Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Analysis: Moore Replaces Land as ERLC President

I wasn't going to write anything during Holy Week, but there is big news in the Southern Baptist world right now.  The Reverend Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, has been selected to succeed the Reverend Dr. Richard Land as president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee.  As Land before him, Moore will be an even more public face of Southern Baptists than the SBC presidents who come and go every two years.

The Reverend Dr. Russell Moore

We've seen a lot of news (see here, here, here, here, and here), but not much analysis. I'll attempt to provide some here.

During the 1980s, Fundamentalist Takeover architects and footsoldiers spread the hilarious lie that the SBC's Christian Life Commission --- along with other institutions such as the Sunday School Board, seminaries, and missions agencies --- was overflowing with liberals.  The newly-constituted post-Takeover public policy arm of the SBC was called the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.  Around the time of the ERLC's founding in 1988, the SBC began withdrawing its support for the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs.  (The BJC, a highly-respected advocate for religious liberty and the separation of church and state, now receives support from every major Baptist body except SBC-affiliated ones.)

The ERLC strives for "an American society that affirms and practices Judeo-Christian values rooted in biblical authority."  Its mission is "to awaken, inform, energize, equip, and mobilize Christians to be the catalysts for the Biblically-based transformation of their families, churches, communities, and the nation."  Whereas the SBC was initially supportive of the Roe v. Wade decision and left the issue of abortion to individual believers' consciences, it eventually made pro-life advocacy its top public policy priority.  In the past 15 years, the ERLC has also advocated extensively for traditional marriage.

Since its inception, the Rev. Dr. Richard Land has led the ERLC.  Under Land's leadership, the ERLC moved the SBC's policy advocacy from its previously non-partisan posture.  While opposition to abortion and gay marriage have been the most prominent and well-known issues, the ERLC eventually provided theological justification (however flimsy) for almost all of the Republican Party platform by the 2000s.  In a sharp departure from almost every faith community, Land was a leading advocate of Operation Iraqi Freedom on "just war" grounds.  He also lent credibility as more and more white evangelicals began to oppose things like progressive taxation and government spending on health and welfare programs.  As the Christian Right became institutionalized in Washington, Land was at least as influential as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson.  He occasionally attempted a kingmaker role in Republican presidential politics, successfully in 2000 but unsuccessfully in 2008 (Fred Thompson) and 2012 (Rick Perry).

To Land's great credit, the ERLC has been an important voice for international religious freedom and human rights.  In the U.S., however, Baptists are divided on whether to adopt the persecution complex that evangelical cultural and political leaders love to proclaim -- the idea that the majority religion in the freest nation on earth is somehow a persecuted minority whose liberties are constantly threatened.

There were no shortage of controversies during Land's long tenure at the ERLC.  But as other evangelicals (white, black, and Latino) became less enamored with one-party politics and moved their advocacy into areas such as the environment, poverty, income inequality, and immigration, the ERLC has proceeded much more slowly can cautiously into those areas.  I don't know if "token support" is a fair characterization for the ERLC's advocacy on issues that challenge the GOP platform, but that is how it has been perceived by many in the faith-based advocacy community.

Last spring, Land made some remarks about the slaying of Trayvon Martin, a young, unarmed black man who was gunned down in Florida by a white neighborhood watch volunteer.  Land accused the Obama Administration of using the tragedy to stir up racial tension and "gin up the black vote" in the 2012 election.  A Baptist blogger presented evidence that Land had plagiarized some of his material.  Eventually, he announced his retirement following an internal ERLC investigation.

Land relishes his role as a culture warrior and has stated his intention to continue this work in other ways.  Louisiana College, in the throes of its own fundamentalist takeover, believes Land's name and energy will help save its fledgling planned law school.  As ERLC president emeritus, he will still have a platform if he wants one.

In a chapel sermon at OBU in 2001, the Princeton-, Oxford-, and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary-educated Land told OBU students, "People will tell you we can't legislate morality.  But we can.  And we must!"  After the sermon, one OBU professor remarked to me, "Richard Land doesn't speak for me!"

But alas, the ERLC does speak for the Southern Baptist Convention.  Perhaps, at long last, the ERLC's era as a de facto arm of the Republican Party is ending.  This seems to be the consensus emerging in the wake of the announcement that Russell Moore will head the ERLC.  One SBC insider predicted to me that, under Moore, we can expect common ground abortion work on issues like adoption, more attention to the environment and global warming, and more nuanced fiscal thought.  Perhaps the ERLC will join the National Association of Evangelicals and other faith-based policy organizations and take a more authentically biblical and less stridently partisan posture in Washington.

