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Students complete the daily Wall Street Journal quiz in an economics class at Colorado Christian University. Photography by Benjamin Rasmussen

How One Conservative Colorado University Wants to Shape the Way You Live

One of the nation's fastest-growing universities is also among its most conservative. How a small Christian school in Lakewood has managed to thrive amid the blue political tide sweeping the West—and why it wants to shape the way you live your life.

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The voice resonated throughout the room even before the man reached the podium, echoing across the auditorium as if the words had descended from heaven itself. “Good morning,” William L. Armstrong, Colorado Christian University’s president, bellowed to those assembled in the Colorado Convention Center’s auditorium in downtown Denver. “Grace to you and peace from God, our father, and from Jesus Christ, his son, our Lord!” Red, white, and purple flowers were arranged in an enormous half-circle at Armstrong’s feet. From the stage, the former U.S. senator from Colorado—barrel-chested and thick through the middle in his dark suit—was framed by vertical beams of blue light that gave his presence a celestial feel. Seventy-eight and fighting cancer, Armstrong was nearing the end of his life, but on that morning, it was impossible to tell. He seemed vibrant. He had a message to deliver.

It was June 27, 2015, the second day of the Western Conservative Summit, an annual gathering of right-wing thought leaders and one of Armstrong’s many creations in the nearly nine years since he’d taken over CCU, a small, evangelical liberal arts college in Lakewood. During the three-day summit, Republican presidential candidates Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson spoke, along with popular conservative talking heads. (Donald Trump would speak at the summit in 2016, joining a list that, over the years, has come to include Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Kellyanne Conway, and Ted Cruz.) Armstrong, a millionaire businessman who’d made his fortune as a media executive before being elected to the Colorado Legislature in 1962 and, 10 years later, to the U.S. Congress, considered his work at the university to be his life’s capstone. The school was the manifestation of every big idea he ever carried as a free-market, God-fearing conservative once considered a close ally of Ronald Reagan. Now, in his last act, Armstrong wanted CCU to save America.

President Donald Sweeting’s office. Photography by Benjamin Rasmussen

In less than a decade, Armstrong had done what no person could have envisioned: He’d taken the moribund former Bible college, founded in 1914, and made it relevant. Academically, CCU was in the midst of a massive transformation. By implementing a core curriculum that focused heavily on free-market philosophy, America-first political thought, and a strict constructionist view of the Constitution to go with the school’s socially conservative religious bent, Armstrong had built a university culture that ran counter to that of the vast majority of colleges in the United States. During a tenure that began in 2006, the former senator saw on-campus enrollment jump from roughly 800 students to more than 1,200. Revenue tripled to nearly $100 million. At a time when politically conservative parents were becoming more distrustful of higher education and its progressive leanings, CCU offered a remedy: It was a red island in a growing sea of liberal blue.

“We’re teaching our students that God is calling us to raise up a generation of men and women to step into the shoes of William Wilberforce and Patrick Henry and Florence Nightingale and Susan B. Anthony and Clarence Thomas and Ronald Reagan,” Armstrong said from the dais that day at the summit. “At CCU, we say Jesus is Lord. At many schools, they say Jesus is a joke. There isn’t any other college or university anywhere in the world that has pledged itself to the kinds of cultural reforms we are undertaking.”

Armstrong had founded the Centennial Institute—a CCU-based conservative think tank and one of his most influential programs—in 2009 and created scholarships that focused on students who wanted to make impacts on their communities. One new academic building and a new dormitory had recently opened. The Anschutz Student Center—named for the Anschutz Foundation—was in its final planning stages.

In every sense, Armstrong was creating a thriving school out of what was left of the old social conservative movement of the 1980s and ’90s—the age of Just Say No, the Moral Majority, and “family first.” CCU’s mere existence, Armstrong explained, was a miracle, one that would restore “the founding political and constitutional positions of the United States” and create a “more wholesome, more thoughtful, more Godly direction” for the entire nation.

