Statements of Faith and the Myth of Leftwing Higher Education (99% Pure)

I‘ll warn you now: this is long and has to do with politics.

Recently, I was talking with a family member who is very far to the right, politically. He is a baby-boomer, and like many boomers, the last election drummed up his political awareness – or maybe it just made him more vocal about his already-held political views. I’m not sure.

He tends to believe conservative myths. The word “myths” isn’t exactly accurate, though. These aren’t narratives that express a certain worldview, unencumbered by fact. These are rather facts unencumbered by facts, ones not based on empirical reality – indeed reality often contradicts them – that grow out of this worldview. They are the sort of thing that must be true if the conservative worldview is true; the worldview comes first. (So in the title of this post, I use “myth” in a popular sense, like the Mythbusters do).

There are plenty of these types of things in political discourse, and I’m probably just blind to a lot of moderate or leftwing bullshit (I mean that in a technical sense). I mean the “fact” that abortion makes up 94% of what Planned Parenthood does (it doesn’t), or that doctors rip full-term babies from mothers’ wombs and kill them (they don’t). But 94% is just so specific – who would make it up? (Not surprisingly given the rhetorical aims of the Susan B. Anthony List, it derives from faulty statistics meant to get as high a percentage as possible). It’s the kind of thinking that says that mass media is super liberal while dismissing the high viewership of Fox News, the high listenership of conservative radio, and being blissfully unaware that The National Enquirer – appearing in every grocery store you’ve ever been in – became a pro-Trump propaganda machine once his buddy bought it out, because these empirical facts undermine the “truth” of the liberal mass media.

The last time we talked, he threw out the claim that 99% of universities in this country are far left. 99% is not as specific as 94%, nor is it based on any data (mishandled or not). It seems to say, rather (to paraphrase a man he greatly admires), “Some of them, I assume, are good universities,” but very near to all of them are not. He was thinking of recent rioting at Berkeley, a school which for him seems to become emblematic of higher education.

When I went to Madonna University in Livonia, MI, it did not seem ultra-leftwing to me. When I went to the University of Georgia, which some conservatives in Georgia view as a sort of liberal oasis, I met way too many guys with confederate flags railing on about states’ rights (wink, wink), advocating the genocide of Muslims, and casually describing the beating they would give to a gay man if he ever came to their houses, to agree with the impression of higher education as filled with pinko radicals. (BTW, it’s weird how quickly people trust that you agree with their hate when you are a cisgendered, straight white man). Even at Michigan State University, students frequently distanced themselves from the University of Michigan by highlighting how gay, how Asian, and how liberal U of M students were. Since I did not pick these universities for their politics but for their programs, how did I keep getting the few schools in the just 1% that weren’t indoctrinating me to overturn the government (wait, that sounds more rightwing these days…) or to model our politics on Russia (damn it!)? My schools rioted (frequently) over basketball games, not human rights (it’s ok to riot over sports – ah, young people…). The odds were like 1 in a million!

Furthermore, I work in biblical studies so I’m aware of some very conservative schools. A couple weeks ago, for example, Liberty University posted a faculty position in biblical studies. Here was the entire text of the job description:

Liberty University’s hiring practices and EEO Statement are fully in compliance with both federal and state law. Federal law creates an exception to the “religion” component of the employment discrimination laws for religious organizations (including educational institutions), and permits them to give employment preference to members of their own religion. Liberty University is in that category.

Liberty can decide not to hire you based on your religion. Apparently nothing else matters in attracting applicants to this job. Either you agree with them, or you don’t. If you do, then you should apply. “You’ll find out what the job is after we hire you. It’s really the best way to ensure a quality education.”

So then, aside from a religious past that would probably have to be documented, what kind of religion does Liberty want you to have? LU has a “Statement of Faith” that must be signed and turned into HR before hire. Here is what you will need to affirm in order to teach math or chemistry, or to study them when you attend.

Cosmology, Geology, and Evolutionary Biology Have All Independently Reached False Conclusions Using the Scientific Method

The universe was created in six historical days and is continuously sustained by God; thus it both reflects His glory and reveals His truth. Human beings were directly created, not evolved, in the very image of God.”

