by William Trollinger
In looking at Excalibur – the self-advertised “publication of the Taylor University conservative underground” — here is what we see:
- The authors of Excalibur claim that – because of “our current cultural climate” as well as “leftist trends” on campus — they have chosen to remain anonymous so that they can “focus on the issues.” While the authors are trading on the notion that they are victims of a hostile cultural and campus climate, such a suggestion involves a weird twisting of roles, given that the two faculty members presumably have control over curricular content in their classrooms. As Barton Price (IP-Fort Wayne) noted on Facebook, “I’m always intrigued by the efforts of conservatives to claim the ‘underground’ or ‘marginalized voices.’ I am sure this may be true in some settings of higher education, but not at many (most?) evangelical schools.” Actually, Excalibur’s whining about the lot of conservatives at Taylor is prima facie evidence that the victimhood trope has captured much of American evangelicalism.
- Excalibur is yet another example of the problems white evangelicalism has with race. According to the newsletter, “a conservative-libertarian approach to race relations is most respectful of racial minorities and holds out the most promise for long term racial justice in this country.” Not only is this statement from four white guys profoundly patronizing, but there is also no historical evidence to support this claim, and no apparent awareness that white evangelicals in the United States were among the very last to support the civil rights movement. And while Excalibur proudly asserts (again, without evidence) that “our nation has enabled more freedom and prosperity for more people, including racial minorities,” there is nary a word about America’s structural racism, police shootings of African Americans, and overwhelming white evangelical support for a president who trades in thinly-veiled racist demagoguery. No wonder African Americans are leaving white evangelical churches and abandoning the label “evangelical.”
- In the section, “Imago Dei,” the argumentative strategy employed by Excalibur – a strategy employed by many conservative evangelicals – is very clear:
- Announce a starting point, i.e., “a single, Christian conviction regarding human nature . . . that [as stated in Genesis 1] humans were created in the image of God.”
- Assert that Christians must agree on this starting point, or they are not truly Christian: “one who rejects this crucial tenet of biblical anthropology no longer espouses an essentially Christian theology.”
- Claim that there is a list of propositions – e.g., opposition to abortion, euthanasia, and animal rights (?) – that inevitably result from this starting point and that must also be accepted by true Christians. That is to say, disagree with them, and you are at odds with Christ.
- This demand that we must all start from exactly the same premise (despite the complexity of Christian thinking/teaching/texts) and that the premise inevitably leads to one set of correct conclusions is all about shutting down debate, not opening it up. This is particularly clear in “The Shepherd’s Voice,” where the “other” with whom you disagree is constructed as a “stranger” and a “threat” from whom a true Christian will “run.” This binary also applies to social justice: one approach is good and aligns with Christianity and the US, and the other is a threat to both. All of this suggests that Excalibur is all about naming the enemies of Taylor, and silencing them or rooting them out.
- And this leads to our last point. Despite the fact that President Haines responded to Excalibur with a statement lamenting that “the unsanctioned, anonymous, and suspect distribution of the publication sewed discord and distrust,” the controversy at Taylor appears to be just beginning. The second issue of Excalibur has appeared; it is now called (only a little less pretentiously) ResPublica and the contributors are listed, but the byline indicates that the victimhood trope remains firmly in place: “The Conservative Voice You Are Free to Ignore.” In response, a colleague of ours – who knows all about purification campaigns at evangelical institutions – writes that these folks are obviously “in this for the long haul.” They may already be getting traction. According to the March 9 issue of the campus newspaper, President Haines – “reflecting back on his earlier campus-wide released statement” – is now saying that “those who believe he stood against the content of Excalibur misread his statement,” as he was simply asserting that “’Taylor is a place where we wrestle with ideas of all kinds.’” As Bill wrote in an essay on “Independent Christian Colleges” (in which his first example is Taylor), “while fundamentalist schools are much more concerned with strict, impermeable boundaries, and while a good number of faculty members at evangelical schools would not be allowed to teach at a fundamentalist school,” evangelical schools also can be quite willing to “engage in a purge.” Whether Taylor goes that route, only time will tell.