Paying the price for my views on hell

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.

About Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller is an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer who has applied his craft to numerous documentaries, feature films and shorts. Recent projects include "The Chicken Manure Incident," "Hellbound?," "Drop Gun," "No Saints for Sinners," "spOILed," "Sex+Money," "With God On Our Side," "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," "After..." and the upcoming biopic "The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton." In addition to his work in film, Kevin has written, co-written and edited over 45 books. He lives in Kimberley, BC, Canada with his wife and four children.

  • scotmcknight

    Why not put right on this blog what your clarification statement was…

    • Kevin Miller

      I’m embarrassed to say I don’t think I kept a copy. I’ve been looking for it. It was a rather short statement noting that based on verses like like Romans 5:18, 11:32 and other passages, I hold out the hope that all people will ultimately be reconciled to God. I believe I also noted that I didn’t think this conflicted with the need for justice, but that I see justice as a means to an end–reconciliation–rather than an end in itself. I also directed them toward this debate, which I did earlier in the summer: At any rate, the position I stated is no different from the one I have stated dozens of times in interviews surrounding the release of “Hellbound?” as well as on my blogs. If my views on hell were a problem, that should have been identified months ago, not 10 days before I’m slated to teach.

    • Kevin Miller

      I’m embarrassed to say I don’t think I kept a copy, Scot. From what I recall, I stated that based on verses like Romans 5:18, 11:32 and similar passages that I hold out hope that all people will ultimately be reconciled to God. I also directed them to this debate, which I did earlier in the summer. Perhaps that was the straw that broke the camel’s back? At any rate, the position I stated was no different than the one I’ve stated on numerous occasions on my blogs and in interviews during the release of “Hellbound?” So if my views were a problem, it should have been identified months ago, not 10 days before I was supposed to begin teaching.

  • Sandra Orrick

    Unfortunately those who believe in salvation by doctrinal purity and rigid righteousness tend to be inconsiderate with regard to people and so your shabby treatment is not really a shock. I have been collecting shiny proof texts to counteract the notion that God is somehow reluctant to share eternal life and eager to consign us all to hell. Romans 5 is my favorite; I Timothy 4:10, John 12:32, etc. all line up to testify to the love of God as demonstrated in His Son Jesus Christ, who walked “through social barriers and taboos as if they were cobwebs.” (Garry Wells.) It was the Pharisees and their colleagues who had a burden to maintain their ritual purity. They were, and still are, afraid to think.

  • Kevin Miller

    In my case, the Dean was fully supportive of me. The decision to bar me from teaching was made without consultation with him. That alone is highly problematic in my view.

  • Mike Goetz

    The sad irony here is that for me, Hellbound’s main topic was only ostensibly hell; what the film really asked was whether we as the church at large can discuss difficult and controversial topics openly and honestly, without fear or condemnation. I agree that one’s opinion of hell is an interesting but peripheral issue as a matter of faith — TWU’s decision is shameful all around.

    What was most surprising to me was how explicit the University’s statement is in regards to hell, and that they would enshrine this position. Perhaps a church or denomination would enshrine beliefs on these sorts of things, but for a University to do so is, I think, contrary to why we would have such a University. I don’t particularly mind the idea of a faith-based University institution, but the more narrow you make your statement of faith (and the degree to which you police it), the more narrow your scope of thinking and reasoning will become. A University, of all places, should not be at risk of group-think.

    • Kevin Miller

      Great points, Mike. I actually just got off the phone with the dean who hired me initially, and we discussed this very issue. This is the problem of a faith-based university–or any faith community for that matter–maintaining a distinct identity in a way that doesn’t make them seem to be (or actually be) closed off to new ideas or people who don’t have a one-to-one correlation with their beliefs. Hence my advocacy for a statement of shared community values rather than shared beliefs. Otherwise we risk reducing Christianity to a matter of intellectual assent to a set of propositions vs. transformation into the likeness of Christ.

  • Yowie

    …Trinty Western Univesity, a Chrstian liberal arts college…