From behind his rectangular glasses, Armstrong looked toward the auditorium’s farthest reaches. “How can one of the smallest universities in America be doing these things?” he asked. To him, the question was rhetorical. The answer, he declared, was the work of the faculty and staff—and, of course, the intervention of God himself. “I can almost hear him say, ‘I will show the world what I will do for a university that honors me.’ ”

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Among those in attendance that weekend in Denver was Jeff Hunt, a political consultant and former campaign manager who’d eventually become director of the Centennial Institute. Hunt, now 36 years old, was picked for the job by Armstrong in November 2015, less than a year before the former senator’s death, and replaced John Andrews, a soft-spoken 71-year-old Republican and former Colorado state senator who’d served as the institute’s first director. While Andrews adhered to a more temperate view of politics during his tenure, Hunt has taken the university in a decidedly more aggressive direction, weaponizing the school’s Christian conservatism in ways that have made him perhaps the most divisive person on campus.

It’s a role he embraces. “I want us to be bold on issues that we care about deeply,” said Hunt, who is also CCU’s vice president of public policy. “The root of our problem as a country is that we do not have healthy families. It’s our objective to impact culture. We are the voice crying in the wilderness.”

Hunt is fond of the Edmund Burke maxim that freedom must be equally matched by justice and order. He’s an old-school social conservative: Hunt believes homosexuality is a sin and opposes same-sex marriage, he’s anti-abortion, and he wants Colorado to repeal its recreational marijuana laws. During his two years at the institute, Hunt has become known for attention-seeking press releases and political demonstrations on issues that extend beyond state lines. When Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was released last spring, for example, it featured what the film’s director called a “nice, exclusively gay moment” between two characters. Though Hunt hadn’t seen the movie, he fired off an email to his network of Centennial supporters in which he called for a boycott of the film and initiated an online petition directed at Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Iger, declaring Centennial’s community would “not allow our children or grandchildren to be subjected to your radical left-wing agenda.” Centennial critics pointed out that Hunt should have been more concerned about a woman falling in love with a large, furry animal. (“He was a man before he was a beast,” Hunt said in his own defense.)

In November, during a Hunt-initiated rally on campus in support of Lakewood cake shop owner Jack Phillips, whose refusal to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple eventually resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court case, one of the rabbis Hunt had invited emphasized that marriage should be exclusively between a man and a woman. When NFL players started kneeling during the national anthem last year, Hunt issued a statement reiterating that CCU’s student-athletes were mandated to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” adding that kneeling “dilutes the message of the protesters and portrays disrespect towards our country, all who are serving, and our veterans.”

Lately, marijuana has been Hunt’s cause célèbre. Last year, he wrote an editorial for USA Today opposing New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s proposal to eliminate marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, arguing that the idea was “the furthest reaching marijuana legalization effort to date and marks another sad moment in our nation’s embrace of a drug that will have generational consequences.”

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Additionally, Hunt has spearheaded CCU’s opposition to Denver’s pro-pot 4/20 rally and blasted state legislators on both sides of the political aisle who’ve taken campaign donations from what he calls “marijuana millionaires.” In an open letter last year that was co-signed by current CCU president Donald Sweeting, Hunt wrote, “We don’t want public policy determined in closed-door, marijuana smoke-filled rooms.”

As one might imagine, Hunt’s messages haven’t gotten much traction in a state that’s been moving increasingly left in the past decade. “Jeff Hunt has to be the oldest 36-year-old man in the world,” a Republican operative said this past winter. “He’s completely out of touch.” Said one leading Democrat: “Hunt is a fucking joke.”

The Centennial Institute’s Jeff Hunt is looking to revolutionize how educational institutions influence public policy. Photography by Benjamin Rasmussen

One morning in early winter, I met Hunt in his office on campus. He wore a navy suit and is built slightly through the chest, with a narrow face topped by a head of closely cropped black hair. His small room was cramped, with a couch pressed against one wall and a framed print of Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech” hanging near a window overlooking a parking lot. A large campaignlike button, printed with the words “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus”—a favorite chant of Armstrong’s—sat on a bookshelf next to photos of Hunt’s wife and four children. The institute sits across the hallway from Sweeting’s office, an overt display of the power Centennial wields on campus. Following a number of threats against the institute, it’s now accessible only through a door that requires a number key for entry.

I asked about the unpopularity of some of his more flagrant displays. “Biblical teaching is very important to who we are as a university, and we get all our public policy orders from how we understand the Bible,” Hunt said. “We’re not here to win elections. We’re here to educate, even if other Republicans don’t think it’s worth our time. We are not angry, and we are not hateful. Our strategic objective as a university is not to sit quietly in a room and discuss traditional family values and things that impact culture. We want to drive the agenda, to make a difference.”

