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The Cedarville Interpreter, or, Thomas White Can’t Silence (all) the Students | Righting America

by William Trollinger

A panoramic view of Cedarville campus, a blue sky dotted with clouds, with a blue lake in the center, with beige-colored brick buildings and green landscaping on the shore of the lake.
Homepage of The Cedarville Interpreter.

For the past nine years the Cedarville University administration has done everything in its power to eliminate discussion of any ideas mildly at variance with the patriarchal Christian Right ideology propagated by the administration as the Truth. Indoctrination, not education, is Cedarville’s goal. Dissent of any sort is simply not permitted.

And yet, it turns out that – even at Cedarville – there are students who are not willing to turn over their brains to the fundamentalist thought police. And this has to be driving President Thomas White crazy.

First, here’s an extremely abbreviated timeline of how Cedarville became the (almost) hermetically sealed, anti-intellectual right-wing echo chamber that it is today, with the school’s recent scandals included for good measure. (See the end of the blog post for a library of rightingamerica posts on Cedarville, each of which contains numerous links for further information).

  • August 2012: Theology professor Michael Pahl is fired for affirming the historical Adam and Eve on theological grounds but not on the basis of biblical exegesis.
  • October 2012: President William Brown resigns, pleasing those on the Board of Trustees concerned about “creeping liberalism” at Cedarville.
  • January 2013: Vice-President for Student Life Carl Ruby resigns, pleasing those on the Board of Trustees concerned about “creeping liberalism” at Cedarville (especially as regards LGBTQ students).
  • January 2013: The Philosophy major is eliminated after two philosophy professors write an anti-Romney-for-president editorial.
  • June 2013: The fundamentalist takeover of the Board is complete with addition of the now-disgraced Paige Patterson, who had helped engineer – with the now-disgraced Paul Pressler – the fundamentalist capture of the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • July 2013: Patterson protege Thomas White is appointed as Cedarville’s president.
  • Spring 2014: Cedarville hardens its commitment to patriarchy by mandating that Bible and Theology classes taught by women cannot include any male students.
  • April 2014: President White and other administrators prowl the campus, gathering hard copies of the independent student newspaper, The Ventriloquist, because the paper had permitted students to express opinions at odds with the school’s fundamentalist rulers.
  • Summer 2014: The “great purge” of Cedarville administrators, professors, staff members, and trustees is essentially complete (as with totalitarian regimes, purges at fundamentalist institutions are never totally complete).
  • Spring 2017: Cedarville puts into place its infamous “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy,” with its focus not on social justice (that would indicate “creeping liberalism”), but on extreme sexual purity.
  • Summer 2017: Thomas White hires Anthony Moore to serve as multicultural recruiter at Cedarville, knowing full well that Moore had been fired six months earlier by The Village Church (Fort Worth TX) for secretly videotaping a male youth pastor while showering at Moore’s home. Moore rapidly moves up the Cedarville ladder, securing faculty rank in the Biblical and Theological Studies Department while also adding to his list of jobs special advisor to the president and assistant coach of the Cedarville basketball team.
  • April 2020: Moore’s past becomes public, and so White fires Moore.
  • May 2020: White is placed on administrative leave while also retaining his job, and he participates fully in Cedarville’s graduation ceremonies.
  • June 2020: After a seven week investigation (!) White is fully reinstated in his position. 

Despite the fact that two trustees resigned in protest of the decision to retain White as president, despite the fact that a survey revealed that 87% of Cedarville stakeholders wanted the trustees to reconsider this decision, Cedarville doubled down. As I noted in a September 04 2020 post, “the school has gone the other direction, shutting down all dissent within the school, to the point – so I am told – of firing a long-term nursing professor for criticizing the president.”

So as of this autumn it seemed that White and company had it all locked down at Cedarville, especially given that the Higher Learning Commission – Cedarville’s accrediting agency – seems determined to turn a blind eye to the school’s various improprieties (which involve much more than the Anthony Moore affair, and which are discussed in the rightingamerica posts listed below). That is to say, as of this fall it seemed that the anti-intellectual fortress that is Cedarville was safely impregnable.

But that assessment fails to take into account the fact that not every single student is content with life in the Cedarville bubble. And in February a few of these students introduced The Cedarville Interpreter, an online and anonymous blog of dissent. As they have eloquently explained the purpose of this blog, 

“Cedarville has ignored its student body for too long. Our mission at the Interpreter is to shed light on the issues students of Cedarville University grapple with and to provide information and resources for students who struggle or dare to disagree with Cedarville’s rules or all-encompassing way of life. Articles are published anonymously by students in order to protect their identities and prevent potential dismissal from the University.”