In other words, there is no academic freedom if you teach in scientific fields, nor is there academic freedom if you teach the Bible and want to teach any of the host of reading methodologies that do not affirm LU’s statement. Similar is Cedarville University in Ohio:

“We believe that the Scriptures provide a literal and historical account of God’s creation of all things. The climax of the six days of creation was the special, immediate and personal creation of human life. The first humans, Adam and Eve, were directly created, not evolved from previous life forms.”

Closer to me, here in Illinois, is Wheaton College:

“WE BELIEVE that God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race.”

Since Wheaton recently tried to fire Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor, for a Facebook post affirming that Christians and Muslims worship the same God (she ultimately chose not to return), you can bet this is enforced. In fact, earlier in Wheaton’s statement:

“The statement also defines the biblical perspective which informs a Wheaton education. These doctrines of the church cast light on the study of nature and man, as well as on man’s culture.”

“…the study of nature.” Shorter University (GA) includes this issue as well:

“The historical account of creation found in Genesis declares that God is the personal and direct Creator of all that exists, including the first humans Adam and Eve, from whom all human beings have come.”

Others could be listed. There is a religious dimension to this position, of course: some Christian sects do refute evolution and scientific conclusions about cosmic history outright. But this is also a political issue, and its imposition on students and faculty is meant to further an anti-scientific perspective.

Infidels Will Be Punished

At the end of Liberty’s SOF:

“We affirm that the return of Christ for all believers is imminent. It will be followed by seven years of great tribulation, and then the coming of Christ to establish His earthly kingdom for a thousand years. The unsaved will then be raised and judged according to their works and separated forever from God in hell. The saved, having been raised, will live forever in heaven in fellowship with God.”

There are a couple things to note here. First, believing that Christ’s return is imminent has been used to justify ignoring environmental disasters (although the attribution to James G. Watt, Secretary of the Interior under Reagan, of the quote, “After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back,” to justify weak environmental policy, is some leftwing bullshit; he did, however, answer a question about his views on preserving natural resources for future generations by saying, “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns,” later clarifying that it could be another 2,000 years — no, seriously, he really doesn’t know).

Second, SOFs end with how badly it will turn out for infidels with an odd consistency. At Liberty it is only that they are “separated forever from God in hell.” At Wheaton, it is “the everlasting punishment of the lost.” At Baylor (TX), God will “consign Satan and his followers to hell.” At Grand Canyon University (AZ), “those who are lost” will be raised “unto the resurrection of damnation.” Back at Cedarville, “Unbelievers will suffer judgment and eternal punishment in the lake of fire.” There are more, of course, and it isn’t like this is a political or anywhere new belief. It’s not even a rare Christian one. It’s just an oddly pessimistic point to end with, setting up an opposition between the believer and the unbeliever. It aligns with another consistent point in SOFs, that only through the Holy Spirit can one live a good life (i.e. don’t believe in the Holy Spirit in the Trinitarian way advocated by these SOFs – I’m looking your way, Muslims, Jews, and 4/5 of humanity – and you must be morally defunct). When the focus is relishing on the punishment of non-believers, the attitudes some people may have toward atheists, Muslims, or Jews is no surprise.

No Abortion, Homosexuals, Transgender Students, Unmarried Faculty, or Social Dancing!

Clearly reading Liberty’s SOF led me to look at SOFs at other schools. Many of them take the time to comment on sexuality and other ethical issues. Baylor makes people affirm that “sex is intended by God solely for marriage between one man and one woman.” By complete coincidence, this happens to be a major political issue right now.

Cedarville affirms:

“Human life, sexual identity and roles are aspects of God’s creative design. From creation, marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman that should be marked by sexual purity, by sacrificial male leadership, and by recognizing the divine blessing of children, including preborn children.”

In other words, you’re not transgender, men should lead, and women should have lots of babies because, in part, abortion is bad. Anything political there?

