This past spring, we reached out to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in order to request an evaluation of Cedarville University’s free speech policies and procedures. We did this in order to supplement our article on free speech and provide a more quantitative evaluation from an unbiased third party. Unfortunately, FIRE was bogged down by a plethora of requests and we did not receive their rating until a few days ago. Their review of Cedarville’s policies are scathing to say the least.
(To read the review, skip to “The Review” below) In their own words, “The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s mission is to defend and sustain the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates students, faculty, alumni, trustees, and the public about the threats to these rights on our campuses, and provides the means to preserve them. FIRE was founded in 1999 by University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors and Boston civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate after the overwhelming response to their 1998 book The Shadow University: The Betrayal Of Liberty On America’s Campuses.”
FIRE has a long history of defending the free speech rights of students at numerous public colleges and Universities. In 2015, the advocacy organization helped students win a lawsuit against Ohio University, forcing the University to revise its free speech policies. FIRE President Greg Lukianoff responded, “For too long, universities have engaged in censorship with little or no fear of repercussions. FIRE is bringing that era to an end.”
This organization had won 51 cases against public colleges and universities in 2021 as of June. We mention the fact that these are public colleges and universities because FIRE is concerned with constitutional violations, and only public institutions funded by the federal government are bound to constitutional requirements for freedom of speech. Private institutions are allowed to prioritize other values over freedom of speech. However, as many of us learned from our parents, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. With that said, below is FIRE’s review of Cedarville University’s free speech, performed by Ryan Ansloan, a Program Officer of Policy Reform at FIRE.
As a private university, Cedarville is not bound by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Further, provisions in the university’s student handbook—known as The Cedarville Experience—make clear that the university places other values above free expression.
Consequently, it does not seem that a student at Cedarville would have a reasonable expectation that her First Amendment rights are protected. When a private institution clearly and consistently identifies a certain set of values that it holds above free speech, FIRE awards the school a “warning” rating based on these statements (examples of warning schools in our database include Brigham Young University and Pepperdine University). I will provide a few emblematic (though by no means exhaustive) examples below.
Cedarville University will permit only those demonstrations, solicitations, or distributions that, in the judgment of the University administration, are orderly and peaceful. Demonstrations will be restricted to members of the University community. In addition, the University will restrict demonstrations, solicitations, or distributions to those that support views that are consistent with Scripture and with the mission of Cedarville University. Demonstrations, solicitations, or distributions that, in the opinion of the University, involve advocacy of unscriptural positions, are disorderly, or that interrupt or disrupt the primary teaching, research, service, ministry, and/or administrative functions of the University, or any other activity or proceeding on campus that is generally accepted as a legitimate University function, are prohibited. Students wishing to organize a demonstration, make solicitations, or distribute materials must secure permission in advance from Student Life Programs.
This policy clearly demonstrates that Cedarville does not intend to protect the free expression of its students. While the government may—consistent with the First Amendment—enact reasonable “time, place, and manner” restrictions on demonstrations to prevent disruption, it may not bar those who disagree with it from speaking outright.
The idea that the government may not silence its dissenters is a bedrock principle of freedom of speech. In a case called West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), the Supreme Court famously wrote: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.”
In prohibiting all public demonstrations that disagree with the university’s interpretation of the Bible, Cedarville’s policy offends basic First Amendment principles. This policy would not be constitutional at a public university.
The Cedarville Experience also contains more pointed prohibitions on speech. In its “Commitment to Purity” section, the handbook prohibits “public advocacy for the position that sex outside of a biblically defined marriage is morally acceptable” and states that “[s]tudents are prohibited from posting or sharing sexually provocative material.”
Both of these restrictions undoubtedly place the value of sexual purity above the value of free expression. As discussed above, the government infringes upon an individual’s First Amendment rights when it attempts to prohibit her from expressing an opinion—even when the government disagrees with that opinion. A public university could not ban students from expressing more sex-positive viewpoints.
Further, public universities may not outright ban or punish “indecent” expression. This principle derives from the Supreme Court case of Papish v. Board of Curators of the University of Missouri (1973), in which the Court wrote that “the mere dissemination of ideas—no matter how offensive to good taste—on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of ‘conventions of decency.’”
Cedarville’s policy extends even further than the policy ruled unconstitutional in Papish, as it threatens to punish students for their off-campus expression as well. Cedarville’s blanket ban on “sharing sexually provocative material” would, therefore, be unconstitutional at a public college.
