Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Worst are Filled with Passionate Intensity

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

In my last post, I explained that a fundamentalist faction of Cedarville’s support base objected to the university’s decision to welcome GLBT activists onto campus as evidence of its turn toward liberalism. Their objections may have been overruled, but they did not fade into obscurity. Instead, they continued to organize themselves around the belief that Dr. Carl Ruby and certain faculty members posed an active threat to Cedarville’s historical identity as a conservative Baptist institution. Their campaign received a boost when the General Association of Regular Baptists (GARBC) decided to end its affiliation with Cedarville in 2006, due to the university’s alleged failure to adhere to its doctrinal standards. According to GARBC, Cedarville had become too liberal, and for fundamentalist alumni, this was evidence enough to begin a more aggressive campaign to ‘reclaim’ the university.

As a student, I had little awareness of the machinations behind the events I witnessed on campus. My parents, former Plymouth Brethren who attended Baptist churches when no local Brethren congregation could be found, had little regard for denominational politics, and so did I. But at Cedarville, the internal political conflicts that plague American Christianity proved inescapable. They disrupted my studies and threatened the careers of my favorite professors. Even the existence of my church, a small urban congregation founded by the same faculty members targeted by the fundamentalists, seemed to be at risk.

The fight, which endures in my memory as one of the most vicious episodes of social conflict that I’ve ever witnessed, focused on Dr. David Mills and Dr. Tim Gombis. By my sophomore year, Dr. David Hoffeditz emerged as one of the most prominent fundamentalist voices on campus. Hoffeditz, a Bible professor, used class time to accuse Dr. Gombis and Dr. Mills (professors of Biblical studies and philosophy respectively) of heresy. The worst sort of heresy, by fundamentalist standards: he accused them of being post-modernists.

I write this article as a recent graduate of Goldsmiths, University of London. My graduate career is focused on political theory, and if I must be called anything at all, I prefer to be called a post-structuralist because I believe the label of ‘post-modernist’ is so commonly misused that it’s now practically meaningless. But according to popular fundamentalist discourse, post-modernism is the philosophical nemesis of orthodox Christianity. According to these fundamentalists, post-modernism denies the possibility of absolute truth and certainty of belief and it is therefore incompatible with Christian faith.

Even by this dubious standard, Dr. Mills and Dr. Gombis are not post-modernists. They were not post-modernists in 2006, when fundamentalist professors incited a group of students to write a letter of concern to the administration. And they were not post-modernists in 2007, when the university finally fired David Hoffeditz and another fundamentalist professor. The accusation seemed absurd to me in my undergraduate days and it’s even more absurd to me now. Both professors certainly questioned traditional conservative positions on economic policy and to an extent, gender roles. But there is nothing reflected in their academic work that supports the claim that either encourages spiritual doubts.

a 2004 paper written by Dr. Mills in response to a lecture on the Emerging Church Movement became a primary point of contention. The Emerging Church has long been a cause of concern for fundamentalists, who view it as a departure from orthodoxy. Though Mills never claimed to belong to the movement, he did not issue a blanket condemnation of it and its adherents, and corrected, briefly, popular misconceptions about post-modernism.

At any other academic institution, this paper would have passed without controversy. At Cedarville, it helped instigate a campaign against Dr. Mills and his colleague, Dr. Gombis, who had also been accused of deviations from orthodoxy. Led by David Hoffeditz, and other fundamentalist faculty members, students, and alumni, the ‘Coalition of the Concerned’ deliberately attacked these ‘liberal’ professors, and cited their employment as evidence of the university’s drift toward theological liberalism.

I was already something of a spiritual exile when I entered Cedarville. Dissatisfied by conservative Christianity’s rigid gender roles and the politicization of the faith, I’d hoped for a different environment at Cedarville. The tactics employed by David Hoffeditz and the students who supported him ravaged that hope. I felt like I no longer had a safe haven. Dr. Mills and Dr. Gombis modelled a faith defined by compassion and intellectual rigor. For many of us, that model had been missing from our experience with Christianity, but we aspired to emulate it once we witnessed it.