Moore is being unanimously lauded as the ideal candidate for this position at this time, not only by conservatives but also by the moderates who remain in the SBC (both of them! -- I kid.)  Moore will still have to answer to hard-right forces within the SBC.  While no one should be totally surprised if Moore's ERLC is merely more of the same, many Baptists eagerly expect some positive changes.  Of course, the ERLC will remain strongly focused on criminalizing abortion and preserving traditional mariage.  Yet many seem to expect a stronger emphasis on adoption and reducing the number of unwanted and out-of-wedlock pregnancies, rather than merely supporting ever more restrictions on abortion.  On homosexuality, Moore will have his work cut out for him, as a recent poll indicates that a majority of young white evangelicals (18-34) believe gay marriage should be legal.

No one expects Moore to be quite the sharp-tongued GOP insider that Land was.  Interestingly, more than one press clipping described Moore as "winsome" -- apparently in contrast to Land.  I'm sure Land's grand retirement banquet is coming, when an entire generation of post-Takeover SBC luminaries will pay their tribute.  But it's significant that no one is saying they're sad to see Land leave.

Please indulge one point of personal privilege here.  In my "real" work, I'm a political science Ph.D. student who researches, among other things, evangelicals' attitudes toward birth control.  While the issue is pretty much settled among evangelicals, I am curious to see whether white evangelical elites attempt to move toward a more Catholic position, as they have done on abortion.  In a wide-ranging book on the subject, Allan C. Carlson points out that Protestants opposed birth control from the Reformation until the 20th century (the 1930s for mainline Protestants and the 1960s for evangelicals).  Moore wrote a surprisingly positive review for the book, entitled Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973.  Moore said,
"This provocative volume by one of the world's foremost family-issues scholars suggests that perhaps American Evanglicalism unwittingly traded the Blessed Virgin Mary for Margaret Sanger.  The arguments are hard-hitting and unrelenting.  Reading this book is like seeing an unwelcome reflection a mirror. But it might just start a conversation that is well worth having."
So, does Moore believe that looking at evangelicals' acceptance of birth control is "unwelcome" or that we should be having a conversation about the morality of birth control?  I, for one, look forward to hearing more of what Dr. Moore has to say on this issue.

In any event, we here at Save OBU congratulate Dr. Russell Moore on his election to the ERLC presidency and wish him well in this very important position.  We are uninterested in worldly politics and endorse no outside causes or organizations, but have from time to time commented on how the post-Takeover SBC institutions have embodied (or failed to embody) historic Baptist distinctives.  I suspect many of us have strong opinions about the SBC's de-funding of the Baptist Joint Committee, the Takeover henchmen and their unethical actions surrounding the Christian Life Commission in the 1980s, and some of the ERLC's positions under Richard Land.

But let's all hope for a better future for evangelical advocacy and pray for Dr. Moore as he transitions to this new ministry.  A few were surprised that Al Mohler didn't get the position.  I asked them why they would have expected Mohler to go to the ERLC.  They responded that he writes and talks so much more about politics and the culture wars than he does about theology.  But I reminded them that Mohler already has his dream job.  My (amateur) first thought was that the difference between Land, 65, and Moore, 41, would be like the difference between Jerry Falwell and Mike Huckabee -- a friendlier face on the same hard-line positions.  But everyone I've talked to expects something substantively different.

Significantly, Moore leaves vacant a very prestigious post in Southern Baptist academica -- the deanship in Theology at the SBTS.  Let me be the first to nominate OBU Provost Stan Norman for the position!

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Palm Sunday Sermon

As with last year, I have no plans to post new content during Holy Week.  I'll be sure not to repeat my mistake of discussing my own personal (unorthodox) theology, as I did on Good Friday and Easter 2012.  (It was a distraction from Sa  However, if it might be welcome as you observe Holy Week, I'll leave you with a Palm Sunday sermon I preached 7 years ago -- seems like yesterday -- when I was working in parish ministry.


Psalm 118:1-2
Mark 11:1-11
Philippians 2:5-11 (below)
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited, 
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
8   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross. 
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name, 
10 so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
11 and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father. 

“The Humility of Christ” – Philippians 2:5-11
Jacob Lupfer – First UMC Kissimmee, FL
April 9, 2006 – Palm Sunday

