Gordon College

Evangelical colleges have much to say about the Billy Graham epoch and its aftermath

Evangelical colleges have much to say about the Billy Graham epoch and its aftermath

Pundits say evangelical Protestantism, so long led by the late Billy Graham, is faltering in the United States (though not overseas) and split over Donald Trump-ism in politics and morals as well as certain religious differences.

Upon Graham’s passing, by handy coincidence, journalists can obtain fresh insight from the new “Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education” (Oxford University Press) by Adam Laats, professor of educational history at Binghamton University. Unlike many scholars not personally part of  this subculture, Laats takes these believers seriously on their own terms, minus scholarly condescension.

Laats thinks dozens of Christian colleges undergird the movement’s cultural impact and political conservatism in the U.S. They also demonstrate the interrelations between militant “fundamentalists” and the somewhat more open “evangelicals.” His book and its very title apply those two tricky terms confusingly and interchangeably, but the details provide writers valuable context on the historical definitions.

He spent endless hours in archives at six non-denominational campuses to document their achievements and conflicts. (Laats largely bypasses theologically similar denominational colleges, seminaries, and ministries on secular campuses.) The findings would enrich a journalistic visit to profile one of these six. Fresh reporting will be essential because the book’s narrative largely trails off  before recent developments.

Here are the campuses, listed in order of founding.

* Wheaton College (of Illinois, not the Massachusetts Wheaton):  Graham’s alma mater has been a liberal-arts college throughout history that traces to 1853 with re-founding by slavery foes in Lincoln’s 1860. Selective and often dubbed the movement’s equivalent of Harvard, it leads evangelicalism’s elite vs. fundamentalism. But it remains staunchly conservative, recently forcing out a tenured professor over affinity with Islam, and winning federal court exemption from Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

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What’s ahead for 'young earth creationism,' so lamented by many evangelicals?

What’s ahead for 'young earth creationism,' so lamented by many evangelicals?

Weeks ago, The Religion Guy observed that “creationism” is alive and well within sectors of Islam and Mormonism. Meanwhile, there are the continuing, familiar debates among evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants (on which the late Billy Graham was carefully noncommittal).

Journalists will want to note several upcoming events that reporters could employ for updates. 

Ken Ham, the CEO of Answers in Genesis (AiG), is the star platform personality among “young earth creationists” who reject evolution and believe planet Earth has only existed for 6,000 years or so, with God directly creating all the species in six literal days. Most conservative evangelical educators today adhere to the vast eons in standard geological science and reject that chronology as an embarrassment to those who question other aspects of the evolutionary cause.  

Ham is the entrepreneur famed for Kentucky’s Creation Museum and nearby Ark Encounter, a 510-foot model designed from a literal reading of the Bible’s flood account. (Their aggressive promotion of that viewpoint is quite in contrast with D.C.’s new and high-toned Museum of the Bible, which shuns controversy.)

Reporters can catch Ham in action during six conventions held by a like-minded organization for homeschoolers, Teach Them Diligently. One may occur in your area. The first occurs March 8-10 in Nashville, followed by Rogers, Ark. (March 22-24), Atlanta (April 5-7), Mobile (May 3-5), Myrtle Beach (May 17-19) and Columbus, Ohio (June 7-9). The events are promoted by five conservative universities (Bob Jones, Cedarville, Liberty, Ohio Christian and Truett-McConnell).

Ham’s very popularity presents a big problem inside his movement, according to Joel Duff, a biology professor at the University of Akron, with a doctorate in evolution (University of Tennessee) who is also a Presbyterian Church in America layman. The Guy confesses he missed Duff’s important analysis of this when posted a year ago.

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Banned in Boston? Globe story skirts key Gordon College issue, the faculty faith statement

Banned in Boston? Globe story skirts key Gordon College issue, the faculty faith statement

We can thank Anthony Comstock, a moral crusader and a U.S. Postal Inspector, for the modern-day usage of "Banned in Boston" as a catchphrase to describe books, magazines and, eventually, movies that were deemed unsuitable for the citizens of "the Athens of America."

Comstockery, as the censorship became known, died not long after Comstock's passing in 1915. 

But banning still rears its head every now and then, including, it appears, the hallowed precincts of The Boston Globe. In just under 670 words discussing yet another faculty-administration tussle over issues involving homosexuality, the paper took pains to suggest the school's clearly stated standards of doctrine and behavior are more like a policy statement than a reflection of the school's long-held Christian beliefs.

