by William Trollinger
This past Saturday Nickolodeon celebrated Pride Month by very strongly suggesting that their popular cartoon character, SpongeBob SquarePants, is gay. LGBTQ+ activists immediately celebrated SpongeBob’s “outing.”
Have you watched SpongeBob? Is there anything shocking about this revelation? As someone posted on Facebook, “there is no heterosexual explanation” for SpongeBob’s behavior.
One might imagine that the sexual orientation of a cartoon character – a cartoon character – might not be the most pressing matter in this time of pandemic and Black Lives Matter. But the eagle-eyed culture warrior Ken Ham would beg to differ. As he posted on Facebook on Tuesday evening, SpongeBob SquarePants is now
another cartoon for biblical Christians to cross off the list as suitable for kids (or anyone) to watch. Protect your kids: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).
And that’s what Ken is doing. Courageously exposing the works of darkness, as evinced by calling out a cartoon character – a cartoon character – for being openly gay, which (as you can see on Ham’s Facebook page) has earned him numerous plaudits from his followers.
Then there’s the case of Tucker Carlson. And the segue from SpongeBob to Tucker does not seem that much of a stretch, given that – especially when he is wearing his bowtie – he seems like the cartoon version of a rich white guy who just can’t get over the fact that the United States is filled with people who are not as rich and not as white as he is.
In the last few days advertisers – including Papa John’s, Walt Disney, and T-Mobile (not exactly the most progressive corporations in America) – have been fleeing Carlson’s weeknight Fox News show because of his comments about the Black Lives Matter protests:
This may be a lot of things, this moment we are living through. But it is definitely not about black lives and remember that when they come for you, and at this rate, they will.
Of course, these comments are just the latest in Carlson’s history of offensive comments. Here are some of his earlier remarks:
- Immigrants make the US “poorer and dirtier and more divided.”
- Iraq is a country of “semi-illiterate monkeys.”
- When women earn more than men, the result is a decline in marriage and thus “more drug and alcohol abuse, [and] higher incarceration rates.”
- Regarding a teacher facing charges for performing a full-contact lap dance for a 15-year-old student, “There is no victim here . . . a 15-year-old boy looks at this as, like, the greatest thing that ever happened.”
- In defending arranged marriages with underage girls, Carlson opined that “the rapist, in this case, has made a lifelong commitment to live and take care of the person, so it is a little different.”
Some of these remarks prompted a previous boycott 18 months ago, as advertisers such as TD Ameritrade, Red Lobster, Lexus, and Farmers Insurance abandoned the unapologetically racist and sexist TV host, who of course cried that he was the victim of a feminist and liberal witch hunt.
However, one advertiser that did not flee was Ark Encounter. Ham and company stuck with Carlson, with no explanation as to why.
But that was 2019. Now we are in 2020, and the nation is in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests, in which America is being called to address the horrific racial inequalities and injustices that are the story of our history since 1619. In response, Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) are presenting themselves as forces of racial reconciliation, calling on the church to lead the way by pointing to the lessons taught in Genesis that we are “one race, one blood.”
Given all these claims from Ham that he is working for racial reconciliation, I found it very hard to believe that Ham and Ark Encounter would continue to advertise on Tucker Carlson’s blatantly racist show. Even if Fox News viewers make up a large percentage of folks who visit the Ark, it just seemed too implausible and too hypocritical to imagine that Ham would continue to fund a host who has no problem saying that the current protests are “definitely not about black lives.”
But I had to find out. I taped Tucker Carlson’s show Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, and Thursday afternoon I sat down to watch. Even though I fast-forwarded through the Carlson segments, it was painful, especially during the part when he claimed (I could tell because Fox posts statements to make sure viewers get the point) that taking down Confederate monuments amounts to an erasure of history (when of course it was actually the Confederate monuments themselves that were erasing history, including slavery and lynchings, and Jim Crow). And as I slowed down the tape to watch the ads, I was forced to view one MyPIllow spot after another – I did not need to know beforehand that MyPillow’s CEO is a huge Trump supporter to conclude from this viewing that I could never buy something from this company.
This is the nature of research. And it isn’t always fun. I watched the shows in reverse order. Wednesday night, no Ark Encounter ad. Tuesday night, no Ark Encounter ad. I was getting my hopes up. Perhaps the fact that Ham was (finally) able to refer to the death of George Floyd as a murder meant that he realized that he and AiG really needed to take a meaningful stand against racism in American culture.
And then, in the Monday, June 15 Tucker Carlson Show, at about the 28 minute mark, it appeared: the Ark Encounter ad featuring cute giraffes (only two of which, it should be noted, would be allowed on the Ark (and the others would be drowned).
Papa John’s has abandoned Tucker Carlson, but not Ken Ham.
So, let me see if I have this right. In Ken Ham’s moral universe, it makes great sense to boycott a gay cartoon character while in the meantime financially supporting a TV personality who spreads blatant racist filth. And Ham does all this while somehow claiming to be in the vanguard of racial reconciliation.
Let’s follow Ham’s lead, and put it biblically. So, Ephesians 5:11 – “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” – applies to how Christians should respond to SpongeBob SquarePants, but not to how they should respond to Tucker Carlson?
If I didn’t know fundamentalism, I would be speechless.
A Pastor’s Resignation and a Former Student’s Story: More on the Wreckage Wrought by the Fundamentalist Takeover of Cedarville
by William Trollinger
But finally, someone has lost their job, apparently for their role in covering up for the sexual offender at the heart of this story. Weirdly enough, it was not someone at Cedarville University.
When Thomas White hired Anthony Moore at Cedarville into a series of ever-ascending roles at the university – but without disclosing to the community that in his previous ministerial position he had on at least five occasions videotaped a male youth pastor showering – he also directed Pastor Craig Miller at Cedarville’s Grace Baptist Church to oversee a “restoration” program for Moore. While at least some of the Grace Baptist Elders knew what Moore had done (including Jason Lee, who happens to be Cedarville University’s Dean of Theology), Miller (following White’s lead) did not share the details with church members. Under Miller’s guidance, Moore not only preached at Grace Baptist; he also spoke at youth events in the area.
Of course, in April, the details of the hiring of Moore as well as the subsequent efforts to conceal what he had done became public. Almost immediately Pastor Miller (and the Elders) sent a “secret” letter to church members, explaining why they did what they did regarding Moore, and offering what can only be described as a non-apology apology:
My actions were intended to allow the occasional use of his teaching gifts for the benefit of the Body. But given what we now know, they may be interpreted as downplaying the sin and uncaring for victims. I ask your forgiveness for creating that appearance.
Note that the focus here is not on how Miller exposed unwitting youth to someone who has a history of using a pastoral role to sexually abuse someone in his trust. Instead, this statement focuses on how Miller’s actions are “interpreted” and the “appearance” they created. This is not about revealing and confessing truth, according to Miller (and the elders). This is about how something quite reasonable (given new information) might be “interpreted” and how reasonable actions can sometimes create a certain “appearance.” To that point about new information, while Miller (like White) claims that new information was made available to them (White explained that there were five videotaping incidents as opposed to two, as if two would be fine but once you get to five, you’ve crossed the line), the pastor who forced Moore out of his previous position at a mega church in Fort Worth, TX is quite explicit in saying that he told both White and Miller everything about Moore’s offenses.
Well, six weeks after penning this “secret” (how was this letter ever going to stay secret?) letter to church members, Craig Miller has resigned as pastor of Grace Baptist Church. What is remarkable is that in neither the church Elders’ letter to the church explaining the resignation, nor in Miller’s final sermon, nor in the statement by a church Elder at the end of sermon, is there an explanation as to why Miller is resigning.
Miller’s sermon – which involves a very detailed exegesis of Daniel 5 – is entitled “Judging the Proud.” From the title, I thought Miller might use this as an opportunity to elaborate on the overconfidence of he and the Elders (not to mention university administrators) to “restore” Moore in this secret operation. I was mistaken.
But what is included in this video, at the very end, is the revelation that Grace Baptist is offering Miller a severance package of one year’s salary, plus the possibility of an additional three months’ pay. That’s a remarkably generous gift for someone in his 60s who is “resigning.” One can only speculate what this is about. Is Miller the fall guy? Is there an accompanying Non-Disclosure Agreement?