Where we are liturgically
            Palm Sunday is a special day in the life of the church.  For us, and for the two billion other Christians around the world, we are beginning a brief but intense spiritual experience we call Holy Week.  I want us to think together this morning about Jesus and the things we remember about him today and during the week to come.  But first, we need to look at how this seemingly insignificant day fits into the church’s and our culture’s hierarchy of holidays.
            It is sometimes difficult for Christians to remember that Easter is our highest holy day.  In a materialistic world, Easter just isn’t the same kind of financial powerhouse as Christmas.  Christmas is our economy’s greatest holiday; so great, it seems, that the religious meaning of Christmas is sometimes difficult to hold onto.  Over the past several years, I’ve had a recurring thought around Christmas time: “It’s sad that we’ve commercialized Christmas, but I’m just glad they’ll never be able to do that to Easter.”  And yet, here we are…  I have a news story from several years ago that I want to show you.  The headline says, “War-Theme Easter Baskets For Sale In Central Florida.”
            Speaking of the shameless exploitation of Christian holy days, I’ve often noticed another difference between Christmas and Easter.  One way they’ve found to make more money on Christmas is to invent a “War on Christmas,” demanding that retailers refrain from greeting worshippers shoppers with the phrase, “Happy Holidays.”  “Holiday” being a godless, secular, anti-Christian word that means “holy day...”  You see, the so-called defenders of Christmas haven’t stood up against the commercial exploitation of Jesus’ birth – they’ve insisted on it.  Next December, when those retailers prey on my innate greed and discontentment and manipulate the power of marketing and mass media to lure me into their stores to buy my friends things that they don’t need with money that I don’t have, they’d better do it in Jesus name!  Every year the make-believe “War on Christmas” dies down when the quarterly profit sheets make it clear who the real winners are.  And in the springtime, I usually think to myself that this is a busy time of year, too, and I sure am glad that I don’t have to spend my energy taking up imaginary arms in any imaginary “War on Easter.”
            This year, I’m told they are actually talking about a “War Against Easter” on cable TV “news.”  The purpose of the “War on Easter” is to make American Christians feel like some kind of underrepresented, victimized minority group.  Yes, that’s right: American Christians – the majority religion in the most powerful and freest nation on earth.  Folks, there is no “War Against Easter” and as Christians, we’re not an oppressed group, no matter what the talking heads want you to believe.  It’s factually and morally wrong to suggest that we are, and it’s offensive to the millions of Christians in places like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, China, East Africa, and other places who, unlike us, practice their faith under persecution and threat of imprisonment or even death.  Ask yourself: Does it make you feel good to think there’s a war against Easter?  And do you really want retailers to exploit the death and resurrection of our Lord in order to increase their sales?

Humility of the triumphal entry
            If there is a war on Easter, it surely distracts us from our struggle to be like the Jesus we hear about on Palm Sunday.  In the gospel story that was read at the beginning of the service, we see Jesus sending his disciples to fetch a young donkey for his entry into Jerusalem.  The people hail him as a king, and we might expect someone like that to enter victoriously, dressed in fine clothing and riding atop a stallion.  Our gospel writer has in mind an Old Testament prophecy that speaks of Jerusalem’s ascending king as one who comes in humility, not riding on a stately animal, but on a lowly one (Zech. 9:9).  All four of the gospels tell the story a little differently, and the scene that we call Jesus’ “triumphal entry” is actually a little confusing.  The gospels seem to tell us that Jesus sees himself as coming forth humbly and with some trepidation.  But the crowds who greet him are apparently not sure what kind of king this might be.

What does the Bible say about humility?
            Jesus is portrayed as the humble king, and our opening hymn this morning included the lyric, “The Lord of earth and heaven rode on in lowly state / Nor scorned that little children should on his bidding wait.”  We don’t have to look very far to see what the Bible has to say about humility.  As one Bible scholar has pointed out, we really only need to look as far as the disciples Jesus sent out to secure the young donkey.  Here they were, not only preparing to celebrate a major religious festival, but also waiting to experience one of the most triumphant, momentous days of Jesus’ ministry.  These disciples might have preferred to perform a more exciting service, such as mapping out the parade route or passing out palm branches to the waiting crowd.  Instead, on the very day Jesus’ ragtag procession would be greeted with great fanfare, these disciples find themselves engaged in a rather unenviable service: masquerading as livestock handlers, performing a lowly service while some of their friends no doubt found more visible ways to help out.  To compare the scene to a modern-day parade, it’s the difference between the people riding comfortably in fancy cars, and the ones walking behind the animals dragging garbage cans and carrying shovels.  Yet Jesus, the humble one, calls his disciples to humble service.  Our gospel writer emphasizes this by devoting more than half his story of the triumphal entry to the task of securing the young donkey, suggesting there may be honor in lowly service after all, and, accordingly, lets these disciples go unnamed so that their service might be done anonymously, another characteristic of humility (Matt. 6).

