Well, that was fun. In my last post I ping backed Mark Elrod’s blog and my numbers went through the roof. I learned two things: First, moderating a load of comments is a lot of work. Second, people have strong feelings about this issue.
Elrod denied that HU was leaning on him about the general content of his blog or about his support for Barack Obama. As I said, I see no reason not to take him at his word. However, what he does not deny is that many people, instead of taking up their concerns with him, went over his head and whined (there really is no other word for it) to the administration. If this is the case, then both the administration and Elrod have my sympathies. As I stated on Frank McCown’s blog, it has to be as tiresome for the administration to field complaints from brother and sister so-and-so as it is for Elrod to have to hear about it.
With that said, I think that this fracas raises other interesting questions:
What is it with believers and their allegiance to a political party?
I know Christian Republicans, Christian Democrats, Christian Libertarians, and even Christian Greens, among other political stripes (except for communists…can’t say I have met any Christian commies; but give it time). Most of these people can give good, even scriptural reasons for their positioning on the political spectrum. (However, if your only reason for your politics is “Because James Dobson said so” or “Because Jim Wallis said so,” you have officially lost my interest in what you have to say). Being an Independent, I might disagree with one or all of them from time to time, but I can’t really take issue with their commitment to the faith based on their self-identified politics.
On the other hand, I will always take issue when somebody presumes to question another’s faith based on the other’s politics. Yet this is precisely what so many people among the churches of Christ (and other conservative fellowships) seem to be doing on a daily basis; not just to Elrod but to anyone whose politics they do not like. Remember the news item about the Southern Baptist pastor in North Carolina who booted members of his church for voting for John Kerry? I am not accusing the conservative commenters on Elrod’s blog or my post of yesterday of going over his head. Each denied it, and I will do them the courtesy of taking them at their word. But somebody did go to the administration complaining about Elrod, without saying word one to him. And that is cowardice, pure and simple.
I am not saying that Christian institutions shouldn’t be enmeshed with the Republican Party; I am saying that Christian institutions shouldn’t be enmeshed with any political party.
What are the bounds of academic freedom?
In following this hot discussion around the blogosphere, I encountered one particularly disturbing line of thought over and over again. The comments typically went something like this: “Elrod knew he was working at a conservative school, and therefore has no right to be upset or surprised about this.”
Sorry kids, but I ain’t buying it. Harding bills itself as an educational institution, a university, no less; not a preacher training school. What is the threat, really, of having a dissenting viewpoint? Isn’t any university doing a disservice to its students by presenting only one viewpoint and saying, “This is all that there is”? (This goes for lefty schools as well.) They are free to endorse whatever viewpoint they like, but to deny even the existence of another viewpoint? How does this prepare students for the real world in any way, shape, or form? Even Roland, one of the conservatives who frequently took issue with Elrod, admits that Harding needs people like him.
Christianity is supposed to be open to all, to welcome all who confess their faith in Christ and are buried with him in baptism. That is the only common denominator in any church. So why are people so surprised to find differences in political opinions?
Why were people so quick to condemn Harding?
This includes me, of course. Like many others, I presumed that Harding had forced Elrod’s hand; apparently, I was wrong. I admit it and have eaten my crow, complete with salt and pepper and humble pie for dessert.
But these jumps to conclusion don’t occur in a vacuum. During my undergraduate days there, I saw enough hypocrisy, restriction, and harping on students and professors for unpopular opinions to build up a healthy dose of cynicism about Christian education in general. I am not defending my cynicism as a virtue; far from it. But I still feel some residual disgust when I think about the things that the intercollegiate athletes got away with while other students were kicked out for the same infractions. I also still feel some disgust over the lessons that many students seemed to take from the rules and the way that they were enforced: “Hey, I may be arrogant, hateful, and elitist…but at least I don’t cuss, drink, or smoke.” But I digress. That’s not the school’s fault, but one would think that some attempt would be made to address it.
I don’t think that the fallout from this is over. Elrod’s blog may be going private, but he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who will kowtow just to make a few sticks-in-the-mud happy. And it is obvious from the pushback of students and alumni that these matters have long been building up in the minds of many and that this may be the match that lights the powder keg. Time will tell.