by Noah Tang
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a leading public policy think tank, maintains student chapters within various colleges and universities. Cedarville University hosts one of these chapters, which is led by an executive council composed of six undergraduate students. Together, they plan and host events that advance AEI’s mission of bettering the political situation for a safer future.
Benjamin Mays, a senior political science major, serves on the executive council at Cedarville. In the summer of 2022, he got the chance to work at AEI headquarters in Washington, D.C. as an intern. Mays has found his experiences with AEI to be enlightening and informative.
AEI’s motto is the “competition of ideas,” a message that is quite appropriate in a college setting. Among similar organizations, AEI is the top-cited within Congressional hearings. It holds a center-right ideology overall; but has room for conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike so long as they hold to certain key principles.
“To be at AEI you have to believe in the leadership role America has in the world, the democratic principles of freedom and liberty that America can spread throughout the world, and free enterprise,” Mays said. “As we’ve seen in recent events, there has been a rise in isolationism, especially in the right. Isolationism is a threat to promoting American principles.”
The AEI chapter at Cedarville recently hosted a book discussion group covering “The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism?” by Dr. Paul D. Miller. This book argues that American principles of freedom and order are distinct from traditional American culture.
Or, as the author puts it, the American creed can survive apart from the cultural Christianity where it arose, meaning that Christian nationalism is unnecessary at best. America’s creed is universally applicable; its (former) culture is as legitimate as any other culture but not necessarily normative.
During his visit, Miller attended a private dinner for faculty, executive council members, and book club members during which he answered questions about his book and about Christian nationalism in general. He then gave a lecture (which was also a PAC event) that overviewed his book. Miller also fielded questions immediately after his talk.
Mays believes that it is important for students to develop healthy political views and discern those from unhelpful ones. He holds that young people can make a difference politically and should educate themselves on public matters.
“My advice to any college student who believes in these principles, which AEI espouses, is to get involved in Cedarville’s executive council. It is open to all majors because it covers various policy areas.” Mays said.
Mays moderated the book club this semester. He said, “I think there’s been a growing interest at Cedarville in the subject of Christian nationalism’s rise on the right, so this was a good time to host the book club.”
Sage Showers, the current SGA President, and a senior political science major is currently writing her capstone on Christian nationalism. She attended the AEI book club this semester and greatly enjoyed the experience.
“I love the book. I am very excited that I had an opportunity to read it with a group of other people,” Showers said. “I think that we need more book clubs and other conversations on this and sundry issues. So I think that book clubs and discussions on political issues are helpful in giving us the knowledge and the tools that equip us to succeed.”
Showers also finds that the ideas presented in the book are viable to many among the student body.
“I think most students at Cedarville are very open to having conversations that challenge their basic cultural assumptions and encourage them to think with political and cultural nuance and compassion about complex issues. And I think our biblical integration method has a lot to do with that,” Showers said.
Showers views this discussion as impacting the Church’s witness. “Our message as Christian evangelicals has been boxed in by the Christian right,” she said. “The more we politicize our message, the less applicable it is to transcend all national, cultural, ideological, and political backgrounds. Christian nationalism boxes in the gospel message, which transcends all barriers and addresses the individual and their personal relationship in eternity with the Lord.”
Noah Tang is a graduate student majoring in Biblical Leadership, and a writer for Cedars. He likes to spend time with friends, ride his bike, and watch movies.