No one expects the Evangelical Inquisition! (part 1)

In the early years of the 21st century, to combat the rising tide of religious unorthodoxy, the subculture gave white evangelical gatekeepers leave to move without let or hindrance throughout the land, in a reign of violence, terror and torture that makes a smashing film. This was the Evangelical Inquisition …

Here are some brief highlights of a few examples of the Inquisition at work at evangelical colleges and seminaries, where gatekeepers have pursued their ends with fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to inerrancy.

Shorter University

Shorter is a small liberal arts college in Rome, Georgia, affiliated with the state Baptist convention.

Last year, Shorter purged 36 of about 100 full-time faculty members when it adopted a new “statement of faith” as well as a “personal lifestyle statement.” The latter said:

I reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.

President Donald Dowless said the purge was necessary:

“Our University was at a crossroads to either take steps to regain an authentic Christian identity in policy and practice or we would become a Christian University in name only,” he said.

For more, see SaveOurShorter — a website for students, faculty and alumni worried about the future of the university.

Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Emmanuel is (was?) a small seminary near Johnson City, Tenn., affiliated with the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.

Last summer Dr. Christopher Rollston, professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Emmanuel, wrote a column for the Huffington Post titled, “The Marginalization of Women: A Biblical Value We Don’t Like to Talk About.” While anyone who has actually read the Bible won’t find anything alarming or controversial in that column, it apparently offended some conservative donors at Emmanuel — people, ironically, who fervently believe that the Bible marginalizes women, but see this as a feature, not a bug.

The seminary’s ensuing actions were a clear example of how “inerrancy” and other slogans about the “authority of scripture” are almost always a pretext for culture-war issues. It seemed to involve an attempt by the school’s executives to fire a tenured professor without cause because some conservative culture-warrior donors promised big bucks if they got rid of him. It did not seem that the seminary’s president, Michael Sweeney, was attempting to get away with something unethical as much as that Sweeney had no idea what was or wasn’t ethical behavior.

Robert Cargill has the best summary of the whole sordid affair, which has to be scored as a big defeat for the Inquisition. Rollston landed on his feet with a new gig at George Washington University. And Emmanuel Seminary is attempting a crash landing in which it will be dissolved and/or absorbed into Milligan College.

Most inquisitorial purges wind up destroying schools, but unlike most of those ruined schools, Emmanuel may actually cease to exist.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Al Mohler’s early 1990s purge of non-fundies, non-Calvinists and women at the flagship Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville is the stuff of legend. People telling those stories always sound like Robert Shaw describing the sinking of the Indianapolis in Jaws. “A hundred professors went into the water …”

Mohler created the template: Attack, attack, attack. Always claim to be more orthodox than anyone else, forcing them to play defense. Don’t demonstrate orthodoxy, just assert it as a given until everyone accepts that you must be the foremost authority on what is or is not biblical.

It worked for him, and it transformed the seminary. Someone who graduated from Southern in 1991 has a completely different education from someone who received a diploma from Southern in 2001.

Michael Westmoreland-White’s reminiscences capture some of the atmosphere of Mohler’s purge, although on the whole his description is more cheerful and less frightening than what one usually hears:

I do not want to relive these memories – but they flood through anyway. The students who were paid by fundamentalist trustees to secretly record faculty lectures and see if quotations could be snipped apart from context and run in denominational presses as “proof” of the “rank liberalism” of the seminary! Of the illegal copying of Molly Marshall’s doctoral dissertation for ignoramuses to use as “proof” of her supposed “universalism” in soteriology. The manipulations to try to get her denied tenure — and, when that failed, Mohler’s eventual forcing of her resignation because “we have the votes” on the trustee board – regardless of her defense and before any such defense were possible. The similar fate of Paul Simmons — whom the fundamentalists had hounded for years because he holds a mildly pro-choice view in the ethics of abortion — a matter on which the seminary’s Abstract of Principles (which all faculty sign) is completely silent.

 

  • Tricksterson

    And controversial is…bad?

  • Tricksterson

    I tend to put it under Godwin’s Law along with Nazi and fascist.  I’m not endorsing any of what went on at those places but noone was actually tortured or imprisoned.  Persecuted yes, and I would not be at all surprised if at least a couple of the persecutors would go in for torture if they could get away with it but it didn’t happen.

  • Tricksterson

    Yes, and the current Pope used to run it.

  • SaveOBU

    This is just a partial list.  See also Cedarville University (OH).  At Oklahoma Baptist University, my alma mater and the subject of my blog, http://www.SaveOBU.blogspot.com, there had been some serious problems a few years ago but things seem to have stabilized somewhat. We are working to build connections with constituents of other Baptist & evangelical colleges facing fundamentalist encroachment.

  • Naymlap

    Clearly you haven’t seen enough Monty Python (and the correct amount is all things Monty Python).  But again I’d point out that the Inquisition wasn’t just torturing heathens.  It was primarily established to quash anyone who opposed Catholic orthodoxy.  Torture and execution were two of its tools but not its function.  In that sense Fred is correct to make the comparison.  He is providing examples of evangelicals ousting people that do not follow their orthodoxy from their positions at universities.  It isn’t an evangelical institution (thank Torquemada) but the goal of Mohler and Shorter University is essentially the same, getting rid of anyone who has a different take on the bible.