Taylor University (IN) affirms that “each person is known by God and knit together in the womb with intentional design” (no abortion, no transgender people) before adding:

“Certain behaviors are expressly prohibited in Scripture and therefore are to be avoided by all members of the community. They include theft, lying, dishonesty, gossip, slander, backbiting, profanity, vulgarity, crude language, sexual immorality (including adultery, homosexual behavior, premarital sex and involvement with pornography in any form), drunkenness, immodesty of dress and occult practice.”

“Immodesty of dress.” You won’t have to wear a hijab, specifically, because that’s just un-American, but we get where those guys’re going with those things, you know?

Tennessee Temple University SOF is thorough:

“The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation … In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly loveMarriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race. The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation. Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord.”

Whatever your positions on these points, they are very clearly social and political issues. In order to attend or to work at TTU, you have to take religious, and coincidentally political, positions against LGBTQ persons, abortion, and feminism. Oh, and you have to want to bring “industry, government, and society as a whole” under the sway of these positions.

Calvary University (MO) similarly goes on for a while:

“God created human beings distinctly as male and female. The distinctness, complementarity, and relational nature of the human race as “male and female” is based on the created order given by God when He created humanity “in His image”, and these establish a normative connection between biological sex and gender. The created distinctness, complementarity, and relational nature also establish the basis for the marital relationship as being between one man and one woman. The Bible affirms two options or giftings for sexual expression: monogamous marital relations between one man and one woman, or sexual celibacy, if one is not in a monogamous marital relationship between one man and one woman. Within these two Biblical designs there can be found sexual fulfillment, whereas outside these two designs sexual expression is improper. The Bible affirms that human sexuality is a gift to be treasured and enjoyed, as is sexual celibacy. The fall of humanity corrupted human sexuality in both spiritual and physical ways, and one result is confusion and pain in the lives of those who struggle with brokenness regarding gender, and who struggle with the guilt of desiring sinful expressions of sexuality.”

At least transgender and non-heteronormative people are acknowledged, although one has to believe they are wrong, confused, broken, and guilty.

Spring Arbor University (MI) and Warner University (FL) include affirmations of monogamous heterosexual marriage also, and more could be added. Bob Jones University’s (SC) SOF reads like a book, and goes on at length on these topics. At Judson University (IL), near me, students must sign a statement including the following before enrolling:

“Any form of sexual immorality—including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and the use of pornography is prohibited… Compliance with regulations in the Judson University Student Handbook, and with the directions of university personnel, is expected. Please be aware of the views of the university regarding social dancing, profanity, chapel attendance, dorm behavior, freshmen curfews etc., as well as local, state and federal laws.”

I just like that “social dancing” is included. That’s a rule I can get behind. I mean, not literally. I wouldn’t literally “get behind” the rule, because that sounds like some really inappropriate social dancing, but… sorry. Actually, they didn’t say what their views on social dancing were, just to be aware of them. Is it required? Then I don’t want to go to Judson anymore!

Social Pressure vs. Institutional Pressure

What should be noticed is that these SOFs are obligatory to faculty or students. Violating them can mean expulsion or termination. Consider the following examples:

Wheaton College: “The doctrinal statement of Wheaton College, reaffirmed annually by its Board of Trustees, faculty, and staff, provides a summary of biblical doctrine that is consonant with evangelical Christianity.”

Cedarville University: “Each faculty member and employee (full-time and part-time) is required to sign initially, and annually thereafter, the following Doctrinal Statement as a condition of employment. The members of the Board of Trustees confirm their commitment to the University’s theological foundation by signing the statement annually also.”

Tennessee Temple: “As a community of Christian believers, the Board of Trustees, administration, faculty, and staff share a common belief system that is expressed by our confession of faith.”

Judson University: “First, and as mentioned above, Judson is a conservative, evangelical, Christian university, reflecting the commitment to share God’s love through Jesus Christ throughout the world… There are ten qualities that clearly reflect how Judson University Trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, students and alumni are to live out the three foundational principles of the University’s faith identity.  The aforementioned seminal documents also include specific ways, methods and requirements relating to putting into practice the following ten qualities.

