by William Trollinger
There are now even more painful reports on the toxic culture that is Cedarville University. (And for those of you who are just now coming to this story, see: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).
But before we get to the latest revelations, there’s word from the Cedarville Board of Trustees that President Thomas White has been reinstated from administrative leave, which the Board had imposed because White:
- knowingly hired an individual who had just been removed from his ministerial position at a Texas megachurch for, on multiple occasions, videotaping the church’s youth pastor in the shower
- kept this information from Cedarville faculty, staff, and students, all the while moving this individual into an ever-expanding list of positions, including Biblical and Theological Studies professor, presidential advisor, and assistant basketball coach.
Now, it is important to note that, at a normal university, this behavior would have ensured White’s firing. But this is Cedarville, an institution that operates according to a very particular fundamentalist logic. And after a seven week (seven weeks?) internal investigation, the Board concluded that White deserves to be reinstated as president. Here is the Board’s official statement, which can be summarized as follows:
- White hired Moore with the best of intentions.
- White has apologized for his mistake, which he made because he thought Moore only videotaped the youth pastor two times (instead of the actual five times).
- Moore apparently did not abuse anyone at Cedarville.
- White has been a great president, and he will now take courses on victim prevention and advocacy to help ensure he won’t make this same well-intentioned mistake again.
There are so many questions to be asked here, but I will limit myself to these:
- Two videotapings not a problem, five videotapings alarming? And what about the fact that the church that fired Moore has been clear that White was fully briefed at the time of Moore’s hiring?
- White’s good intentions are enough for the Board to ignore the fact that he made no attempt to inform faculty, staff, and students of whom exactly he was hiring? Does the Board have no concern about potential lawsuits?
- Given that White was clear that he communicated with some top administrators and some Board members about Moore, why aren’t they mentioned here? Is it possible that Board members are giving White a pass because they are trying to protect themselves?
- Given that (rumor has it) formal complaints against Cedarville have been filed with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), and given that the HLC will be visiting Cedarville this autumn for an assurance visit, is it a good bet that the HLC will be satisfied by the Board’s decision and rationale?
It is significant that not all Board members agreed with the decision to reinstate White. Two of them – the president of Southeastern Seminary and an evangelical pastor/author – have resigned in protest. And the Gospel Coalition – a collection of conservative evangelical churches – has also registered its unhappiness with the Board’s decision, calling White’s reinstatement “deeply and extremely troubling,” in part because “the process of reinstatement fails to provide adequate accountability.”
To be fair, we perhaps should be heartened by the fact that White will be taking classes – taught by whom? – on victim prevention and advocacy.
Will these classes alert White to the fact that his university has a terrible record when it comes to protecting and advocating for women students and faculty, to the point of shaming those who talk about sexual abuse? Will these classes lead White to order his academic Vice President and other administrators that they must begin enforcing Title IX requirements, or will the university continue its inexplicable practice of ignoring these mandates? Will these classes prompt White to reform Cedarville’s Counseling Center so that it is actually a place that cares for and protects students who have been raped and sexually harassed?
In his book, Fundamentalist U, Adam Laats makes the very wise point that fundamentalist schools like Cedarville sell themselves as “safe schools.” All I can say is that, even if I accepted Cedarville’s hardline fundamentalist theology, I could not imagine allowing any of my three daughters to go to Cedarville, a place that is anything but safe for young women.
Of course, this might all change. Thomas White might be transformed by the victim prevention and advocacy classes he is supposed to take.
But White is a Paige Patterson protege. It doesn’t seem like transformation is in the cards. The best bet is that, if White remains as president, it is more of the same at Cedarville.
That said, the remaining members of the Board of Trustees and Thomas White are not the only voices in this struggle. Contingency rules. We shall see.