The humility of Jesus
            When we speak about the humility of Jesus, the gospels give us more examples than I could possibly cite for you this morning.  We might think about Jesus’ saying in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  We might remember Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.  We might quote Jesus’ rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).  Yet when we celebrate Jesus’ humility in the church, the text we just heard from Pilippians is perhaps the most relevant.  Paul seems to have a special fondness for the people in the city of Philippi, and even though his letter is written from a prison cell, he shares joy with them and encourages them to imitate the humility of Christ.
            We know that, even though the gospels are listed at the beginning of our New Testament, Paul’s letters were written first.  The section we heard this morning seems like a digression from Paul’s argument, and we are almost certain that verses 6-11 of chapter 2 are a quotation of an early Christian hymn about Jesus.  Imagine writing or talking to a friend, and suddenly a song or poem pops into your mind that makes your point more eloquently than you ever could.  That is probably what happened to Paul while he was dictating this letter.  And so it is quite possible that our text for this morning is actually the oldest passage in the New Testament, the first writing we have in our Bibles from early Christians about Jesus.  And what did those early believers want to tell us about, first and foremost?  His miracles?  His wisdom as a teacher?  Supernatural events surrounding his birth, death, and resurrection?  No!  This Christ hymn is all about Jesus’ humility, and how God honored him for it.
            Before he begins the quotation, Paul admonishes his audience: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  Then Paul inserts the hymn, saying that Jesus emptied himself, took the form of a slave, humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death, a death we will remember later this week.  The quotation goes on to tell us that God highly exalted Jesus because of his humility.  If we’ve ever wondered what it was about Jesus that caused God to give him “the name that is above every name,” we have found our answer.  According to Paul, the great preacher and representative of early Christianity, God’s exaltation of Jesus did not come about because of Jesus’ miracles, or even his teachings.  It was not because of anything supernatural, or even any kind of divine connection.  Sometimes all our layers of myth and tradition, and even the New Testament itself, can obscure this powerful point drawn from the earliest Christian text we have.  Paul tells us, clearly and without ambiguity, that it was because of Jesus’ humility that God exalted him, because Jesus humbled himself.

The virtue of humility in the Christian life
            Remember Paul’s opening statement: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  Or, as he says elsewhere, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  So, how do we practice humility in the Christian life?  Perhaps we would do well to remember the disciples who Jesus called to humble service.  Some of what we do in the church is visible and widely appreciated: chairing important committees, being a ministry leader, singing solos in worship, proclaiming the message like I’m doing now.  To those of us whose ministry is public, we have received our reward in full, so unless we take on an attitude of humility, our work counts for nothing.  The truth is, most of the work of the church goes on behind the scenes.  Many of you are, in a sense, like the disciples who got stuck with donkey duty (no pun intended…) In your own ways, many of you are imitating the humility of Christ as you help carry out the mission and work of the church.  You serve on committees, you visit the sick and homebound, you help take care of our buildings and grounds, you volunteer in the church office, you lead a Sunday school class or small group.  Others of you are being called to a work of ministry that you haven’t yet begun.  Whether you’ve been a servant of God for many years, or whether you’re just figuring out how to get started, we transform our tasks into true spiritual disciplines and even acts of worship when we imitate the humility of Christ.

Humility in Holy Week
            By the time Jesus came to Jerusalem, his reputation as a teacher and healer had spread among the people of Judea.  When the people waved palm branches a symbol of victory, they remembered the prophecy about a coming king.  That prophecy ended with a promise of restoration (Zech. 9:12).  The people had endured centuries of oppression, and by Jesus’ time many Jews nurtured the hope that God would intervene once and for all, send them a mighty king, and restore them to their former glory.  If Jesus was to be that kind of king, the people were ready to follow.  Over the next several days, however, the people’s enthusiasm for Jesus began to diminish, even as the religious authorities felt increasingly threatened by his teachings.  There is much more to be said about what happened during Jesus’ final days.  We have three special worship services during Holy Week.  On Thursday night at 7:00, we will hold a solemn, moving service remembering Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples.  The next day, there will be a Good Friday service at noon.  On Easter morning at 6:30, we will have a sunrise service at the lakefront on the lawn just east of the gazebo. 

Where we are going liturgically
            The season of Lent began with a call to repentance and self-denial.  If we hope to understand the humility of Christ in the week to come, we must remember that the Lenten journey continues for a little while longer.  Even if there was a “War Against Easter,” true believers will not have much time or energy this week to take up arms.  Instead, we are faced with Paul’s instruction to imitate the humility of Christ.  Our task is to face up to the areas of our lives where the humility of Christ is nowhere to be found.  On this Palm Sunday morning, we are pleased to imagine ourselves among the crowd that greeted Jesus with shouts of praise.  A few days later, however, the crowds cried, “Crucify him!”  In what ways are we part of that crowd as well?  Holy Week is a time to explore these questions as we witness to our faith.  A great celebration is coming – we know how the story ends – but our journey to the empty tomb first takes us to an upper room, through an angry mob, and up a hill to the cross.

“[He] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).  Let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

And now may the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you.  Go in peace.  Pray for peace.  Love and serve the Lord.  Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Spring Break Reading 2013

Following last year's tradition, I probably won't post any new content during OBU's Spring Break.  But, as with last year, I do want to leave some links to recent stories you may have missed.

In January, we welcomed everyone to 2013 and explained our long break from blogging following November's Homecoming festivities.  We also laid out an agenda for the first part of 2013.