Judson may or may not use “conservative” politically, but there are certainly potential students who would understand it that way. Progressive students would be filtered out, and moderate students will feel right-leaning pressure. In any case, faculty, staff, students, or in one case, alumni are required to affirm their agreement with the points in each of the statements of faith. Some are asked to do it repeatedly. There are real, practical consequences if someone disagrees with even one point on them, and sometimes the points are political as well as religious.

Here’s where I have an issue with the attitudes towards higher education of some conservative friends and family, or towards other perceived liberal bastions (the media, the coasts, cities, etc.). If the family member I began by talking about had the same attitudes when he was 18, and for whatever reason he wanted to enroll at Berkeley, would he necessarily fit in with his classmates? No. Would he agree with the positions or the reading assignments of his professors? Probably not. But he would not be required to agree with his professors at most universities, including, I suspect, the People’s Republic of Berkeley. If he got an assignment to explain the thought of Karl Marx, he may not enjoy it. He might be obligated to demonstrate that he understood what Marx was arguing, and explications can be difficult when the assignment you want is to critique Marx, to attack him, not to explain him. He would be free to disagree with Marx as long as he made an honest effort to understand him. And if I am wrong, and there are liberal schools out there that would require his assent in some way, then they are more than balanced by the many conservative schools we have already seen.

I find the same issue when teaching the Bible, or certain religious traditions. Loyola is quite progressive, so when my students are asked to explain the (pretty sexist) household codes in the deutero-Paulines, they probably do not enjoy it. Nonetheless, it is something that I as their teacher may feel is important to understand from the writer’s first century perspective, and to understand how these views are understood from a 21st century perspective, a perspective they may not agree with.

So he might feel some social pressure at a Berkeley. He may wish he were in a place where he could wear a #MAGA hat in peace while still having lots of friends and getting a quality degree. In other words, he would want a safe space where he is not triggered by the opinions of liberal students and faculty. It’s a reason to go to UGA, or to Clemson, or to UVA – any one of the quality conservative campuses around the country. And if he were really passionate about conservative Christian beliefs, he could always go to one of the schools mentioned above.

But he would not be obligated to agree with positions he opposed at a liberal campus. At the many conservative schools with SOFs like the ones above (these results came from just the first four pages of a Google search, and I didn’t use all of them), he could be reprimanded or expelled. Potential professors or advisors or groundskeepers could be reprimanded or fired for posting a picture of themselves at a gay wedding on social media, or for living with someone they are not married to, or for doubting the inerrancy of the Bible. I can imagine there are liberal schools out there, for example, that affirm the right to gay marriage. Yet a conservative could continue to oppose gay marriage and teach physics at one of these institutions – after all, physics has nothing to do with sexuality. But a progressive physics teacher applying to one of these conservative campuses would not make it past the front gate. Or if they ever outed themselves as pro-gay marriage, they would be quickly sacked. It’s not a matter of social pressure, it’s the actual policy.

As a counterpoint, one might bring up cases like Keith Fink’s, an adjunct at UCLA who says he was fired for having conservative views. Fox News loved the story. But according to internal communications and his fellow faculty, no one ever told him his political views were the reason, he just assumes they were without evidence. In the meantime, according to his evaluations, Fink did not attend department meetings or functions, so nobody knew him. That’s not generally a good idea. He refused both the Chair and the Vice Chair as evaluators – the latter before he had even met Fink – because he preemptively thought he would be persecuted for his views. Fink also seemed to spend an inordinate amount of class time attacking UCLA administration. Now, I don’t know what the issues are, so I might agree with Fink wholeheartedly on his criticisms. Yet someone in his tenuous position should expect, right or wrong, that the administration might not react well to them (no matter which political flavor his views have), and apparently they tolerated it for multiple terms before it appeared in his evaluation, which also noted, by the way, “I believe Mr. Fink clearly has a right to express those views, especially in a class on the topic of free speech.” In other words, Fink believed the same bullshit as many other conservatives do, that universities are by nature far-left, so he could not believe that his performance had anything to do with his firing. It’s possible that everyone else is lying, that he was “really” fired for being conservative. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence, but who needs that? If he was, at the very least his administration had to concoct all of these lies (again, over the course of several terms) to get him fired. His firing would be a failure of the system meant to protect him. If he had expressed any progressive views at Liberty, especially while berating students in a crowded lecture hall, he’d be gone that afternoon.