Amidst this chaos, the university fired David Hoffeditz and David Mappes, also a fundamentalist, though one less vocal than Hoffeditz. Their supporters claimed that the terminations were ideologically motivated; according to the university, the terminations were merited by Hoffeditz’s personal attacks on other professors. To date, neither side has convinced the other of the rightness of their position. Hoffeditz sued the university for wrongful termination and settled out of court. The American Association of University Professors officially censured the university for failing to adhere to professional standards expected for the severance of a tenured professor.

The current controversies at the university are directly related to this series of events. The university’s reaction to the Coalition of the Concerned and their passionate defense of fundamentalist Christianity seemed, to many, to be proof positive of its liberal drift. Over the next several years, additional controversies over the political views of proposed campus speakers like Shane Claiborne and the perceived liberalism of the student newspaper created a chaotic politically charged campus atmosphere that effectively divided the Cedarville community into liberal and conservative camps.

In the interest of transparency: I wrote for the student newspaper. I’m quite proud of this. I’m equally proud of the fact that my article criticizing a campus event on female modesty goaded the Board of Trustees into demanding that the paper never publish such an opinion again. The fatal criticism? I dared to suggest that a panel of male students, faculty and staff did not have the right to comment on female dress. Perhaps that was a bit too post-modern.

By the time my opinion piece attracted the attention of the Board of Trustees, I was a junior, and the appointments of two fundamentalists to the positions of  provost and academic vice president meant that the university’s administration had become dominated by the fundamentalist faction that controls it now. The Soulforce visit and Hoffeditz’s termination created significant animosity toward Dr. Carl Ruby, Dr. David Mills, and other moderate voices. That animosity, plus  and set the stage for the university’s current farce.

Editor's Note: While the specifics differ, OBU students/faculty/alumni and constituents of other Baptist colleges will no doubt recognize common themes in Sarah's telling of Cedarville's story: Exposure to legal and financial damages for wrongful separation of tenured faculty; exposure to censure from professional organizations and even accrediting bodies; fear (if not outright suppression) of legitimate student journalism; a general and pervasive threat that fundamentalist elements within a Christian university pose to academic freedom and ethical trustee and administrative leadership. Save OBU is committed to building solidarity among people courageously standing against fundamentalist encroachment in Baptist and evangelical higher education.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  Sarah's Cedarville series continues Friday. -j-


  1. As someone who was at CU during this period (2006-2010), and who until recently knew little about what was really going on at the time (I just remember being confused and occasionally baffled - and angered about the Shaine Claiborne mess), this is by far the most coherent chronological explanation of events I've read regarding the background to the current controversy. Thank you for writing it so matter-of-factly. Sometimes it's hard, it seems, for people who are concerned and/or angered about all this to separate their (valid) emotions from the retelling of events, or to approach things in a balanced way. But this is needed so that others can first be open to the information and then come to their own conclusions. The truth always reveals itself eventually. Anyway, these posts do a good job of that. So thank you.

  2. Regarding Hoffeditz:

    1) The CU Grievance Panel report, the AAUP and his trial against the university FOR FRAUD (not wrongful termination!) clearly revealed that Hoffeditz NEVER mentioned any faculty member explicitly or implicitly in class! In fact, there were never any claims to this matter and no evidence could be presented - even in Court - to support this completely FALSE allegation.

    Hoffeditz had thousands of students, many who recorded his classes, and yet NOT one shred of evidence has ever been presented to show that he mentioned faculty by name NOR was there any formal or informal complaints to this matter.

    2) Hoffeditz was not a "fundamentalist" -- if he was, how could he have survived a PhD program at Aberdeen and Tuebingen? And why were his classes always locked out due to student demand? Even those who terminated him finally acknowledged his popularity in a written recommendation of his teaching skill. He doesn't even use a KJV Bible. Fundamentalist? No way.

    Obviously Sarah Jones clearly does not understand the definition of a fundamentalist nor who is involved in that camp. She never had Hoffeditz as a Bible professor and is a puppet who can only repeat - with vigor - the lines she has been fed by those she supports.

    1. 1.) Students in Hoffeditz's classes directly stated the contrary. If claims had never been made, Anonymous, then it would be impossible for me to know about them. Furthermore, the fact that some students have previously recorded Hoffeditz's lectures does not mean that the incriminating lectures I mentioned were themselves recorded.