Back to the university. How is it that the local pastor is leaving his post – in good part because he was following instructions from the Cedarville president – but Thomas White remains president? Is White hoping for his own generous severance package? And what about Dean Lee and the other administrators who were involved in all this?
So, the saga continues. And as we hear from alumni who were at Cedarville before the fundamentalist takeover, the damage done to the university by White and company becomes even clearer. See below.
Jonathan Demers, Class of 2011
My relationship to this conversation is complicated. I graduated from Cedarville University in 2011, two years before the arrival of Dr. White and the exodus—really, the purge—of dozens of CU faculty, staff, and administrators. I’ve been hesitant to write, in part, because I wasn’t around for many of the changes discussed here, and my voice sounds distant next to the others here.
Beyond that, I think am also beginning to realize just how jarring it was to sit by, helpless, while the best parts of my university community were renounced and transformed several years ago.
Before 2013, my associations with Cedarville were pleasant and nostalgic. While a student there, I took advantage of nearly every experience the university offered. I was a soccer player, an RA, a TA, and an SGA class president. I graduated with two degrees and three minors, worked at the Writing Center, and competed with the Model United Nations team. I studied urban ministry, engaged in poverty and refugee simulations, and began to confront my cultural isolation and white complicity as a member of All Nations Bible Fellowship—a small, predominately African-American church in inner-city Dayton. And, rather stereotypically, I met my wife and closest friends at Cedarville.
Each of these experiences and relationships enriched my mind and soul. They complemented the increasingly nuanced approach Cedarville had begun to take with its chapels, courses, conferences, and panels. Those changes were welcome. During the fall semester of my freshman year, Shane Claiborne’s invitation to speak in chapel was quickly and controversially rescinded, and he was banished from campus. And yet, the fall semester after my graduation, Claiborne was a keynote speaker in Cedarville’s week-long conference on Christian engagement with immigration policy.
The story of Cedarville’s growth was in many ways the story of my own. When I first moved into my freshmen dorm, I was largely a stock-photo, cut-and-paste, white conservative Christian kid. I had grown up homeschooled, with AWANA on Wednesday nights, Veggie Tales on the weekends, contemporary Christian music on the radio, and plenty of WORLD Magazine articles and Fox News pundits to keep me agitated against the church’s “real” enemies—liberals. I knew just enough scripture to mangle it. I was primed and ready to become yet another tone-deaf culture warrior.
Thankfully, that didn’t occur. The Cedarville of my time wasn’t built to take advantage of my narrow thinking; it challenged and confronted it. Over the course of four years, I was gradually introduced to new concepts and perspectives, and was then trusted with the tools to engage each with rigor and discernment. Cedarville channeled my enthusiasm into careful thinking and curiosity. It led me into a deeper and expanded faith. Christianity could no longer be reduced to a story of personal salvation and spiritual escape; it was a grander narrative about the Kingdom of God and its implications for this world. Righteous living wasn’t defined by winning fierce apologetic arguments with atheists and democrats; it was about cultivating hospitality, generosity, empathy, and learning to disagree agreeably. Social justice wasn’t a blithe, divisive phrase that threatened to undermine the gospel; it was a necessary ingredient, the inaugural declaration of Jesus, the heartbeat of the prophets. Racism wasn’t a grievance, or a “card” to play in political games; it was the systemic hypocrisy, the original sin that undermines the testimony of the White American Evangelical church.
Nearly all of those critical realizations were made possible by classmates, professors, mentors, and staff who no longer associate with Cedarville. By 2013, enough donors, trustees, and alumni had clearly had enough. The Cedarville they saw wasn’t the Cedarville they wanted. And in the course of several months, they installed a new regime to oversee the transformation of Cedarville into what it has become today.
The same school that had once welcomed diverse political viewpoints now wears conservative blinders. The same school that once celebrated nuance treats ambiguity like treason. The same school that once confronted narrow mindedness now nurtures it.
Writing this, I have begun to wonder what might have happened had I enrolled in a university led by Dr. White and the current administration. I think about the kind of person I was then—eager, earnest, and mostly clueless. Would I have ever considered moving to the east side of Detroit and living incarnationally with a local church like I do now? Would I have ever considered joining members of that church family to protest in Washington D.C., as I did this past weekend? Would I have been repulsed by President Trump’s blasphemous and violent stunt on the steps of the historic St. John’s church?
Or would have I been appeased? Would I have been chanting “All Lives Matter”? Would I have denied the existence of systemic racism? Would I have been standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the White American Evangelicals that make up the President’s political vanguard?
I shudder at the thought.
“You Are Made to Feel Like an Enemy”: Even More Stories from the Toxic Academic Community that is Cedarville
Introduced by William Trollinger
And here are some questions I have (a few of which I have asked before):
- How is it that President White, General Reno, and other top administrators still hold onto their positions?
- How is that Cedarville can get away with what appears like an “internal” investigation, and is hiring a public-relations “guru” (which Cedarville has done) really an appropriate response to this ongoing scandal?
- How does all of this relate to Cedarville’s accreditation, and how will the Higher Learning Commission – which is scheduled to visit Cedarville this fall – respond to these accumulating stories about what it means to teach at and attend Cedarville?
- Regarding one of the stories told below, how long – according to the “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy” – can a Cedarville student look at the “Statue of David ‘below the waist’ without it being considered a sin”?
And thanks to the following Cedarville alumni for sharing these disturbing stories, which raise one other question: Is the current Cedarville really a “university,” or – under the leadership of Thomas White – has it simply devolved into being a glorified fundamentalist Bible school?
Brandon Best, Class of 2018:
In spring of 2017, I started a forum to protest the censorship policy now called the Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy. Other students and I protested that policy’s implications for academics. Afterwards, administrators rescinded publication opportunities already offered to me, and they refused to publish my work henceforth because they said it “espouses views that [they] believe are unbiblical.” My friends and others who attended this forum began facing attacks on their work and character as well. We were disappointed and scared when campus leaders used our protest as an excuse to be vindictive and go after students who disagreed with them.
The following year, certain administrators hired a family friend, despite her lack of experience, to supervise the debate team, which I captained. Throughout the academic year, the supervisor attacked my reputation to other students, harassed me directly, and told faculty members I was bad at my job and weakened other students’ faith. When I submitted a Title IX complaint and met with John Davis, the Director of Human Resources, the supervisor actually admitted to targeting me to advance “the administration’s principles,” and she suggested that her husband, a Cedarville University (CU) professor, might retaliate with a lawsuit against me. Even though the department chair dismissed her from her job during our meeting, within a week administrators intervened and said that, if she were not running the debate program, the program would be eliminated.
Timothy Mattackal, Class of 2018:
I started my freshman year at Cedarville University in 2014 which was right at the start of Dr. White’s presidency. Throughout the course of my four years at Cedarville, I witnessed the school become more and more totalitarian and intolerant of any opposition to their ideology. The most profound way in which I was personally impacted by this was through my experience on the University debate team. When I joined the team my sophomore year, Cedarville had one of the most prestigious debate programs in the National Parliamentary Debate League which we competed in. We achieved this success by being well-versed in a wide array of viewpoints and arguments on all ends of the political and ideological spectrums. Because of this, the debate team was one of the few places in Cedarville where one could openly discuss points of view which were outside of the Cedarville orthodoxy. We would converse about LGBTQ+ issues and critical race theory, as well as study the work of a wide variety of economists, philosophers, and theologians. There was also a wide range of viewpoints on the team, with some team members being very conservative and other being more to the left, but this never negatively affected our ability to discuss these issues and ideas together.
Over the next several years, however, the Cedarville administration became increasingly hostile toward the debate team. When I started on the team, we were without a coach as the previous coach had recently been fired. The captain of our team that year was a senior and after he graduated he got the administration to agree to let him coach the team the next year while he was attending graduate school. However, he was fired by General Reno less than halfway through the year without explanation. The year after that, which was my senior year, my friend and I volunteered to lead the team to keep it alive. Professor Derrick Green, the chair of the Communications department, agreed. However, under orders from Academic Vice President Dr. Thomas Mach, he also hired the wife of a prominent Cedarville professor, who had no debate experience or academic credentials, to supervise us and be in charge of the team.