The Cedarville Experience contains many more provisions that would be unconstitutional were it a public institution—the “Position on Sign Gifts and Speaking in Tongues,” “Respect for Others,” “Alcohol and Illegal and Harmful Substances,” and “Dance” sections of the handbook, for instance, all curtail students’ free speech rights. With this in mind, it seems unlikely that Cedarville students have any reasonable expectation of free speech rights while attending the university.
[In response to a follow-up email:] I think it is very fair to say that if Cedarville were a public institution and was rated in our Spotlight database, they would receive an overall Red Light rating for maintaining several policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech. Because Cedarville is a private institution, it is able to prioritize other values above freedom of speech. But if these policies were in place at a public institution, they would be unconstitutional and earn red light ratings.
FIRE’s review really speaks for itself. Of course, as a private Christian university, Cedarville has the right to prioritize certain values over free speech or free expression. However, Cedarville limits freedom expression to an extreme, including limiting student activity and speech off campus and even over breaks. Cedarville ought to ask itself: is enforcing your personal values, whether Biblical or not, on students and staff in all times at all places worth limiting student expression and inhibiting academic rigor? Are your extrabiblical doctrines really worth the control you are able to exercise over students?
To me, the clear answer is no. Excessive punishment for minor offensives detracts from the importance of larger offenses. The result of such micropunishment is students being kicked out for driving a friend to buy cigarettes but students not being kicked out for committing sexual assault. The result is students being dismissed for admitting their sexual orientation but faculty being hired with a history of sexual voyeurism (but it was only twice, so it wasn’t a big deal, right?).
The principles of our nation–which Cedarville claims to strongly support–were created in response to tyranny and supression of dissenting opinions. The kingdom of England controlled miniscule aspects of life (including religious expression) which spurred colonists to rebel and ultimately form the United States (yes, it’s more nuanced than that but that’s a very broad overview). The problem is that Cedarville is in a position with the power of a tyrant (of course, on a vastly smaller scale). Students’ only saving grace is Cedarville’s adherence to Biblical principles keeping them in line, but when this adherance becomes subjective rather than objective, students find themselves in an academic theocracy where they ought to have no expectation that their rights to free speech will be protected. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” The same is true for any establishment.
An argument can be made that Cedarville should prioritize its values over free speech in certain areas. However, is it not rather dismissive of God’s sanctifying power to force students to attend chapel every day and obtain a Bible minor with every degree and then feel the need to enforce every single minor or even questionable doctrine on students at all times? I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but in all saeriousness, shouldn’t the University’s policies stop at the point of creating an environment that cultivates a Biblical lifestyle rather than forcing it on students every second of every day? Frankly, Cedarville’s system eliminates free will and does not promote an authentic Biblical environment. God gave us free will precisely so that we would willingly serve him, not because we are forced or because we are robots who don’t have a choice. But at Cedarville, drink a beer and kiss those three years of straight A’s goodbye…and good luck transferring to any other university. How is this Biblical?
Several months ago, we asked our followers on Instagram if they would be interested in merchandise, and the majority said yes. But we didn’t want to just drop a merchandise line to make profit for ourselves (because what would we even use it for?). We wanted it to have meaning and purpose.
Because of this, we decided to donate all proceeds directly to the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. The money never passes through our hands, and we make absolutely no profit from these shirts.
With that said, below are links to our three merchandise designs available in a variety of colors.
Inspired by the most recent chapel series, this highly requested design plays off of the “Know Jesus, Know Joy” design of Cedarville t shirts. It comes in two shades of blue complete with yellow logo and lettering to help you blend this design in at Cedarville.
Design #2 features our logo in the top left, and the back is a design that speaks to individuality: it says “nonconformist“ with 15 identical dots and 1 unique dot. Going with the crowd and conforming to legalistic rules stands against our values. We, and each of our supporters, are considered nonconformists by the University. So let’s wear that name with pride!
Our personal favorite, design #3 again features our logo on the front within two eclipsing circles. This speaks to the common ground we all share with our fellow students and even with the administration. The back has a graphic of a barcode with the UPC 1887 2021, which are the years Cedarville was founded and of course this year. The barcode is meant to represent the priceless value of openness, dialogue, and understanding. This shirt makes a statement: “you can’t censor us,” a reminder that when we allow openness and free speech ourselves, we forge a community of free expression around us.
