributed to this report.
To listen to the On Point interview in its entirety, click here.