It quickly became clear that hiring this individual was part of the University’s broader attempts to clamp down on unapproved ideologies. Whereas previously we would be able to discuss a wide variety of topics and arguments without any interpersonal difficulties, even if everyone did not agree with the arguments, the atmosphere instead became increasingly hostile. The individual they appointed would harass myself and my co-captain by making pointed comments in an attempt to spark conflict, disparaging us to other team members, and attacking us for being “too liberal.” Eventually, she started writing posts on the team Facebook page attacking us. We later discovered that she had been talking to other team members and faculty, and telling them that we were bad teachers and that we were attempting to turn people into atheists (both my co-captain and myself were and still are committed Christians). After this, we attempted to do something about the situation and eventually set up a meeting with Professor Green and representatives from HR to discuss the situation. Despite communicating our grievances, Dr. Mach still hired her to continue leading the team for the next school year. After we graduated, she took even more control and started requiring all arguments to have her approval before the team could use them in a debate round. This was a level of censorship which was unprecedented until that point.
This is just one story among countless others which show Cedarville’s increasingly fundamentalist environment. If you do not agree wholeheartedly with their theological, economic, and political viewpoints, you are made to feel like an enemy. There are many other students and faculty who have had similar experiences, and I only hope that a culture of tolerance and acceptance of differing viewpoints can prevail at Cedarville again someday.
Anonymous Alumnus, Class of 2018:
In spring semester 2017, my friends and I grew concerned about rumors regarding a censorship policy that we had heard about from faculty and from classmates whose parents held professorial positions at CU. For most of us, Cedarville had provided a space to openly pursue our research interests, interests which were often connected to questions of faith us and our own personal identities. A threat to that opportunity — that is, to have taken from us and from future students like us (who desperately needed a professor or mentor to affirm them in their pursuit of greater understanding and knowledge of who they are in Christ) — seemed like the end of the world as we knew it. Waiting around to hear confirmation about the proposed “Philippians 4:8” policy was enough to make us go stir crazy. Rumors were becoming too slippery to hold onto for very long.
I heard from a friend – advisor, mentor, faculty member – that a faculty meeting was scheduled to answer questions regarding the policy in question. The person who made me aware of this meeting was and has been integral to my personal spiritual growth. At first, I entertained the idea of attending this meeting merely as a joke. It came up during a few study sessions before I could take myself seriously. By then, the joke had turned into a call to action proposed by my friends. In a way, I think this was good, because in the end it wasn’t the burning desire to know for myself exactly what was going on that drove me through the doors of the building that day, but the encouragement of genuinely concerned peers who were counting on me to provide a measure of certainty.
Actually, sitting in on that meeting was another thing altogether. I was no longer blanketed by the crowd of my friends. I stuck out like a sore thumb, as I was obviously too young to be there. I did end up spotting an acquaintance who had come with his father (a faculty member); we acknowledged one another with a nod and a knowing look.
At the opening of the meeting, VPA Loren Reno (whom the Trustees named acting president last month) asked that all non-faculty people dismiss themselves. I’m certain he looked at me after this declaration. But I didn’t budge, somehow, and the meeting proceeded. What followed was a summary of the policy itself, including specific details about how long students were allowed to look at the Statue of David “below the waist” without it being considered a sin.
I do not remember much of what was discussed, but I remember feeling proud of particular faculty who challenged the policy with quotes from Milton’s Areopagitica and from educational psychology that promotes dealing with difficult material. All the while Reno and Dr. White stonewalled question after question and point after point, refusing to address them. I recorded this meeting (since in Ohio, the law required only one-party consent).
And perhaps this is part of the problem. Perhaps a student’s education should not be left to a board of trustees whose talking heads ask curious and concerned students to dismiss themselves from a conversation about the future of their education. Faculty and staff would often tell us students that we actually held more power than them and that our voices mattered more than our professors’ voices. Perhaps this is why our voices were excluded from such meetings. Perhaps this is why students of Dr. Faulkner’s class (other than the one who complained) were not invited to speak about their experiences either before the book she assigned—When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago—got banned.
I loved my time at Cedarville. I still feel nostalgia when I drive past Exit 54 heading east on I-70 to see my parents over the holidays. I can only hope and pray that recent events will shed light on the school’s current direction, to give it a new direction in which students have the freedom to experience all aspects of life, in order to better understand their part in life as Christ followers.
Katie Malik, Class of 2018:
I was a student at Cedarville from 2014-2018, and thus, I was in my senior year when the censorship policy was put into place. Although my professors were respectful of the administration, my peers and I noticed changes in their teaching styles. My professors, who had previously openly discussed “censored topics” that helped develop my thinking, started glancing worriedly at the door when these topics were broached by students. I remember how prevalent this was in one course in particular. Due to a previous scheduling conflict, I had the opportunity to take a literature course my senior year (post-censorship policy) that several of my close friends had taken freshman year (pre-censorship policy). Since my friends had enjoyed the class so much, they frequently asked me what we were covering in the class and how the professor (whom I had taken courses with previously) was doing. While the professor did well in both courses, we noticed that he had become more restricted in what he could teach. He had changed the material we covered, and seemed to discuss certain topics less openly. While I still appreciated the class, I felt that – with these omissions – I had lost an opportunity that my friends had really benefitted from.
Additionally, I’ll mention that I became a licensed EMT my sophomore year of college. Since then, I’ve been cussed out, obliged to report child abuse, dealt with life-threatening situations, and so much more. My experiences are no different from most of my peers entering the “real world.” The idea that at 20 I was prepared to deal with the harsh realities of life, but students are no longer allowed to debate literary quality or watch a quality film because of the “f-word” really puzzles me deeply. I believe a university should help shape a student’s critical thinking, not just shove ideology down their throats. Some of my fondest memories at Cedarville include the fact that I could discuss “censored” topics with my peers and professors openly. I don’t want to see the university damaged – far from it. I want to see Cedarville as a place where others can experience the life-shaping moments that I experienced as well.
Marcella Moorman, Class of 2019:
In one of my Bible minor classes, we seemed to be taught not to criticize Dr. White. The professor talked about how he disagreed with a pastor over a minor theological issue. Although the professor thought the pastor was wrong, he never told the other church members because he wanted to submit to authority. The Bible professor then talked to us about how much Dr. White cares about us and how difficult his job is. He said he was glad Dr. White was in charge because he couldn’t imagine having all of Dr. White’s responsibilities. The professor didn’t address when it is appropriate to raise questions about a leader’s perspective. I personally don’t understand why it’s considered disrespectful to voice even minor disagreements. I specifically remember this class because I strongly disagreed with the idea that I should stay silent when a leader is wrong.
A “Culture of Silencing, Denial, and Psychological Manipulation”: The Stories from Cedarville University Just Keep Piling Up
Introduced by William Trollinger
Here’s the very short version of what has been going down at Cedarville: Southern Baptist fundamentalist and Paige Patterson protégé Thomas White knowingly – and with the knowledge of at least of his top administrators and Board members– hired an individual fired from his Fort Worth megachurch for videotaping (on multiple occasions) his male youth pastor taking a shower. This person’s role kept expanding at Cedarville – advisor to the president, member of the Biblical and Theological Studies Department, assistant basketball coach – until the news came out about his sexual predation, and about the fact that White and colleagues knew all about this and yet made the hire without informing the campus community. White has been placed “on leave” but still retains his job (how is this possible?), his complicit colleagues remain at their posts (how is this possible?), the school has hired a firm to engage in what appears to be an internal investigation while also hiring a public relations “guru” experienced in rehabilitating tarnished evangelical brands.
As all this has been going on, former Cedarville students and faculty have begun telling their painful stories about what life has been like at Cedarville with Thomas White as president. Here are four more. Thanks to Ashley, Samuel, Ariana, and Phil for sharing their experiences. Oh, and there are more to come.
Ashley Moore, Class of 2014:
I experienced two major shifts in my faith during my time at Cedarville–one marked by expansion, the other, exploitation. The professors I had during my first two years at CU–particularly in my Bible and Honors Program classes–challenged my narrow-minded, rule-oriented ideas about God by introducing me to new theological and philosophical concepts, encouraging me to think critically, and, most importantly, celebrating ambiguity in the Bible because, as one professor put it, if Scripture were a literal “how-to” manuscript prescribing every choice in the day as “godly” or “ungodly,” we’d suddenly have no need for a relationship with God. So this is how my faith expanded and deepened–I embraced the uncomfortable uncertainty of “what if I’m wrong?,”, let go of following rules for the sake of my ego, rested in the truth that I am already pleasing to God just as I am, and began enjoying an actual back-and-forth relationship with the One who made me.
