Righting America

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Rape, Sexual Harassment, and More: The Cedarville Stories are Multiplying | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Thomas White, president of Cedarville University with Founders Hall in the background on May 6, 2014. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Tom Dodge)

Here is the short version of the Cedarville scandal. (For the full version, see here, here, and here.) Having instituted in 2017 a “Biblically Consistent Curriculum” policy – shorthand for fundamentalist censorship, especially regarding anything having to do with sex – President Thomas White (apparently with the knowledge of top administrators and some Board members) then promptly and knowingly hired an old friend (Anthony Moore) who had, as a pastor in Texas, surreptitiously and repeatedly filmed a youth pastor while he was showering. More than this, White (and the others who knew) failed to inform the Cedarville faculty and staff and students what their new hire had done. Three years later, after Moore had secured faculty rank in the Biblical and Theological Studies Department, after Moore had been appointed as special advisor to President White, the sordid story made into the public realm. Moore was removed from his position, but, oddly enough (or not so oddly, given the peculiar logics of fundamentalist institutions), no one else has lost their jobs. White has simply been put on “administrative leave,” and Lt. Gen. Loren Reno – who served as a mentor for Moore, and who (as Vice President for Academics) helped construct and then enforced  the Biblically Consistent Curriculum policy that was ignored when it came to the hiring of Moore – has been appointed as acting president.

That is to say, status quo at Cedarville, a.k.a., Answers in Genesis University, as we refer to the school in Righting America (210-214). It is no surprise that Ken Ham, who has so much to say about “sexual decadence” in contemporary America, has had – as far as we can tell – absolutely nothing to say about the Cedarville scandal.

Of course, Cedarville desperately wants to get past the scandal, wants to get back to the place of being seen as a school that is “safe” for its fundamentalist constituency. Toward that end it has hired public relations “guru” Mark DeMoss, who in the past has worked to refurbish tainted evangelical “brands’ such as Willow Creek Community Church, Franklin Graham, and Mark Driscoll.  More than this, they have also hired Husch Blackwell LLP to conduct its “internal” and “independent” investigation into the hiring of Anthony Moore, an investigation that will culminate in a report to the Board of Trustees.

So many questions to be asked here. Let’s stick to three. 

First, does Cedarville really believe that anyone outside their particular fundamentalist bubble will take seriously an “internal” investigation of this case that happens to coincide with the hiring of a public relations expert whose job it is to smooth over the unfortunate details of the Anthony Moore case? 

Second, what exactly is there to be investigated, given that White has already acknowledged that he (and others) knew what Moore had done when he hired him, and given that the church that fired Moore has been clear that it told White everything? 

Third, why in the world have Thomas White and his collaborators not had the moral courage to resign their positions?

But as the Anthony Moore case and Cedarville coverup have become public, folks have been emboldened to tell their stories about their life at Cedarville and their experience of Thomas White. 

Here are four of these stories (and I should note that I have been told that these are just the “tip of the iceberg”):

1. The intrepid Julie Roys has passed along the story of a former Cedarville student (corroborated by her mother) who sent Thomas White a letter in which she told him that “I went to Cedarville [and] you Dr. White told us you would protect us like your own daughter.” But instead, White and other administrators dismissed and minimized and even ignored her reports of sexual harassment, rape, and suicidal impulses. This student finally left the school and has now enrolled at a “secular” university, which, it turns out, looks a lot more Christian than Cedarville:

One of the hardest things for me was [the fact that] in every single syllabus [at the “secular” school] for each class they have a Title IX disclaimer that if you – even on discussion posts – if you write anything that comes across as sexual harassment . . . you will be punished. It will be taken care of, which could result in either you being expelled or failing the class because of something you write. And . . . it just took me aback that a secular university would care so much more about sexual sin than a Christian university.