Search the story and you'll find the most oblique of references, at the top of the piece:

All seven members of the faculty Senate at Gordon College resigned last week in an apparent show of support for a professor who claims that she was denied a promotion because she criticized the Christian school’s opposition to same-sex relationships.
The resignations represented the latest rift to emerge between the faculty and the administration at the small evangelical school in Wenham, which forbids professors, students, and staff from engaging in “homosexual practice” on or off campus.
In a complaint to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Margaret DeWeese-Boyd, an assistant professor of sociology, asserts that the college president and provost denied her a promotion to full professor because she has openly criticized the policy since 2013.
DeWeese-Boyd says she has spoken against the ban at a faculty meeting, signed a petition opposing it, organized trainings and events related to gay rights, and directly addressed Gordon’s president, D. Michael Lindsay, about the school’s stance.

What are some obvious factual questions that need to be asked? For starters, what doctrinal covenants did DeWeese-Boyd sign when she joined the Gordon College faculty?

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Bookish reporting ahead: J-preps for Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary in 2017

Bookish reporting ahead: J-preps for Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary in 2017

When the Religion Guy worked at Time magazine and The Associated Press, he made every effort to read a book per week. He also vowed to give important books as much publicity as conditions allowed because “mainstream” print media increasingly neglected religion titles. 

That neglect underscores the importance of reporters keeping up with book reviews in religious periodicals, especially the sophisticated, content-rich Books & Culture: A Christian Review. Otherwise, how can busy newswriters sift through those looming piles of review copies and decide which to cover?

Quick tip: No index, no review.

For astute religion writers, the book scene comes to the fore right now due to a huge upcoming story, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017. This epochal event deserves careful advance thought about special story packages or series. And that means journalists need some historical reading under the belt to develop the themes to ponder with scholars.

As Thomas Albert Howard of Gordon College wrote four years ago in Books & Culture, the Reformation “has been credited (or blamed) for the rise of the modern nation state, liberalism, capitalism, religious wars, tolerance, America, democracy, individualism, subjectivism, pluralism, freedom of conscience, modern science, secularism, Nazism, and so much else.” He could have added the expansion of literacy, worship in common languages, and the assault on mandatory celibacy.

The agenda includes the title of a 2005 book by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom: “Is The Reformation Over?” Does the old Protestant-Catholic divide still make sense in the secularizing West? What crucial differences remain today?

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When Gordon College disciplines a dissident prof, RNS leaves out some crucial details

When Gordon College disciplines a dissident prof, RNS leaves out some crucial details

Just when we thought the narrative of Christian college professors getting fired for unorthodox statements had finally died down, up pops another case.

Like the hijab-wearing Larycia Hawkins, who got the boot at Wheaton College because of her comments likening Christian theology to Islam (and possibly some controversial stances on sexuality), here's a new case involves a professor who accused her employer of an "ugly practice" in a letter to the editor of a local paper.

This narrative is about hiring non-celibate homosexual teachers and a tenured professor who feels her employer is deeply wrong. The employer likewise disagrees with her and has demoted her.

The professor recently sued. Religion News Service picks up there:

BOSTON (RNS) -- A Gordon College philosophy professor is suing her employer for allegedly breaching her free speech rights and retaliating after she publicly criticized the Christian school for its policy of not hiring sexually active gays and lesbians.
Lauren Barthold’s suit, filed April 28 in Essex Superior Court, claims she lost a leadership role and was denied an opportunity to seek a promotion after she spoke with news media and published a letter to the editor of The Salem News, a local newspaper.
“As a direct result of Professor Barthold having publicly voiced her opposition to the discriminatory practices of Gordon, Gordon retaliated against her,” the suit alleges, “first by threatening to terminate her, and later disciplining her by demoting her from her position as Director of the Gender Studies Minor.”
In her July 2014 letter to the editor, Barthold, who has academic tenure, called Gordon’s hiring policy “discriminatory” and urged sympathizers to help change it by bringing economic pressure to bear on the school. According to the suit, Gordon College President Michael Lindsay and the Board of Trustees confronted her and disciplinary measures followed.

These next two paragraphs are also important:

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NPR offers listeners shallow mishmash about Christian universities and same-sex marriage

NPR offers listeners shallow mishmash about Christian universities and same-sex marriage

It’s been more than three weeks since the historic Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide and it appears that  NPR has finally gotten around to asking how Christian colleges are going to react to this.

Other media were asking this question even before the June 26 ruling, so it’s well-trodden ground. It's a rich mother lode of article possibilities, as religious colleges are the low-hanging fruit in the Supreme Court decision. They are not churches, so they don't come under certain protections that houses of worship would have.