Enter Dr. White. Following a year of tumult in which certain administrators who most embodied the above principles were forced to resign, Dr. White announced during one of his first introductory chapels that he was there to “shake some trees.” Sure enough, by the time I graduated, nearly all the professors who had most enriched my academic and spiritual life were gone. Without their daily support and mentorship, the only voices I heard talking about God during my last two years were those championing a patriarchal, rules-driven, sin-focused theology, abusively infused with racist and sexist comments as well as White’s horrific enthusiasm for using gun violence to “correct injustice.” (“I just like to joke around,” he’d say. “You can’t be offended by anything I say.”)
Under this regime of exploitation, my faith shriveled. After all, how could I be certain God wasn’t actually exactly as this monolith of angry-faced, white-Southern Baptist men portrayed him in chapel? But even if the freedom and love I’d found was a farce, there was no way I could return to the fundamentalism White espoused–he’d already declared from one of his weekly Monday bully pulpit chapels that all feminists were anti-God.
Two specific chapel statements stand out to me as representative of why I felt increasingly unsafe the longer Dr. White ruled CU (though there are far more examples than these). The first was the day White made his only mention of “helping” victims of sexual assault–that he expected the boys to pick up their guns and go after the guy who did it. The second statement made my skin crawl when I heard the president of my university announce from the pulpit, “I like long hair on a woman.” I liked my long hair, too, but I instantly felt unsafe from his male gaze, afraid that if I ran into him on the sidewalk, he’d make another such harassing comment about my hair. I even went to a professor to ask if I had grounds to file a Title IX complaint, but I was informed that given the nature of his role during chapel at a private college, he could pretty much say whatever he wanted. I skipped chapel every Monday I could from then on.
Dr. White quite literally came in on a wrecking ball to dismantle anything deemed “too liberal” until all that remains of a “higher power” on campus is a petty, violent god who loves America, speaks only through men, covers up sexual harassment/abuse, seems oblivious to racial injustice as well as anyone with a mental illness, hates the LGBTQ community, and will under no circumstances tolerate anybody who dares point out the spiritual abuse inherent in slapping God’s name onto principles that dehumanize His creatures. Fortunately, after six years removed from Dr. White’s toxicity, I have managed to start healing and crawling my way back towards the justice-loving, patient, forgiving, and nurturing God-who-can-handle-all-doubts-and-questions who I’m pretty sure exists. And thanks to Rachel Held Evan’s book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, I’ve been able to finally tentatively approach God’s Word, and trust it won’t come with a beating.
Samuel Franklin, Class of 2016:
When Dr. White first started, in one particular chapel service, he gave an infamous warning regarding sexual assault on campus: “I have guns, and I know how to use them.” At the time we assumed he meant this as a threat to perpetrators. His actions, however, suggest that the warning was meant for the victims who dared speak up against their abusers.
(Note: White’s love of guns and gun violence was most apparent in the school’s 2013 decision to build a $6 million gun range on campus (Righting America 292 36n) – not what one generally expects from a university, but, hey, this is a fundamentalist institution thoroughly enmeshed in the Christian Right. As Cedarville alumna and critic Sarah Jones observed at the time, “Cedarville’s culture warriors aren’t merely content to arm themselves with the Scriptures. Now they carry AR-15s.”)
Ariana Cheng, Class of 2015:
It is time for the current students of Cedarville, their parents, and others who remain complicit to the ongoing abuse of Dr. White and his administration to wake up.
I saw the warning signs early on, but unfortunately, my opinion and those of my like-minded peers were unable to reach a critical mass, and were quickly quashed. Dr. White became the President during the spring of my sophomore year (2013). Much of the systemic changes he made were documented by journalists and other truth-speakers, so I will not rehash those details. But it became almost immediately apparent from Dr. White’s early days that he is a man who sees everything as black and white and refuses to acknowledge nuance. His sermons were aggressive, demeaning, and employed language to shame students for not conforming to what he viewed Christianity to be. For example, when speaking about his views on a liberal arts education at Cedarville, he said something along the lines of “in our classes, we want to teach you the conservative and the liberal side of things so that you will end up on the right side, which is the conservative side.” This is such a pedagogically irresponsible way to view a liberal arts education, where students should be encouraged to deeply engage in a marketplace of ideas.
Along with Dr. White came a large network of faculty he brought to take over the Bible department. To complete my Bible minor, I took a Worldview Integration class with Dr. Billy Marsh. This professor often had students do in-class hypotheticals that lined up with our assigned readings. One such hypothetical involved a couple who wanted to raise their child without rigid gender roles. Instead of having a thoughtful debate analyzing the benefits and drawbacks to this parental approach, Professor Marsh mocked the hypothetical couple, retorting “what are they going to name their kid, a gender neutral name like Storm?” The pervasive toxic masculinity only continued when he went on a tirade about how he would never let his son play with dolls. My friend and I pushed back against the assigned text, Think Biblically!: Recovering a Christian Worldview, pointing out that the editor of the chapter on gender roles was a woman who had a master’s degree in Home Economics. What made her qualified to write this chapter on a Christian worldview of gender? The professor quickly dismissed us.
Therein lies the problem – the culture of silencing, denial, and psychological manipulation was not limited to one professor, but was a strategic move by the entire new administration.
When I was quoted in an article criticizing the administration for placing restraints on women being able to lead, Dr. White sent a faculty-wide email painting me as a liar. I only found out because I was friends with a few faculty members who attended my church. I was essentially placed on a blacklist, and he was probably looking for a reason to get me kicked out. The problem with that is that in the end, the truth always wins out. I graduated in 2015, though I know others were not so lucky to survive the administration’s bullying and manipulation. My hope is that the critical mass of stories will open people’s eyes to what has been a rotting system for a long, long time.
Phil Jarvis, Class of 2006:
“My Experience in Happier Times” @ https://thouarttheman.org/2020/06/05/my-cedarville-experience-in-happier-times/
by Susan Trollinger and William Trollinger
In late 2007, we were asked by Mike Castle, then pastor at Cross Creek Church here in Dayton, to give a presentation on Evolution Sunday (which in 2008 was February 10). In light of William’s previous research on fundamentalism, we responded by suggesting that we instead speak on antievolutionism. Mike agreed.
The Creation Museum – an hour down the road, just south of Cincinnati – had opened just a few months earlier. Given Susan’s work in visual rhetoric, we thought the museum would provide a perfect site of analysis for our talk at Cross Creek.
Now, it is important to know that – before we made that winter drive to the museum twelve years ago – we knew next-to-nothing about Answers in Genesis (AiG) and next-to-nothing about Ken Ham. We were confident that whatever politics were expressed would be quite conservative, but when we visited we were stunned by how much emphasis on culture war politics was on display at the museum. And as we kept visiting the Creation Museum – that count is in double digits by now – the emphasis on politics became increasingly clear, as did the fact that there really is not much substance as regards science and the Bible.
For a few years, we happily gave papers on the museum at a variety of academic conferences. But thanks to encouragement from a friend, we decided to turn our research into a book, and secured a contract from Johns Hopkins University Press. And as we were doing that work we realized that we needed to spend “more time outside of the confines of the museum and in the larger world of AiG,” particularly in examining AiG’s “mind-boggling flood of print, media, and social media material” (Righting America, 11, 15).
Most of this material is directed inward, to the AiG/young Earth creationist community. As a result, the political views that are expressed are much more direct and much angrier than one finds at the museum. Just to give one example, in his opening address at the July 2013 Answers Mega Conference, entitled “The Great Delusion – The Spiritual State of the Nation,” Ham devoted thirty minutes to a diatribe against homosexuality and gay marriage, with President Obama the target of his vicious diatribe:
[America] is under judgment by an almighty God who looks upon this culture that has thrown God out of the culture. If . . . America is under judgment, then how should we view the president of the United States, who has promoted gay marriage, pushed the gay marriage/homosexual agenda in a big way, has condoned the killing of 55 million children that makes what Hitler did at the Holocaust pale in comparison?