About Us,” The Cedarville Interpreter

Here are a few snippets from the first month of The Cedarville Interpreter. A link to the blog is provided after these snippets. Kudos to these students for their courage, and for their determination to see.

“Picture This: You arrive on campus at Cedarville University as a wide-eyed freshman ready to experience your first taste of freedom. Your first day, yippee! As you walk into your new dorm, your RA informs you of a mandatory meeting that night so you can get to know the girls in the hall a bit better. After gathering all the gals together, your RA starts to go over some basic rules. No problem, we’ve all had a meeting like this before. You notice your RA wearing leggings and a t-shirt while discussing the dress code and think, “Maybe the dress code isn’t as strict as I thought!” But your RA informs you that the reason she is wearing leggings is for a demonstration. You start to wonder what’s going on when marshmallows are being passed out. Then something crazy happens: your RA instructs you to ‘stone’ her with the marshmallows because she deserves it for going against the rules and wearing leggings. This was the actual experience of one CU student and the rest of her hall.”  

“’It was the Woman’ – The Blame Game that Started with Eve,” The Cedarville Interpreter, February 20, 2021

“After Cedarville had its fifteen months of fame after shutting down The Ventriloquist and firing a plethora of liberal insurgents, they shifted their approach in order to shy away from the limelight. Nowadays, Cedarville has become much more subtle in their methods of censorship. I cannot tell you how many messages we received saying Cedarville silenced me. They have silenced the conversation on mental health. They have silenced the conversation on the LGBTQ+ community (don’t worry, our little gay rebels, we’ve got a doosie coming for you here soon). They have silenced the conversation on female leadership. They have silenced the conversation on a non-six day creation (which, does it really matter if God created the world in six literal days or created it so perfectly that over a period of many years it formed into the world we know today?) Despite what they said in chapel on Monday, they have silenced the conversation on discrimination and sexual assault and relational violence.”

“The Puppetmaster: Cedarville’s Interminable History of Censorship,” The Cedarville Interpreter, February 23, 2021

“It has come to the point that even kissing your significant other or (even worse) sharing a blanket could earn you a PC (personal caution) from an RA. One time, a guy kissed his girlfriend on the cheek after a chapel message because she had been going through some hard times, and was informed that chapel wasn’t the place for that. . . . Purity culture is filled to the brim with shame. It subtly (or overtly in many cases) forces you to be ashamed of your sexuality, rather than confident in it even within the confines of marriage. The reason that this emphasis exists is because the more ashamed and scared we are, the easier we are to control. Cedarville can easily take a group of uneducated ashamed young adults and determine exactly how they are supposed to live sexually. Professors at Cedarville have gone so far as to even suggest what sexual positions are ‘Godly’ for spouses in their ethics classes.”

“The Blame Game that Started with Eve, Pt. 2: Virginity Rocks,” The Cedarville Interpreter, February 26, 2021

“Many individuals, including myself, feel that the RA’s (lol don’t we love ‘em) disproportionately distribute punishment to students. The first time I noticed this was in a dorm lounge. I was sitting next to my boyfriend, about 3” away, focused on my own laptop as I wrote a paper. He tapped on me to show me a meme. I looked over at his phone right as one of the RA’s was walking past. Within an hour, I had gotten an email stating I’d earned a PC for sitting on my boyfriend. Given the fact that, well… I wasn’t, this was infuriating. It was especially so because at the same time, right behind us, a couple was expressing far more ‘physical affection’ than I was. The RA told them hello, so I know they were noticed. However, the RA and the girl in the relationship were friends, and so they didn’t get in trouble as I did.”

“Student Voices: #001,” The Cedarville Interpreter, March 03, 2021

Cedarville “never allows students to fail or encounter challenging ideas, it never offers alternatives to the self-appointed truth it propagates, and it resists any sort of change or forward-thinking perceived as ‘progressive Christianity.’ Students are frozen in time: permanent residents of the Cedarville bubble whose behaviors are all but predetermined by the fear of judgement instilled by this community. Groupthink is winning the day at Cedarville. At Cedarville, you are expected to fit the mold. You must always be growing in your faith. You must be involved in as many ministries as you can handle. You must incorporate Biblical principles into every assignment even if it has nothing to do with the assignment (yep, I’m calling you out, Humanities). People who dare to break that mold are viewed as ‘struggling with their faith,’ being in pursuit of ‘liberal ideology,’ or ‘not adhering to the Cedarville covenant.’”

“Cohesion or Adhesion?: Groupthink at Cedarville,” The Cedarville Interpreter, March 10, 2021