Much of Hunt’s worldview was shaped by his experiences as a teenager growing up in Denver’s south suburbs. As a student at Cherry Creek High School in the 1990s, Hunt was a self-described stoner who sold weed to friends and was considering dealing acid and mushrooms when his mother sent him to a Christian camp. Hunt was 16 at the time. “I was very liberal,” he said. “I was pro–gay marriage, I was pro-abortion. I was smoking pot and getting drunk and throwing parties. I was constantly arguing with my mother.”

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The weeklong camp, he said, gave him a greater understanding of the ways he felt he was screwing up his life. When he returned home, Hunt got rid of his pot and dedicated his life to God. Now, when he talks about marijuana, it’s from an intensely personal place. Based on his own experiences, Hunt believes pot is a gateway to harder drugs. He introduced his best friend to marijuana; the friend died from a cocaine overdose years later. A former childhood neighbor also was arrested for dealing. Hunt told me he personally suffers from short-term memory loss due to his extensive use of marijuana, which he began smoking when he was in middle school. “If it were not for my conversion,” Hunt said, “I would either be in jail, or I’d be dead.”

Sweeting succeeded William L. Armstrong as CCU’s president. Photography by Benjamin Rasmussen

In 2003 he earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and philosophy from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, then, in 2006, a master’s degree in divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, where he became fully immersed in conservative politics—knocking on doors for candidates and writing editorials in the campus newspaper. In 2010 he completed a master’s in political management from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he was already working as a media coordinator for Senate Republican leadership. After helping run former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, Hunt returned to Colorado and assisted with Mitt Romney’s political ground game in the state. He opened a digital advertising agency in Denver after Romney’s loss to Barack Obama and built a small collection of conservative clients that would come to include CCU.

Hunt applied for the Centennial job in late summer 2015 after learning Andrews was planning to leave. Hunt already had built a relationship with Armstrong and his staff through the advertising work Hunt had done for the university. Less than a year after Hunt was named head of the institute, Armstrong died. The former senator’s absence was a blow to the university and to Hunt, who not only found himself in a new job but also needed to figure out how to build the school’s political message without CCU’s most influential representative.

The answer to that question came in late fall 2016, when Hunt approached former Colorado Speaker of the House Frank McNulty in a hallway at Cherry Hills Community Church, where they both worshipped. By then McNulty, a Republican from Douglas County, had left elective politics and was working as a lobbyist at the state Capitol. Hunt wanted a way for CCU to stay abreast of the state’s legislative agenda and become a “more useful tool” to the politicians controlling it, he told McNulty. “To his credit, Jeff realized early on that he wasn’t going to slide into the place of Bill Armstrong, because no one could do what the senator did at that school,” said McNulty, who eventually took CCU on as a client. “Senator Armstrong could pick up the phone and get the governor, which Jeff wasn’t going to be able to do. Without the senator, things were going to be different. Jeff wanted to know how to succeed.”

Under Hunt’s direction, CCU has taken its most significant steps to politicize itself on a statewide platform. In late 2016, the school gave $50,000 to an organization opposing Proposition 106—Colorado’s assisted-suicide initiative—which represented the university’s first-ever ballot-initiative contribution. The ballot measure passed by nearly 30 points; nevertheless, Hunt declared in the Denver Post that “the fight is not over.” A few months later, in early 2017, CCU began pushing its conservative social agenda in the state Legislature. While most colleges and universities narrowly focus lobbying efforts on things like higher education funding, CCU pressed family, abortion, and immigration issues. Last year, the school closely watched HB 17-1134, known as the “Colorado Politician Accountability Act,” which would have allowed victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants to sue politicians who’d created “sanctuary jurisdictions” within the state. The bill failed in the House.

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Regardless of the legislative losses, McNulty sees the university deepening its lobbying efforts in the coming years. “I don’t know if the school will be a major player in 2018,” he said, “but they’re taking a five-year horizon on this, figuring out ways they can get people on both sides of the aisle to become more familiar with CCU. They know they’re not going to get people to agree with them 100 percent of the time, but this is about building relationships right now.” CCU intends to make its voice even louder by supporting legislation that embraces anti-abortion issues, reduces charter school regulations, and reins in the marijuana industry.

