And Another Thing…

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And the dust settles

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.

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Filed under: Faith and Religion, Politics, School, , , , , , ,

22 Responses

  1. greg says:

    very well said.

  2. odgie says:

    Matt – you’re welcome

    Greg – Welcome to AAT. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Thank you for this post. I think it is the best blog post on this whole Elrodgate fiasco.

  4. Adam G. says:

    I’ve known a few Christians in Brazil with very strong communist sentiments. I find it incredibly frustrating. Personally, I’d describe my political viewpoint as “independent libertarian.” There was a time I was a pretty strict purist on libertarian thought.

    As I’ve stated before, Harding is my alma mater and I appreciate what I gained there. I remember, though, the conservative politics. I was there in the late ’90s as Bill Clinton was facing possible impeachment. Everyone I knew was against him and for impeachment. I always doubted whether if the president in the same situation were Republican they’d raise the same stink.

    The Bible Belt in general isn’t easy for Christians with certain viewpoints, and private Christian universities in the south have to think about their support base and keeping everyone calm (“happy” is rarely an option). Yes, there’s money involved.

    The situation really disturbs me, because I wish things were different.

  5. odgie says:

    David – Thank you for your kind words

    Adam – Communism is one of the few political stripes that seems totally incompatible with the faith (that whole “God is the state” thing). Please share more if you have the time. Libertarianism seems to be growing among believers, and I can see why. It allows one to evade the excesses of the hard right and hard left and gets the government off of people’s backs. The main thing that holds me back from declaring myself a libertarian is that I lack faith in the power of the free market to cure all of society’s ills and I lack faith in my fellow man to handle himself responsibly with minimal legal intervention…there’s that cynicism again 🙂

  6. Micah says:

    Ya know. I’ve always though that the “idea” of communism is more how the Kingdom is set up. Look at the 1st century church. Is that not Communism? Of course it is not what most of the world thinks of when you say Communism. Most people picture Stalin or the hammer and sickle. But everyone working and helping each other out. They all shared food and money. Of course since we are human the idea of Communism doesn’t really work. Eventually someone will try to take over and use the “classless” to their advantage. But isn’t that Capitalism anyways?

    That said. Hitching your faith to a politicle party is a bad idea regardless of which one it is. Gods word is my party. Jesus is King. All others answer to him.

  7. Roland says:

    Good post Yes, I do agree that Harding needs him but I also stand by the reasoning that if HU did do something, it should not have come as a surprise to him.

    Also, Elrod has been outspoken as a Democrat since he started at HU. He has never been shy about his views and has always been outspoken about them. This is why I don’t believe that HU would put any pressure on him. Why now, after 20 years would they do so.

    Anyway, great blog. I need to link you up with mine.

  8. LukeD says:

    Good post. It’s nice when people can see both sides of a contentious issue, and are willing to acknowledge their own biases.

  9. Good response. I do have to disagree though. In my recent experience and over the course of a lifetime in the CoC, I’ve found that money trumps everything. Even biblical principle. Check it for yourself. Why would Elrod go private when he’s been waiting for this moment for so long?

    You can hear my discussion on this topic at http://www.downintheblog.com

  10. I disagree. Listen to my response on my site downintheblog

  11. David B says:

    I’m a bit less harsh on Elrod now after reading what he says happened. Here’s what I put on as a comment:

    You know what might change Harding? My pipe dream for today is for the neo-cons in charge to go back and read about its history pre-Benson. Armstrong would never be allowed to set foot on the campus that he helped build, and I gotta believe that James A Harding would be rolling in his grave if he knew what kind of control mammon has on a school named after him. Both men would be decidedly out of step with the dominant ideology in Churches of Christ today.

    One other sad thing about the pressure tactics some are applying…it’s happening everywhere, not just here. As a preacher I read a lot of the brotherhood rags that come across my desk, always unsolicited, and they are continually in watchdog mode for the evil ‘change agents’ (to use one popular epithet) among us. I don’t see this getting any better anytime soon.

  12. Kelly says:

    Great, great post. I’ve really enjoyed reading the back and forth, because I am waaaay out of the loop on the topic. Really intelligently argued on both sides, with an exception or two! Thanks for sharing it with us Odgie!