Biblical studies in Chicago is really male, really white

As I’ve pointed out before, there are not a lot of women in biblical studies. Or at least that’s my impression. Then again, I might have a weird sample – maybe only Loyola is boy crazy. Or maybe Catholic universities are. So I looked at the Bible faculty at 15 Chicago area schools. As always, a more formal study is warranted: I picked these 15 more or less because I could list them off the top of my head, but they constitute a big slice of Chicago biblical studies faculty.

Altogether there were 65 tenure-track professors (no visiting professors, instructors, or lecturers were included) specializing in biblical studies (which I gathered from their publishing history). I discerned whether they were male or not, and also white or not. There is always room for error here – a survey in which they could self-identify would be preferable. However, given these caveats, I just wanted to do a spot-check of what proportion of Bible scholars was white, and what proportion was male.

Percent of Chicago biblical scholars who are (apparently) male: 74%

Percent of population who are male: 48%

Oddly, although this is grossly tilted toward men, it isn’t as bad as I thought. Granted, I work in an all-male-TT department. The year I entered doctoral studies at LUC (2011) was the last time a woman was admitted into New Testament program, the very brilliant Nelida Naveros-Cordova, now at LaRoche College in Pittsburgh. Since then, total sausage fest. Still, 74% men is heavily skewed.

Percent of Chicago biblical scholars who are (apparently) white: 86%

Percent of population who are white: 64%

Again, I work in an all-white-TT department so this isn’t terribly surprising. But there is an obvious skew toward one demographic.

Over 60% are both, i.e. white men (rough population ratio, 31%).

Only three Chicago biblical scholars were neither white, nor men: Stephanie Bukhanon Crowder and Seung Ai Yang at Chicago Theological Seminary, and Elizabeth Sung at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

There are some factors that contribute to this skew:

More conservative churches, and the colleges they run, are unlikely to encourage women to go into biblical studies – women shouldn’t have authority over men and all that. Since colleges connected to these churches are likely to hire from within their own tradition, they are also more likely to hire men. But what about more progressive departments, which are still heavily skewed male? And why so white?

This may have to do with privilege. It takes roughly 11 or 12 years to work through a PhD in biblical studies, often longer. During that time, working full time is rough if not impossible, and one may accrue quite a bit of student debt through undergraduate and master’s degrees that may be unfunded. Someone needs to have the ingrained confidence that he or she will be all right financially, that the system will eventually work for them, even with a twelve year break from building wealth. This may be a feeling that white men are more likely to have than others, given the (longstanding) distribution of wealth in America. I know, for example, my wife’s family, who are first generation immigrants, views me as a bit silly and irresponsible for pursuing work in this field without the promise of significant financial gain at the end of my studies. If the economy or the political situation ever hits the fan, she will have accrued wealth and valuable skills as a medical doctor. I will be able to read several dead languages and to voice strong opinions on teaching strategies. In other words, my wife will be welcomed by societies that need her skillset, and I will be digging ditches. As a privileged person, there is simply no tangible reality to this threat, whereas for someone who knows, or whose family knows, that economies can fail, or can fail to work for us, the threat is much more real. The uncertainty and financially unrewarding nature of academics may be more likely a deal-breaker. This may be (maybe) why the doctoral applicant pool to LUC got a lot whiter and a lot dudier when the recession hit.

I’m not arguing against white guys in biblical studies. I am one, and I’m the bee’s knees (or so I tell myself). But non-white and/or non-cisgendered-male people bring important new perspectives to the field, and their inclusion combats the cultural isolation that biblical studies imposes on itself. The field is significantly skewed, and many would think it is as it should be. For those who don’t, however, it is worth taking the time to spot-check what the actual numbers are from time to time.