Although CCU has yet to score many legislative wins and the school’s lobbying efforts were small—just $18,000 last year, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office—they signify an important moment in the way the university is tackling politics and how it is making itself known to a wider audience. “Free markets and democracy thrive in the context of virtue and faith,” Sweeting, the university president, said. “I want us to speak truth to society for the flourishing of society.” In essence, it’s no longer enough to change hearts and minds through prayer and speeches. CCU wants to impact the way Coloradans are living their lives by influencing the highest levels of state government.

One of the newest conservative warriors in CCU’s army is a freshman named Janson Requist. The 19-year-old political science and business administration major from Lakewood is contemplative, with sleepy eyes and short brown hair. He’s considering law school after graduation, then potentially a career in state politics, where he can be “one of the loving soldiers of Christ.” Home-schooled since he was 13, Requist posted a high score on his SAT (“I won’t say what it was, because I don’t brag”) and could have had his pick of most colleges in the United States. Instead, he chose CCU.

As one of the school’s three freshmen “World Changers”—the name of the full-ride scholarship he received—Requist has thrown himself into campus life. He’s a member of the “moot court” team (students who participate in simulated court proceedings) and spends around 10 hours each week working at the Centennial Institute as part of the 1776 Scholars mentoring program, which puts him in regular contact with Hunt. This summer, he plans to intern at the state Capitol with an eye to one day scoring a summer job in D.C.

Freshman Janson Requist outside Leprino Hall on CCU’s campus. Photography by Benjamin Rasmussen

Over the years, CCU’s reputation for having deeply evangelical, conservative roots has been coupled with the assumption that the school is, essentially, an educational nonentity. “It wasn’t really known as a place for the academic kids,” Requist’s mother, June, admits. The idea CCU could even compete for a student like Requist would have seemed unlikely just a few years ago. “Janson is a shining example of what this school can become, the kind of students it can now attract,” said Kevin Miller, CCU’s distinguished professor of business and leadership, who taught Requist last semester.

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Next fall, more than 450 freshmen will enroll at the university, the largest class in CCU’s history. Because space is limited on the roughly 40-acre campus, enrollment could be capped at around 1,500 students—a number the school is expected to reach by 2020. (CCU also has online degrees and seven satellite adult and graduate student centers from Pueblo to Sterling that bring total enrollment to nearly 8,200—up from about 4,800 five years ago.)

Although many on-campus students are either education or business majors, the emphasis on conservative political philosophy has helped drive the rising enrollment. The university touts its high ranking from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s “What Will They Learn?” report and proudly advertises its school of education as the best in Colorado, according to the conservative National Council on Teacher Quality. Not surprisingly, the right-wing Young America’s Foundation has ranked CCU among the nation’s top conservative universities for the past six years. “The politicization here has been good for business,” said Stephen Shumaker, a political science professor who has taught classes at Patrick Henry Hall, one in a series of temporary buildings clustered on the north end of campus that will eventually be demolished. “This school really wants to be one of the last universities in America that can save America.”

When he showed up at CCU two years ago for a debate competition for home-schooled children, Requist had already started researching the school online. CCU considers itself a teaching institution, meaning its professors’ academic focus is on turning out what Armstrong called “competent and ethical” graduates.

Virtually no scholarly research is done at the university, but nearly all its business school professors own private businesses of their own. Several CCU professors have diplomas from institutions such as Argosy University, Liberty University, Bob Jones University, and the University of Phoenix. Sweeting, the school’s president, is an exception. He holds two degrees in theology from the University of Oxford—a big change from Armstrong, who attended college for three years but never graduated. School of Education dean Debora Scheffel is a former Colorado Board of Education member who teaches advanced-level classes and last fall ran unsuccessfully for the Douglas County school board as part of a conservative, pro-school-voucher coalition. Other professors have contributed work to conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

Requist read up on the school’s strategy and learned about Armstrong’s leadership and the years of expansion during his tenure as the university’s president. Requist was impressed that the school’s growth hadn’t lessened its connection to Christ, a common criticism among conservatives when it comes to religion-based universities. For a young, self-described “liberty-loving” conservative with dreams of a future in public office, Requist came to see it as the perfect match: an up-and-coming conservative student and an up-and-coming conservative school. “I know I gave up some things by choosing to attend here, but I saw CCU was going somewhere,” he told me. “I wanted to be part of that.”

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Over dinner one night late last year, Requist said he was finishing a project for a business class and catching up on reading for a political science discussion in addition to doing data research on underage smoking for his volunteer position on a Lakewood City Council advisory commission. On top of that, he was prepping for a moot court tournament in Dallas. He’d been so busy he hadn’t had time to attend CCU’s weekly on-campus church service.