      2.) Hoffeditz was very much a fundamentalist. His education is hardly evidence against that; I have a very dear friend at Aberdeen and studied in the UK myself. The PhD at Aberdeen is actually quite mixed. It is not universally liberal by any definition. And this is quite typical for theology and divinity programs in the UK. Hoffeditz holds to a strict complementarian view of gender. He is a young earth creationist, a premillennialist--the list goes on. His beliefs are identical to the doctrinal statement you'd find in any fundamentalist church.

      As to your last claim: my parents quite proudly identify as fundamentalist Christians, and do so for very specific doctrinal reasons. I am very familiar with the definition of a fundamentalist, I grew up in fundamentalist churches, and later rejected fundamentalism as a young adult. It is true I never had David Hoffeditz as a professor. But that does not mean I am so intellectually handicapped that I am incapable of critically examining the evidence available. I respect Dr. Mills and Dr. Gombis very much, but still disagree with them politically and theologically on most points. Your definition of 'puppet' is in need of revision, and so are your arguments.

    2. One of my CU friends was grumpy about Hoffeditz bad-mouthing another professor even before all of this broke out. He's not the type to lie, although I admit this is second-hand information. In your case, third-hand...

      And Hoffeditz was popular because he was single, good-looking and a really good speaker. Very, very entertaining. Students told other students to take him because he made a dry subject (New Testament Literature, in my case) fun.

    3. 1) The CU GIP certainly did not reveal anything of the sort. The AAUP report is hardly reliable considering the university refused to divulge any information to the AAUP on charges of the AAUP being biased against CU from the start. I know little about the court case so I won't speak on that.

      2) It seems like you're just operating on a different definition of fundamentalist than Sarah is. Many of the students at Cedarville are fundamentalist, so it is no surprise that Hoffeditz' classes were extremely popular. I'm not sure in what sense a fundamentalist would not be able to survive at any place. It's not like Ph.D. programs dictate what you believe. And KJV-onlyists are certainly *not* fundamentalists - those who prefer the KJV but are not KJV-onlyists generally are fundamentalists, but nothing about fundamentalism stipulates using the KJV. As Sarah pointed out, young earth creationism, premillenialism, and complementarianism are good marks of a fundamentalist (though you can certainly hold the three without being hard-line fundamentalist)


  4. I agree with most of Olson's criteria, and believe that Hoffeditz, and the other members of the Coalition of the Concern, largely fit it. The reference to fundamentalist opposition to Billy Graham is especially interesting; members of GARBC's ruling council have voiced opposition to Graham for his 'liberalism' in the past. So I think it's further evidence that what we're seeing at Cedarville is a fundamentalist reaction to a perceived shift toward evangelicalism.




    1. Calm down, Gumprecht. Or Speiker, or whoever you are.

      Hoffeditz is responsible for some of the dirtiest, most aggressive tactics deployed by a human against other humans that I've ever seen, either in higher education or out of it. Cedarville did handle his termination poorly, but he absolutely deserved to be fired and the campus was a healthier place without him in it. And I know, because I was there.

    2. lol 'he deserved to be fired'....for what? the very things you allege that nobody could prove?

    3. They were proved. And that's why he was fired. You would have to be completely delusional (or deeply invested in protecting Hoffeditz) in order to believe that his termination was totally unmerited. Try actually speaking to the professors he targeted. They're mentioned specifically in the original letter of concern, and Hoffeditz's animosity towards them was well known on campus.

    4. When and where were they proved? Not in the Courtroom -- where it counts the most when you're defending yourself from a FRAUD claim!

      "That's why....well known..." but never mentioned or presented at trial.

      Complete fabrications and a perpetual lie of no substance.
      You too would have paid for it handsomely just like CU did.

  6. leaning on the experience argument when thousands of people on campus (who couldn't stand your attention grabbing antics) disagreed with you is a bad path to take... the hoff never did anything and like the above comments already say, nobody could prove otherwise

    1. And what antics would those be? I didn't even have a blog at the time. I started no petitions. I didn't write for Cedars at the time. I didn't hold a position in student government. In fact, I'd barely gotten on campus. Yes, I voiced opinions--just like the conservative students. Shockingly, those conservative students never got labelled 'attention grabbing.' By your definition, it seems the very act of holding liberal views qualifies as a cry for attention. Your assertion doesn't resemble reality.

