by William Trollinger
Evangelical colleges are always having to prove – to parents, donors, and evangelical leaders such as James Dobson or Ken Ham – that they are, to quote Adam Laats, “guardians and teachers of a necessarily vague dream of eternal and unchanging orthodoxy.” Sometimes the only way for an evangelical school to reassure doubters is to purge its ranks of supposedly “unsafe” faculty and administrators.
As we describe in Righting America, this is precisely what happened at Cedarville University between 2012-2014. One of those forced out of Cedarville was Carl Ruby, vice president for student life. His departure was a shock to many students, one of whom told The New York Times that Ruby “made Cedarville feel more like Heaven. If you thought someone would be untouchable, it would be Carl.” But as a former Cedarville trustee noted in the same article, Ruby was pushed out because conservative trustees “were threatened by Carl’s . . . ministry to people struggling with gender identification [i.e., LGBTQ students], how he ministers to people on the margins.”
Ruby was but one of 43 administrators, faculty, and staff members who departed Cedarville between the fall of 2012 and the summer of 2014, “some of whom [having been] forced out (having signed nondisclosure statements) while others quit and moved on to less hostile professional and religious climes” (213). This does not include the exodus of 15 members of the Board of Trustees, many of whom left in displeasure over the fundamentalist crackdown.
In our book, that is where the Cedarville tale ends. But it turns out there is more to the story. Take, for example, Carl Ruby.
Departing Cedarville, Ruby founded Welcome Springfield (OH) a non-profit organization that serves immigrants while also encouraging community members to sign a “Statement of Support for Immigrants in Clark County” that says in part:
While I recognize and support reasonable steps to ensure our national security, I also stand opposed to all forms of communication and policy that fail to recognize the human dignity and innate value of our global neighbors, especially those fleeing hardship, violence, poverty, and persecution.
While maintaining his position with Welcome Springfield, in the fall of 2014 he accepted the position as pastor of Central Christian Church in Springfield, which describes itself as a church where “we strive to keep Jesus at the center” and where “we care about justice” and “love our neighbors.”
In Springfield, where there are two mosques, “neighbors” includes Muslims. In an effort to build bridges between the Muslim and Christian communities (and as featured in a CBS Faith in America documentary) in May 2017 Central Christian members attended Friday prayers at one of the mosques and Muslims attended Sunday worship at Central Christian. As Ruby reflected on his Red Letter Christians blog,
I was overwhelmed by the strong sense of human connection. [Emphasis Ruby’s.] The events did not feel like an awkward mingling of strangers who were working hard at being polite and finding things to talk about. It felt like a reunion of longtime friends. There was an eagerness on both sides to connect and to love one another.
On the Central Christian website Ruby does not mention Cedarville or the purge, but he does describe – in winsome and gracious fashion – the journey he has been on:
I grew up in churches that tended to be pretty conservative. I met many beautiful people and learned lots about scripture, but I also encountered a tendency to neglect certain areas of the gospel such as our mandate to care for the poor and to commit ourselves to issues of social justice. I also experienced a church culture that added many rules and expectations that are not found in scripture . . . God didn’t save us just so that we could go to heaven. He saved us so that we could go to work trying to help bits of heaven to break through into our world through the sacrificial service of the body of Christ.
Life after fundamentalism, indeed.
At church Sunday, I reflected, during the sermon – a proclamation of the extent to which Peter’s slow realization of the extension of the Gospel to all people (those gentiles)and how subversive and disruptive it was for his life – on a simple conviction that it seems to me when it comes down to itGod is either, on balance, committed to right beliefs (some form of ideal ortho belief) of grace, forgiveness, and good action. I hope when I die someone will remember me as committed to the latter position. Grace and Peace.
Well said, Tim!