Interestingly, when it comes to race, Ham and AiG take a very different tack than they do when talking about the gender/sexual spectrum. At the museum and in various print publications, the emphasis is on the fact we are all of “one race, one blood,” that racism is at odds with the Bible, and that the true Christian will not discriminate against those of a “different skin color.”
That said, the anti-racism expressed by Ham and AiG has been very abstract, with no reference to specific acts of racial violence, police brutality, and white supremacy. Having followed Ham on social media for almost a decade, we can say that he and his compatriots have said virtually nothing about Ahmaud Arbery or the Charleston Nine or Charlottesville or the Confederate flag or Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice or Breonna Taylor.
After the Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd on May 25, AiG’s Answers News did mention Floyd’s name, but downplayed what had been done to him, saying that “George Floyd died in police custody.” And in keeping with his years of silence, Ken Ham said nary a word about Floyd’s murder.
Until now. On June 03, in a post entitled “Racism, Riots, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Ham reported that
These past few days have certainly made my heart heavy. First there was the truly horrifying murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. Then tensions and riots erupted across America, including here in our state of Kentucky, resulting in the deaths of several people (so far) and the destruction of property and livelihoods. A nation already very divided is now even more divided. (Just go on social media for five minutes for a sampling of this division!) Is there anyone who can bring unity amidst the chaos, confusion, heartbreak, anger, and sin raging across our nation?
Ham goes on to assert – in keeping with what he has been saying for decades – that we are all “one blood,” and that racism is rooted in sin. Ham’s statement provides no acknowledgment of systemic racism and no mention of the troubling rise of white supremacy in recent years. More about that below.
That said, we want to note that Ham departed from his usual abstract discussion of racism and specifically referred to “the truly horrifying murder of George Floyd.” That is an improvement!
On a less positive note, we also must mention that he refers only to the “eruption” of “tensions and riots” and never mentions either the vast majority of protestors of diverse backgrounds and skin tones who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights (which is not “rioting”).
Again, the central point of Ham’s post is to steer his reader away from false analyses of racism and its causes to a properly Christian analysis and solution. According to Ham,
We must understand the root of racism—it’s not ultimately rooted in the tragic history of the United States, slavery, or past racist laws (like the Jim Crow laws). It’s actually rooted in sin. That’s why racism, prejudice, and discrimination have existed, in one form or another, all throughout history—because sin is the root of all evil actions and thoughts, including racism.
Right— according to Ham, we don’t need to think about that very long history of institutionalized racism that kept most black people poor, unable to exercise their Constitutional right to vote, barred from getting their children into good public schools because of redlining, and on and on it goes. We don’t need to think about all that or how it continues today in various forms, including police brutality, or how we might change all that. We can just jump right over that to Adam and Eve in the garden disobeying God. That’s what’s important right now.
Of course, human sin is important. We are all about trying to be as honest as we can about our sins, change for the better, and ask God to have mercy. But we don’t think our personal and (we hope) salvific relationship to God is going to fix all that this country’s long history of systemic racism has wrought. If only it were that simple!
To be fair, Ken offers another solution, and that is Jesus Christ and the atoning work that Jesus did on the cross:
Thankfully, Jesus Christ, the God-man who became a descendant of Adam, died on the cross in our place, taking the penalty of death for us that we deserve because of our sin. Through his death, Christ nailed our sin to the cross, and when we repent of our sin and trust in Christ alone for salvation, we are forgiven and he remembers our sin no more (Hebrews 8:12). Not only that, but we’re given a new heart, with a new love for others, and we’re adopted into his one family, the one body of Christ. This is our ultimate hope and it’s the only ultimate answer to racism, discrimination, prejudice, and the sinful heart behind such things.
But the Gospels have more to say than this about Jesus. They also talk about what he did during his short life . . . and what he did in the course of that life is, actually, a pretty helpful guide especially in these painful and dangerous times. He did things like dine with tax collectors, who in the context of the Roman Empire were considered by Jews to be the worst people on the planet. He healed a Samaritan woman who was bleeding; the fact that he even touched her (never mind took the time to heal her) was incredible as she was – by the measure of her time – doubly untouchable because of her background and her “filth.” And he preached. He preached that we should (instead of stockpiling guns) turn the other cheek. He preached that instead of fomenting division and violence (as some—who we won’t bother to name here) we should love even our enemy.
We are reminded once again that what is happening all over this country, while tense, is not simply a bunch of riots. We could list off many examples to challenge that simple (and dismissive) claim. But we will just return to one of the most powerful images we have seen in recent days. Peaceful protestors, having taken a knee in remembrance of George Floyd (and the many others) who died at the hands of those sworn “to serve and protect,” asking armed police officers to join them. And some did.
Loving one’s “enemy” is never easy. Jesus never promised that it was. On the contrary, he promised that his followers would get persecuted for it. He certainly did. But, in truth, it’s all we’ve got.
Culture war be damned.
by William Trollinger
So, when does silence equal racism?
As everyone knows by now, on the evening of May 25, in Minneapolis, a white police officer (with the acquiescence, or more, of three other officers) murdered a 46-year-old black man named George Floyd – who was in handcuffs – by pressing a knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes.
Five days later Ken Ham responded on Facebook: “Once again, America is looking for answers to the question of racial reconciliation.” Not surprisingly, the Answers in Genesis CEO has the answer, in the form of an article he attached to his post: “Are There Really Different Races?”
In this article, Ham begins by arguing that Charles Darwin invented the notion of “race,” and “Darwinian evolution was (and still is) inherently a racist philosophy” – and the racism we deal with today is primarily attributable to Charles Darwin. In contrast, the Bible is antiracist and antislavery, as seen by the fact that “the most ardent abolitionists during the past centuries were Bible-believing Christians.” Then the final 5 ½ pages of the article consists of making an argument that interracial marriages are fine (as long as the two individuals are Christians), concluding with the assertion that
when Christians legalistically impose nonbiblical ideas, such as no interracial marriage onto their culture [?], they are helping to perpetuate prejudices that have often arisen from evolutionary influences.
Ham is to be commended for making the case to fundamentalists for the legitimacy of interracial marriage (although it says something troubling about white fundamentalism in 21st century America that this case still needs to be made). But Ham’s use of history is deeply problematic. Not only is the notion that Darwinism equals racism absurdly simplistic, but –- worse – Ham completely elides the fact that, prior to the Civil War, it was biblical literalists who led the fight for slavery. More than this, these
white Christians argued that opponents of slavery . . . were undermining the authority of the Bible with their unbiblical antislavery arguments that depended more on Christian experience, humanitarianism, and morality than on the “literal” meaning of the text (Righting 186).
But remember that Ham’s article came five days after the shooting of George Floyd (and the resultant uproar), and – according to Ham – as a response to America’s need “for answers to the question of racial reconciliation.” And yet in this Facebook post and in this article – which is essentially a recycled piece he had written years ago – there is not one word from Ham about the murder of Mr. Floyd. Nor, as far as we can tell, is there a word from Ham anywhere else.
Not one word.
I wish I could say that I am surprised. But Ham apparently has also said nothing about Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery. Over the past few years he has said virtually nothing about Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice or the Charleston Nine or Charlottesville. He has said not a word about the Confederate flag, not a word about the rise of white supremacy in America and across the globe.
Instead, all that Ham manages to offer is that curing racism is a matter of people coming to Christ: if individuals are truly saved, then they will understand the biblical message that we are all of “one blood.”
In stark contrast, Ham expends enormous energy fulminating against gay marriage, the LGBTQ “menace,” and violations of “biblically established” gender norms. Just in the past month he has written these posts:
- May 28: “Are Wedding Pictures a Microaggression”, in which Ham asserts that the acceptance of gay marriage is “another sad example of the increasing anti-Christian sentiment in the nation and entire Western world.”
- May 14: “‘Mother God’ and the ELCA — Is God a ‘She’ ?”, in which Ham argues that individuals who refer to a “Mother God” have rejected that men and women “have been given different roles in the home and in the church.”
- May 07: “Legalized Polygamy in America? It’s Coming”, in which Ham claims that the legalization of gay marriage has led to aggressive efforts to legalize polygamy and pedophilia.
