What is the more important: a) seeking and speaking the truth; or b) toeing the party line?
A revealing, but unsurprising post yesterday from Fred Clark at Slacktivist about the challenge of working in an evangelical institutional setting. He shares an excerpt from Jonathan Dudley’s book Broken Words, where he’s describing his time at Calvin College:
In my freshman biology class, I sat riveted as the professor explained why scientists believe in evolution (I had never learned about the subject in high school). The summer after my first year, I pored over a summer-school psychology book by an evangelical professor, who argued (shockingly, to me) that gay people don’t choose their orientation and cannot readily change. Over the course of my second year in college, I learned why scientists think there is an environmental crisis. And during my last year of college, a bioethics professor argued against popular evangelical thought on abortion. I was surprised to find out during an office visit that many other evangelical scholars shared his view, though not surprised when he said they would rather not speak up about it due to the avalanche of protests it would generate from college donors. …
My bioethics professor reinforced a conclusion I had drawn from my undergraduate and seminary years: There is a significant gap between the opinions that dominate the popular evangelical culture (which is the only part of evangelicalism with political muscle) and the opinions that prevail among leading evangelical scholars.
Clark goes on to note: “Most evangelical college graduates have a story like the one Dudley tells.” I wonder if any of you can relate?
Clark notes the shock one receives as an underclassman hearing these new ideas, and then later, in a private setting, hearing a professor explain “what is and is not allowed to be said and how it differs from what is and is not true.” I’ve written before on how Calvin College has found itself in a quandary of this sort.
>>Related post: If science conflicts with theology, what should give way?
Unreal. And the truth. I know this from experience at Calvin Seminary as well. There’s the official party line. Then there are other truths that must be hidden, because it flies in the face of the institution’s self-imposed limit on truth. It always strikes me as ironic that Christians are all about “seeking truth,” but then when the truth turns out to be slightly different than what our historic theological heroes put down to paper 500 years ago, suddenly we have to be mum about it. It makes no sense, really, and it is a disservice to students, and in a seminary setting, a disservice to future pastors – and by extension – to their congregations.
I remember hearing a pastor at a Pub Theology gathering in Michigan note: “Why are we so afraid of sharing biblical and theological scholarship with our congregations that has been accepted for over fifty years already?” She lamented that too often clergy serves as filters for what congregants can or cannot “handle,” and that when she did share such research and knowledge, parishioners were hungry for it! I think sometimes the mentality is to treat our congregants as children who aren’t “ready to hear” that some of their cherished beliefs or understandings actually might not line up with how things really are. Kind of like we don’t tell our kids the reality about Santa until they’re old enough to handle it. Apparently some congregants are never meant to grow up.
I have heard several pastors note that they are encouraging their congregations not to read their denominational monthly magazine because the articles are stretching the “accepted notions” on homosexuality, the historicity of Genesis and other topics. I think the more we earnestly wrestle with these things the better, even if there are no simple solutions. Some colleagues have even argued that because they’ve signed a statement of belief they don’t have to engage with certain ideas that interpret the Bible through other lenses. They literally use a “statement of truth” to protect themselves from the truth. It’s incredulous, really. The worst thing is to stick our heads in the sand, especially as professors, pastors and other leaders, and to keep trumpeting perspectives that are either out of date, not informed, or perpetuate common misperceptions. I’m grateful there are some willing to do otherwise, despite the obstacles thrown their way.
In the same column, Fred Clark cites Peter Enns, who describes the desperation he’s heard from many, many academic colleagues in evangelical institutions:
I had the latest in my list of long conversations with a well-known, published, respected biblical scholar, who is under inhuman stress trying to negotiate the line between institutional expectations and academic integrity. His gifts are being squandered. He is questioning his vocation. His family is suffering. He does not know where to turn.
I wish this were an isolated incident, but it’s not.
I wish these stories could be told, but without the names attached, they are worthless. I wish I had kept a list, but even if I had, it wouldn’t have done anyone much good. I couldn’t have used it. Good people would lose their jobs.
Ugh. And Clark notes that it’s not limited to academia: “I’ve heard similar stories from clergy, journalists, musicians, missionaries and aid workers — all wrestling with the conflict between what they know to be right and “institutional expectations” shaped by the threat of an “avalanche of protests” from donors with political muscle. Not healthy. Not good.”
I concur. You?