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A Pastor’s Resignation and a Former Student’s Story: More on the Wreckage Wrought by the Fundamentalist Takeover of Cedarville | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Grace Baptist Church. Photo courtesy of CedarSnap

The Cedarville University saga goes on and on and on and on and on and on

But finally, someone has lost their job, apparently for their role in covering up for the sexual offender at the heart of this story. Weirdly enough, it was not someone at Cedarville University.

When Thomas White hired Anthony Moore at Cedarville into a series of ever-ascending roles at the university – but without disclosing to the community that in his previous ministerial position he had on at least five occasions videotaped a male youth pastor showering – he also directed Pastor Craig Miller at Cedarville’s Grace Baptist Church to oversee a “restoration” program for Moore. While at least some of the Grace Baptist Elders knew what Moore had done (including Jason Lee, who happens to be Cedarville University’s Dean of Theology), Miller (following White’s lead) did not share the details with church members. Under Miller’s guidance, Moore not only preached at Grace Baptist; he also spoke at youth events in the area.

Of course, in April, the details of the hiring of Moore as well as the subsequent efforts to conceal what he had done became public. Almost immediately Pastor Miller (and the Elders) sent a “secret” letter to church members, explaining why they did what they did regarding Moore, and offering what can only be described as a non-apology apology:

My actions were intended to allow the occasional use of his teaching gifts for the benefit of the Body. But given what we now know, they may be interpreted as downplaying the sin and uncaring for victims. I ask your forgiveness for creating that appearance.

Note that the focus here is not on how Miller exposed unwitting youth to someone who has a history of using a pastoral role to sexually abuse someone in his trust. Instead, this statement focuses on how Miller’s actions are “interpreted” and the “appearance” they created. This is not about revealing and confessing truth, according to Miller (and the elders). This is about how something quite reasonable (given new information) might be “interpreted” and how reasonable actions can sometimes create a certain “appearance.” To that point about new information, while Miller (like White) claims that new information was made available to them (White explained that there were five videotaping incidents as opposed to two, as if two would be fine but once you get to five, you’ve crossed the line), the pastor who forced Moore out of his previous position at a mega church in Fort Worth, TX is quite explicit in saying that he told both White and Miller everything about Moore’s offenses. 

Well, six weeks after penning this “secret” (how was this letter ever going to stay secret?) letter to church members, Craig Miller has resigned as pastor of Grace Baptist Church. What is remarkable is that in neither the church Elders’ letter to the church explaining the resignation, nor in Miller’s final sermon, nor in the statement by a church Elder at the end of sermon, is there an explanation as to why Miller is resigning. 

Miller’s sermon – which involves a very detailed exegesis of Daniel 5 – is entitled “Judging the Proud.” From the title, I thought Miller might use this as an opportunity to elaborate on the overconfidence of he and the Elders (not to mention university administrators) to “restore” Moore in this secret operation. I was mistaken.

But what is included in this video, at the very end, is the revelation that Grace Baptist is offering Miller a severance package of one year’s salary, plus the possibility of an additional three months’ pay. That’s a remarkably generous gift for someone in his 60s who is “resigning.” One can only speculate what this is about. Is Miller the fall guy? Is there an accompanying Non-Disclosure Agreement?

Back to the university. How is it that the local pastor is leaving his post – in good part because he was following instructions from the Cedarville president – but Thomas White remains president? Is White hoping for his own generous severance package? And what about Dean Lee and the other administrators who were involved in all this? 

So, the saga continues. And as we hear from alumni who were at Cedarville before the fundamentalist takeover, the damage done to the university by White and company becomes even clearer. See below.  

Jonathan Demers, Class of 2011

My relationship to this conversation is complicated. I graduated from Cedarville University in 2011, two years before the arrival of Dr. White and the exodus—really, the purge—of dozens of CU faculty, staff, and administrators. I’ve been hesitant to write, in part, because I wasn’t around for many of the changes discussed here, and my voice sounds distant next to the others here. 

