I don’t know what to make of the current spasm of vague accusations and vague apologies at Moody Bible Institute. Moody Radio host Julie Roys was recently fired after challenging several decisions and practices of the fundamentalist Chicago school’s board of trustees. Some of this seems to be the sort of infighting encoded in the DNA of fundie institutions, but Roys also raised issues that hinted at something more like corruption — with allegations of trustees of the venerable institute benefiting personally and financially while the school itself struggles and has cut nearly a third of its full-time faculty.
The way in which Roys was fired seems fishy, but after reading the inquisitorial tone of her initial description of what she calls the school’s “Unprecedented Crisis,” it’s difficult to accept that she’s a whistleblowing martyr fired for asking too many questions. It’s not easy to translate that description out of the original Witch-sniffer dialect, but it seems that the controversy that led to her firing involves her indignant frustration over her inability to get other people fired. Here are the top three items in her original indictment:
- Allowing professors who deny the inerrancy of Scripture to teach at the institute and write curriculum
- Allowing a professor who supports Planned Parenthood, liberation theology, and a host of other liberal causes to teach at the school, and even spearhead missions conferences
- Permitting a top education official to violate the institute’s bylaws repeatedly, and openly practice reverse-discrimination
The charge of denying the inerrancy of Scripture is, of course, a very grave matter for a fundamentalist Bible Institute. It’s also a limitlessly elastic charge — something that can be said about anyone at any time because “the inerrancy of Scripture” is an unworkable fiction designed specifically as a weapon that allows its wielder to condemn others and thereby consolidate power. That’s how Roys is using it here. Even the most guilelessly sincere adherents of “the inerrancy of Scripture” are unable to make that construct work coherently or consistently, so it’s never hard to seize on examples of others’ lapses. Intra-fundie accusations of “denying the inerrancy of Scripture” are as prone to abuse as blasphemy laws in theocratic societies because that is what they are.
All I get from that first item, then, is the sense that there are professors at Moody that Roys doesn’t like and she wants them gone. (And if administrators refuse to fire them, then she thinks those administrators should all resign too.)
The second item is worse. The Planned Parenthood reference, in substance and in attitude, is the stuff of a prosecutor at a witch trial. And it’s abundantly clear that Roys doesn’t have any idea what “liberation theology” means other than it’s something she thinks white Christians should find self-evidently threatening (which isn’t altogether wrong). Using “liberation theology” as a hobgoblin to frighten such white Christians is, at best, racially fraught. It’s hard to see how one arrives at using that term in that way without a host of prior assumptions that smell very bad if one pokes at them even a little bit.
But you don’t have to poke at those assumptions yourself — Roys does it for you in the next item, in which she charges an unnamed Moody administrator with “openly practicing reverse-discrimination.”
I mean, yeah, that could be worse — she could’ve said “white genocide” or something more explicit than that “reverse-discrimination” dog whistle. But still.
As for that bit about “a host of other liberal causes,” that could mean almost anything here. It might mean that this blasphemous professor has questioned the Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles. Or it might mean that they said something positive about jobs, living wages, public education or universal health care. Maybe both.
Roys’ summary of Moody’s crisis, then, doesn’t tell us anything about Moody, only about Roys. It tells us that she’s upset with something someone said. And it tells us that, rather than engaging the substance of that upsetting utterance, her reflex is to raise the alarm about Forbidden Words and Thoughts and to urge the institution to fire the blasphemers and not to suffer a witch to live.
This isn’t whistleblowing, it’s just dolorous umbrage. And there’s a reason no one likes Dolores Umbridge.
Roys’ “Unprecedented Crisis” post also nods in the direction of other, more secular concerns about Moody’s administration. She refers to a 65-page document prepared by a Moody theology professor “detailing shocking allegations of wrongdoing.” Again it’s hard to know whether this refers to some kind of financial shenanigans or to some adjunct including James Cone on a syllabus.
There’s a bit more substance in Roys’ follow-up post, which shifts away from heresy-hunting to raise concerns about some hinky financial deals made among school leaders and trustees: “A Luxury Suite, Questionable Loan to Officer, & Gambling: The Disturbing Truth About Leadership at MBI.”The purse-lipped, proof-texting, Puritanical tone remains, but here at least Roys can point to something more than Somebody Has Opinions I Do Not Feel Should Be Allowed. The reflexive Mohlerism and Matherism is still there, but Roys also raise questions about a dubious sweetheart housing loan the school made to its president. And she discusses the very odd special arrangement Moody provided for the wealthy donor who formerly served as chair of its board of trustees:
From 2000 to 2008, the institute again reportedly engaged in self-dealing by providing Jerry Jenkins, author of the popular Left Behind books and then-chairman of Moody’s Board of Trustees, with a luxury suite on the top floor of Jenkins Hall. In 1999, Jenkins donated an undisclosed amount of money to Moody, enabling the institute to purchase the building that bears his name. And according to a 2006 article in the Chicago Tribune, MBI then converted two former senior units on the top floor of the building into a suite for Jenkins and his wife’s use, something state officials reportedly found “troubling.”