At the onset of COVID-19, colleges and universities across the nation began to close down en masse. It was a nightmare for those who were not prepared and a nightmare for students who had to adapt to a learning style many had never experienced and few had enjoyed in the past. But Cedarville University pressed on, and after closing down the school they began to conduct classes fully online. Of course, the logistics of getting used to Zoom (a software program few even knew of or used before the pandemic) was incredibly difficult. Professors who were used to making personal connections with their students found it difficult to connect with a camera (or a $1,000 “Owl” system) and professors who relied on their white boards had to find new and unique ways to get their points across. White boards are nearly impossible to see over Zoom, especially if the connection wavers even a little bit. Zoom classes were so difficult that several Communications students studied the impacts of virtual learning on professors and students for their capstone project. According to a student in the program, they found a definite disconnect between students and professors caused by the virtual learning environment.
However, one of the most appealing features of Cedarville University is its faculty-to-student ratio. The abundance of faculty and the relatively small size of the student body mean that professors are able to make deeper, more personal connections with their students and focus on individual growth alongside academic success. This carried over into the workings of online classes for the most part, with a few exceptions (professors who were incapable of adapting to technology or new styles of teaching). The Cedarville administration undoubtedly heard the outcry from students and faculty alike, prompting policies meant to bring the school back in-person starting in Fall of 2020. Graduation was put off, many campus projects delayed, and hundreds of thousands of dollars refunded (and, therefore, unavailable for the approved budget). Professors began to wonder whether they would receive their yearly pay raises, especially after a year of being tested to the limits. Cedarville decided to put off building projects (and, unfortunately, continue to raise tuition) in order to make these pay raises possible. There is no doubt that the faculty deserved an increase in pay, especially given the circumstances.
Over the summer, the administration became embroiled in scandal with the firing of Dr. Moore (and the almost-firing of Dr. White, along with the resignation of two board memebrs). This was a perfect storm: financial whiz Dr. White, who had brought the school out of a time of financial difficulty, was out of commission pending investigation. This was terrible timing. Luckily, the school managed to survive (although, I suspect, is still recovering considering the substantial delays on the new Business building next to the Stevens Student Center). In the Fall, students were invited back to campus relatively late, with policies being posted just a few weeks before students were set to move in.
Cedarville’s COVID-19 policies and procedures were rather confusing, but essentially in line with the rest of the country. Masks were not required in residences such as dorms (which is consistent with Constitutional guidance on college dorms being considered private living areas to a certain degree) but were required in all other buildings. Masks were not required while sitting down to eat with friends, but were required while sitting socially distanced in a class. Like I said, the policies were rather confusing and contradictory, but Cedarville really didn’t have a choice. Cedarville couldn’t do nothing about the pandemic and risk a breakout of disease on campus, but it also couldn’t lock down the campus and expect students to comply or to consider returning to CU worth the difficulty. Cedarville did their best to appease both sides by appealing to safety as well as providing respite from COVID restrictions for those who resisted pandemic regulations.
Of course, compromise is not always a win-win, and both sides certainly voiced their complaints. Some students felt policies were far too restrictive (and many simply boycotted restrictions by not wearing a mask) and others felt policies were not restrictive enough or not well-enforced. We performed polls on our Instagram page asking whether students approved of Cedarville’s COVID policies and opinions were very much split between those who approved, those who disapproved due to strictness, and those who disapproved due to lack of strictness. Enforcement also–like practically every rule at Cedarville–had to do with who you knew. RAs told couples masks were required in dorms and made it a point to PC people they didn’t know to show off for their friends (true story).
Beyond these problems, University staff members reported instances of Cedarville denying its staff flexibility. One staff member requested flexibility to take care of a terminally ill relative by working remotely but was denied. Another staff member whose family member passed away from COVID felt that Cedarville’s attitude toward the pandemic was apathetic, especially after Dr. White had a minor case. These stories are often overlooked by those of us who were not directly affected by COVID. Many of us watched COVID from distance while individuals such as these felt direct affects of Cedarville’s policies on the lives of their families.
As classes resumed in the fall, some professors remained online, others took a hybrid approach, and still others embraced returning to a (somewhat) traditional classroom environment. Cedarville’s quarantine and isolation policy took a substantial toll on learning, especially during the fall semester. You were in the same room with someone who coughed? BOOM. Quarantine. You have a cough? BOOM. Isolation. This uprooting of students from their dorms and classrooms made education a serious challenge. Isolation in the decrepid Faith Hall across the street from Founder’s was probably not the best option (perhaps isolation in the dorm room to maintain some level of normalcy and comfort would be better) but Cedarville had to work with what they had and overall did a good job of preventing widespread infection.
