Friday, August 9, 2013

Cedarville University, Falling off the Balance Beam

Posted by Jack
 
What the hell is happening at Cedarville University?
 
Give me a minute. I'll try to explain.
 
Many faculty and staff have been leaving Cedarville University... some by choice, others by mandate.
 
 
We are in the midst of a coup.
 
I am not one to speak rashly, or throw words around without care (at least, not in print). So, make no mistake: when I say coup, that is exactly what I mean.
 
What is a coup? It can be defined as an appropriation of leadership or power. Or, a takeover.
 
I don't know the orchestrators of the coup personally, so I will not attribute any motives to them, good or bad. But the coup is happening nonetheless. A handful of people are seizing control of the direction of the university. A coup.
 
I don't want to generalize too much, especially since I am an outsider looking in. But if I had to simplify everything going on at Cedarville, if I had to make my best reckoning, I would say it like this:

Cedarville is narrowing their doctrinal positions. Based on this effort, they are working very hard to exclude certain people from the university.
 
There is this list of ideas called a doctrinal statement. The list represents the core beliefs of Cedarville University. This list of ideas sets the boundaries for teaching and discussion at Cedarville.
 
If people agree with all the points on the doctrinal statement, they can be a part of Cedarville University. If they do not agree with all the points of the doctrinal statement, they cannot be part of Cedarville University.
 
Recently, certain forces at Cedarville decided that the points of the doctrinal statement were not strict enough. They issued white papers to clarify, or tighten up, the existing doctrinal statement. Not only do people have to agree with the doctrinal statement, but they also must agree with the ideas expressed in the white papers.
 
In the past, teachers and staff signed a piece of paper saying they agreed to follow the ideas listed in the doctrinal statement. Recently, certain forces at Cedarville decided this written agreement was not enough.
 
These forces began investigating teachers and staff. They looked at books and articles that had been written by the teachers and staff and tried to decide if they were evidence of out-of-bounds thinking. They began listening to lectures and sitting in classes to determine if teachers and staff were saying things that fell outside the doctrinal statement. They also began interviewing teachers and staff to see if they really agreed with the doctrinal statement.
 
Some teachers and staff were fired. They were fired because the people in charge were not convinced their teachings or philosophy fell in line with the doctrinal statement. 
 
Some teachers resigned, retired, or left for new jobs. Each of them had their own reasons, but many of them left because there was great pressure on them to follow the stricter guidelines. Even if they were following the guidelines, many of them faced scrutiny and suspicion. To escape constant investigation, they opted to go elsewhere.  
 
When it comes to teachers and staff at Cedarville, I believe most of the changes stem from this systematic effort to narrow the doctrinal convictions of the university. I'm sure there are other motivating factors, but I will not speak to them...
 
I am the administrator of a daycare, so I spend a lot of time working with preschoolers and toddlers. One of the things we do in our classrooms, when we are training the children to stand in a single file line, is to cut footprints out of paper and paste them to the floor. When the time comes to line up, all the kids have to do is carefully step on the footprints that have already been placed for them.
 
By marking out their foot steps, I am telling the children, "You don't have to think about where to go. I have mapped it out for you."
 
Cedarville's white papers are footprints on the floor.
 
Cedarville seems to be saying, "Rest assured, our doctrinal statement is final and in order."
 
Many of us are asking, "Does your commitment to inerrancy apply to the Bible or to your doctrinal statement?" 
 
Cedarville seems to be saying, "We will continue to clarify our doctrine with our ever-growing body of supporting documentation."
 
Many of us are asking, "How specific will be specific enough?"
 
Cedarville seems to be saying, "We will make sure all of our professors fully align with our doctrinal positions."
 
Many of us are asking, "Where is the diversity of voices?"
 
I can hear the naysayers now, going on about inerrancy and absolute truth (and absolute certainty). I tell you, this is not about epistemology (our system for truth). I would never ask Cedarville to abandon their doctrinal convictions. I'd never ask them to turn away from the Bible. But I would ask them to reevaluate their approach to scholarship.
 
First, Cedarville, I would ask that you evaluate the way you look at your faculty. Are they scholars? Are they free to research, analyze, and explore Scripture? Or are they delivery men, simply called upon to deliver the contents of the doctrinal statement to students?
 
Do you look at them with honor or suspicion? Support or scrutiny? Are they co-laborers with which to collaborate, or rogue thinkers who must be kept in line? Are you committed to learning alongside them, or do you already have all the answers you need? Do differences of opinion have a place at the table, or should all opinions be uniform? Is there room for interpretation based on faithful scholarship? Or is difference in interpretation grounds for breaking of fellowship? Can an institution really call themselves a university and simultaneously silence every dissenting opinion?
 
Second, Cedarville, you need a new mental model for doctrine and truth.
 
God's truth is not a tightrope to be walked; it is an open space to be explored.
 
Doctrinal statements should feel less like a balance beam and more like a floor routine. The boundaries certainly exist, but we do not need to tiptoe along them. We also do not need to move them closer and closer to constrict movement. Anyone can traverse a balance beam; but I would contend that God invites us to dance, flip, and move within the space He's provided.
 
I said before, we need an epistemology (a system for truth) that is like a grain silo. It must be sturdy, strong, and unmoved by the wind. But it also must be broad, spacious, and capable of holding many similar, yet diverse grains.   
 
I took a class at Cedarville called Spiritual Formation. Before I arrived at CU, the class had been known as IBS... Inductive Bible Study. The class existed to teach students how to study the Scripture. This was a foundational component of the Bible minor, taken in the first or second year, as a basis for Scriptural thinking and studying.
 
At the time, Spiritual Formation taught me how to ask questions properly. The new Cedarville seems less interested in forming the questions and more interested in providing students with acceptable answers. They have become so committed to this notion, they have become willing to alienate, exclude, and remove faculty and staff who do not fall in line with an ever-narrowing, increasingly strict set of doctrinal precepts.
 
Cedarville, what are you afraid of? Is studying Scripture not enough? Is the Holy Spirit not strong enough to reveal truth to those who rightly divide the book? As a college, you often put tests in front of students. Do you really need to fill in all the blanks too? Why don't you teach students how to inquire... how to study... how to explore... then see what happens?

 
You know, in my preschool classrooms, I have noticed a pattern. As they year goes on, and the children grow and learn, I find myself removing footprints from the floor. I never find myself adding them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have just delivered my daughter to Cedarville this week, and I for one am happy that this university has decided to drop it's liberal label and follow the Bible, when it comes to the positions that the teachers hold and teach. There are a few statements that you make that cause me some amount of alarm, but your accusations of legalism only tell me that you want to define the Bible on your terms, not His.... That is your right, but as a father, I am comforted byt the fact that my daughter will not be learning the Bible from a woman. And so is she....

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