And even in “Are There Really Different Races?” Ham felt compelled to slip in a section entitled “Roles in Marriage,” in which he observes that even in interracial marriages the “couple needs to understand and embrace the[ir] biblical roles,” with husband as shepherd and wife as helper.
Of course, Ham could take the same approach to gender norms as he does to racism. That is, he could describe what he understands the Bible to be teaching, and then say that the solution is for folks to come to Christ, and when they do so, then “gender confusion” would be gone.
But Ham takes one approach when it comes to gender, and another when it comes to race.
Perhaps Ham’s apparent indifference to specific acts of racial hatred is driven by a desire not to alienate that portion of his white fundamentalist constituency who fly the Confederate flag and tilt toward (or are completely committed to) white supremacy. (Admittedly, to challenge these folks would take some courage on Ham’s part, especially since he needs to sell tickets to the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter).
Perhaps his apparent indifference to specific acts of racial hatred is driven by a desire not to say a bad word about a president he supports, a president who makes incendiary racist comments as a matter of course.
Perhaps Ham’s apparent indifference to specific acts of racial hatred is because, when it comes down to it, he simply does not care.
I can’t say what Ham’s motives are. But I can say that silence in response to specific acts of racial violence and white supremacist organizing is quite telling.
In fact, it says it all.
by William Trollinger
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.
by William Trollinger
Southern Baptist fundamentalists are not having a good time of it these days. There is, for example, the ongoing and deepening scandal at Cedarville (how is that the president and his top administrators are not gone?)
Then there’s Southern Seminary in Louisville, which 15 months ago produced a report detailing the central role of racism in the school’s history. While this was seen in some quarters as a way for the seminary to clear the slate, it turns out the school’s president (who commissioned this report) has his own significant problems with racism.
Frequent rightingamerica contributor Frederick Schmidt has written an arresting article on the situation at Southern Seminary. Here’s a slightly truncated version of Schmidt’s article:
In breaking news, it has been revealed that in 1998, Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, defended slavery and condemned the bravery of Harriet Tubman.
An article from the Religious News Service resurrects the conversation and the context for Mohler’s remarks:
On June 12, 1998, Mohler was a guest on “Larry King Live,” along with the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. and Patricia Ireland, then-president of the National Organization for Women, to discuss the Southern Baptist Convention’s belief that women should submit to their husbands. The conversation eventually expanded to include a discussion of slavery.
According to a transcript obtained from CNN, Mohler asserted that he agrees with the New Testament’s command for slaves to obey their masters. This doesn’t mean the Bible “endorses” slavery, Mohler said, “but it does say, if you’re a slave, there’s a way to behave.”
King asked whether such a belief meant he would “condemn those who ran away,” like Harriet Tubman.
“Well, I want to look at this text seriously, and it says submit to the master,” Mohler replied. “And I really don’t see any loophole here as much as, in terms of popular culture, we’d want to see one.”
Seemingly stunned, King cut to a commercial break.
Mohler had addressed the racism that dogged the seminary he leads as recently as 2018, but over the years since the interview, he has conveniently omitted any public reference to his own racism. When the Larry King interview surfaced this week, Mohler apologized, or so it seemed at first blush.
On Friday (May 15), Mohler told Religion News Service he was wrong. “It sounds like an incredibly stupid comment, and it was,” he said, after hearing his remarks from 1998. “I fell into a trap I should have avoided, and I don’t stand by those comments. I repudiate the statements I made.”
A Trap of His Own Making
However, the reference to falling “into a trap I should have avoided” erodes any sense in which Mohler might claim to have really apologized. He should have stuck with “stupid,” and he should have considered adding the modifiers, “racist, immoral, and despicable.”
But, since he mentions it, what – exactly – is the “trap” to which Mohler refers? It certainly isn’t Larry King’s follow-up question. That was a legitimate, probing inquiry, that simply asked Mohler to draw the inferences that flow logically from his position.
The answer, rather, seems to lie with Mohler’s approach to Scripture, which reads it as uniformly timeless, prescriptive, and the only source for thinking theologically (sola Scriptura). It cannot be said often enough what a non-starter all three categories are.
That some portions of Scripture are meant to be timeless observations of one kind, or another, is obvious. The difficulty, of course, is deciding when and where to assume that Scripture speaks in timeless categories and – as the example above suggests – it is impossible to make universally applicable rules for when and where to assume it does. What becomes immediately obvious is that making the assumption that Mohler makes is untenable.
If Scripture communicates any of the truths that Christians claim for it, some observations certainly are timeless, but others are clearly not. The recommendations Paul makes to both slaves and slave owners in Ephesians 5:22-6:9 constituted a radical departure from the norms of his day, but they are hardly adequate now, and the moral bankruptcy of the system itself is apparent and has been for centuries.
Somewhat similar observations could be made about the prescriptive approach that Mohler takes to Scripture. Some of it is, to be sure, explicitly prescriptive. The Ten Commandments certainly are. But even when the behavior prescribed in the Bible is fairly specific, that does not mean that it can be or should be obeyed in the form that it appears. This is true of a fair number of prescriptions in Leviticus which have no application in the absence of the Temple. It is true of dietary laws which Christians ignore without a second thought, and it is true of the prescriptions in the Epistle to the Ephesians, where both the experience of the church and the development of the church’s tradition suggest that – as they stand – the prescriptions surrounding slavery have no application.
Both of the assumptions that Mohler makes are all the more problematic, however, when the other trap that his own hermeneutic lays for him is that of sola Scriptura. Whether it is acknowledged in other denominations or not, most churches acknowledge that they are dependent upon both the growing body of reflection on the Gospel that has been passed down through the centuries and on the experience of the church, as guided by the Holy Spirit.
In churches of that kind it is more accurate to talk about prima Scriptura or “the primacy of Scripture,” than it is to talk about “Scripture alone.” It is also easier to acknowledge that – as important as Scripture is – our interpretation of it is dependent upon far more.
Read in this way, one can acknowledge the importance of Paul’s advice to slaves and slaveowners and its contemporary inadequacy at the same time. Paul’s directive is a break with the values of his day, but the value of Paul’s directive does not lie in the advice itself, but in the liberating trajectory of God’s grace. The institution of slavery and a wide array of behaviors that enslave people in ways both old and new are now, rightly, our focus.
Given the way that he reads and uses Scripture and the exclusive place that it occupies in his theology, Mohler cannot do that. So, instead, he is – to use own words – trapped. Trapped by a single understanding of what the text suggests. Trapped by what Paul could see, given his own historical horizons, but ironically, closed off to the grace of God in Christ that liberated him.
The Cruelty of Fundamentalism
Perhaps that is why Mohler cannot really apologize. Even though the fundamentalist use of Scripture is predicated upon faithful adherence to Scripture, its approach to Scripture often cuts itself off from the breadth of God’s grace, and that is evident in Mohler’s truncated apology. We owe far more to those who hear nothing but appalling cruelty in Mohler’s so-called apology. For the full version of Schmidt’s article, see: Al Mohler, Slavery, Tainted Apologies, and Biblical Interpretation
by Rodney Kennedy
Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. The pastor of 7 Southern Baptist churches over the course of 20 years, he pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years. He is currently professor of homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary. He is also putting the finishing touches on his sixth book – The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump – for which he has a contract with Wipf and Stock (Cascades).
Fundamentalists apply what they consider “science” to the Bible and insist that they have discovered all truth. Instead, what they have actually done is flatten faith, mystery, creation to the empirical. Almost in a state of denial, they resist the reality that they themselves live in a “secular” world sanitized of faith and transcendence, flattened to the empirical.
Of course, young Earth creationists seek to defend the intervention of the “supernatural” (God) in the creation of the universe. But in A Secular Age Charles Taylor argues that to hold to the natural/supernatural distinction – so central to fundamentalism – is itself is an effect of the “immanent frame” (542, 548), in which the world is disenchanted, and in which the presence of supernatural beings or forces are impossible or nearly impossible. So in conceding the natural/supernatural binary young Earth creationists actually place themselves squarely within the paradigm of the immanent frame, which is why Taylor says that fundamentalists and materialists actually share the same “view of things” (547) – they are modern cousins.
