Gordon and the Accreditors

by
October 8, 2014

Accreditation just gets “curiouser and curiouser” (to quote Alice in Wonderland). The New England Association of Schools and Colleges is pressuring Gordon College to drop its strictures against “homosexual practice,” and Gordon has bought time by agreeing to review the policy over the next year. In a mid-July letter to Gordon President Michael Lindsey, NEASC’s president Barbara Brittingham assured him that neither withdrawal of accreditation nor probation were on the table for the upcoming September meeting (a short-term assurance the College tends, understandably, to extrapolate to the more distant future), but one has to wonder whether the Association will be so laid back if Gordon’s journey of essentially-coerced, sensitive self-scrutiny brings it back to precisely to the good place it’s been all along.

It may seem that Gordon’s long-term viability as a convictional school is at stake, but I would suggest that the future of accreditors such as NEASC is really the issue. How can they survive while continuing to behave so badly?

Newcomers to the scene might well wonder what scruples over homosexual behavior in their midst has to do with Gordon’s heft as an educational institution, especially since the vast majority of humankind throughout history, and today, has found gay and lesbian sex to be perverse. When did the “love that dare not speak its name” become “the love whose critics dare not speak their names?”

Neophytes likely miss the point that academic accreditation, as practiced in America, has long since left its focus on serious scholarship and found the charms of social engineering and convenience-marketing more compelling.

Accreditors, who used to make sure that schools had substantial libraries, reputable, well-trained professors, and such now strain at minutiae, making manifestly wonderful schools jump through hoops of dubious provenance, passing judgment on scholars whose sandals many of these “education professionals” are unworthy to unlatch.

Alas, schools desperate for noses and nickels and have come a long way from the day when American president James Garfield could observe, plausibly, that an “ideal college was one with [Williams College president] Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other” (a favorite quote of my old philosophy chairman at Wheaton College, Arthur Holmes). The system now is little disposed to produce either the Hopkinses or the students who are apt for or inclined toward a profitable afternoon on said log. Instead, most colleges and seminaries willingly pay bureaucrats to satisfy the bureaucrats at the accreditation bureaus, while the dispiriting race to the bottom continues.

Then there’s the ideological bullying, such as that which Gordon is suffering. It’s not a new thing. Let me offer a little history.

Back in 1991, the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges pulled a similar stunt, this time to serve the feminist agenda. They menaced Westminster Theological Seminary for having a board made up exclusively of men, ignoring the seminary’s charter requiring ordination of its trustees and its belief that ordination should be limited to men. In other words, MSASC took sides in the egalitarian-complementarian theological/ecclesiological debate and threatened to punish the seminary for coming out on the wrong side of that issue.

Fortunately, President George H.W. Bush had appointed now-Senator Lamar Alexander as Secretary of Education, and Alexander expressed reservations over re-certifying MSASC to judge schools in their territory. It got their attention, and, accepting a face-saving tweak, they relented. Unfortunately, President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan shows no such interest in protecting biblically serious schools from PC harassment.

Such hostile forays into biblical communities are not limited to secular accreditors. Back in the mid-90s, the Association of Theological Schools revised their bylaws, and therein took a run at the complementarians in their midst. (I’m told they also tried to punish schools who drew lines against homosexuality, but the Mainliners failed to move this out of committee.) When they essayed an egalitarian clause, they got pushback from traditionalists, and so they permitted a qualifier. The resulting line stipulated that egalitarian standards were the ATS default position, but that an exception could be made for schools whose root, historical (read “knuckle-dragging, patro-tyrannical”) practice prevented them from cooperating in good (read “pathetic”) conscience.

While this was a helpful adjustment, I suggested, from the floor, that it should read something like, “The ATS position should honor long-standing, vastly-favored, biblical-based scruples supporting complementary gender roles in the Church, but if member institutions cannot bring themselves to accept them, they should be allowed to deviate toward egalitarian practice.” As I recall, it was not that well received, though, afterwards, I discovered that it heartened a number of rougher characters.

Now we have the silliness at NEASC, and there is little prospect of spiritual or even rational awakening in the halls of accreditation. They will continue to advance the “tolerance” agenda, so well described in Allen Bloom’s, The Closing of the American Mind. Where forced into tactical retreat, they will regroup, and emerge to fight another day.

What’s next? Will they assault Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, when someone cries, “These wahoos say Hindus are going to hell!” Talk about politically incorrect. And poor Gordon has also drawn the line against those engaging “sexual relations outside of marriage,” so they’d better brace themselves against the co-habitation enthusiasts, who might exclaim, in horror, “You mean to say that Oprah Winfrey could not have been admitted to Gordon when she was living with Stedman Graham!? Have you no shame?”

Meanwhile, Princeton University seems accreditationally safe even through they continue to employ a philosophy professor, Peter Singer, who suggests that bestiality may not be so bad. The same goes for Northwestern University, whose faculty includes a Holocaust denier and a sexologist who scheduled a couple performing a live, nude, conjugal act for his students. Apparently, a lot of leeway and lunacy is acceptable so long as it’s not “leeway and lunacy” based on Christian scripture – “foolishness to the Greeks” if you will.

From her bio, I read that NEASC’s enforcer, Barbara Brittingham, has served widely as an accreditation consultant in the North Africa and the Middle East – in Qatar, Oman, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates. One wonders whether she’s dared to suggest rules for the normalization of homosexuality in the Arab World schools she’s advised. Perhaps she’ll begin to notice that homosexuals are safer in cultures shaped historically by the Bible (and Bible-based schools such as Gordon) than in regions ignorant of or hostile to God’s Word.

President Eisenhower warned of the power of the “military-industrial complex.” Today, we must decry the anti-Christian-school power of the “government-education” complex, which seems determined to homogenize institutional belief and practice in a decidedly unholy direction.

Christianity Today reports that Gordon, which prides itself on its “history of respectful self-critique and of dialogue with individuals of diverse backgrounds” has formed a “discernment committee,” to the satisfaction of Ms. Brittingham. I’m afraid the discernment they’re seeking may not be so much biblically exegetical – congruent with the full counsel of the ‘IXTHUS’ spelled out in Greek on their seal – as diplomatically expedient. Me genoito!

I trust there are limits to how much we evangelicals will endure. We said as much in the Manhattan Declaration. And I hope the accreditors are listening.

 


Mark Coppenger
Mark Coppenger is Vice President for Extension Education at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Director of The Nashville Extension Center; and Professor of Christian Apologetics. His most recent book is Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians: Pushing Back Against Cultural and Religious Critics. You can find him on twitter at @mcoppenger.