Cedarville began to slowly ease up on restrictions as chapel moved from outside to the field house back to the DMC. There was no longer any question that dorms were mask-free spaces, unless by personal choice. Many campus buildings began to ease up restriction of mask-wearing (except if there was a spike in cases, then suddenly enforcement went back into full swing). The number of cases ebbed and flowed, but remained relatively low. In fact, they remained remarkably low for a university where dorms are breeding grounds for disease. Some theorize based on a few cases that Cedarville limited its COVID infection numbers by shipping of sick students to their homes to keep numbers low. Others say COVID was not as infectious as previously thought. But somewhere in between the infectious nature of the disease, Cedarville’s potential underscoring of cases, and the policies put in place lies a fundamental truth: on the whole, Cedarville did a good job of keeping infections low. Yes, academics certainly suffered (although the pass-fail option for students saved many a GPA) and personal connections were lost. Graduates lost the opportunity to walk until the following Spring. We all felt out of shape after walking up the BTS stairs with a mask on and being out of breath. We all lived in a degree of fear for over a year. But Cedarville University did what they needed to do: they minimized infections while maximizing academic opportunity as much as possible.
Cedarville, like many organizations across America and the world, learned many lessons along the way, many of which are likely to carry over into the future. The virtual environment did not substantially decrease productivity for many jobs and in fact improved many people’s quality of work. Students became more adaptable and more conscious of their personal hygiene and health decisions. Not to mention, everyone got a Ph.D. in immunology and was a subject-matter expert on an incredibly complicated virus and its vaccines (that was sarcasm, but we did all learn more about viruses and disease than we ever wanted to). The future looks rather bright at Cedarville now, with all restrictions lifted and life finally getting back to normal.
Of course, we can’t get too comfortable. Washing hands, sanitizing, keeping things clean, not allowing ecosystems to develop in the water bottles that roll under your bunk bed, all of these are practices we should continue to prevent the spread of any disease. Furthermore, you may have heard the old dad joke when you have a headache: “Well I’ll just stomp on your foot. That’ll fix it!” It’s true. Pain overwhelms lesser pain. In the same way, the problem of COVID can overwhelm other problems that were not as immediate, such as the theological direction of the University. Remain vigilant and let your voice be heard now that it’s not muffled by a mask.
If you grew up in any evangelical church—especially a church that was a member of the Southern Baptist convention—you may have heard of Dr. Paige Patterson. Patterson served as the President of both Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), two of the most prestigious Southern Baptist theological seminaries, alongside Gateway Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Paiging all Baptists, Paiging all Baptists, we need a Conservative Resurgence…stat!”
Patterson began preaching from a young age (even as a teenager), but his first real position of leadership was in 1975 as President of the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies, from which he was fired in 1992 after “he had spent too much time on denominational politics and not enough on insuring the school’s financial well-being.” In other words, he focused less on his job as a financial leader of the school and more on the networking and political side of his job (as well as frequent Scriptural debates). While he was in that position, he made an important connection: W.A. Criswell. Criswell went on to serve as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention for two years, which became an important asset to Paige Patterson’s rise to leadership in the church. After being dismissed from Criswell College, Patterson was appointed as the President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1992-2003. While in this position, he was elected as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention for two years in 1998 and 1999.
Paige Patterson is so well-known largely because of his role in the conservative resurgence that transformed the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) into a staunchly (and, I would argue, paranoia-ridden) conservative coalition. When Adrian Rogers was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979, Paige Patterson and Judge Paul Pressler (remember that name because we will come back to him later) saw their chance to “expose” liberal theology and ideology they saw as a disease within the Southern Baptist Convention. They practically coined the phrase “liberal theology,” which even now serves as a buzzword that triggers paranoia akin to the degree the phrase “Russian spies” may have in the 1980s.
In fact, nowadays the phrases conservative or liberal theology do not refer to your adherence to certain non-essential doctrines, but rather whether or not you are theologically right-minded or even a Christian at all. Patterson rallied thousands upon thousands of supporters to fight against the “left-leaning” ideas of the SBC under the banner of defending the inerrancy of scripture (which was, of course, a worthy agenda). Since this overwrite of the convention, Southern Baptist churches, colleges, seminaries, and institutions of any kind have held tightly to conservative ideology.
