Hans Noyes gave a pre­sen­tation on whether Hillsdale can be con­sidered a Christian school. Courtesy | Breana Noble

When senior Hans Noyes returned home, he asked his family’s Amazon Echo smart speaker the question he had explored for his project in the Public History course: Is Hillsdale College a Christian school?

“No,” the robot voice named Alexa responded.

“If I had done that sooner, I would have saved a lot of time,” Noyes said in a pre­sen­tation of his research on Monday in Mossey Library before a group of 35 stu­dents and pro­fessors.

Noyes’ actual research found that the answer is much more com­pli­cated than that, which has led to uncer­tainty among many on campus as to whether or not Hillsdale is a Christian insti­tution. Although Hillsdale was founded as a Christian insti­tution by Free Will Baptist pastors, Noyes argued in his thesis that the surge of Chris­tianity on campus among stu­dents was an unin­tended result of efforts to market Hillsdale as a con­ser­v­ative insti­tution.

“The Col­legian has pub­lished articles, both pos­itive and neg­ative, about it,” Noyes said. “People asked me if Hillsdale was a Christian college, and I didn’t know how to answer. I thought I should look into it.”

Vis­itors to Mossey Library can find Noyes’ research in the display case by the micro­fiche reader section on the first floor. The case con­tains books from the library archives, photos of people who influ­enced Hillsdale’s reli­gious her­itage, and a Bible from College Baptist Church, which the college helped to found. Booklets on the filing cabinet next to the display have more infor­mation to explore.

Noyes said the most sur­prising element of his research was the sig­nif­i­cance of the Free Will Bap­tists for Hillsdale during its early days. Not only did their phi­losophy influence the school’s mission, but they pro­moted the college in their mag­a­zines, spon­sored schol­ar­ships, and donated funds for campus building projects.

“At the heart of the Free Will Baptist denom­i­nation, gen­er­alized, is freedom, freedom of the indi­vidual,” Noyes said. “It paired nicely with American freedom and, later, the Repub­lican Party.”

He noted that Revs. Edmund Burke Fair­field, former college pres­ident, and Ransom Dunn — former college interim pres­ident, trustee, and pro­fessor — attended a meeting in Jackson, Michigan, in 1854 that laid the foun­dation of the Repub­lican Party.

“Their political identity came from their reli­gious identity, and that has shaped the college until this day,” Noyes said.

That, however, would reverse in more modern times.

Under Pres­ident Joseph William Mauck, the college broke ties in 1913 with the Free Will Bap­tists, asserting its non­sec­tarian stance, to pre­serve its inde­pen­dence as they com­bined with the Northern Baptist denom­i­nation, according to Noyes.

In the 1960s, Hillsdale stopped its practice of mandatory chapel atten­dance and ended its official rela­tionship with College Baptist in 1968.

“You had this devel­oping trend toward less aca­demic rigor and more of a party men­tality in the stu­dents,” Noyes said.

When George Roche became pres­ident in 1971, he made efforts to extend Hillsdale’s rep­u­tation nationally, starting the Center for Con­structive Alter­na­tives sem­inars, Imprimis, and the Wash­ington-Hillsdale Internship Program. It boosted Hillsdale as a polit­i­cally con­ser­v­ative insti­tution, according to Noyes.

“Some­thing he didn’t expect, there was a pairing brewing in the ’70s, ’80s, and even today between evan­gel­icals and con­ser­v­ative America,” he explained. “As he was attracting more and more con­ser­v­ative stu­dents, he was attracting more and more evan­gelical stu­dents.”

As a result, Noyes argued that Hillsdale was a Christian school at its founding but its status as one has become less clear now, since the strong reli­gious com­munity on campus appears to be an unin­ten­tional con­se­quence of the school’s efforts.

“This is a nice reminder of how dif­ficult it can be to shape history into a cohesive argument and prove one side or the other,” Provost David Whalen said after Noyes’ pre­sen­tation. “It’s a beau­tiful example of how history can be complex and unclear. There are lots and lots of loose ends.”

Several stu­dents in atten­dance at the pre­sen­tation expressed similar sen­ti­ments. They said they were sur­prised by how much history they did not know.

“I’m a senior, and I’d never heard most that,” Devin Ward said. “I think College Pres­ident Larry Arnn should share some of that history, when he’s talking about the Good during freshman ori­en­tation.”

After lis­tening to the pre­sen­tation, Ward said she would not call Hillsdale a Christian college, because it does not have its stu­dents sign a statement of faith.

“I’m glad we don’t,” Ward said. “I liked how they didn’t market Hillsdale as this Christian college. If they had, I wouldn’t have gone here.”

Senior Dustin Pletan said he was not con­fident to determine if Hillsdale is a Christian school or not, after Noyes’ pre­sen­tation, but that he learned about the reli­gious her­itage of the school that he did not do before.

For now, Pletan said, on this topic: “Ask Dr. Arnn.”

Previous articleThe man on the microphone
Next articleBullfighting and bigfoot: The ‘Remnant’ podcast
Breana Noble
Breana Noble is The Collegian's Editor-in-Chief. She is a born and raised Michigander and studies politics and journalism. This summer, Breana interned in New York City at TheStreet, a business and finance news website. She has previously worked for The Detroit News, The American Spectator, and Newsmax Media. She eventually hopes to pursue a career in investigative journalism. email: | twitter: @RightandNoble