So with plenty of time to prepare a decent story, NPR could have come out with a well-thought-out look at the issue, much like this recent story in the Atlantic Monthly. Instead, the show produced four and one-half minutes that didn’t even manage to stay on topic. Here’s how their broadcast started:

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Some of the uproar over the Supreme Court's marriage ruling is misplaced. Ministers will not be forced to marry same-sex couples, and churches will not be forced to accommodate same-sex weddings. But what about schools? Union University in Tennessee prohibits sexual activities that fall outside a marriage covenant between a man and a woman. That applies to staff as well as students, and Samuel Oliver, Union's president says it dictates, for example, which employees qualify for marriage benefits.
SAMUEL OLIVER: We don't offer benefits to same-sex partners because having that same-sex partner would be a violation of our behavioral code.

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Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Once again, I was on the road when all heckfire broke out on the religion-news beat, leaving other GetReligionistas to dive into the breach after the U.S. Supreme Court's long-predicted 5-4 decision -- complete with majority opinion sermon from Justice Anthony Kennedy -- approving same-sex marriage from coast to coast.

Much of the coverage was a celebratory as one could have expected in this post-Kellerism age, especially in the broadcast news coverage.

Click here for an online summary of that from the conservative Media Research Center which, to its credit, offered readers transcripts of some of the broadcast items so they could read the scripts for themselves and look for signs of journalistic virtues such as fairness and balance. A sign of things to come? Among the major networks, the most balanced presentations on this story were at NBC. Will that draw protests to NBC leaders?

At the time of the ruling, I was attending a meeting that included some lawyers linked to Christian higher education, one of the crucial battleground areas in American life in the wake of this ruling. There, and online, it quickly became apparent that the key to the decision -- in terms of religious liberty -- is whether one accepts Kennedy's general, not-very-specific acceptance of First Amendment freedoms linked to religion or whether, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, one noted that Kennedy left unsaid.

Journalists must note this, if they want to prepare for the next round of battles in -- as described in previous coverage of the HHS mandate wars -- the tense church-state territory located between the secular market place and actual religious sanctuaries. That middle ground? Voluntary associations that are defined by stated doctrines, while interacting with public life to one degree or another. Think colleges, schools, hospitals, day-care centers, parachurch ministries, adoption agencies that have, for students and staffs, doctrinal covenants that define their common lives and teachings.

Think Little Sisters of the Poor. Think Gordon College.

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That big U.S. Supreme Court case isn’t only 2015 gay dispute for religion-beat reporters to watch

That big U.S. Supreme Court case isn’t only 2015 gay dispute for religion-beat reporters to watch

Alongside that big U.S. Supreme Court case on gay marriage, another 2015 showdown merits journalistic attention.

It involves Gordon College, an evangelical campus located in the onetime heartland of the Massachusetts Puritans. Meeting Feb. 5-6, and again in May, Gordon’s trustees will ponder whether to scrap a rule  that “sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexual practice will not be tolerated” among students and staff, whether on or off campus.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges has directed the college to explain its policy for a meeting in September. The association has the power to remove  accreditation if Gordon violated the requirement of “non-discriminatory policies and practices in recruitment, admissions, employment, evaluation, disciplinary action, and advancement.”

Background: Gordon’s president, D. Michael Lindsay, is no backwoods rube but a Princeton Ph.D. who was an award-winning sociology professor at Rice University. Gordon’s sexual stance drew attention because Lindsay gave a helping hand to groups like Catholic Charities, the National Association of Evangelicals’ World Relief and Bethany Christian Services, the largest U.S. adoption agency.

Last July he joined Catholic and Protestant leaders in writing a letter to President Barack Obama seeking exemption for such religious employers in a pending executive order to forbid federal contractors from discrimination against  lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered.  The religious petitioners lost that fight.

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The Boston Globe veers into the doctrines of 'Kellerism'

Just the other day, I heard a long-time GetReligion reader use a very interesting new journalism term — “Kellerism.” Wait for it, faithful readers. Let’s walk through this with newcomers to the site. What, pray tell, are the key beliefs in the journalistic philosophy that is “Kellerism”?

Yes, this is another reference to the pronouncements of former New York Times editor Bill Keller, with an emphasis on this 2011 remarks (video) at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin. Here, once again, is a chunk of an “On Religion” column I wrote about that event, when the newly retired Keller was asked if — that old question — the Times is a “liberal newspaper.”

“We’re liberal in the sense that … liberal arts schools are liberal,” Keller noted. … “We’re an urban newspaper. … We write about evolution as a fact. We don’t give equal time to Creationism.” …

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