I’ll see your “clarified” statement of faith and raise you a lawsuit—more good times at Bryan College

I’ll see your “clarified” statement of faith and raise you a lawsuit—more good times at Bryan College May 16, 2014

A few days ago The Herald News (serving Dayton, Tenn., and Rhea County communities since 1898) reported the next, and I suppose inevitable, development in the Bryan-College-brazenly-moves-the-statement-of-faith-goal-posts-as-a-way-of-weeding-out-dangerous-faculty-who-don’t-think-the-Bible-is-a-science-book saga.

Two faculty members–professor of natural science Stephen Barnett and professor of education and chair of the education department Steven DeGeorge–are suing their employer (see the full story here.)

According to the article,

The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday, states that when the Bryan College Board of Trustees approved a “clarification” to the school’s statement of faith saying that man descended from Adam and Eve and did not evolve from other species, it was effectively altering the Bryan College statement of faith. The school’s charter expressly forbids an alteration to the college’s statement of faith.

In other words, the board can’t just make stuff up to achieve its goal. Boards are known to do that of course, but they shouldn’t. And definitely not a board of a school that hangs out for all to see a we-take-the-Bible-seriously-and-follow-Jesus shingle.

Now, I know Paul seems to have an issue with followers of Jesus taking each other to court (1 Corinthians 6:1-11). But let me defend the plaintiffs by reminding us all, as a seminary professor of mine was fond of saying, that when we are reading Paul we are reading someone else’s mail.

What Paul says about lawsuits does not automatically apply to every subsequent situation of potential lawsuits any more than “children obey your parents” (Ephesians 6:1) means children should allow themselves to be abused.

I hope no one pulls the 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 card. Let’s use our heads, people.

If Paul were here today, I bet he’d do one of his famous Galatians 5:7-12 (and especially v. 12–ouch) smackdowns on the board for abuse of power and not on the faculty that are trying to protect their families, their livelihood, and just standing up for the kind of reason and fairness you shouldn’t need Jesus to remind you to about.

What strikes me is the board’s apparent lack of any awareness of how this looks to the “the world” they are trying to reach. I know they see themselves as “taking a stand for truth” (even though they aren’t but I’ll give them that rhetoric for sake of discussion), and that stand is their “testimony” of their faith in God amid a dying and Godless culture, etc.

But how you carry out your mission is at least as important as the content of that mission. For prooftexts, I offer you Matthew through the rest of the New Testament (though skipping parts of Acts and, let’s face it, the book of Revelation).

At the root of this sort of behavior is fear, and the best way to handle that fear isn’t to flex your muscles and exert power. That is how “the world” acts (we are always told). The way to address the fear is to talk about what you are afraid of.

Beneath all the power suits, meetings, word-smithing of statements of faith, and pious prayers lies fear.

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  • Monte Harris

    Warm greetings, Dr. Enns. Your article you linked to on fear really
    seems to explain a lot for me that I hadn’t articulated. You said that
    theological discussions (monologues thrown into space sometimes) devolve
    into ad hominems because peoples’ narratives are at stake. I’ve only
    recently become comfortable with the idea that I don’t have to have all
    the answers wrapped up with a pretty bow when I look back over my life
    and see how many times my positions have changed. It gives me the
    perspective that I don’t have everything figured out even though I keep
    on searching. Recently, a “discussion” I fielded on Facebook concerning
    the fast food strikes devolved into a prooftexting and ideology wielding
    bloodbath. It didn’t seem like anyone wanted to understand the other,
    because the other was simply wrong. What was necessary was to restate
    one’s own position repeatedly so the other side would understand the
    error of their ways. Well, I’m off on a tangent. Concerning the board of
    Bryan College, do you reckon they care how this looks to the world or
    that they are trying to reach a world? That might be a preposterously
    loaded question, and I don’t know how many boards operate, but I
    speculate that they are more about identity boundaries than proactive
    evangelism. Peace. Monte

  • Andrew Dowling

    “that when we are reading Paul we are reading someone else’s mail.”

    Now that’s a great line! Hadn’t heard it stated like that before, but so true.

    • Wallace of Gromit

      Peter, I am not sure which Professor you are mentioning, but Linus Van Pelt (a.k.a. Charles Schultz) said it first. 🙂

  • Benj

    C’mon, now–when have boards ever made stuff up to achieve their goal? You’re paranoid, man…

    • peteenns

      Uh, I seem to recall one that…. oh forget it.

  • Brian P.

    Just as you wonder what is beneath their action, I wonder what emotion and lack is beneath this blog. You are bothered. Why?

  • Daniel Merriman

    They are having financial issues. Word on the street (I live about 50 miles from Dayton) is that this was an effort to reassure parents that Bryan was “safe” after Ken Ham went after them on his blog a few years ago for going soft on a literal Genesis.

  • Ross

    From the relative safety of the UK, I find this whole continuing battle both scary and baffling. Why on Earth are “so called” Christians battling each other with such venom and effort. I understand the underlying philosophy, which amounts to a denial to get past the 18th Century realisation that the World may actually be older than several thousand years. I think the issue is really that some people believe the myth that we had a “Christian Society” and that we’re losing it and have been for a good 150 years or so. Maybe if we realise that “Christendom” was nothing of the sort and that to be a Christian is always to be in opposition to the “World”, we’ll start to understand what our faith is really about.

    I think I’ve mentioned earlier that this is to some extent a peculiarly American issue. The only way to overcome this is to recognise that “American Exceptionalism” of the Christian kind is actually a myth. the underlying “millennialist” idea of a “perfecting” society is also a myth. The World is always turned against those who follow the “light” and always will be until Jesus returns. We can and should do our best to redeem the World, but we will always be a minority “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” If we don’t recognise that, then we are really barking up the wrong tree.

    I think that from within American “Christianity” it’s very difficult to see how “peculiar” the whole system is. You can only see it from “outside”.

  • James

    I think part of the problem is a peculiar ‘Biblicist’ viewpoint that clams to be unchanging and authoritative in every ‘cultural’ issue, whether it is the age of the earth or gay marriage. There is a ‘gold standard’ of truth we must uphold at all cost, even our lives. Some don’t seem to realize that whenever we dare quote the gold standard we are, in fact, interpreting it with human-weakness-tainted tools. Maybe that’s why we hear prayed from the pulpit, “Lord, hide me behind the cross so your voice is heard, not mine.” A noble but naïve prayer, I’m afraid.

  • Allan

    I Corinthians 6 says,
    “Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to
    decide between his brethren?” In this case, a group of extremely devout,
    intelligent, and mature Christians have spoken; the faculty voted 30-2 no confidence in the current leadership.

  • Allan

    It’s also worth noting that this is not an issue
    between two Christians within the context of the church. Jesus said to turn the
    other cheek, yes. But He seems to draw the line at people defiling a place
    devoted to Himself. Jesus himself turned over tables when he found a place
    devoted to Christ being desecrated. The irresponsible and heartless
    actions taken by Livesay and the Trustees threaten a beautiful community that
    serves as a place of Christ-focused higher education. Some tables need to be turned here.

  • Daniel Merriman

    Not sure where else to post this, hope you see it. Four trustee’s resigned, remaining one support the president