Monday, February 18, 2013

Cedarville University: A Very Brief Introduction

Cedarville University Series
Part 1 - Cedarville: A Very Brief Introduction
Part 2 - The Worst are Filled with Passionate Intensity
Part 3 - Things Fall Apart
Part 4 - The Center Cannot Hold

If you read the NewYork Times on Saturday, then you might be aware, superficially at least, that there is a Christian college called Cedarville University in the state of Ohio, and that there are suspicious goings on at this college, orchestrated by a faction of Christian fundamentalists.

Perhaps you ignored the story. Perhaps you skimmed it, and thought: this is to be expected, this is why Christian colleges shouldn’t exist.

Perhaps you paid it some attention, and decided to Google the situation. If you did, you’re probably confused. Is Cedarville becoming more conservative, or is it becoming liberal? Did its administrators really fire Carl Ruby, Michael Pahl, and eliminate the philosophy major out of ideological spite? Or is the backlash evidence of a liberal campaign to erode Cedarville’s conservative identity? And how do the firings of two fundamentalist professors in 2008 factor into all of this?

But these questions are the barest introduction to the chaos that threatens to topple the administration of one of the most prominent Christian universities in the US. Recent alumni revelations portray an institution so crippled and corrupted by its on-going identity crisis that it has knowingly sheltered, at last count, five members of faculty and staff guilty of either committing sexual abuse, or of covering it up. These cover ups span decades. The victims are male and female, gay and straight. They are missionary kids, schoolchildren, and Cedarville alumni. Some suffer in public, some in silence. And I am one of them.

In so many ways, Cedarville’s story is my story too. I entered Cedarville in 2006, a scholarship student from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Like most members of my freshman class, I came from an Evangelical family, and had spent my upbringing immersed in Evangelicalism’s infamously insular subculture. I dressed modestly, abstained from alcohol and from sex, and anticipated a university experience that would help me combine deep faith and intellectual enquiry. Unlike most of my classmates, I possessed a political perspective firmly located left of center, and I publicly identified as a feminist. If you are familiar with the political environment at America’s Christian colleges and universities, then you can likely imagine the student body’s reaction.

Even if I’d attended Cedarville during a season of calm, my ‘Cedarville experience’ (to borrow the Admissions teams’ language) would have been marked by ideologically motivated harassment from students, faculty and alumni. That’s not a particularly unusual story, by itself. The same story could be repeated by anyone who’s ever found themselves marginalized by a conservative religious community. Instead, my Cedarville experience is made truly unique by a series of controversies that began during my first semester on campus, and now threaten the integrity of the university’s national reputation.

In fall 2006, I had barely settled into my dorm room when the student body received word that Soulforce, a group of GLBT activists and their straight allies, would arrive in Cedarville to protest the university’s anti-gay admissions policies. Soulforce activists, called Equality Riders, made a national tour of the country’s Christian colleges and universities, and most denied riders access to their campuses. Cedarville, however, welcomed riders onto campus. Along with a group of other students, I acted as a campus guide for Equality riders. I also met a group of openly gay Cedarville alumni. The same alumni founded Cedarville Out, for GLBT and allied alumni, shortly after the Soulforce visit.

As an institution, Cedarville maintained its conservative identity throughout the Soulforce visit. The decision to welcome activists on campus lay primarily with Carl Ruby, the former Vice President for Student Life. If you did read that New York Times article, you’ll recognize that name. After 25 years of service to Cedarville University, Carl Ruby was forced to resign last month. Though Dr. Ruby has consistently adhered to a conservative position on sexual orientation and gay marriage, his compassion for gay students and alumni has been equally consistent. That compassion was first evident to me in his decision to permit Soulforce activists on campus. But it also invited accusations of liberalism. For many alumni, students, and parents, Ruby’s decision constituted capitulation to a radical leftist fringe, and threatened Cedarville’s historical identity as a Baptist institution.

The Soulforce visit marked the beginning of a troublesome season for Cedarville University. In my next posts, I’ll explain Cedarville’s decision to end its historic affiliation with the General Association of Baptists, the firing of two fundamentalist professors, its history of covering up sexual abuse, and the current controversy. 

1 comment:

  1. People actually read the New York Slimes, I mean Times?


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