  13. odgie says:

    @7 Micah – You are right, the early church (especially in the days immediately following Pentecost) lived a communal lifestyle. And before any conservatives spell it out, let me say I know that it was voluntary. That is a critical distinction between then and now, but not the only one.

    @8 Roland – True Elrod has been at Harding for 20 years. However, I think that more pressure may be coming in on the administration and consequently trickling down on Elrod (crap does roll down hill, after all) these days because of increased political polarization in the brotherhood. Just a guess, of course.

    @9 Luke – Welcome to AAT and thanks for the comment.

    @10 & 11 – Rodney – Thanks for kicking in; I am always pleased to have people politely disagree, but could you elaborate on how? Also, I couldn’t find an audiolink at your site. Some help?

    @12 DB – Restoration history is fascinating, isn’t it? I love to drop a few bombs on brethren now and then about some of Campbell and Stone’s positions on various issues. What I really love is telling them about our relationship to the Presbyterians.

    @13 Kelly – So what is your take on this as someone who is by his own admission “out of the loop”? Looking forward to pulling some croaker and rockfish out of the Chesapeake with you on Friday, by the way!

    @14 Carson’s blog – he has another take on this and discusses some decisions he has made as a result. Be sure and check it out.

  14. Roland says:

    Odige, I agree there is increased political polarization in the brotherhood but, you know, it does go both ways. What I mean by that is, we all think that the brotherhood is filled with ultra right conservatives who do nothing but condemn democrats. While, there are many of those, I am starting to see it swing the other way. A recent example is Mike Cope’s post about Christians hating Hillary. He totally glossed over the “hate Bush” contingent. I do think there is more polarization out there but it’s not all one sided.

    Hopefully that was clear. It’s early. 🙂

  15. David B says:

    #16: Yes, the left in Churches of Christ is sometimes arrogant, self-righteous, and headstrong. But the right is incredibly well financed and seems to get their panties in a wad on just about everything. Read through some of the brotherhood rags, look at the topics on some of the brotherhood ‘lectureships’ (especially the ones done by individual churches), and you’ll see chicken littles running around everywhere.

  16. odgie says:

    @16 Roland – Polarization, by definition, goes both ways. Everyone , left, right, and center has become more dogmatic politically. It is just a reflection of our society. It plays out differently depending on where you happen to be. I am sure it is much harder to be a conservative at liberal schools than it used to be, too. But as it happens, Harding is conservative, with conservative leadership and donors, and in their case I suspect it is harder to be a liberal now than it was when Elrod first started there.

    Is there a contingent in the churches of Christ that hates on Bush? I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I haven’t seen them. A lot of the Bush-bashing I hear of late comes from conservatives. But I digress.

    Keep in mind, we are talking about the churches of Christ here. The vast, vast majority of the denomination resides in the “red states,” it only stands to reason that the conservatives would outnumber the liberals.

  17. Jerri Harrington says:

    I think I may be naive, but is polarization an option in the brotherhood? The number one thing we have to do is agree on the gospel, which centers around obedience, forgiveness, grace and love–and glorifying God, not our own opinions. I do have opinions about what I consider important issues, and they may differ from others’, but my opinions are not worth “murdering” my brother with my words or attitudes. We owe a debt of love, and Jesus prayed that we would extend that to one another. No matter how right any of us believes ourselves to be, none of us will be saved by anything other than the blood of Jesus. A very wise minister told me one time that it’s possible for two groups of people to both be right and wrong at the same time. Right now, as we are fighting for what’s right, people are being lost both inside and outside the brotherhood. What price are we putting on our own opinions? Just asking…..

  18. odgie says:

    @19 Jerri – Everything you said is true. Polarization should not be acceptable to anyone. But there are so many letting their politics shape their religion (rather than the other way around) that we all end up looking just like the rest of our society. This is the kind of things that makes people actually afraid of others’ opinions.

    In response to your final question: the price is way too high.

  19. Kelly says:

    Odgie, my opinion as someone “out of the loop” is that too many christians are letting politics influence their religion, and that’s as backwards as it is possible to be. Liberal or conservative, I mistrust all politicians. Who would let a politician’s viewpoint influence what they believe? Someone whose eyesight has become way too narrow. Just my two cents!

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