According to Konrad Finck, former facilities manager at MBI, Jenkins and his family members used this “glitzy” suite as a “second home.” Finck said that other than those who cleaned the apartment and maintained it, only Jenkins and his family members had access to it.
… The suite had top-of-line finishes, and a “big walk-in shower,” which became a “bone of contention” to Finck. “[Jenkins] kept complaining that it leaked,” Finck said. “It was at that point that I started to have some very negative feelings about the whole thing because he was very demanding.”
Finck said others at the institute started expressing concern about the apartment as well. “It looked to some of us like it wasn’t really quite according to Hoyle. I mean was he paying rent? . . . It didn’t look to us like he was.”
Sometime around 2008, Finck said someone at the institute submitted an anonymous “whistleblower report” internally at MBI. As a result, senior management reportedly put an end to Jenkins’ exclusive use of the suite.
Finck said he dropped the matter after that, and assumed Jenkins’ use of the suite had changed. However, Finck knew the identity of the whistleblower. And at one point, he said a senior manager at Moody called him into his office and asked him to divulge the name of the whistleblower, but Finck refused.
“I know Jerry was very upset about [the whistleblower],” Finck said. “I know that he was trying to find out who had – he wanted to talk to the person that had done the report.” …
Jenkins declined my request for an interview, but offered the following statement: “This unfortunate misunderstanding was thoroughly investigated years ago by the board of trustees and the administration, and I received an apology for any implication that I had ever maintained for my exclusive use or considered my own the guest apartment in Jenkins Hall.”
Our old friend Jerry Jenkins also features prominently in Roys’ next item of concern, which has to do with recent changes in Moody’s employee standards. In 2013, Moody changed its code of conduct for faculty and other employees, meaning it was no longer a firing offense if they were caught drinking, smoking, or dancing. The change — announced as an effort to “emphasize values, not rules” — involves Jenkins because the new code also no longer prohibited gambling. Jerry Jenkins likes to while away the hours between now and the imminent Rapture by playing tournament poker.
Roys regards this as morally disqualifying, offering a mighty swing-and-a-miss prooftext to underscore her inerrantly scriptural opinion on the subject.
And then, well, it’s back to the witch-hunting:
In October, prior to an on-campus meeting of the board of trustees, a recent MBI graduate sent an email to Fairfax and board member Juli Slattery, charging that MBI had “begun trading the sure foundation of God’s Word … for the fragile foundation of the cultural tides of the day.” The letter documented numerous examples of this, including several disturbing accounts from the classes of Professor and Chair of the Urban Ministries Program, Clive Craigen. The email was reportedly forwarded to Jenkins, but not some of the other board members, and resulted in no action.
That email from “a recent MBI graduate” is, in fact, damning evidence of shocking institutional failure at Moody Bible Institute. How does a school that’s supposed to train Christian leaders grant a degree to such a self-righteous prick? I mean, if it’s your job to educate people and they stubbornly remain capable of writing things like “trading the sure foundation of God’s Word … for the fragile foundation of the cultural tides of the day” then clearly you’ve failed at your job.
But here, at last, Roys provides a name for the scary “liberal” professor she desperately wants to see fired. She still withholds any mention of what his “disturbing” offenses might be. As far as I can tell, those involve retweeting Jemar Tisby, gently acknowledging the existence of white privilege, and advocating respect for women missionaries.
So what do we make of all this? Is this the tale of a brave whistleblower being silenced and fired by corrupt administrators? Or is it the tale of a Fox-addled would-be witch-hunter flaming out in her failed attempt to get a professor fired for saying that racism is bad?
I think both, probably. Moody seems to have tolerated and indulged Roys’ ugly fire-the-infidels campaign against professors who had the temerity to question white supremacy. Her sanctimonious racism was hunky-dory with them. But once she started talking about the sweet perks administrators and trustees were enjoying amidst the school’s financial crunch, then she had to go.
Nobody looks good here.