Things Start to go South…Literally
Dr. Patterson followed his time at SEBTS with fifteen years as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) from 2003-2018. While at Southwestern, he met Dr. Thomas White, who was completing his degree but later served as his second-in-command as a Vice President. While they served as President and Vice President, Dr. Anthony Moore served as the Dean of Student Life. What a dynamic trio. Nothing bad could possibly come of three bros serving Jesus at a prestigious Southern Baptist Seminary!
In 2012, Paige Patterson sent a letter to former Southern Baptist Convention president Jimmy Draper saying he was worried about the election of the SBC’s first black president because “among many of the ethnic groups there are not so many of them who understand the issues involved and the seriousness of them.” In other words, black people just don’t get the issues Southern Baptists are dealing with, Jimmy. This is incredibly disturbing coming from someone who surrounded himself with seemingly likeminded individuals and pioneered the modern-day theology of an entire denomination. In a response, Draper said Patterson meant no harm in his objective discussion of “the ethnics.” Yeah. The ethnics. That’s definitely an okay thing to say.
(I hate to cut in on this history lesson, but “the ethnics” is just so beyond confusing to me. That’s like saying “the races” or “the cultures don’t understand.” It is so strange that this terminology was used to describe black people specifically)
More recently, Dr. Russell Moore—the former leader of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) who recently resigned after being accused of being “too liberal”—cited Patterson as saying, “I was really just concerned about that black girl, whether she’s egalitarian” in reference to former ERLC staff member Trillia Newbell. I’ll just let you make of that what you want.
Paige Patterson began serving on the Cedarville University Board of Trustees during the Purge (aka the firing of “liberals” and hiring of “conservatives” including Dr. White), beginning his time right before the White administration. He served from 2013 until 2018 and oversaw the hiring of his two homies from SWBTS, Dr. White and much later Dr. Moore. The Justice Collective commented the following on our post about censorship:
“Fundamentalists have always confused uniformity with unity, and CU is a perfect example of that problem at the root. Paige Patterson’s brand of SBC fundamentalism took over the Board of Trustees, hired White, and the crackdown began–all because they believed CU was ‘going liberal,’ which was absurd, considering its doctrinal statement never changed.”
A Paige in History We would Rather Forget
2018 was just a horrendous year for Paige Patterson and ultimately signaled the downfall of his conservative empire (but not the ideology behind it). Over the course of the year, multiple scandals broke out which left him as more of a disgraced former Southern Baptist figure than a key voice in the Biblical community.
In 2018, several comments Dr. Patterson made regarding women at SWBTS resurfaced. One disturbing example is when he told campus security that he wanted to meet with a student alone in order to “break down” the victim of rape. He told her had obtained nude photos of her that proved she and her abuser were in fact in a consensual relationship (uhh, ew) and that even if there was a problem, he was too busy to deal with it. He did, however, take the time to call her in to a room full of men for her to recount graphic details of her rape (men who, reportedly, included our own president, Dr. White). Plus, if you think about it, he said, it was a good thing that she was raped because only the right man would accept her after that had happened. Unbelievable. It’s like he pulled out the book on how not to handle sexual assault allegations and memorized it.
When the woman’s mother questioned the school’s admission of the abuser who had an apparently violent criminal past, Patterson lunged at her and told her he would unleash his lawyers on her if she questioned his leadership (nice guy). After the victim left the school, Patterson’s wife (who, disturbingly, has published six books on women’s roles in the church) told the girl she had made the right choice and needed to stop putting the blame on someone else for what had happened to her.
Ah, but this was not the last of Paige Patterson’s woes in 2018. After this allegation of misconduct became public knowledge, people (especially the board at Southwestern) began to wonder why Patterson had left SEBTS in 2003. Turns out, a 2003 sexual assault allegation had occurred and been mishandled at his previous job. He had refused to report the victim’s rape, told her not to report it either, and told her she just needed to forgive her attacker. Don’t worry though. Patterson did not try talk his way out of that situation when he moved to SWBTS—oh no, Patterson just directly lied to the board after he was asked about assault allegations at his previous position by saying no such incidents occurred.