2. It is an understatement to say that Title IX enforcement does not seem to be a priority at Cedarville. It has now come out that when an employee reported that she had been sexually harassed by the head of the Pharmacy School, an array of folks in the administration – the Title IX Coordinator, the current Vice President for Academics (Thomas Mach), and people in Human Resources – worked overtime to persuade this employee to accept an “informal resolution” of the matter. But the employee (with the active support of her husband) requested a formal Title IX review. This request was denied. (On what basis can institutions simply say no to such requests?). Instead, Mach implemented an informal approach that denied the employee the opportunity to see the letter of reprimand that was sent to the Pharmacy head (who, it should be noted, admitted the harassment). Matters got worse in Pharmacy, the employee felt increasingly isolated, and – seven months after the Title IX “non-process” began – she left Cedarville. As she wrote upon her departure:

Today I say goodbye to Cedarville after 4 years of school and 4 years as an employee. I’m leaving very differently than I thought I would. This year, I had to report someone for sexual harassment. I followed the proper protocols, sought the necessary action steps, and as they were permitted to stay, I have decided to leave. The actions of this individual do not reflect the whole of Cedarville, a place filled with people that I love. I share this simply to say that the system is still broken and it’s still taboo to talk about sexual harassment. So I’m sharing and encourage you to too.

3. If the first story (about the rape that was covered up) sounded familiar, there is a reason. In 2018 Paige Patterson – one of the leaders of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention – was fired as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (TX). Among the reasons he was fired is that it had come out that – as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (NC) – he had advised at least one rape victim (Megan Lively) not to report the assault to the police, but, instead, forgive the assailant.  But Lively has now come forward to report that Thomas White – who at the time was director of student life at Southeastern, and who is a Patterson protégé – was directly involved in the effort to keep her quiet about the rape. More than this, she was required to meet with Joy White – Thomas White’s wife, Southeastern graduate student, and now Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Cedarville – as part of the “disciplinary plan” imposed on her after she reported the rape. According to Lively:

She started our disciplinary plan with a very judgmental statement that questioned whether or not the sexual activity had been consensual . . . And I just sat there and listened. I didn’t respond.

4. Finally, former Cedarville professors – at least those who did not have to sign a nondisclosure agreement – are coming forward with their stories. Julie Moore told her story here at rightingamerica. And now former Psychology professor, Ruth Lowrie Markham, has written a remarkably detailed post about how life at the school changed for the worse with the hiring of Thomas White. There are so many details here worth sharing – including information on how White and Reno rigged the tenure process – but I will limit myself to one that adds race to the mix:

The first year of White’s administration, we jokingly referred to as the “year of the disinvite.” Speakers and conferences that had been scheduled were cancelled and disinvited. This was scary for some, as at least one of the speakers who was disinvited was the author of a textbook that was used in class. And that was a genuine fear; was this prof going to get in trouble for using a textbook by an unapproved author? For me, the saddest disinvite was when the historically black university, Central State University (CSU), a couple miles down the road, whose choir had been singing in Cedarville’s chapel service for Martin Luther King day for several years, was told they were not welcome, because they didn’t have doctrinal similarities to Cedarville’s. One of the professors in the education department had worked for years to build up a relationship with Central State University. The head of the School of Education at CSU was a woman, who was also an ordained pastor. She was not allowed to come speak to Cedarville’s students, though the request could be made if she were to write out her testimony and give a doctrinal statement. The CU professor would not demean her by asking that of her. The year prior to White’s coming, Cedarville had hosted a joint Diversity Conference on Education with CSU, with over 900 attendees. The chair of the education department at CU spoke to White, to try to [help him] develop some understanding of how this relationship had taken years to build and was so beneficial for our students. White took no notice of those appeals, and the joint relationship with CSU was stopped. Dr. White would make statements in chapel and meetings that he wanted Cedarville to look like heaven will look someday. Each time, all I could think was, “Well, if heaven is primarily filled with white Baptists, then I guess we’re good.”

It would seem that Mark DeMoss has his work cut out for him. 

Interestingly, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) will be visiting Cedarville this autumn as part of an “Assurance Review.” I am no expert on accreditation matters, but it seems reasonable to imagine that the HLC would have some interest in what has come out about Cedarville over the past month.