More recently, guest bloggers provided two widely-read series:

Cedarville University Series by CU Alumna Sarah Jones
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

Feminism at OBU Series by 2002 OBU Alumna Cortney Stone
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 1
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 2

I also had fun writing a few miscellaneous posts in February.  One chronicled FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's 1938 commencement address at OBU.  In another post, I wrote of my visit to the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, MD.  Also, in response to the brouhaha over Tim Tebow cancelling an appearance at FBC Dallas after learning of its pastor's incendiary remarks, I wrote a response that blamed the problem not on Tebow, but on certain evangelicals' extremism -- an extremism that earlier generations of evangelical leaders wisely avoided.

More relevant to our immediate purposes at Save OBU, I point you to two other important stories we covered in February.  First, see our write-up of former OBU administrator Tom Terry's address in Raley Chapel.  Second, I wrote a piece on the Winter trustee meeting.  We'll say more about the trustee meeting in weeks to come as we continue to ponder the BGCO's outsized influence at an institution where it provides an ever-shrinking share of the operating expenses.

Most importantly, please consider circulating this commentary to your friends and colleagues in evangelical higher education.  With new leadership and many of its member institutions prospering, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) is poised to exercise considerable leadership as it has for many years.  Yet, as a growing number of CCCU schools struggle against fundamentalist resurgence, the council has been silent.  Will the CCCU continue to sit idly while fundamentalists run some of its member schools into the ground?  Or can the council highlight what its successful members have done to stave off the threat of fundamentalist encroachment?  It's a vital question, and the answer remains unseen.

If you're an OBU student or staff member, we especially wish you a very restful spring break!  If you're affiliated with another college celebrating another week, our best wishes to you, too.  And if spring break is for you nothing more than a distant memory, well, I hope you remember it fondly.

Thanks to so many of you for your support.
-Jacob Lupfer

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 4

Feminism at OBU Series
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 1
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 2
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 3
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 4

On Wednesday, I wrote about FAIR's protest of an offensive chapel message and the administration's response to that protest. Today, I will conclude the story and share some final thoughts about what happened.

In spite of the letters to The Bison, the public meeting, and the administration's official response, many students were unaware or indifferent toward our cause. A few even went against us. An issue of The Bison nearly three weeks after the chapel message had a letter from male student who defended Dr. Gillham. He said that Dr. Gillham's Wednesday chapel message and much of his Friday chapel message were good and even outstanding at times. His reasoning was that Dr. Gillham was a good speaker, so it wasn't necessary to make a fuss over two misinterpreted sermon illustrations.

After that, the controversy died down a little, though it briefly popped up during a variety show, Spring Affair, in April. The theme that year was reality TV, and during a montage of reality show spoofs, there was a clip that showed a young man serving eggs to a young woman. They weren't cooked to her liking, so she jumped up out of her chair, threw the plate at him, and verbally abused him about breaking the yolks. The audience burst into laughter, but I was embarrassed and a little angry. I was the one who'd complained about the domestic abuse joke, after all, but I wasn't sure if the skit was making fun of me, FAIR, Dr. Gillham, or everyone on both sides of the controversy.  I couldn't tell if it was simple gallows humor or a barometer indicating students' lighthearted dismissal of the situation.

FAIR persisted. On April 15, FAIR sponsored a symposium for students, faculty, and the community. The symposium featured speakers from OBU and the community who addressed issues related to rape and domestic violence, including prevention, assisting someone who had been abused or raped, and understanding why victims sometimes stay with abusers. The Bison ran an article about the symposium in volume 85, number 25, on April 17, 2002.

As ugly as the whole incident had been, it was at least bringing some much-needed information to the surface and raising awareness on campus.

In May 2002, I graduated and committed my last act of protest at OBU: I sang my own version of the Alma Mater Hymn. Every OBU student knows those lyrics  -- "May thy spirit guide thy sons / Keep thy daughters true" -- but how many have thought about them? OBU's sons receive guidance, but OBU's daughters receive an admonition to be "true." Faithful. Honest. Chaste. Not guided through life by the spirit of OBU. Was that honor for men only? FAIR had once discussed these lyrics and what they seemed to imply, though we never officially requested a change. It was a tradition we didn't want to touch, but I wasn't going to follow that tradition myself. Standing on the steps of Raley Chapel in my cap and gown, I sang my own heartfelt version by changing one word: "May thy spirit guide thy sons / And thy daughters true." Professors at OBU had preached equality to us through history, literature, theology, and sociology, and although the administration fumbled with the concept, we the students believed it.

Afterward, Dr. Todd Ream, our biggest supporter in the administration, left the OBU that same year after serving the university for only two years. Eventually, the remaining members of FAIR graduated and the group ceased to exist. The gender studies task force no longer exists (if it ever existed at all), but OBU established a Diversity Committee in the fall of 2006. This committee's purpose was "to study and recommend policy related to diversity issues," including gender. Forming a committee is the standard Southern Baptist solution to any problem, but it's clear that the administration learned that gender issues were not going to go away. I can't credit FAIR for this change, but I like to think that we played a role.

