Some of you may know that I was slated to teach a class on documentary filmmaking this fall at Trinity Western University, a Christian liberal arts college in Langley, BC. I’ve had an ongoing relationship with Trinity over the years, serving as a guest speaker in their film classes, judging their student short film contest on numerous occasions and even staging a Q&A screening of Hellbound? there this past January, where we played to a packed house.
So I was surprised and delighted last spring to receive an invitation to teach at the college, where I would be filling in for a friend who was taking a sabbatical. I went through the typical interview process and was given the green light to prepare my syllabus. Over the summer, I spent time researching and preparing my lectures and assignments. In fact, this very morning I was putting the finishing touches on my first Powerpoint lecture, which I was to deliver Sept. 7.
Then at 7am I received an email from the Provost saying he had reviewed my clarification on point 10 of their statement of faith, which had to do with the eternal fate of those who do not accept Christ in this life. Their official position is eternal torment. I was aware of this going in, but I was told by those who recruited me that all I had to do was write a clarifying note–as many professors apparently do–outlining how my position deviated from theirs, and everything would be okay.Lo and behold, he was wrong. The Provost consulted with the President and concluded that my views, which I framed as a form of hopeful Universalism, fell too far outside their allowable tolerance. So just like that, I’m out–less than two weeks before I’m slated to begin teaching.
I probably shouldn’t be surprised by this decision, but I am surprised–and terribly disappointed. Not only that I won’t be able to teach, but also by the way things were handled. In my view, the one place where a diversity of views should not only be tolerated but encouraged is at a university. I realize that, as a faith-based institution, Trinity has to establish some sort of boundaries in order to maintain a consistent identity, donor base, etc. But as I endeavored to demonstrate in Hellbound?, the Church has always maintained (and at times, even welcomed) a wide diversity of views on hell and all sorts of other theological issues. So why this college would slam the door in my face on what is essentially a peripheral issue–especially when I’m teaching filmmaking, not theology–is beyond me.