Requist has a more modern conservative outlook, which he told me mirrors the views of many other students on campus. He opposes same-sex marriage but does not consider homosexuality the sin his generational predecessors believe it is. “We all pretty much know someone who is gay, and we know they’re not terrible people,” he said. He believes in free markets, certain types of immigration restrictions, and America’s strong military presence in the world. But he’s moved to the left of more traditional conservatives on environmental issues, seeing the movement as his way to be “a better steward of God’s creations.”

As part of enrollment, all students must sign a “statement of faith” in which they pledge their belief “in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.” (CCU professors and administrators sign the same declaration.) The university also has an honor code that restricts dorm-room interactions between genders, forbids alcohol on campus, and outlaws premarital sex anywhere, with the ultimate punishment being expulsion. If anyone doubts CCU’s dedication to its codes, one need only look back to 2012, when a 31-year-old university adviser was fired when her bosses discovered she was living with her boyfriend.

That a conservative university would openly run against the idea of the modern college system is hardly a surprise. Last year, a Pew Research Center survey showed Republicans were increasingly wary of higher education and thought colleges were having a negative impact on the United States. That suspicion has played a large part in funneling new students to CCU, where their families can see an extension of the lessons they’ve taught at home continue in the classroom. “Parents are more discerning than ever,” said Sweeting, who ran a seminary in Florida and was a CCU trustee before taking over as head of the university. “More than ever, people are asking questions about the value of a degree. For us to go forward as a country, we have to go back to the foundation, to Jesus Christ and the gospel. We believe in truth and virtue, and we believe in this version of the Western university.”

Though it was up to Requist to fund his own education—and he’d been offered a scholarship from conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan—he enrolled at CCU before learning he’d gotten a full ride because of the philosophy Sweeting espouses. “I wanted an education based on truth,” he said. “There’s a secular version of truth that I could have gotten at any Ivy League school. But then there’s the religious view of truth, and that’s something very special to me. I wanted to explore that. I wanted to challenge myself. I’m not going to waste this opportunity.”

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This past winter, 100 students packed a room inside CCU’s main academic building, Leprino Hall, to hear four of the school’s professors debate American interventionism abroad. While an outsider could be forgiven for assuming the debate would be a moment for neoconservatives to outdo one another on issues like North Korea and the Islamic State, the two-hour discussion was a harbinger of the deeply fractured politics evangelical conservatives face going into the 2018 midterm elections and beyond.

While two professors argued for traditional intervention (“The role of the state is to kick ass,” one of them said), Shumaker, a libertarian, and Delana Durough, a “recovering neoconservative,” pushed a noninterventionist position that has been gaining traction among small-government Republicans since Ron Paul first ran for president 20 years ago. When it was her turn to speak, Durough, an assistant professor of finance and economics who has a master’s degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins University, quoted 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” A slide was on the white screen behind her that read:

War ≠ Peace
War = Destruction

Durough—a pacifist whose former life outside academia included four years as an analyst at Goldman Sachs in Manhattan—argued the United States should “practice radical Christian hospitality,” which the nation’s citizens should “protect to the point of death.” Almost instantly, there were murmurs among the students. One of the ultraconservative professors shook his head. Sensing the mood in the room, Durough admitted some people might die because of this ideal. “But I know a great example of someone who died for a cause,” she added. The crowd burst into applause.

“I don’t think our students are hung up on the idea of being at a conservative bastion as much as they’re hung up on being good ministers for Christ,” Durough, 39 and in her third year at the university, told me later. “They’re not some kind of political robots, and I think it would be unfair to cast the entire university that way just because of some of the things we have on this campus.” I asked if that was a not-so-veiled shot at Hunt, but Durough brushed it off. “Over time, we will see how well we’re doing in our various roles at this university,” she said. “If we are not wanted by the market, then that’s that. If there’s fruit from what Centennial is doing, then it will stick around.”

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When I met with Hunt, I brought up the debate. He hadn’t attended, but he’d heard about it. I asked if that night had been indicative of campus sentiment; whether perhaps CCU wasn’t as politically unified as folks on the outside had been led to think. Hunt seemed perturbed at the reaction to Durough and Shumaker—“next to battling the radical left, educating our student body and our libertarian friends about democracy is a top priority”—and he produced a Gallup poll that had been released that day showing what he called the “softening stance” on social issues among most Americans. On every major issue except abortion, the nation’s youngest voters were moving left. Homosexuality and transgender rights and marijuana use, at least for this generation, appeared to be settled topics.