Some of you may wonder why I am bringing this protest up. First, it's a part of OBU's history. It made an impact on a number of OBU faculty members and students, myself included. I consider the matter settled and it's all in the past, so I'm not seeking to make fresh accusations toward the university. However, the story belongs on this blog. It fits into Save OBU's narrative about fundamentalism, sexism, and unethical administration. Both the speaker's words and the administration's response were sexist and rooted in fundamentalist notions about female sexuality, submission, and blame. The administration fell short with its response and was disrespectful toward the members of FAIR and every other woman on campus. I don't think it actually restricted our academic freedom, but I should note that some of the professors who openly supported us were the kind who would not have survived the "purge" without tenure. Obviously, that incident alone didn't cost anyone their job, but it probably would not have been a checkmark in their favor.

Second, the incident shows that OBU had -- and probably still has -- a significant population of moderates and liberals. No matter what conservative-minded students and alumni claim, OBU is not entirely fundamentalist, patriarchal, or conservative.  To think that way is to be blind to OBU's true nature.

Third, it shows why we need to have watchdogs like Save OBU pointing out the problems for the sake of improving the university we love. I believe that students and faculty are not the only ones who should be concerned about on-campus events; alumni have a stake in the university's welfare as well. When the members of FAIR graduated, we didn't check back with OBU about its commitment to gender studies, so we couldn't ensure that things would change. The same goes for OBU's current situation and the activism of Save OBU. If we sit in silence and submission, nothing will change.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 3

Feminism at OBU Series
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 1
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 2
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 3
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 4

On Monday, I wrote about a chapel message that contained two illustrations that were degrading to women. Today I will share the story of our protest and the administration's response.

FAIR held meeting as soon as possible to discuss the chapel message. We were all outraged at Dr. Gillham's statements and knew that we needed to do something about it. Only two of us had heard the message firsthand, so someone tried to get a recording of the chapel service. All chapel services are recorded and archived, but this one was not. Dr. Gillham didn't allow OBU to record his message because he copyrighted his material. We knew that the administration needed to respond to the situation and uphold all the nice things they put in the Green Book about not discriminating or harassing persons because of gender.

During the discussion, one of the group members said, "Imagine being a rape victim sitting in chapel and hearing that message." It was a chilling thought. We all knew the statistics about reported rapes versus unreported rapes, the challenges of reporting rape and assault, and how colleges sometimes poorly responded to sexual assault on campus. What about OBU? How many students knew about preventing sexual assault, fighting against rape culture, and supporting victims? What about students who were quietly coping with the aftermath of sexual assault and domestic abuse? What sort of chilling effect would Dr. Gillham's message have?

We outlined a course of action. First, the two members of FAIR who heard the message firsthand would write editorials to The Bison. I wrote about the egg illustration, while the other member of FAIR wrote about Lois and Joe. Second, we would hold an open meeting in the common area of the Geiger Center and speak to students and faculty about the incident and respond to Dr. Gillham's message. We wanted to be visible and make our voices of protest loud and clear, and we wanted to be orderly, well-spoken, and even-tempered. Picketing the chapel, waving handmade signs, and chanting slogans wouldn't do. After all, OBU had taught us to use rational discourse, not protest theatrics. Third, we would find ways to educate students and faculty about domestic abuse and sexual assault and what they could do to fight against it. For the survivors of domestic abuse or sexual assault, we wanted to let them know that they were not alone, and we wanted to encourage others to support them.

It seemed so easy. Who wouldn't be against domestic violence and sexual assault? There were quite a few feminist-minded students and professors who would be outraged, and OBU had plenty of Christians who claimed to have compassion for those who are hurting – a category that certainly included victims of abuse and sexual assault. At the same time, we knew it would be a challenge. We were confronting the fundamentalist patriarchy at OBU. Indifference and even opposition were likely.  

The following Monday, we held our open meeting in the common area. Anyone walking through the student center to get their mail or visit the cafeteria could overhear our speeches and see how many people had gathered to listen to us. I don't remember how many people attended, but I remember that there was a small crowd of students and faculty, both men and women. We pointed out the problems with the offensive illustrations and asked the university to issue a formal apology.

On Tuesday, members of FAIR met with Todd Ream, the Dean of Students. Dr. Ream was very supportive and sympathetic. He was troubled by the incident and willing to back us up with the administration.

On Wednesday, February 27, we attended chapel service and hoped that OBU would issue an apology as we had requested. Before Dr. Mark Brister introduced that week's chapel speaker – I have since forgotten who it was, but it was yet another middle-aged man – he took a moment to address the previous week's chapel message. I do not recall his exact words, but he stated that some people complained about statements made in last week's chapel and that OBU wanted to apologize if anyone was offended. At that point, Dr. Brister turned to look at the man behind him, who had sat through the entire apology with a bewildered look on his face. They exchanged glances, and Dr. Brister chuckled and shrugged his shoulders at him. The speaker chuckled too.

