Righting America

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Cedarville University: The Purification Continues! | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Once again, this blog writes itself.

This spring Cedarville University implemented a “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy,” in which all that “is examined and taught in the classroom or through co-curricular activites” is to be guided by Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things.

Those unfamiliar with the world of fundamentalist higher education might wonder how exactly this biblical passage – as inspiring as it is – could serve as a “rubric” for a university curriculum. But for the Cedarville administration, of these 36 words there is only one that really matters.


To quote from the policy:

What is acceptable in most classrooms may not be at Cedarville. The lines of propriety must be drawn with an eye toward what is pure, not simply [!] what is just.

In fundamentalism the word “pure” always refers to sex, first and foremost. The “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy” establishes that faculty will not assign or show “images, movies, songs, plays, or writing that may be considered ‘adult’ in nature, that represent immorality, or that may be a stumbling block to students.” “’Artistic bareness’ [what does this phrase mean?] may be appropriate in courses studying art,” but even in such cases “the use of such images should be handled judiciously.”  In short, Cedarville has determined that its employees must “err on the side of preventing placement of temptation or unwholesome material in front of students.”

The threat to faculty is not terribly subtle. But in case Cedarville professors do not get the message, the policy ends with this warning of divine and administrative wrath:

In all cases, faculty are wise to run material by their dean or chair prior to presenting it to students if it approaches the category of “unacceptable.” Before God and the administration [emphasis ours], faculty are accountable for their choices, and deans and chairs for their oversight of this material.

According to Christianity Today, some Cedarville professors are very upset about this policy. On the face of it, this seems unsurprising. What serious scholar in the humanities could tolerate such restrictions and threats? But wait a minute. Current Cedarville faculty members are those who either survived or were hired in the wake of Cedarville’s Great Purge of 2012-2013. They are upset?

As we detail in Righting America, “Cedarville’s crackdown on perceived doctrinal deviance” began in 2012 with the firing of theology professor Michael Pahl. Pahl was fired because he was not willing to affirm the historicity of Adam and Eve on biblical grounds, though he was willing to do so on theological grounds. And affirming the latter and not the former proved unacceptable to the administration.

Pahl’s firing was just the beginning. The purge quickly picked up steam:

As of the summer of 2014, there had been an “exodus” of forty-three administrators, faculty members and staff members, some of whom were forced out (having signed nondisclosure statements) while others quit and moved on to less hostile professional and religious climes. Add to this the departure of fifteen trustees . . . as well as the summer 2013 removal of an additional twenty-nine staff members in what was explained as a financially driven “reduction-in-force.” [And] as is almost always the case in fundamentalist crackdowns, the Cedarville purge focused on clearing out the Biblical and Theological Studies Department. (Righting America 213)

In a very real sense the purification of fundamentalist colleges and universities never ends. At Cedarville, a faculty or staff member might have managed to put their head down and avoid being fired in the Great Purge, or they may have been fortunate enough to land a position after the Cedarville administration cleaned house. But now here comes a policy that puts more restrictions on the curriculum and the classroom, plus the threats and reminders that God and the bosses are watching.  

And why the never-ending quest to make Cedarville even more pure? In explaining the “Biblically Consistent Curriculum” the administration is quite explicit:

This policy provides clear boundaries for employees as well as context for students and their parents regarding the type of community they are entering when they enroll at Cedarville.

Right. You have to reassure your fundamentalist constituency that you are safe. And another marker that Cedarville is safe for fundamentalist parents and students is its very tight ties to Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis. But more on this in the next post.