Monday, March 10, 2014

It's called grace

A week or so after my conversation with Darrel Falk at the world famous Rhea County Courthouse, I received a very interesting email.  It opened with very nice words about how the author respected me, and then 90% of the email was spent informing me of how naïve I was and how awful Darrel is and how I really shouldn’t be fellowshipping with him.  My participation in those events with Darrel just makes it easier for gullible young people to accept theistic evolution.  At the very least, it makes it seem unfashionable to take a stand on creation.

The line that really caught my eye was this:  “Truth has no fellowship with error.”

I was ready to write off the rest of the email, but that sentence struck a chord, because I have had similar concerns.  I do think my work with Darrel is creating space for what I consider error, and that makes me nervous.  What will God say to me if I actively tolerate a grievously wrong view of origins and encourage others to do so also?

Then I had a little eureka moment when I remembered that truth fellowships with error all the time.  Thank God for it!  It’s called grace.  Face it, God is infinitely higher than us.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  That doesn’t change even when we think we have theology all figured out, but God gives grace to our ignorance.  If it weren’t for that, we’d all be dead.

See, I’m not tolerating Darrel’s error (believe me, it can get a little heated behind the scenes).  I’m trying to show him grace.  Of course, I am concerned that the public get the right message about my work and my motives, and that’s why I blog about these things.  The more I explain myself, the better people will understand what I’m doing.  But I’ve come to understand that grace is really important, and I need to pursue it wherever I can, even if it takes me where I’m not supposed to go (Acts 10:28-29).

In the wake of that event at the courthouse, my former employer Bryan College has been thrown into turmoil over a clarification to their Statement of Faith.  I won’t rehearse the details here.  If you’re interested, you can find them in the Chattanooga TimesFree Press.  To sum up: The clarified statement of faith requires belief in the special creation of Adam and Eve with no physical ancestors.  I believe this clarification is objectionable to two faculty members (5% of the full-time teaching faculty), but the timing and method of the clarification is objectionable to most of the rest.  Since those at the center of the storm cannot sign the clarification in good conscience, they cannot sign their contracts for the 2014-2015 school year either.  So two young faculty with families to support will find themselves out of their jobs.  The faculty responded by voting no confidence in the president.  Surely, a Christian institution would give these individuals at least a year to find other work?  Surely?

All manner of outsiders have pounced on this story, mostly just shooting their mouths off.  Evidently, this is the end of academic freedom at Bryan College!  It’s a return to the dark ages!  Bryan College might not survive!  The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!

Sorry, Chicken Little, but the sky is NOT falling.  For twenty-four years, Bryan College took a much stronger stand on creation than this clarification, because for twenty-four years, Bryan invested in young-age creationism with its Center for Origins Research.  But suddenly, make one little clarification, and Bryan is rolling back the enlightenment.  People have a short attention span.

Besides all that, we all know of colleges that have survived much more dire circumstances than this.  This will not be the end of Bryan College.  It might change Bryan in very significant ways, but it’s not likely to sink the ship.

Even more, I’ve seen some appalling things written about Bryan College by outsiders who call themselves Christians.  Whatever side you’re on, this situation is tragic.  Everyone in town who is connected to Bryan is walking around numb.  Spontaneous sobbing is common.  For some stranger to seize on this grief to increase their blog traffic or wallow in their arrogant self-righteousness is more un-Christian than anything happening here in Dayton.  If that makes you angry, then I’m probably talking to you.

To my former community at Bryan:  I know many of you have been waiting to hear what I have to say about this, and I’ve been holding back.  Partly because I felt like I couldn’t write anything without venting and ranting, and partly because it’s not my business what happens at Bryan any more, but mostly because I don’t know what to say.  I’m pretty sure whatever I say will anger somebody, so I already know I can’t win.  That’s a powerful motive for keeping my big mouth shut.  So I’ve been lurking in the background, talking with people about it and trying to think carefully about the mess.  Lots of people want to know what I think.  I can’t say that I found any answers in my lurking, but here are a few thoughts.

I want to make very clear that the majority of faculty do not necessarily oppose the substance of the clarification.  I would guess that a lot of faculty could go even further and personally affirm young-age creationism.  The faculty simply want to be included in this big of a change, and they want the change implemented slowly.  I’m glad that’s becoming clearer in the most recent newspaper articles.  This is not about the Bryan faculty denying Adam and Eve.  This is about procedure, pure and simple.

I have to wonder, is that so unreasonable?  What’s the urgency that mandates this change be implemented right now?  I don’t know.  Maybe there’s something going on behind the scenes that we don’t understand.  I do know that all this public drama and the no confidence vote could have been avoided, easily avoided, by giving people time.  Yes, the campus would still be mad, but maybe you could have kept the college out of the public eye.  I know this because I’ve seen it done at another institution.  That campus was angry about the change, but they were given two years for the adjustment.  You probably never heard about it, and that’s the point.

Some alumni and other stakeholders have demanded that Bryan rescind the clarification altogether, as if just taking a stand is a bad thing all by itself.  As the story goes, institutions who take such a stand take themselves out of "True Academia"TM, and if Bryan does this it will be bad for their academics.  Let me be blunt: That’s nonsense.  I am living proof that taking a strong stand on origins does not disqualify you from the academic life, and it’s not just me.  I have many colleagues at other institutions that take even stronger stands on origins, and those colleagues thrive in their academic pursuits.  This stand on Adam and Eve is a very minimal theological commitment, and you’re acting like it’s the Inquisition.  In doing so, you’re insulting your brothers and sisters in Christ who take a similar or stronger position.  Grow up.

So what can you do now?  Everyone’s vented and ranted and respectfully submitted their objections, and things are unchanged.  Now what?  Well, I hope that whatever you do, you carefully count the cost.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t have your say or express your objections.  Not at all.  I’m just wondering what else you can do.

I know some of you want out.  Some of you plan to jump ship because you just can’t stand being part of an institution that acts like this.  I ask you to think again.  See, Bryan College employs 200+ people, all of whom depend on the success of the college for their livelihood.  Beyond that, there are people and businesses in the community that get a lot of business from the college.  Bryan College is far more than just a handful of administrators that you disagree with.  The student petition pledged not to even recommend the college if your demands were not met.  Would you really punish an entire community for the mistakes of a few?  Has your righteous crusade become a self-righteous one?  I don’t know.  I’m just thinking out loud.  I hope you’re wondering the same thing.

Whatever’s going on, God is at work.  My pastor reminded me of that.  We tend to think of God’s mighty work only when things are going the way we want them to, but we forget sometimes the potter smashes the lump of clay and starts over again.  Perhaps that’s where Bryan College is going.  I don’t know, but I’m praying that the college comes through this crisis better than it is now.  It’s probably hard to see how that’s possible in the midst of the turmoil, but this crisis has to be worth something.  When God’s at work, I know it will be.

Back to my question: What can we do?  I don’t know what you can do, but I’m going to the campus today.  I’m going to sit down with the Academic Vice President and ask him what I can do to help the college in the fall.  This isn’t what I want to do, believe me.  There’s an ugly little part of me that’s delighted to see the school that dumped me get their “comeuppance,” but there are bigger things at stake here than my own personal feelings and comfort.  At the very least, I can help them cover classes in the fall, and what kind of Christian would I be if I snubbed someone in their time of need?  So I swallow my pride and offer my help.

I think that’s called grace.



Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.