Not only was the "apology" dismissive and not much of an apology at all, it ended with two men looking at each other, laughing, and shrugging helplessly over a bunch of women getting hysterical over something said in chapel.

At first, I thought that it was good that we at least got a response and an apology, but then I realized that it was more of a dismissal. The administration had all but told us through PR-speak to sit down, be quiet, and let the men talk.

After chapel, everything unfolded in the pages of that week's issue of The Bison. An article about the controversy and our meeting in the GC appeared on the front page of volume 89, number 19, right next to an article with a headline that read, "Women's conference to feature several OBU alumni, faculty." An excellent quote from Dr. Todd Ream appeared next to the article about FAIR's meeting in the GC:
The members of FAIR are correct in asserting that gender discrimination and sexual abuse, at whatever level, are contradictory to the [sic] our identity as a Christian people. We must work together to affirm the created image of God present in all of humanity, male and female alike.
Unfortunately, statements from other male authority figures paled in comparison. In the article, Dr. Dick Rader stated that "he is sorry for any offense caused by students misconstruing Dr. Gillham's statements." Dr. Gillham told The Bison that he "acknowledge[s] FAIR's concern about male mistreatment of females and [he shares] that concern." He also said that the only thing we should take away from his lecture was Christ.

On the second page of that same issue, FAIR members' dual editorials about the chapel message appeared right across from an excellent editorial that outlined harassment policies in the Green Book and a strange editorial complaining about the sexism of an on-campus Valentine's date auction.

Letters to the editor from OBU's administration and Dr. Gillham appeared in next issue of the Bison, volume 85, number 20, on March 4, 2002.  The letter from OBU's administration was signed by Dr. Mark Brister, Dr. Joseph R. Weaver, and Dr. Dick Rader. It began by acknowledging that "a speaker presented illustrations which were deemed by many in our campus community to condone domestic violence, sexual abuse and victimization of women." However, the letter went on to say that Dr. Gillham told the university that "he did not mean to convey the message as perceived by a significant number of people." It also emphasized OBU's nondiscrimination policy and stated that "the impressions taken from the illustrations of Feb. 22 are not consistent with the position of the University's administration, faculty and staff." The choice of words really struck me: "deemed by many," "perceived," and "impressions." The administration stood with Dr. Gillham and seemed to suggest that we did not actually hear what we claimed to have heard. The letter also pointed out that the service was not recorded, indicating that it was our word against Dr. Gillham's.

The last section of the letter outlined the administration's course of action: they would "study gender related issues at OBU." Privately, they had told FAIR that they would form a gender studies task force as well as inform authority figures at Dr. Gillham's future speaking engagements about the controversy that erupted at OBU. They did not mention the latter in the letter and we never knew if they followed through.

Dr. Gillham's letter addressed FAIR directly and opened with "My Dear Sister in Christ," even though it was supposed to address the editor. He stated that he "share[d]" our concerns about "male mistreatment of females" and that "it was not [his] intent to address male/female relationships, social inequalities or sexual abuse" in his chapel message. He claimed that the illustrations were meant to show that "real life is hard" and that Christ "is God's Provision to express His life through each Believer," which "includes living with an abusive husband and how to overcome temptation." He acknowledged that "the two males were portrayed as abusive," but followed it up with an accusation: those who misconstrued the illustrations were "naively undermining the work of the Holy Spirit." Our takeaway was that he meant we should sit and learn in silence and submission instead of protesting. He ended the letter by saying, "I love you and pray for God's best for you."

Again, I couldn't help noticing his choice of words. The use of the phrase "overcome temptation" emphasized the way that he blamed Lois for what happened, and "living with an abusive husband" left no room for the woman to seek help or a divorce. In addition, if he did not want to address the issues of abuse, why did he bring them up in the sermon? Should we see those issues as inevitable facts of life rather than injustices we must fight?

As dismissive as these two letters were, there was still hope. Right below Dr. Gillham's letter was a lengthy and outstanding letter from OBU professor Dr. James Farthing, who was also a Deputy Sheriff for Pottawatomie County, about the legal definitions and issues related to assault, battery, rape, and domestic abuse. He completely backed up FAIR's assertions and lent his authority to our side. He pointed out that "those who deal with these issues on a regular basis understand that they are complicated well beyond the understanding of those who make jokes about them or otherwise treat them lightly." Dr. Farthing then went on to say that "[t]o even imply that God blames victims, even if they have acted foolishly, is to remove the responsibility from those who commit these crimes."

Amen. Blaming the victim is reprehensible, period.

Tomorrow, I will offer some concluding thoughts on our student group and the need for continued vigilance, especially in male-dominated institutions inclined toward sexist outlooks on religion, culture, and family life.

