Rethinking Christian Education II

This is my second of a number of posts I will draft which focuses on how Christian schools should rethink Christian education. Part one can be found here. This post looks at the hiring of faculty members beyond a school’s denomination. In Richard Riesen’s “Piety and Philosophy,” he notes that a Christian school should demonstrate the spiritual elements that define its mission, but warns that a school cannot be a church. It is this point that has long bothered me about a number of Christian schools, particularly those that only hire faculty members who share their particular denominational beliefs. Church of Christ and Baptist schools tend to be the worse regarding this.

When a school takes on this particular function, they are limiting students’ exposure to unique and diverse ideas. Furthermore, such a policy forces a school to resemble a church and not a school. Historically speaking, there has always been a conflict of interest between schools and church doctrines. Hence, this is why a number of universities such as a Wake Forest have severed ties with religious associations. Having attended Harding University, I have publicly desired that it would consider divorcing itself from the Churches of Christ in a way that Pepperdine University has. There is an inherent conflict with certain intellectual ideals needed to be espoused by schools which are at odd with a church. When faculty members bring “church” thinking into a school, there is a tendency to promote a worship like spirit in a school that limits the depth of discourse shared between teachers and students. Schools should commit to being a school. Spiritual components are good things regarding the intellectual growth of students, but when the spiritual takes the shape of a church, academic discourse becomes threatened. Thus, this question remains: How independent is a Christian school under the auspices of being an independent school? Christian schools really become a parochial school guided by denominational tendencies.

In my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, East memorial Christian which is located just North of the city fired its highly successful football coach because his family did not attend the right denominational church, as noted here:

Scott Phillips turned around the athletic program at East Memorial Christian Academy, including winning a state football title. But when he took on the athletic director’s job at the Montgomery, Ala., school, he was obliged to “transition” to the school’s affiliated Baptist church. His family tried the charade for a year, attending Sunday services and then dashing to their preferred worship at Church of the Highlands. “I told them I missed my old church,” he said. “It wasn’t received well.” When the school wouldn’t bend, Phillips reluctantly resigned, and was unable to salvage even a coaching job. “I thought I did enough to prove I didn’t have to be a member to do my job effectively,” he said (source)

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9 thoughts on “Rethinking Christian Education II

  1. Eddie,

    Don’t know if you are aware of this, but Pepperdine has actually reversed its previous position and made a concerted effort to reconnect with the fellowship of Churches of Christ.

    My understanding is that, while not releasing current faculty who are not from Churches of Christ, they are specifically targeting new teachers from that background.

    Their policy is not the same as Harding’s, but is definitely a step back from what it was.

    http://www.pepperdine.edu/about/pepperdine/christiantradition/

    • Thank you for the correction here, Luke. So maybe not a divorce from the CoC, but a welcoming of all faiths and types of faiths. This is a good thing I must add; it allows for healthy diversity. I would not say this is not so much a step backwards unless they welcomed a greater view of members of different faiths than before. Students will get a range of views which is most healthy and less denominational church teaching — which is not. This tends to be a greater issue in Bible classes than in any other type of courses. The thought, in my opinion, is that there is a conflict of regarding the interpretation of scripture when delivered from a denominational view. Again, being human, we all have a point of view.

      • Sorry, I wasn’t quite clear. In your original post, you were correct that, at one point, Pepperdine made a conscious decision to distance itself from its CoC origins. Since then, they have retreated from that position somewhat and have renew and revitalized their CoC ties (hence my “step back” terminology).

        My understanding is that their current position is in between the position they adopted several years ago and the position that Harding continues to maintain.

  2. “Spiritual components are good things regarding the intellectual growth of students, but when the spiritual takes the shape of a church, academic discourse becomes threatened.” Eddie, this statement strikes me as a little vague. Can you clarify?

    • Dr. J:

      One example would be the teaching of religion by way of a female; she might be an expert in her biblical field who would inculcate a sense of original scholarship to students regarding feminism. Or, just a view on the book of Mark; however, due to her gender, at certain schools, she cannot teach males due to her sex. To me, the spiritual component has now taken the shape of a church; this is less academic and intellectual and more denominational and church like. Thus, as Richard Riesen noted, a school has become too much like a church.

  3. I feel the same way about OBU that you feel about Harding. I feel that much of the opposition to hiring outside denominational, even hard theological and religious, lines stems from some belief that education/academia is the bastion of liberals, communists, and atheists. I know I might be generalizing a bit here, but I often see Facebook posts, blog posts, online articles, and I remember hearing stories even from the pulpit about “the atheist professor” who is going to try and mock you or de-convert you because of your faith.

    • Kyle: It does seem that we are on the same page. The result regardless is that students of all beliefs should be exposed to various thinking. As an educator, I believe and thus openly endorse various perspectives regarding faith and thinking. Funny, but it does seem that we all too often try to scare students into thinking that all people of knowledge are evil beings. That is simply not true. Still, as noted on my first post on this topic, introducing students to a perspective of thought is wholly healthy.

  4. I enjoyed attending a Christian college for many of the reasons you decry. However, despite the uniform church membership of the faculty, excellent teachers still found ways to encourage students to take seriously those who disagreed with them. Some professors did fit your stereotype, as did administrators who loved financial donors more than either truth or diversity sometimes made decisions that reflected bigotry more than biblical teaching. Perhaps a greater risk to Christian education than hiring people of the same religious faith is when a ‘Christian’ educational institution supports a specific political tradition.

    • Michael Summers:

      I think we are on the same page in some regards. I value religious teaching and the expression of such views; however, I fear the training of students as though they are ministers for a sect or congregation. Faith and knowledge should go hand and hand. As for politics and faith, I favor discourse as long as it is balanced with multiple perspectives.

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