      Hoffeditz's role in the conflict was well known to everyone on campus, and the professors he targeted are in an even better position than I am to describe the consequences of his behavior. Rightly or wrongly, Cedarville believed the AAUP held a secular bias, and refused to release all available evidence to then. That doesn't mean the evidence didn't exist. It's disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

    2. That doesn't mean that evidence DID exist either.

      It's disingenuous to suggest that:

      -Cedarville fired Hoffeditz, then
      -became the Defendant in a lawsuit for FRAUD, DEFAMATION and BREACH OF CONTRACT, then
      -paid hundreds of thousands in legal fees over the course of multiple years to defend itself, then
      -not offer any settlement or apologies at all, then
      -proceed all the way to trial, then
      -sat THROUGH the entire trial and didn't present ANY evidence or testimony against Hoffeditz, and
      -THEN magically decides to pay him $300K+ and write him a letter of recommendation!

      Sarah Jones is a despicable liar and the people at "Save OBU" have lost so much credibility by choosing to allow her to blog on this site.

      Anybody who believes that CU went through all of that with Hoffeditz - and willingly chose to sit on evidence that would support their termination of him - is a complete and total cook.

    3. Sarah acknowledged that CU botched the separation. Here at Save OBU, where we have seen two well loved and highly qualified professors forced out of OBU for ideological reasons, we are very interested to learn about other schools' experiences, especially in this case where the administration's actions exposed the school to considerable financial damages and bad press.

      Also, it's pretty easy for an anonymous person to call someone else a despicable liar. Why don't you put your name out there and submit evidence that Sarah has mischaracterized the sitaution.

    4. Sarah is the "moving party" so to speak. She created the blog entry and made allegations without any evidence to support it.

      The burden is not on readers to come up with evidence to disprove the unproven. The burden is on Sarah to prove it in the first place when she opened her mouth first.

      AND FYI -- the 'proof' against her unproven accusations is in the public record of the Hoffeditz trial (Greene County, Ohio). Read the trial transcripts, nothing was presented. This is consistent with the AAUP report and the actions of CU (paying him a settlement, writing him a recommendation letter that is public at:

    5. Hoffeditz's suit was so shaky that his wrongful termination claim got dismissed by a Greene County judge in 2009. Cedarville's one and only failing: they extended his contract when they knew he was going to be terminated. And that was wrong.

      Given your glaring lack of reading comprehension, I'll repeat this: Cedarville refused to release evidence to AAUP. I personally believe they should have released that evidence, because it leads to claims like yours. But the fact remains that they believed that AAUP had a secular bias, and so they held onto their evidence. Doesn't mean that evidence didn't exist.

      If you can't make an argument without an ad hominem attack, your facts must not be particularly strong. And at least I've got the courage to write under my real name, Anonymous.

    6. You attack "reading comprehension" and immediately complain about ad hominem. Priceless.

      Save OBU has lost so much credibility by allowing you on here - you do no fact checking at all and only rely on shoddy reporting & sensationalism to smear innocent people. You are flat out wrong.

      There was no wrongful termination claim by Hoffeditz.
      Let me repeat: there was no wrongful termination claim.

      Hoffeditz sued for:
      Breach of Contract (Count I)
      Defamation (Count II), and
      Fraud (Count III).

      Hoffeditz dropped Defamation on his own, and in September 2009 the Judge ruled as follows:


      The Hoffeditz' suit must have been "so shaky" that his claim for FRAUD survived summary judgment in September 2009 and went to trial in May 2011, which subsequently resulted with the school paying $300K+ and writing him the above recommendation letter.

      I wonder why the school didn't present any evidence or testimony to win the lawsuit? They were already all the way at trial, why suddenly give up then if the suit was "so shaky"?

    7. a copy of the Hoffeditz lawsuit is still online here:

      There is no "wrongful termination" claim anywhere....there are no "attacks" by Hoffeditz to analyze because that's the whole point: his "attacks" on other professors was an allegation that nobody could ever present any evidence to support, which is why things turned out great for him and bad for CU.

  7. Since I think it would be nice to be able to comment on Sarah's latest, how to disable comments in blogger:

    Go to "Settings" then "Posts and comments." Under "Who can comment?" click on "Registered User" or "User with Google Accounts." That disables Anonymous postings.


We invite you to join in the conversation. However, anonymous comments are unwelcome.