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Academic freedom at risk at evangelical institutions like Cedarville University where liberal professors are losing their jobs

Academic freedom at risk at evangelical institutions like Cedarville University where liberal professors are losing their jobs

Cedarville University is a Baptist university tucked away on a verdant green campus near Springfield, Ohio.   While priding itself in being a "liberal arts" university, Cedarville is in the midst of a liberal purge–they are getting rid of their entire philosophy department, and professors there are fearing for their jobs.  This is not the first time such a thing has happened in an evangelical institution of higher learning.  There have been many instances where evangelical universities have taken an anti-intellectualism stance and purged anyone they felt were not towing the fundamentalist line.  The blog Peje Iesous explains:

Over the past few years it seems like nearly every week an evangelical academic institution in the US takes an anti-intellectual stance that costs someone a job. A few years ago it was Pete Enns at Westminster Theological Seminary. Then it was Bruce Waltke at Reformed Theological Seminary. The past eight months have also seen the dismissals of Anthony LeDonne (Lincoln Christian University), Christopher Rollston (Emmanuel Christian Seminary), and Michael Pahl (Cedarville University). Well, it seems that Cedarville Univerity is not yet through with their purging. Not content to dig itself deeper into the tribalism of biblical fundamentalism in their biblical studies division, Cedarville now has plans to dissolve its philosophy department and terminate the employment of affiliated professors.

Mark Noll, academic theologian famous for his histories of North American religion, once said in a book entitled "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind" that ”The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”   While Noll was talking about the relative lack of research and contribution to academia by evangelical scholars.  This is not a surprise.

Evangelicalism is famous for its insular point of view and sharply divided social hierarchies.  They are also famous for preferring, by and large, to homeschool children over putting them in public schools for fear of having their children "indoctrinated" in non-evangelical beliefs like math, and science (read: evolution and communism).  Before their public involvement in politics over the last 35 years, evangelicals used to believe that they should not participate in the political process as it was "of the world," and to trust God to work out election outcomes. When it became apparent to them that they were being sidelined in an increasingly secular society, evangelicals under the leadership of Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, Dobson and others burst into the public political scene in the early 1980s.  They succeeded in polarizing and molding the Republican party into the Religious Right party it is today, and have had a powerful hand in shaping policy in favor of the evangelical conservative Christian worldview.

Often those same homeschooled children attend evangelical universities to continue the Bible based education that was begun in the homeschool environment, which is essentially a reaction to secular culture–which evangelicals have made plain they want nothing to do with.  In fact, evangelicals seem to reject reason altogethermade plain in the public arena with their rejection of science, ignorant ideas about rape, parallel histories such as David Barton's which have little basis in fact but serve to support the evangelical illusion of an America that is a society based on their faith, their God, their values and their "facts."

So what's happening at Cedarville?  Christianity Today explains:

As school trustees convene today for a regularly scheduled meeting, several petitions(with more than 1,000 signatures each) have sprung from onlineforums where alumni, faculty, and some of Cedarville's 3,000 students are calling for greater openness about the school's "identity and vision."

"Dr. Brown and Dr. Ruby have both been the most prominent voices for Cedarville moving toward a more robust and moderate evangelicalism," said senior theology major Josh Steele, who founded Fiat Lux, one of the protest websites. "The university is moving back toward conservative fundamentalism."

Such concerns first surfaced when doctrinal white papers intended to "clarify and elaborate" the college's faith statement were adopted last January; the resulting doctrinal dispute led to theologian Michael Pahl being removed from teaching duties in August. But concerns mounted after president Bill Brown announced his resignation in October, and ignited after vice president of student life Carl Ruby did the same in January.

Now, investigations of Bible professors and a proposal to discontinue the school's philosophy major have prompted speculation that Cedarville's board of trustees is steering the school away from engagement with mainstream evangelicalism.

