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Fragile White Evangelicals: Taylor University and the Firing of Julie Moore | Righting America

by William Trollinger

The monument sign at the entrance of Taylor University with the campus blurred in the background.
Entry to Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. Image via Star 106.9.

As one who taught for eight years at a “moderate” evangelical university, I speak from personal experience when I say that the gap between so-called moderate evangelical schools and hardline fundamentalist schools is not very large. 

And that is because evangelical and fundamentalist schools appeal to the same conservative constituency, the same conservative donors and parents. The difference is that hardline fundamentalist schools – think Bob Jones University and, now, Cedarville University – can simply be up front about who they are. But the so-called moderate evangelical schools are much more invested in appearing academically respectable, while at the same time always looking over the “right shoulder” to make sure its very conservative constituency is content.

As a result, and as I experienced first-hand, evangelical schools will occasionally find it necessary to “purge” faculty members who may suggest to their conservative constituency that the school is not “safe.” A very recent example? Taylor University and Julie Moore. 

A well-published poet and teacher of writing, Moore was at Cedarville as the school made its hard right turn (in the process firing dozens of faculty and staff and hiring a known sexual predator). She has written about her experience here at rightingamerica.

In 2017 she escaped to a more “moderate” evangelical school, Taylor University. 

But now she has been fired at Taylor. And this is because, according to the provost, there were student complaints about readings she assigned that had to do with racial justice (readings that included Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Letter to My Son” and Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”).

In her conversation with the provost (Jewerl Maxwell) – there’s a recording of this meeting! – the flabbergasted Moore pressed him for specifics. Maxwell’s response? “Jemar Tisby is the main focus.” 

Tisby is a public historian and popular speaker who has written terrific works such as The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. But he has become persona non grata in certain conservative white evangelical circles because, well, he tells the truth about the American church’s complicity in racism.

But here’s the thing (and remember, there’s a recording).  Moore responded to Provost Maxwell that 

while she quoted from Tisby – whom she said she admires – in her syllabus, she’d not assigned any writings by him to students. Her protest went unheeded as Maxwell told her he did not want to debate specifics.

What? That’s the response? You don’t want to “debate” the “specific” reason you just offered up to Moore as to why she was being fired? Are you kidding? 

Then there’s President Michael Lindsay’s response, which he emailed to the Taylor community:

We understand and empathize with a faculty member’s disappointment when a contract decision does not go as they hoped. Multiple personnel factors are considered when the University decides not to renew a contract, as was the case here. We strongly disagree with what has been asserted [but are not able to elaborate].

What? Disagree with what? Are you kidding? Did I mention that there is a recording?

Yes, indeed, these comments from the top administrators at Taylor University are (to understate the case) lame. But here’s the thing. They can get away with such responses because, in firing Julie Moore, they are signaling that Taylor will never be “woke,” Taylor will be a “safe” school for fragile white students, Taylor – the school that in 2019 brought in Mike Pence as commencement speaker – will continue to cater to their right-wing constituency.

That is, firing a writing teacher who has her students deal with racial justice, well, that sells.

But of course, there’s a human being paying the price. The gifted Julie Moore, who is out of a job . . . although, to be fair, Provost Maxwell is praying about it. (What exactly he is praying is not clear.)

A gofundme site has been set up for Moore and her family. Please consider contributing.