  • AirSpencer

    I attended Milligan College for a my freshman year in the mid nineties. At the time, the student conduct code banned dancing. One of the chapel services in that year was produced by students from Emmanuel. One of the things in the service was a dance.  Did I say dance?  I mean, “liturgical movement.”  At least that was what the learned head of Emmanuel called it.  I think it was around then I decided that one year at the goofy place was enough.  

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    It’s a real Holocaust of Godwins!

    I had the same reaction but then I thought: well, he is clearly alluding to the Monty Python sketch, not the historical events…but still…

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    “… including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.”

    Weird, why isn’t divorce on that list?

  • Buck Eschaton

    It’s also rather weird you hear almost nothing about gambling from these conservative “Christians”, they wouldn’t want to offend half their Tea Party congregations would they?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    New pope new pope new pope. Exciting times for Catholic nerds such as my goodself.

    I would like to express my reasonable wish for someone not raised in a hyper Catholic authoritarian society.

  • vsm

     Any ideas on prospective candidates?

  • Original Lee

     Apparently the bookies are favoring a Cardinal from Ghana.

  • Dave

    Let those who love God continue to opt out of organized religion and institutional christianity.

    Leave the falsely-called “church” to it’s own demise as it becomes increasingly irrelevant and obsolete. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Nah, I have no special insight. Which is a pity, cos gambling on the papal enclave is a delightfully Catholic thing :)

  • Tricksterson

    Good luck on that, you’ll need it.

  • sgssbi

    I am a bit stumped by the author’s reference to a “purge” of non-Calvinists at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  I would be astonished if there were any Calvinists at all at Southern Baptist as Calvinism (or the Reformed tradition) with its emphasis on predestination runs counter to the free-will antecedents of all Baptist traditions. We will all find out which view is closer to the divine will when we see Him “face to face” but in the meanwhile I think the author made a typo! 

  • John

    Why those intolerant Evangelicals.  They’re just like those closed minded Chemistry Departments in secular schools that refuse to hire alchemists!  Or the Astronomy Departments that refuse to hire astrologers.  And they give as an excuse the idea that these people are teaching falsehoods!  What happened to academic freedom?  It surely sounds like an inquisition to not let people teach falsehoods! 
    However, there is such a thing as truth in advertising.  If one goes to a Baptist seminary, it seems reasonable to assume that one’s professors should not be focused on teaching you that the Baptist church doctrine is wrong.  If these professors want to teach that the Baptist doctrine is wrong, they can certainly do so; but it seems dishonest to do it at a Baptist seminary.   That’s like having a fundamentalist or evangelical blog on the progressive Christian channel.  Perhaps that is also an inquisition.  You progressive Christians have intolerantly exiled those evangelicals to the evangelical Christian channel.  That’s shameful intolerance in my book!

  • ron_goodman

    Which leads to the old question of “Why don’t Baptists have sex while standing up?”

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    And the privatized counterparts, Red Channels and Aware, inc. were
    worse. People in the entertainment industry paid them to confirm that
    nobody being hired was a Red, and both companies were notoriously sloppy
    about accuracy (and sometimes outright lied). 

     So, they were the political version of today’s credit-rating companies?

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Weird, why isn’t divorce on that list?

    Because Nancy was Ronald Reagan’s SECOND wife.

  • EllieMurasaki

    You progressive Christians have intolerantly exiled th ose evangelicals to the evangelical Christian channel.

    Bullshit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rebekah.jones.5249 Rebekah Jones

    Please add Cedarville U to this list, we are smack dab in the middle of an ‘inquisition’ and good people have already gotten fired. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/glennbeatonn glenn beaton

    Comparing “you can’t be in my private club if you don’t share my private beliefs” to the Spanish Inquisition, seems a bit overwrought. 

    Where do you draw the line on government intrusion into private action?  The columnist seems to think the answer is “nowhere”. 

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    John:  “However, there is such a thing as truth in advertising.  If one goes to a Baptist seminary, it seems reasonable to assume that one’s professors should not be focused on teaching you that the Baptist church doctrine is wrong.  If these professors want to teach that the Baptist doctrine is wrong, they can certainly do so; but it seems dishonest to do it at a Baptist seminary.   That’s like having a fundamentalist or evangelical blog on the progressive Christian channel.  Perhaps that is also an inquisition.  You progressive Christians have intolerantly exiled those evangelicals to the evangelical Christian channel.  That’s shameful intolerance in my book!
    John, are you saying that in your book “progressive” Christians practice shameful intolerance?

    But don’t “progressive” Christians promote tolerance?  But if “progressive” Christians practice shameful intolerance while they are promoting tolerance, doesn’t that mean that they are hypocrites?  Like the Pharisees were hypocrites?

    In your book would Jesus be displeased with “progressive” Christian Pharisee hypocrites?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Since this John doesn’t appear to be a progressive at all, yeah, I’m guessing this John thinks Jesus would disapprove of progressives.

    This John’s wrong, mind; Jesus is progressive in many ways even today, after all the other things he was progressive on have become status quo.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joshsteele1 Josh Steele

    Agreed. Check out fiatlux125.wordpress.com 

  • P J Evans

    Nancy was Ronald Reagan’s SECOND wife.
    And also pregnant when they married.

  • Jen

    Just an FYI: there is a purge occuring at Cedarville University as well, which includes the most recent forced resignation of our VP for Student Life. Read more here: http://fiatlux125.wordpress.com/ and help us save Cedarville!


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