An Ohio Christian College Loses Popular Professor: Cedarville Does Some Soul Searching

I think a lot of Christian College campuses must be going through issues like this right now. The fundamentalist message is so incompatible with a post-modern worldview, that the entire philosophy major has to be shut down. Shane Claiborne isn’t allowed on campus because his ideas might be challenging? Really? I remember Cedarville U. because my band Satellite Soul played there a few times. Is this yet another example of how evangelicals too often inhibit the diversity of thought necessary for a healthy tribe.

From the New York Times:

 “He made Cedarville feel more like Heaven,” said Zak Weston, a senior at Cedarville University, a Baptist college near Dayton, Ohio. “If you thought someone would be untouchable, it would be Carl.”

It’s not often that a college’s chief disciplinarian inspires such love. But Carl Ruby, who last month resigned as vice president for student life at this little-known Christian college, has become a symbol of some very public trials, as faculty, students and trustees at Cedarville try to figure out what kind of Christians they are. Are they sectarian or broad-minded? Fundamentalist or open? Republicans, or independent of political parties? Those who want a less fundamentalist, more open Cedarville believe that Dr. Ruby is a martyr to their cause.

For much of its history, Cedarville, which was founded in 1887, was affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, a fundamentalist organization wary of association even with other conservative groups. But over the past decade, Cedarville, which has 3,400 students, has moved away from its Regular Baptist identity.

Some kinds of dancing are now allowed on campus, for example. And there have been other signs of moderation, troubling to some. Last fall, two philosophy professors caused a stir with“Why I Am Not Voting for Romney,” an editorial in the university newspaper that upset many on this right-leaning campus. Last summer, the contract of another professor, Michael W. Pahl, was not renewed because he had written a book that some critics asserted failed to make strong enough claims for the creation of the world in six days.

Dr. Pahl’s “doctrinal views were inconsistent with doctrines the university holds,” was how Mark D. Weinstein, a spokesman for Cedarville, explained Dr. Pahl’s departure.

Even by evangelical standards, nearly everyone at Cedarville is theologically conservative. But some conservatives have a greater willingness to hear dissident views. The departures of William Brown, the president, whose resignation is effective June 30, and of Dr. Ruby, who left suddenly last month, are widely viewed as strengthening the hands of the most conservative trustees, fearful of a more open Cedarville.

The Rev. Chris Williamson of Franklin, Tenn., who last month resigned from the Cedarville board of trustees, said that both the president and Dr. Ruby were considered problematic by the faction of trustees fearful of what they perceive as a creeping liberalism. “They were threatened by Carl’s approach not to theology but to ministry,” Mr. Williamson said, “in terms of his ministry to people struggling with gender identification, how he ministers to people on the margins.”

… When asked why Dr. Ruby had resigned, Dr. Brown said, “I really don’t know,” explaining that Dr. Ruby reported to the provost. Meanwhile, philosophy has been eliminated as a major, which will most likely mean the departure of Shawn Graves, the untenured half of the duo that wrote the anti-Romney editorial.

In an interview this week, Dr. Ruby would not say why he left. …conceded that in 2008, he gave in to pressure from university officials to cancel an invitation he had extended to the evangelical Christian writer and activist Shane Claiborne, the author of “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical.” Mr. Claiborne’s teachings against war and poverty struck some critics as incompatible with Cedarville’s conservative message.

Finally, students said that Dr. Ruby was well known on campus for his compassion toward students, including those who thought they might be gay or lesbian. David Olsen, a member of the class of 1984 who is now openly gay, said that although he and Dr. Ruby differ on the morality of gay sex, current gay and lesbian students considered Dr. Ruby an ally, concerned that they be treated with compassion.

 

About Tim Suttle

Find out more about Tim at TimSuttle.com

Tim Suttle is the senior pastor of RedemptionChurchkc.com. He is the author of several books including his most recent - Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), & An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals.

Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. The band's most recent album is "Straight Back to Kansas." He helped to plant three thriving churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • scott stone

    Tim,
    This will be an interesting story when it is completely played out. I’m going to reserve judgement until I gather a bit more information. I may have a more personal connection to Cedarville then you probably do. My oldest attended Cedarville for his first two years of college. They have a fantastic engineering program and an environment that can help, in my opinion, 18 an19 year old kids transition successfully from high school to college. Dropout rates for freshman are quite low at Cedarville compare to national statistics. While I know there is an unrealistic Ozzie and Harriet feel to the campus, give me an example where any college campus actually models the real world.
    Your statement that “the fundamentalist message is so incompatible with a post-modern worldview…” is one I agree with, but the inverse is also true. I think much of the post-modern world view is antithetical to Christianity. It is very difficult in this day and age to send our children off to college. And I’m not just talking about the financial burden. My daughter is finishing up her final year at Belmont University in Nashville so I’ve been involved in helping two of my children navigate the choices regarding higher education. Both of my children have attended rather large state schools for some time and private schools so I have a fairly good grasp of the differences in culture and climate. Cedarville sounds like they may have errored on the side of a more fundamentalist position but I can tell you there is no concern in public universities about being too secular. Spend some time in the book store of a state university and just look at which books tend to be out front and center. Kids entering college are at a stage where they are still very impressionable. Statistics show that public universities and professors in particular are rather hostile those who differ from their secular-progressive positions.
    I’m grateful for the guidance Cedarville gave to my son. He certainly did not agree with all of their policies and positions but it was a safe environment that gave him the opportunity to succeed. Not only am I grateful but he has told me numerous times he’s glad his first two years were spent there.

    • Tim Suttle

      Hey Scott,

      Yeah, I had a pretty favorable impression of the college the two times we played there. Honestly, I don’t object to fundamentalists having a position and extending it through their colleges. The thing I do worry about is that they tend to run off anyone who provides a little diversity of thought. As evangelicals, we need the fundamentalists to learn how to embody their tradition in a post-modern context. They provide diversity of thought to the whole of evangelicalism and it wouldn’t honestly be a bummer if they cannot adapt to a new philosophical framework. More dangerous than the possibility of a wolf in sheep’s clothing (who they seem to want to fire or run off), is the very real possibility that their tribe might be so connected to Modernity that the two will inevitably wane together. I shudder at the idea of forcing a faculty member to rescind the offer to bring Shane Claiborne – of all people – to campus because his thoughts are somehow dangerous (the gospel is dangerous!). It won’t work either. I’d bet 10 bucks that Irresistible Revolution was the most read book on campus that semester.

      I appreciate your thoughts on sending kids off to school and how you sweat those decisions. I can’t imagine – luckily I’ve got 10 years between now and then to figure out how to navigate it well. -ts

  • http://www.brooklinrbc.ca John Blackman

    I know at least one stellar person inside the administration of Cedarville ( the only person at the school I know!) . She’s not a narrow fundy by any stretch. What you have to appreciate about people involved in a place like Cedarville or any church with any history is that the leaders within it are not blind to the issues or afraid of change, they are often saddled with the desire to somehow serve the next generation and at the same time respect their elders. It requires patience and grace that (speaking as a church planter myself) is in short supply in this emergent world.

  • Dustin Hughes

    Tim,

    Good afternoon. As a Cedarville alum, I just came across the discussion. I did not grow up in a Regular Baptist church (in fact reared in a denomination oft maligned by the Bible department). Additionally, I attended the university during more “restrictive” years. I still greatly appreciate Cedarville University. I find it is still a campus wise enough to realize issues, such as poverty, need to be worked against, but equally wise enough to realise they are not a disease which can be eradicated.

    We live in a world where people hardly have enough conviction to roll out of bed and fit in. Thank God for institutions and people willing to honor Him and live within certain parameters. Finally, I appreciate the tenor of this site and discussion. Thank you.


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