Righting America

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Defending Cedarville, and A Response | Righting America

by William Trollinger

In response to our post,  “Cedarville University: The Purification Continues!,” Jerry Schultz of http://thetrustworthyword.blogspot.com/ had this to say:

As a teacher, I wholeheartedly agree with the new policy at Cedarville University. For a Baptist school like Cedarville, or really for any Christian school, the new curriculum policy is simply supporting very basic values that all Christians should affirm and that we have every right to EXPECT our Christian schools to adhere to. Most of the policy with regard to decency and inappropriate classroom content, particularly that of a sexual nature, is just simple common sense and good policy for any academic institution to follow, especially a Christian one.

Thanks, Mr. Schultz, for your comments – we appreciate the feedback. More than this, we are confident that many evangelicals and fundamentalists would agree with you.

Of course, we do not. We do not agree that Cedarville’s “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy” is “just simple common sense and good policy for any academic institution.” For one thing, our antennae go up when anyone uses a “simple common sense” argument, as that generally signals that the matter at hand is neither simple nor obviously commonsensical.

More substantively, let’s take a look again at Philippians 4:8, which is said to be the basis of Cedarville’s “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy”:

“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.”

There is so much packed into this one verse. So, why does Cedarville’s curriculum statement focus on the word “pure”? Why does fundamentalism always seem to reduce what is “true,” “honorable,” and “just” to questions of sexual morality?

Moreover, and as we argue in our post, Cedarville’s “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy” of 2017 is very much of a piece with Cedarville’s Great Purge of 2012-2013. The threat to faculty is unsubtle: “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, faculty are accountable for their choices.”

Given the palpable threat, and given that the “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy” is extraordinarily vague, it seems that Cedarville faculty members have one of three choices:

  1. They can ignore the policy and run their classrooms as befits their training and their conscience, with the awareness that — as Cedarville’s history would suggest – there is a very good chance that someday the proverbial ax will fall.
  2. They can relentlessly censor themselves, making sure that they assign absolutely nothing that could be construed as an injudicious treatment of “artistic bareness” or that could come remotely close to serving as “a stumbling block to students.”
  3. They can run all lecture notes, Powerpoints, and assigned texts and films past their department chair and/or dean and/or VP and/or President White, for their approval.

Of course, few Cedarville faculty will choose option #1 (too dangerous, especially with the memory of the Great Purge so fresh) or option #3 (impractical given the demands of teaching day to day, and administrators will likely not appreciate such “information dumps” and may even receive them as attempts to challenge the policy).

So, most Cedarville faculty are likely to choose option #2: ceaseless self-surveillance to ensure adequate obedience to the vague “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy.” In the end, it is hard not to see this as the ultimate goal of this new policy. And that is truly unfortunate both because of the way it signals powerfully to faculty, albeit through back channels, a fundamental distrust of faculty (if they trusted their faculty, they would not need such an obviously “common sense” policy) and for the way it stifles creativity and critical thought.

Cedarville will surely continue to be the “safe school” that its fundamentalist constituency wants it to be, and that Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis demand that it be.

But will it be safe for its faculty? That seems unlikely.