Saturday, 17 May 2014

Bryan College, fundamentalism, and the culture of fear

I'm sure that most who follow the evolution-creation controversy would be aware of the move by Bryan College in Dayton Tennessee to alter its statement of faith so that the part which refers to human origins: 
"that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death;" 
has now been altered to explicitly endorse monogenism: 
"We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms." 
This resulted in an overwhelming majority of faculty members (30 - 2) passing a vote of no-confidence in they college president. Two faculty members refused to sign the new statement. Subsequently, their contracts were not renewed. The result of this move has been the loss of a quarter of its faculty, while Bryan College students have also expressed their unease at the move: 
On behalf of the student body, Bryan College Student Government Association would like to express its strong opposition to the measure to clarify Bryan College’s statement of faith. 
We believe that the current motion will alienate faculty, our brothers and sisters in Christ, by requiring them to affirm a negative on an ancillary matter of faith.

We believe that the expertise and opinions of faculty have been largely if not entirely disregarded in the making of this decision. We believe that there has not been sufficient counsel sought, as per Proverbs 15:22, of those the college has hired specifically for their breadth of wisdom.

We believe that the manner in which this motion has been carried out threatens the atmosphere of academic freedom at Bryan College. We believe that the clarification promotes factionalism at the cost of honest debate and discussion.
As I've said elsewhere, the internal politics of a Christian college do not affect our community directly, but it is impossible not to see the lessons this reactionary move has for us. Peter Enns notes
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.
Our community does not maintain universities, theological colleges, or any other institute of post-secondary education, but the response of Bryan College to privilege a human interpretation of the Bible over a tidal wave of evidence that undermines that interpretation parallels the attempts of some in our community both to continue defending the lost cause of YEC and demonise those who have the honesty to accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution and to seek to read the Bible in the light of the other book of revelation, the natural world. Ultimately, what lies behind this move is not 'taking a stand for the truth', but fear of change, loss of authority, and loss of control. That is not an image which will retain the next generation and attract the outside world.