Monday, April 7, 2014

An Intersection of Higher Education and Christianity: News from the Margins

Until today, I didn't know that there was a college in Dayton, Tennessee named for William Jennings Bryan, prosecutor in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Nor did I remember that the trial had occurred in that less-famous Dayton. Most folks in my neck of the woods probably don't know that there IS a Dayton in Tennessee.

What's interesting is not so much the existence of a small college (44 faculty at last count, though that may be about to change drastically) founded apparently as a paean to creationism as the modern-day struggle it is going through. Consider this item:
Change in Statement of Faith Splits Faculty at Bryan College
Now, presumably the faculty at this little institution are already by and large creationists. Any school in that place with that name, founded in 1925, is laying claim to be the flagship school for Creationism. Yet even within that particular island within the broad ocean of global Christianity, there are divisions - enough that up to 25% of the faculty are threatening to leave.

According to the AP, what has prompted this conflict is a "clarification" of the existing doctrinal statement stating that "Adam and Eve were historical people who were not created from previously existing life forms."

Apparently, the controversy may be more about process than substance, with some claiming that the problem is that the charter can't be changed at all. That in itself is interesting, given my continued interest in (and battles over) process and authority within institutions. It's remarkable how we can come to see our obviously human-created institutions as "sacred" (and that's as true at secular institutions as church-affiliated ones - ask anyone who has ever heard the phrase, "But we've never done it that way before!")

But the real kicker, for me, was this statement from a now-embattled president of the college:
Bryan’s president, Stephen Livesay, who has retained the trustees’ support, explained the rationale for the clarification in an interview last month with the Christian News Network. According to the Chattanooga newspaper, he said that if Adam and Eve were not historical people, “then the credibility of all Scripture is at stake.”
This is a remarkably clear statement of a particular view of the Bible. It is, of course, an incredibly fragile view - you are practically daring people to find inconsistencies that anybody living in modern society would have difficulty dealing with. This is a Biblical view that can only be held through the kind of faith that rejects all contrary evidence - that, in fact, defines its own epistemology and resists all others.

Such an effort is, of course, infinitely self-sustaining but ultimately difficult to reconcile with much of the modern world. President Livesay and his colleagues are, of course, welcome to think this way if they choose. I wonder what they make of the many people - including the great many Christians across many denominations - who think differently.

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