This led me to wonder why? Why would he cover up such abuse? Because as it turns out, one of the abusers was none other than his cohort in the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention, Judge Paul Pressler (told you we’d come back to him later). Patterson had abused his position to cover up the sexual misconduct of his friend, lied about it to the Southwestern Seminary hiring board, and returned to that dishonest and abusive behavior. I can’t believe someone would use their position to cover up sexual misconduct, mislead a trustee board and student body, and not be held accountable.
These were not isolated instances either. Several other women had similar or even identical experiences. One woman was told that when her husband was abusive, she should kneel down and pray as he fell asleep even though that would probably cause him to hit her more (and it did) rather than leave the abusive relationship. After he beat her senseless, Patterson described this behavior as Biblical female submissiveness to her husband and used it as a sermon illustration after the husband started to come to church. I am not saying that it’s bad he started coming to church, but counseling a woman to be a scapegoat to get her abusive husband to come to church is not good Biblical counsel…good Biblical counsel would have been to leave the abusive situation immediately but continue to pray for him from a safe distance. But this was his standard advice for the lesser gender, and he has said on several occasions that he would never condone divorce since it is always wrong advice, even in most situations of abuse.
With the emergence of this information, he was very rightly stripped of all benefits, rights, and privileges including his position as President Emeritus at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Between the time of Patterson’s reemerging scandal and his resignation from the Cedarville board of trustees on May 31 of 2018, a petition had been signed by 1,300 people demanding he step down. Patterson did not attend the June Southern Baptist convention, but a resolution was proposed by his loyalists to reinstate him and fire everyone involved in his removal. According to the Washington Post, this resolution was “soundly defeated.”
In response to Patterson’s emerging scandal, Cedarville University President Thomas White wrote to reassure students, parents, faculty, staff, and outsiders that “some time ago [in 2014] in consultation with outside experts we developed and implemented policies that thoroughly investigate any reports of abuse. These processes operate across multiple divisions outside of the President’s Office increasing transparency and decentralizing authority.” He continued, “I can tell you that at Cedarville University we want a culture that supports and values women. We want a culture that defends and protects any victim.” Yeesh, not so much.
Dr. White also wrote, “These issues have been brought close to home with the recent reports involving Dr. Paige Patterson. I am burdened as I have friends on all sides. He is not perfect. None of us are, but I would have handled several situations differently from him. I appreciate the opportunities he gave me years ago and will always love him.” As a Paige Patterson protégé, statements like these come as no surprise.
Turning the Paige (or not)
If you’re Paige Patterson, you’re sooo glad 2018 is over. Whew. All those scandals in the past. Time to settle down and retire. 2019 is a nice year of relaxation and groveling for your remaining supporters to keep funding your lifestyle. But then 2020 hits. The year of COVID-19 and, if you’re Dr. Patterson, even more scandal.
In 2020, Baylor University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) filed a lawsuit against a charity organization with close ties to Paige Patterson when—after his removal—the organization diverted funds they donated to the school in order to pay themselves a salary instead. The founder of the foundation (Harold Riley) died in 2017 after creating the organization to fund Baylor and SWBTS years before. He stipulated that the schools may appoint the majority of the board, but the board created red tape to prevent the schools from having a say and sold off a large portion of the funds the schools were entitled too. Patterson’s supporters diverted the funds of the late founder after Patterson’s dismissal as president.
Just a few days ago, Southwestern published a report accusing Patterson of theft and improper donor solicitation. According to the report, “The Pattersons have continued to use institutional records for their own personal benefit and to the detriment of the Seminary. The Pattersons’s actions have caused substantial financial harm to the Seminary.” (https://wordandway.org/2021/05/28/southwestern-accuses-pattersons-of-theft-improper-donor-solicitation/) Patterson apparently stole (among many other things) boxes of confidential student and donor information and used it to contact donors in order to convince them to stop funding the University in favor of his own personal “charity”. The school’s lawyers have repeatedly contacted the Pattersons to request their property be returned, but to no avail. Patterson apparently talked SWBTS donors into diverting their funds to his personal nonprofit, and with their diverted donation funds, the Pattersons are living comfortably in a $1 million home made possible by generous donations to the cause of Christ. As Cedarville students, we know the difference that a $1 million donation can make to a school. But hey, Papa Patterson needs his walk-in shower.
Paige Patterson continues to play a role in a lingering number of churches, including Victory Baptist Church where he received a “Defender of the Faith Award” and as a keynote speaker at Fellowship church’s “Great Commission Weekend,” which sparked a flurry of controversy from within and outside of the church, including a statement of warning from the Southern Baptist Convention president. However, it would seem that his reign has finally ended. But his legacy continues to live on, even at Cedarville University.