This is obvious in the fundamentalist approach to the Bible. George Marsden says that fundamentalists assumed (and assume) that their approach to the Bible – their biblical inerrancy – represents the intellectual and scientific approach to Scripture. They were (and are) convinced that they were just taking the hard facts of Scripture and discovering what was actually there.
But such an approach leaves no room for a reading like Rowan Williams gives us in Tokens of Trust, in which Genesis doesn’t give us a view of the modern cosmologist, but instead the view of a person of faith expressing joy in the purposes of God to create beings capable of experiencing the ecstasy of aliveness. Creation, in Genesis, is doxological before it is theological, and to flatten the story to our reduced prose of the immanent frame is to destroy the praise. As Walter Brueggemann puts it in Finally Comes the Poet, we now do business with a “truth greatly reduced. It is a truth that has been flattened, trivialized, and rendered inane” (1).
So the fixation on intelligent design, on a young Earth, is already a sign of the waning of devotional practice:
once people come to live more and more in purely secular time, when God’s eternity and the attendant span of creation becomes merely a belief, however well backed up with reasons, the imagination can easily be nudged towards other ways of accounting for the awkward facts (Taylor 328).
Fundamentalism arose as a fearful response to the emerging new disciplines of knowledge, especially in science and theology. In his 1922 sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”,” Harry Emerson Fosdick saw clearly the fundamentalist response to new knowledge:
The Fundamentalists see, and they see truly, that in this last generation there have been strange new movements in Christian thought. A great mass of new knowledge has come into man’s possession—new knowledge about the physical universe, its origin, its forces, its laws; new knowledge about human history and in particular about the ways in which the ancient peoples used to think in matters of religion and the methods by which they phrased and explained their spiritual experiences; and new knowledge, also, about other religions and the strangely similar ways in which men’s faiths and religious practices have developed everywhere.
Basing theology on the fear of new ideas just feels wrong from the outset. Such epigrammatic attempts at doing theology seem like reducing thought to bumper stickers or tweets. Nineteenth century fundamentalists assumed that the “enemy” was science and critical study of Scripture. But the idea that science is the cause of unbelief is to pick the wrong enemy.
But when it comes to creation, Christians possess an unlimited appetite for picking or even creating the wrong enemy. For example, young Earth creationists are repeating an earlier mistake made when, in the second century, theologians (primarily Irenaeus) rushed to defend God against the charge of “creating evil” by making up the doctrine of ex creatio nihilo. (Odd isn’t it to create out of “nothing” a doctrine of nihilo?)
To this day, self-righteous preachers leap from bridges of irrationality to blame God for hurricanes and tsunamis and COVID-19. Besides producing a doctrine of divine omnipotence that led to an insoluble problem of evil, this postbiblical doctrine of creation from nothing has been the primary basis for thinking that the Christian faith is incompatible with scientific naturalism in the generic sense.
Once this gate opened, there would be no limit on the ability of fundamentalists to name “enemies,” to create “devil” terms. For example, in the early 20th century, fundamentalists decided that evolution was the enemy. The Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee brought the fundamentalist claims about the evils of evolution to the nation’s attention. And it went badly for fundamentalists. The biology textbook that roused the ire of fundamentalists not only advanced evolution, but also taught eugenics. Think what a difference would have occurred if fundamentalists had picked eugenics as the primary enemy of the faith.
To a fundamentalist the advances of science and “new knowledge” feels as “scary as hell.” Thus, the fundamentalists scurry about, anxiously, frenetically, piling sandbags on top of a river levee that will not be able to resist the rising waters, that will eventually break the levee and flood everything. It is not a good place to inhabit. One day the levee will break. At the Old River Locks in Louisiana, the Army Corps of Engineers has constructed a huge floodgate system to keep the river from changing course and flowing into the Atchafalaya River. The engineers admit that the structure will not hold forever because of the sheer power of the Mississippi River. Analogically, one day the fundamentalist “floodgates” will open.
Yet fundamentalists, like Ken Ham, continue defending a theistic universe rather than a biblical cosmos. Eliminating mystery as a consequence of Protestant critiques of allegorization, positing a flat literalism as the only way to read the Bible, believers end up reading the Bible as if it were a scientific treatise on such a universe. In short, you get the emergence of young Earth creationism. The so-called war between science and religion has been reduced to an intramural spat, as secularism – the modern cosmic imaginary – has seeped into both believers and unbelievers. In other words, no one is more modern than Ken Ham and the folks at Answers in Genesis, and the face-off between religion and science “has a strangely intra-mural quality” (Taylor, 331).
Young earth creationists are like football players, who, for reasons unknown, insist on challenging a basketball team to a game of basketball. Instead of postulating that God endowed creation with all the necessary elements for life, that humans came to a universe prepared for our appearance, young earthers insist on creating “out of nothing” a doctrine that finds no actual support in Scripture. Instead of engaging Scripture seriously, they pretend to be scientists. With a wink and a nod to the Bible, they set it aside and step into the ring as amateur scientists.
Of all the problems with young Earth creationism, nothing is more difficult for Ham and fundamentalists than the fact that they are squarely stuck in the immanent frame. In their disenchanted world they have reduced the glory of creation to a surfeit of implausible explanations, pseudo-science, and impossible doctrines. Young Earth creationism is left with telling us what creation can’t do rather than glorying in a creation that has such ongoing creative powers.
I confess to a certain happiness, as a debater, in facing opponents who reject physics, geology, astronomy, and biology. The fundamentalists’ real problem is with science, all of it, as they engage in an utter rejection of science in order to prop up alleged literal Bible beliefs. I’m not sure how much longer this charade will continue, but it has proven to be rather resilient, especially in the alternate universe inhabited by evangelical Christians adept at believing impossible things and following false messiahs. Still, the waters are rising.
Where does this leave the story? In How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, James K. A. Smith argues,
Those evangelicals who have been raised and shaped by forms of Christianity that are roughly “fundamentalist” will either:
1. Become taken with the modern moral order and thus sort of replay the excarnational development of modernity, just now a few centuries later, sort of catching up with the wider culture; so under the guise of the “emerging church” or “progressive evangelicalism,” will be set on a path something like Protestant liberalism, a new deism; or
2. Recognize the disenchantment and excarnation of evangelical Protestantism, and also reject the Christianized subtraction stories of liberal Christianity, and feel the pull of more incarnational spiritualities, and thus move toward more “Catholic” expressions of faith – and these expressions of faith will actually exert more pull on those who have doubts about their “closed” take on the immanent frame.
I am especially attracted to the possibility of the move toward more “Catholic” expressions of faith as a response to the disenchanted world of fundamentalism! It is a breath of fresh air after breathing the polluted adumbrations of young Earth creationism. I will leave them to their jeremiads, their elliptical arguments, their inapposite conclusions and their constant cavils of protests. Instead I will, with the church, affirm that “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of all that is, seen and unseen.”
by Julie L. Moore
Julie L. Moore is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Full Worm Moon, which won a 2018 Woodrow Hall Top Shelf Award, and which received honorable mention for the Conference on Christianity and Literature’s 2018 Book of the Year. She now teaches at Taylor University, a long-standing member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).
As you may have heard, this past week, Tim Bray, a Vice-President at Amazon Web Services, announced he quit his job because Amazon would not establish safe working environments in its warehouses, as Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) had demanded a year ago. With the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions only worsened, and eventually, Amazon fired AECJ leaders who’d blown the whistle on the company.
Bray walked out, saying:
Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.
I made a similar choice when I walked away from Cedarville University (CU) in 2017.
As a CU alumna who attended the then-college under President Paul Dixon, I have always appreciated my undergraduate experiences. To be sure, the school was known more for its strict rules back in the 1980s than for its educational prowess, and those rules were sexist (women had to wear skirts) and ridiculous (movie theatres were banned but VCRs weren’t).
Yet, somehow, Cedarville still fostered open discourse. I have fond memories of debating the ideas behind free will and predestination with Calvinist and Arminian friends alike. Likewise, professors disagreed, amicably, upon such beliefs. Furthermore, while most professors did ascribe to the conservative “complementarian” views of women’s roles, some were beloved egalitarians who helped me realize my own potential. In college, I read Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, philosophers like William James and John Dewey, and a wealth of literature and literary criticism (I was an English major) in addition to many other theological works. No one ever told me certain works of literature should not be read.