Beyond that, I think am also beginning to realize just how jarring it was to sit by, helpless, while the best parts of my university community were renounced and transformed several years ago. 

Before 2013, my associations with Cedarville were pleasant and nostalgic. While a student there, I took advantage of nearly every experience the university offered. I was a soccer player, an RA, a TA, and an SGA class president. I graduated with two degrees and three minors, worked at the Writing Center, and competed with the Model United Nations team. I studied urban ministry, engaged in poverty and refugee simulations, and began to confront my cultural isolation and white complicity as a member of All Nations Bible Fellowship—a small, predominately African-American church in inner-city Dayton. And, rather stereotypically, I met my wife and closest friends at Cedarville. 

Each of these experiences and relationships enriched my mind and soul. They complemented the increasingly nuanced approach Cedarville had begun to take with its chapels, courses, conferences, and panels. Those changes were welcome. During the fall semester of my freshman year, Shane Claiborne’s invitation to speak in chapel was quickly and controversially rescinded, and he was banished from campus. And yet, the fall semester after my graduation, Claiborne was a keynote speaker in Cedarville’s week-long conference on Christian engagement with immigration policy. 

The story of Cedarville’s growth was in many ways the story of my own. When I first moved into my freshmen dorm, I was largely a stock-photo, cut-and-paste, white conservative Christian kid. I had grown up homeschooled, with AWANA on Wednesday nights, Veggie Tales on the weekends, contemporary Christian music on the radio, and plenty of WORLD Magazine articles and Fox News pundits to keep me agitated against the church’s “real” enemies—liberals. I knew just enough scripture to mangle it. I was primed and ready to become yet another tone-deaf culture warrior. 

Thankfully, that didn’t occur. The Cedarville of my time wasn’t built to take advantage of my narrow thinking; it challenged and confronted it. Over the course of four years, I was gradually introduced to new concepts and perspectives, and was then trusted with the tools to engage each with rigor and discernment. Cedarville channeled my enthusiasm into careful thinking and curiosity. It led me into a deeper and expanded faith. Christianity could no longer be reduced to a story of personal salvation and spiritual escape; it was a grander narrative about the Kingdom of God and its implications for this world. Righteous living wasn’t defined by winning fierce apologetic arguments with atheists and democrats; it was about cultivating hospitality, generosity, empathy, and learning to disagree agreeably. Social justice wasn’t a blithe, divisive phrase that threatened to undermine the gospel; it was a necessary ingredient, the inaugural declaration of Jesus, the heartbeat of the prophets.  Racism wasn’t a grievance, or a “card” to play in political games; it was the systemic hypocrisy, the original sin that undermines the testimony of the White American Evangelical church.

Nearly all of those critical realizations were made possible by classmates, professors, mentors, and staff who no longer associate with Cedarville. By 2013, enough donors, trustees, and alumni had clearly had enough. The Cedarville they saw wasn’t the Cedarville they wanted. And in the course of several months, they installed a new regime to oversee the transformation of Cedarville into what it has become today. 

The same school that had once welcomed diverse political viewpoints now wears conservative blinders. The same school that once celebrated nuance treats ambiguity like treason. The same school that once confronted narrow mindedness now nurtures it. 

Mission accomplished. 

Writing this, I have begun to wonder what might have happened had I enrolled in a university led by Dr. White and the current administration. I think about the kind of person I was then—eager, earnest, and mostly clueless. Would I have ever considered moving to the east side of Detroit and living incarnationally with a local church like I do now? Would I have ever considered joining members of that church family to protest in Washington D.C., as I did this past weekend? Would I have been repulsed by President Trump’s blasphemous and violent stunt on the steps of the historic St. John’s church? 

Or would have I been appeased? Would I have been chanting “All Lives Matter”? Would I have denied the existence of systemic racism? Would I have been standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the White American Evangelicals that make up the President’s political vanguard? 

I shudder at the thought.