Monday, March 4, 2013

"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 2

Feminism at OBU Series
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 1
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 2
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 4

Last Thursday, I shared the story of the founding of a women's issues group at OBU in 2001. Today, I will share the story of a major event in the group's brief history.

It happened on Friday, February 22, 2002, at the end of Focus Week. That week's chapel speaker, a psychologist named Dr. Bill Gillham, was speaking again at a special Friday chapel service, so I had opted to attend that service and use my Wednesday chapel time slot for catching up on some immediate class work. It was a fairly ordinary chapel service. Dr. Gillham's message had several "sermon illustrations" and miscellaneous lessons, but two in particular were offensive and had no place at OBU.

At some point in his message, Dr. Gillham began to share a lesson about how God measures one's success by whether one trusts God to work through him or her. To illustrate this point, he told a story about a housewife who cooked eggs every morning for her husband. She always struggled to make perfect eggs with unbroken yolks, and prayed for God to help her do her best as she cooked. It seems like an innocuous (although backward) illustration, right? Dr. Gillham added a very disturbing twist: the woman's husband had a violent temper. If she broke the yolks, he would fly into a rage, overturn a chair at the table, and storm out of the kitchen. Contrary to Dr. Gillham's claims, the woman wasn't praying for God's help because she wanted to be an amazing housewife. She was praying for God's help out of fear, and she was living with psychological and spiritual distress. To make things worse, Dr. Gillham, a psychologist and counselor, treated this situation as a joke. He laughed about how "fun" it was to live with that husband and he noted that the husband wasn't "saved." The wife was the one responsible for preventing her husband's violent tantrums.

I sat through the illustration with a queasy feeling in my stomach.  I couldn't believe that I was sitting in chapel hearing a supposedly compassionate speaker place the blame on victims and dismiss the behavior of a controlling spouse. Hearing casual sexist jokes and statements from my fellow students on campus was one thing. Hearing sexist jokes and statements about domestic abuse from the pulpit in chapel was another. Furthermore, there were better ways to make that point without being insensitive toward others. Why not illustrate it by talking about an athletic team hoping to win a championship or a college student trying to make good grades to keep a much-needed scholarship?

I wish it had stopped there so I could have just fumed a bit before letting it go. After all, Dr. Gillham wasn't speaking for OBU, and he wasn't the first fundamentalist speaker to say something off-key about women.

But it didn't stop there.

Dr. Gillham moved on to another lesson. This time, he turned to 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says that God will provide a way out from temptation (sometimes translated as "difficult situations," "trials," or "tests") so that we can escape. To illustrate this point, he told a story about a lovely innocent Christian girl named Lois. Lois is a sophomore in high school, and she has a crush on a handsome senior named Joe, who is unfortunately not a Christian. Joe asks Lois to a movie one night, and she happily agrees. He picks her up and drives toward the movie theater but then keeps driving past it and turns down a side street. When Lois asks why they aren't stopping at the theater, Joe says he wants to go somewhere else first. Lois trusts him. He drives her out of town and parks the car at a make-out spot. How cliché! Joe has less than honorable intentions, of course, and before a confused Lois realizes what is going to happen, Joe rapes her. Dr. Gillham did not use the word "rape," however; instead, he trailed off in mid-sentence, leaving the audience to fill in the rest in light of Lois's confusion and panic. He pointed out that Lois had several opportunities to escape the situation: a 5-second window as they passed the theater, a 3-second window as they turned onto the side street, and a 1-second window as they turned onto the road. These 9 seconds were opportunities for escape provided by God.

It gets worse. As Joe is assaulting her, Lois prays and cries out to God for help, but according to Dr. Gillham, God turns His back on her. She had 9 seconds to escape and disobeyed God, so He let her suffer the consequences. What happened was her fault.

I was disgusted. Just like the egg example, there were so many better ways to illustrate the point about God providing an escape without resorting to an illustration that damages women and dismisses a man's abhorrent and inhuman behavior. Wouldn't it be better to use an example of a college student being tempted to cheat on an exam or plagiarize an essay? Blaming an innocent victim for what someone else did to them is no way to prove this point, especially when one also portrays God as uncaring toward those who suffer and cry out for help. Hearing sexist statements and jokes from the pulpit in chapel is awful enough. Hearing someone stating from the pulpit in chapel that God abandons rape victims is even worse. What about loving others? What about showing mercy and kindness to the brokenhearted and the downtrodden?

Another member of FAIR was in the audience, and she was also disgusted and upset. She tried to speak to Dr. Gillham after chapel, and he dismissed her concerns and turned her away. We had never been so openly degraded and insulted as women at OBU, and we worried about the negative impact the message could have on our fellow students.

We were not going to sit in silence and submission.

On Wednesday in part 3 of this series, I will share the story of our protest and the administration's response.