The Bryan College Creationist Fallout Continues

Clarence-Darrow-Scopes-Monkey-FeatA while back I wrote at The Huffington Post (“The Casualties of Bryan College’s Anti-Evolution Revolution“) about Bryan College’s new creationist statement that all faculty had to sign. There are some recent updates to that situation and it’s bleak for those who hope to keep their faculty positions.

Originally, the school insisted on a new statement that affirmed the idea of a literal Adam and Eve. Many felt that the statement was too narrow. Faculty who refused to sign were not going to have their contracts renewed.

Most recently, faculty voted “no confidence” in the school’s president, Stephen Livesay. And this week, according to the Times Free Press, “At least nine of 44 full-time professors — more than 20 percent — won’t return to Bryan in the fall. Those instructors are leaving for a variety of reasons, though several of the departures are directly linked to Livesay’s leadership or the clarification issue.”

Additionally, “two professors were informed that their contracts would not be accepted after they wrote in language rejecting the clarification and affirming the school’s original statement of belief.”

Students are protesting and many are indicating that they aren’t being heard. “Students sent 65 letters to the board,” according to the Times Free Press, “more than 80 signed one of two petitions asking for the reinstatement of professors and an estimated 200 students stood up in chapel” in protest.

Unfortunately, Evangelical institutions tightening their stance on issues like evolution (or gay rights) is not an usual thing in the United States right now. Every year there seems to be schools who push out long-term faculty over how to read Genesis, even when the faculty and the school agree on most things theologically (e.g. Cedarville University).

What is bothersome is the priority many schools place on theological minutia rather than on the Golden Rule. There is a real sense of Evangelical callousness in the leadership that regularly appears in these situations.

John Haynes, chairman of the board of trustees, appeared to dismiss this situation as fairly common for Christian colleges, telling the Times Free Press that “If you do some research, you’ll find this type of thing is going on all across the country.”

Of course, lots a things happen regularly across the country, like car accidents or identity theft; being common doesn’t make it any less tragic for the people faced with loss; in this case, the loss of income.

But hey, at least they’ll have that original Adam. Without that the world would likely end.

  • David Odegard

    Theological accuracy is important to a confessional school. A school can practice the Golden Rule, but that does not mean that it should embrace or even tolerate what it feels is serious error in its own classrooms, whether that error be an affirmation of a non-historical Adam (Jesus seems to take Adam’s historicity for granted), gay rights, or some other subject. A school ought to allow for a range of belief, but that will necessarily mean that some people cannot teach there when they go outside of that range. Just my thoughts, but I tend to uphold the institution’s right to craft their own confession. If my Seminary changed their policy beyond what I could tolerate, I would just leave. I might protest a bit since it is also my denominational school, but ultimately I would just leave.
    Grace and time should be given to the profs, like say a year, to sign the new policy or find another job. After a year, it seems that the school would have done its best to help the profs along. I would say that if the school announced that this is the new protocol and gave everyone an ultimatum with a 2 week schedule, that would be inhumane. Does that sounds fair?

  • I actually do believe in the right of an institution to self-identify, but the problem is when a school is literally changing the rules mid-game. A year in the academic world is, especially at this point in the year, rarely enough to find another position. Many schools don’t even start the search process until a year out and I’ve seen longer than that.

    I think that a better treatment would be to recognize that their identity was made a long time ago when they allowed the school to be what it is today, but if they have to change it, they should be looking at least two years out. In the academic world you can’t change jobs like going from MacDonalds to Burger King. There aren’t that many available. I do think that leaving a school is the option a professor can take, but not all have another source of income or can simply up and move their kids across the country (or the Atlantic), and many would not want to put their family at risk.

    Also, in my experience, when schools (e.g. Cedarville) start doing this it has been the result of donor interests, and less about the idea of “truth.”

  • David Odegard

    I see your point. If a school does change midstream, as you put it, then it does have a higher obligation to help those who must adapt to the new situation. Two years would be difficult, but confessions of faith move at glacial speed, it need not overtake someone by surprise. It is a shock when a body’s theology darts left or right.
    However, if a liberal scholar takes a job at Bob Jones University and gets fired for speaking about pretty much anything (including things like, “I kind of like Billy Graham”), he or she should have seen that one coming. The sword also cuts the other way; it seems to me that there are more “liberal-friendly” places in higher ed than the other way around.
    I anticipate a thorough discussion of this in your upcoming book.

  • I agree with what you’ve said about extremes like a self-identified liberal scholar at Bob Jones. I recently tried to interview someone who was terminated for doing something similar to that. My tentative title of the piece, had it happened, was “Should Have Seen That Coming.” It can happen both ways, however, with a conservative at a liberal institution.

    In most cases, it is not really like this, though. Very often, it is about shades of conservativism or liberalism or other types of issues field specific. it is often a case of someone changing over time and not always knowing when they have reached their limit. That’s when that person might feel trapped.

    I do discuss this in my book. I see the need for responsibility on both sides (institution and the individual faculty member).

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