Yet Hunt seemed steeled by the numbers. “This is a 40-year plan,” he said. “We’re not going to win on marijuana anytime soon. We’re not going to win on a lot of these issues right now.” But none of that mattered at the moment, he said. “We are in the business of shepherding minds of young people to being great citizens,” Hunt said. “That will never stop.”

One Thursday a couple of weeks before Christmas, students and staff filed into the CCU Event Center for weekly chapel. Basketball hoops on both ends of the arena were raised to the ceiling, and all the lights were off except the overhead white beams pointed at a black-clothed riser with a massive screen behind it—a true evangelical revival.

Five members of the student worship band fired up the popular Christian song “Sinking Deep,” and hundreds of swaying arms and hands soon stretched toward the rafters. The school’s dean of spiritual formation, Dave Jongeward, stepped onto the stage, bowed his head, and led the 1,000-or-so people gathered in prayer.

“God, we thank you for the opportunity we have to live in a free country,” he began.

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“God, we continue to lift up Jack and Deb Phillips at this critical time, that they are essentially on trial for their freedom. And God, we thank you for the freedom we have in this country and that we can still worship you….”

Sweeting walked across the stage to applause. He placed his Bible on the lectern in front of him and adjusted the headset microphone that wrapped around his left ear and extended across his cheek. The president, gray-haired and dressed in a black suit with a CCU pin affixed to his lapel, smiled and looked into the darkness. Finals were almost upon them, Sweeting said. His voice was kind and sympathetic, more fatherlike in its tone than high-powered school administrator. “Is anybody under stress?” he asked to a smattering of groans from the bleachers in the back. “I can feel it,” Sweeting said. “We have two weeks left, exams and papers. I want to help you put Advent life and Christmas into perspective.”

He spoke for nearly 30 minutes, talking about anxiety and “consumeristic hedonism,” about family traditions and how to use the season to “prepare our heart” for Jesus. He spoke with quick chops of his hands, arms yawning wide when he wanted to make a point. This was a time, Sweeting said, for “reflecting on his first coming and looking forward to his second coming, awaiting that glorious moment. If you don’t need a savior, you don’t need Christmas.”

Shortly after the students were dismissed, Sweeting returned to his office and sipped from a cup of tea as he looked out a window. His room—with a sweeping wooden bookcase behind his desk—was adorned with Nativity scenes and had the pine-cinnamon scent of Christmastime.

A little more than a year after Sweeting took over at CCU, Bill Armstrong’s shadow still loomed large on campus. “I don’t look at myself as his replacement,” he said. “I’m his successor, because you can’t replace someone like Bill Armstrong. He was a big personality. Anytime a university can get a U.S. senator as its leader, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. He left huge shoes to fill here.”

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When Sweeting talks about the school, it’s impossible to separate the evangelical pastor from the Oxford-educated university president. He speaks of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and quotes Bible verses, then shifts to the Pilgrims and religious freedom and then to the failures of Greek democracy. CCU “is principally conservative,” he said. “We are not post-truth. We’re not post-virtue.” He explained: “In all kinds of studies, American universities are pretty much relative in their worldview. We don’t teach the meaning of life anymore. Schools have moved from pietism to secular humanism to our current age of nihilism where they don’t believe in anything. You don’t believe in truth or virtue or meaning, and that’s created a crisis. We no longer have a vision in the Western university.

“There is a truth,” he continued. “There is a center that should hold all of this together. We’re conservative because of Christ. We take his word seriously. We will not run from it. We will not be embarrassed by it.”

Sweeting then reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a small card with his predecessor’s 13 “strategic objectives.” Armstrong’s ideas continue to be the cornerstone of the school. They range from the lofty (“Be a magnet for outstanding students and prepare them for positions of significant leadership in the church, business, government, and professions by offering an excellent education in strategic disciplines”) to the obvious (“Become a great university”) to the more basic (“Teach students how to speak and write clearly and effectively”).

After rattling off the list, Sweeting took another sip of tea and leaned back in his chair. “There are plenty of other options students have, but if they want a school where they can get an education that includes competence, character, and faith, then they should check out CCU,” he said. “We want this school to be a blessing to our state.”

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