Cedarville denies any purge at all is taking place.  They are not moving ahead intellectually, it would seem, by getting rid of a large part of their liberal arts departments, and Cedarville Board Chairman Lorne Scharnburg  claims "we're staying where we've always been," amidst charges that Cedarville is actually moving further backwards into a hyperfundamentalist stance.  And unfortunately, Cedarville isn't the only place that is having difficulties maintaining a semblance of order. CT adds:

Tensions over theology and identity have recently faced many Christian schools, including Baylor UniversityNorthwestern CollegeCalvin College, and Patrick Henry College. (Shorter University lost nearly half of its 100 faculty members; Erskine College ended up taking its denomination to court.)

Education has been consistently under attack by fundamentalist evangelicals over the last little while, contributing to a rabidly anti-intellectual stance among political conservatives in America, where education is deemed to be for the "liberal elite" who are trying to "indoctrinate" the rest of America in anti-Christian principles (or something). Rick Santorum demonstrates this attitude towards education on a regular basis, despite his Bachelor's and advanced degrees from Penn State (including a JD).  With his educational hypocrisy, Santorum is rather like the head guy in a travelling medicine show selling snake oil to the less educated voters he panders to.  In 2009, Pat Robertson attacked public education as a form of indoctrination that is amoral, humanistic and anti-Christian (see video below).  In many examples since, fundamentalist evangelicals have charged the secular public of subjecting them to religious persecution almost on a daily basis, while freely demonstrating their persecution complex by persecuting school districts that do not tow the evangelical line–the Dover intelligent design case is perhaps, one of the most glaring examples.  Their attempts at de-intellectualizing the public sphere have met with defeat at every turn.   Mind you, they have the freedom to have their own schools, to home school their children, but that is not good enough. In the Manifest Destiny minded fundamentalist evangelical mind, everyone must live the way they do.  In the fundamentalist evangelical mind, the only religious freedom that matters is their own.  At least, that is how they are portraying themselves to the public mind.   When fundamentalist evangelicals defend themselves against such accusations from the "outside" their first response is to circle the wagons and claim that they are not being intolerant, but are actually preaching a gospel of love.  That so-called "gospel of love" being spread by some (not all)  interfering, anti-intellectual fundamentalist evangelicals who are giving up on radicalizing America is resulting in the deaths of homosexuals in Uganda.


This is hardly a surprising response, and purging academics who demonstrate a degree of acceptance for non-evangelical or mainstream evangelical points of view is regular practice in fundamentalist evangelical life.  Their theological forebears, the Puritans, kicked people out of the community on a regular basis for non-conformity (thus giving us the state of Rhode Island, where religious freedom was tolerated), and it seems our modern Puritans have not changed much today.   This is because the fundamentalist evangelical mindset and worldview are narrow and sharply imprisoned by their interpretation of Biblical theology. Pete Enns, was suspended, then asked to leave Westminister Theological Seminary in 2008 , according to a fundamentalist evangelical source, for calling Genesis "myth, and " emphasizing the humanity of Scripture (i.e. suggesting there could be mistakes in the Bible).  Generally, Enns lost his job for accepting basic tenets of  wider academic Biblical scholarship.  Enns explains the evangelical mind:

The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that degrees, books, papers, and other marks of prestige are valued–provided you come to predetermined conclusions.

Biblical scholarship is the recurring focal point of this type of scandal.

*Sure, dig into evolution and the ancient context of Genesis, but by golly you’d better give me an Adam when you’re done.

*Knock yourself out with scholarship on the Pentateuch, but make sure at the end of it all you affirm that Moses basically wrote it.

*Be part of cutting edge archaeological studies, but when you’re done we want to see you affirm the historicity of the exodus and conquest of Canaan pretty much as the Bible describes them, regardless of what others say.

*Do whatever work you need to do, but when the dust settles, explain how your conclusions fit with inerrancy.

The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that doctrine determines academic conclusions.

Behind all this is a deeper problem. Evangelicalism is not fundamentally an intellectual organism but an apologetic one. It did not come to be in order to inspire academic exploration but to maintain certain theological distinctives by intellectual means. These intellectual means are circumscribed by Evangelical dogma, though avoiding Fundamentalist anti-intellectualism.