A Paige of Cedarville History
Patterson had an effect on every organization he came in contact with, to include our own Cedarville University. Most directly, Dr. White was involved in the cover-up that got Patterson fired from SEBTS while White served as director of student life. According to the victim in an article published by Julie Roys, he was present during a meeting where Patterson urged her to share graphic details of the rape and—according to White’s secretary—the victim had another meeting with White during that time. She was placed on probation after her report (uhh, why?!) and required to meet with Joy White, who questioned the truth behind her allegations.
Paige Patterson joined the board during the Cedarville purge soon before Dr. Thomas White, his protégée from SWBTS, was hired. Four years later, Dr. Anthony Moore–another of Patterson’s protégées–would be hired under a restoration plan. And we all know how that went.
I won’t go into too much detail, but I will make a few key points on this subject.
Patterson, White, and Moore represent a cycle of abuse that has become increasingly evident in the Christian community. Patterson covered up for Paul Pressler, White covered up for Patterson, and White covered up for Moore. This is evident in the way each of these situations have been handled. Dr. White hired a known sexual predator after knowing all of the information about his abuse (he claimed to only know some, but the Village Church said White knew the full extent of the abuse). Not only that, but Dr. White put him in vulnerable positions with male students.
2. Cedarville University’s handling of sexual misconduct is far too reliant on who knows who. Dr. Moore was hired because he was a friend of Dr. White and Dr. Patterson’s. Surely, the great guy they knew back at Southwestern wasn’t capable of anything that bad so they put him into a “restoration plan.” This “restoration plan” is absolutely ridiculous considering Cedarville’s willingness to expel students and faculty over questionable doctrinal insistencies such as alcohol, literature containing explicit materials, modesty, a literal six-day creation, same-sex attraction, and a menagerie of other unredeemable sins. Below is the story of a former Cedarville staff member who was offered no such “redemption plan” courtesy of Thou Art the Man.
3. It’s time to stop protecting abusive behavior and calling it benevolence. Cedarville is starved for consistency in their handling of Biblical issues. We’ll fire student Avery Redic from his successful position in SGA for same-sex attraction but hire Dr. Moore who was a same-sex attracted voyeur to work with the basketball team and teach theology classes within months. This culture of preference set forth by the leadership of Cedarville University extends beyond its own abuse. It is contagious. Like good little Baptists, RAs hand out Personal Cautions (PCs) like candy to those leggings-wearing harlots at Chick-fil-A but turn a blind eye to the make-out sessions of their friends in dorm lounges. I do not doubt that many of our trustees may be great guys or that Dr. White may be a great guy but being a great guy with charisma does not qualify you for a position in ministry or leadership. It merely gets you there.
4. The phrase “liberal theology” is still a paranoia-ridden buzzword at Cedarville used to shame students who have less restrictive ideas about their faith. “Oh, you’re okay with being in a car with your significant other on the way back from a break? Have fun rotting in hell with the rest of the lukewarm Christians, Benjamin and Sarah.” (Sorry if I called you out) It’s time to realize that we are united by our common faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice. All those extra legalistic rules and regulations are unnecessary and sinful additions to the gospel. No one is perfect, which is why we need to find strength in unity with our fellow believers. So next time you call someone liberal or a “right-wing,” first find common ground in the gospel and discuss your differences with that as the foundation.
Where to Go from Here
When we survey the life of a figure such as Paige Patterson who has brought so much change alongside so much pain and abuse, it is reasonable to leave feeling cheated. If you fall in line with conservative theology, you mourn the discrediting of figures like Patterson. If you are a Christian at all, your heart aches when you see public figures of Christianity fall because it reflects poorly on believers as a whole.
Remember that there will be many people like Dr. Patterson whose legacies damage the gospel’s spread. But we know that God has preserved this good news throughout all of history by using people like you and I to draw the lost closer to him. By loving our neighbors and by holding our leaders accountable, we can create an environment of comfort and freedom for those who are weary from their sin. We have the opportunity to be different and to be nonconformists against the abuse that has pervaded organized religion for far too long. It begins here, on our campus by showing love to those who disagree with us and by confronting ideas that may offend us or make us uncomfortable. When we do that, we will not only grow in an academic sense, but will ebb closer to Christlikeness in our words, actions, and attitudes.
