Save OBU: Academic Freedom after Fundamentalism

In the last part of the Understanding Fundamentalism series at Save OBU, I look into the future of academic freedom and higher education after fundamentalism.

However, as our survey of the history of the movement has proved, fundamentalism is fundamentally opposed to academic freedom.  Ralph Elliott was removed from his position at Midwestern Seminary because he published a book that took a non-literal approach to the early chapters of Genesis.  Strikingly, despite the fact that fundamentalists had packed the seminary’s board with sympathizers in order to have Elliott fired, he was able to reach a theological understanding with the trustees.  It was only when he denied their request that he withdraw the book from further publication (in other words, that he censor himself), that he was dismissed.

Shorter University, a Baptist liberal arts university in Georgia, is in the midst of the same struggle.  To date, sixty-seven—let me give you that number again, 67—members of its faculty have resigned because they have refused to sign a lifestyle statement instituted by the school’s new fundamentalist leadership in an effort to purify the faculty.  Shorter has long been affiliated with Georgia Baptists and has an even longer tradition of Christian witness in North Georgia.  Despite this, Shorter’s fundamentalist president Don Dowless has called for the school to return to its “Christian roots” (the same call made by fundamentalist leadership in the SBC in the 1980s and ’90s) and is willing to risk the loss of school’s accreditation in order to do so.

At OBU, we have seen another version of the Elliott story.  In 2010, a philosophy professor was dismissed with no regard to the guidelines and principles established in the faculty handbook.  The occasion for his firing (if not a full-fledged reason for it) was his publication of an article in which he briefly mentioned that his argument hinged upon a non-literal reading of the days of creation in Genesis.  This is not a controversial opinion within conservative Christianity, yet leaving the possibility open for evolutionary theory is apostasy within the fundamentalist worldview.

It comes as no surprise that the future is grim, but there is hope.  Click over for my full analysis of Christian and Baptist higher education after fundamentalism.


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