It would seem tha fundamentalistt evangelicalism's version of "intellectualism" will not hold up in the wider world as long as they continue to view Knowledge as a second opportunity to avoid eating the proverbial apple.  Will most of their graduates be able to compete in the "real" world that is not set up primarily to support their belief system?   Or are they sending out an "army of God" who will gradually become so much part of the system that one day they will be able to overturn it in their favor?

Evangelicals seem determined to drive the American public school system off the cliff and replace them with their version of the madrassa.   And with their ability to get away with using school vouchers to have their version of science taught in private schools that they select for their children, or teach in their homes, they may just drive America as country into third world oblivion.  An abject refusal to be willing to understand the lives and religions of other peoples, and other cultures, without feeling as though one is being asked to give up their own is the one thing that evangelicals abjectly refuse to embrace; and without a well rounded education, the nation stagnates.

About Dakota O'Leary

Dakota O'Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She is a contributing writer focusing on eschatology, biblical prophecy, and general religious news. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week. We like to call her "our in-house Biblical prophecy expert" as her articles on eschatology have received over 200,000 views on God Discussion.
  • Hmmm, and where are the translations of the Scrolls for Qumran?

  • Dakota, great article. See, for these people, it doesn't matter if someone goes through a government school or university and still is a Christian; if they go through and do not believe in the David Barton version of history, or in young earth creationism, then they are brain washed.

  • Nick Zarkokis

    So when the school loses 30+ faculty, has a
    dramatic drop in attendance, goes into debt, has several high
    profile lawsuits that get national attention (and settles one for
    $300K), and gets censored by the AAUP, nobody notices. But when a few
    liberals get pink slips, everyone loses
    it. How convenient!

    • Rebekah

      I hate to say this about alumni and current students and even myself, but yes hardly anyone noticed when those tenured professors were fired. As a non-bible majoring freshman student right after that happened I had no idea what any of the fuss was about and since I didn't even know anyone who knew them it didn't affect me at all. Was this right? Hardly, but that is hindsight.

      In this case the ideology (liberal or conservative) didn't have so much to do with more notice getting out as the people themselves. In the space of 8 months 1 professor is let go, the president whom all the students adore abruptly resigns, the VP for student life whom all the students adore (even more than the president) resigns extremely abruptly and the philosophy major is under attack. In this case there is a much higher intersection of interest for students and alumni then the previous problems. If these events had been more spaced out it would have been much harder to get enough interest to do anything, which seems to be the case with previous problems. And of course by attacking the philosophy program you are basically attacking the best thinkers from the university, so not sure how that could go well for you….

    • You know, a liberal arts education is necessary to live and work in the world nowadays. So yes, when a conservative Christian university attacks and fires half its liberal arts programs, people notice.

      • Nick Zarkokis

        Not "conservative" after 30+ conservatives on faculty were let go a few years ago and the "liberals" were kept. The pendulum swings both ways!

  • regisdirect.com

    I wish you success and if possible I will support you with my signature.

  • Minibus hire Southend

    In this case the ideology (liberal or conservative) didn't have so much to do with more notice getting out as the people themselves. In the space of 8 months 1 professor is let go, the president whom all the students adore abruptly resigns

  • John Konopak

    There is no such thing as "academic freedom" in a theocratic environment.
    I feel sorry for the people who may have taken jobs there under the delusion that the College actually meant what they proclaimed.
    But you gotta protect God. The miserable, poor Fucker can't do it "Himself."

  • The evangelical southern baptist types actually have a program where they teach how bigots how to take over a liberal version of their speiies,and poison the well. re whomever they hate

    the best example is the black baptist churches. They should be the natural ally of the gays, but it got so bad with these spreaders of hate that they actually merged.

    i got this from a person who is in a welcoming and affirming baptist church and has seen first hand how the people who hated blacks got the blacks to join them in hating gays.

    hitler woudl be proud of them. he btw killed off abotu 100,000 gays also

    these evan – so. baptists previoulsy made the USA the second ot last nation in the west to end slavery and that was replaced by segregation.

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