Graduate school at the University of Dayton and a decade teaching at Wilberforce University followed. By 2000, CU had dropped most of its illogical rules and under Dixon’s last years, was progressing toward even more open discourse as well as sensitivity toward marginalized people groups. Because WU was facing financial stresses, it seemed like a good time to return and join the effort to bring CU into the 21st century.
Shortly after I began teaching there, Dr. Bill Brown was hired as its new president, and CU enjoyed an unprecedented time of renewed scholarship and investment in culturally relevant discourse. Students became deeply concerned about human trafficking, care of the environment, and other social justice issues, and the university began to connect with organizations like International Justice Mission, the Preemptive Love Coalition, and The Luke Commission. A Young Democrats organization even began, led by a veteran Education professor. In short, although Dr. Brown’s decade at CU was far from ideal, CU did earn a reputation for its educational excellence, and expanded its student population beyond just Baptists.
Unfortunately, though, Brown’s presidency also suffered through an abundance of internal conflicts between fundamentalists and open-minded conservatives (yes, there is such a thing). Amid such conflicts, a fundamentalist Bible professor was fired, who then sued the school. The conflicts and the litigation both communicated to the fundamentalist constituency that CU was “going liberal,” a fate worse than death for such folks. Thus, these troubles drained the school of money, energy, and unity of vision, leading to Brown’s eventual (forced) resignation and the hiring of Dr. White.
Righting America — here and here – has done an excellent job tracking what led up to that point and thereafter, so I won’t repeat that information here.
Suffice it to say, in 2012, CU set off on a trajectory of purging perceived liberalism from its school. Of course, such a mission rests solely on perceptions.
After teaching at CU for 18 years, I left to escape the toxic environment and to pursue the idea of a real university. (I didn’t leave CU because White hired Anthony Moore—that happened a month later—and covered up Moore’s sexual assault. I do believe White’s decision was unethical and rooted in cronyism, however; he should be fired.)
Cardinal John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University, written in 1852, imagined the university as a place where students would discover the connections and relationships between disparate fields of knowledge because of their common Creator. Newman’s work resonates with me because, as a CU student, I’d been taught that all truth is God’s truth, so discovering it anywhere we could find it is as necessary and invigorating as, say, reading our Bibles or attending church. Though Jesus and the Bible are God’s “special revelation,” the rest of the world’s knowledge, when true, is God’s “general revelation.” One Creator of all truth.
Yet, under Pres. White, there was a massive shift away from this understanding. This shift has not really been visible to parents, prospective students, or even present students (they don’t know what they don’t know), but those students who endured the transition between Brown and White saw it clearly. Many professors suffer under it. White has elevated the Bible Department above all else. Now that the vast majority of professors there are his chosen people (he forced out a dozen of the professors he inherited), and the long-time veterans have been demoted to teaching mostly general education classes, that department is the crown jewel. It’s what White values most and admires most.
Science and math are necessary, but not profitable, thus the reason the physics major was also cut. They don’t make money like engineering, nursing, and pharmacy, which are also non-suspect. White and his Vice President of Academics are suspicious of psychology and social work as well as all the liberal arts: literature and philosophy (the latter, a major CU also got rid of), film and creative writing, art and theatre.
Indeed, under White’s administration, all the liberal arts must now be “pure,” a la the censorship policy, which was foisted upon faculty in 2017. Then VPA Reno, who is now the acting president in the wake of White’s administrative leave, wrote the policy. Reno resigned as VPA immediately after enacting the policy against faculty opposition—no faculty vote was allowed, by the way. The present VPA, Tom Mach, now enforces the policy.
Supposedly based upon Philippians 4:8, the policy requires faculty to choose materials that balance the pure with the noble, the true with the lovely, and the admirable with the just, but should not merely focus on what is “just.” Simultaneously, however, the policy bans anything the administration considers “pornographic,” “erotic,” “obscene,” or “graphic.” As a result, the policy clearly elevates sexual purity above all else, introducing an incorrect interpretation of and application of the verse (and even the term “purity” itself, as CU limits its meaning only to sexual purity, but no other kind of purity). All academic disciplines’ standards, scholarship, and best practices are, therefore, subjected to and censored by that narrow view of “purity.”
And so, the policy dictates that faculty “run material and media by their dean or chair prior to presenting it to students if it approaches the category of ‘unacceptable.’” And it ends with this bold-faced threat: “Before God and the administration, faculty are accountable for their choices, and deans and chairs for their oversight of this material.”
Once censorship begins, it’s hard to stop, and it gets enforced in pell-mell fashion, as complaints arise. So films like Schindler’s List, a Latina author’s memoir about surviving sexual abuse at age 9, certain Native American trickster myths, acclaimed graphic novels such as Persepolis—and the list goes on—are all banned. Inexcusably, many censored published works are written by authors of color, showing a complete lack of understanding about cultural differences, a disregard for diversity, and in some cases, a lack of compassion for the “least of these” caught in poverty and war.
In fact, despite the policy’s claim that it is “not designed to restrict the free discussion of ideologies, philosophies, or schools of thought that may or may not run counter to biblical truth,” the reality is, administrators have, indeed, used it to censor many ideologies, such as literary theories, books by Shane Claiborne, and even non-Republican political views. (A student Democratic organization used to exist on campus, but it’s long gone now.)
Even worse, CU administrators often kowtow to infantilized high school students and freshmen who don’t have the maturity to encounter certain legitimate assignments. Faculty, therefore, now teach at CU fearing that at any time, a student may complain (through their parents, of course) to Dr. White or the VPA about assigned material, then get reprimanded, or worse, forced out (complete with a non-disclosure agreement required for severance).
The main goal of every faculty member now is to stay off the administration’s “purity” radar.
In short, CU’s toxicity is just as bad, if not worse, than Amazon’s. Present and former CU professors have now spoken out about the toxic culture, which includes public shaming of sexual abuse victims via the censorship policy: https://julieroys.com/professors-describe-public-shaming-toxic-culture-at-cedarville-u/.
This policy certainly does not cohere to the idea of a University. Nor does it cohere with much of Christian Higher Education, as represented by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), which White yanked CU out of in 2016. It doesn’t abide by the accreditation guidelines the Higher Learning Commission mandates either. (CU’s accreditation was renewed in 2016, just months prior to the censorship policy’s enactment.)
Cardinal Newman warns against disconnecting disciplines from each other, as has happened at CU. He explains that doing so distorts the teaching of truth: “There is no science but tells a different tale, when viewed as a portion of a whole, from what it is likely to suggest when taken by itself, without the safeguard, as I may call it, of others.” Indeed, a censorship policy removes the natural “safeguard” of other disciplines themselves, much like John Milton argued in Areopagitica:
And though all the windes of doctrin were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licencing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falshood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the wors, in a free and open encounter. Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing.
How can there be true education without such encounters and juxtapositions? Truth is strong, not weak, and God is big enough to handle the challenge.
And what of multiple truths existing simultaneously—paradoxes, those apparent contradictions inherent in any Christian faith?
That’s the meat we must teach and allow our students to chew on, for doing so will help students develop both a “philosophical habit” and a “truly great intellect,” which, according to Newman, see a “connected view of old and new, past and present, far and near, and which has an insight into the influence of all these one on another; without which there is no whole, and no centre” (emphasis mine).
After all, any university education is so much more than job preparation. Students will not become mere workers serving the state or the GDP. They’ll become active citizens, too, who hopefully will vote and continue to educate themselves about their local and global problems and solutions. They may become church members, spouses, and parents. Perhaps, they’ll become blood or organ donors, activists, or ministers. They may even become community organizers, volunteers, and political leaders.
Their intellects matter.
Incidentally, the same year the CU administration passed the censorship policy, they also became the first university in Ohio to allow concealed carry consistent with state law. I couldn’t abide the thought of any one of the antagonistic male administrators, who often boasted about their gun play, packing heat on campus.
So like Tim Bray, I had to leave the culture engineered on fear, an environment so in love with its own homogenous ideology that anyone who appears even slightly different is likewise assumed to be out of line, liberal (gasp!), and worst of all, unChristian. Indeed, the climate was and is poisonous.
Even a CU alumna like me—Christian to my core!— no longer felt welcome there.