Hidden in the shadows, the elusive and borderline mystical “Justice Collective” weaves in and out of comment sections of Julie Roys, The Wartburg Watch, Righting America, and even here at the Cedarville Interpreter. In their own words, “We are an organization composed of Cedarville University alumni, professors, staff members, and former employees who insist that Dr. Thomas White be immediately terminated as President of the University.” Their concerns with Cedarville, however pointed at Dr. White they may be, are not exclusive to White’s mishandling of Dr. Moore’s hiring and Megan Lively’s rape cover-up at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The Justice Collective is an anonymous coalition of individuals with a vested interest in the wellbeing of Cedarville University. Granted, we do not know how many members of this group exist but we can assume they are telling the truth and that there are at least some employees, staff members, faculty members, and alumni. We do not know to what extent they interact with each other, but we do know that they plan to (or already have) lodge(d) a complaint against Cedarville University with the Higher Learning Commission. This could mean serious legal concerns for Cedarville and could mean de-accreditation by the HLC, rendering degrees from CU null and void (not a great outlook for a junior or senior student who can’t transfer without delaying graduation). This article will take us on a journey to explore the Justice Collective’s qualms with Cedarville University, provide our input on these accusations, and look forward to the best future for Cedarville. Along the way, hopefully we can come closer to understanding who the JC is, as well as provide some commentary on their ideas (since goodness knows, CU won’t say anything about it for fear of publicity).
Censorship of Faculty
In 2017, VP and Lt. Gen Loren Reno enacted “The Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy,” which we discussed in our article on censorship. According to the JC, who has an inside look at the workings of the University, wrote in a report, “[F]aculty across campus—in professional programs, the sciences, and the liberal arts—voiced opposition to the policy. That opposition was ignored…Some other faculty either skipped the forums [created to “discuss” the policy] or stayed silent during them for fear of reprisal.”
No vote was taken on whether or not to adopt the policy. Reno liked it. It became policy.
Bible professors argued against taking Philippians 4:8 (the backing for the policy) out of context, but their voices were ignored. Cedarville must not become a liberal institution, after all. We must remain conservative even if we have to force the professors into it! Disturbingly, Cedarville enacted this policy right after they were granted ten more years of accreditation by the HLC. Coincidence? We think not…
Since the enactment of the policy, student writing in the Cedarville Review and allegedly even Cedars, whose articles are approved by a faculty advisor, has been censored by the administration, as well as books, pictures, and articles previously available to students that the administration found offensive. In their original report, the JC outline a vast list of known instances of censorship. In conclusion to that section of the report, the JC wrote,
“Although as a private, religious institution CU has great freedom to enact policies that public schools could never enact, and it has the religious freedom to require agreement to its community life standards, it now has violated HLC accreditation mandates in many ways. These violations are completely unethical; they have likewise proved to be emotionally and verbally abusive towards faculty. In short, these violations are as unprofessional as they are unChristian.”
We fully concur with the Justice Collective’s analysis of this obvious censorship policy. Of course, Biblical education should be Biblical. But if we exclude ourselves from any approach to learning that does not directly agree with or include the Bible, we limit ourselves. The Bible is not a textbook, nor is it a guideline for textbooks. Academia involves hearing, understanding, and confronting ideas we find deeply wrong or offensive. It also involves learning from a variety of perspectives. No one benefits from a homogenous education when they are set loose in the real world.
The Gay Purge
The Justice Collective commented on our post about the LGBT+ double-standard at Cedarville. They wrote,
“Immediately upon the SBC-Paige-Patterson takeover and White’s appointment as president, LGBT students received letters in the mail telling them they were no longer welcome at CU, even though there was no evidence that such students were engaging in any behavior that violated the student handbook. Yet, as you note, the same fundamentalist trustees and constituents had no problem excusing White for his abuse of power and gross misjudgment in hiring Anthony Moore whose behavior was criminal. They likewise have no problem with the fact that White hired a visiting professor to teach in the Bible department who is a celibate gay man, Sam Allberry: https://samallberry.com/new-index. So yes, the double standard exists: LGBT-identifying-but-not-practicing students? Not allowed. LGBT-identifying-but-not-practicing professors (and staff members)? Yes. Allowed.”
We are in unison with the Justice Collective when it comes to the LGBT+ community at Cedarville. We ask pleadingly, “WHAT’S THE DEAL?!” Is it ok to be gay as long as you’re friends with Dr. White? As long as you somehow sailed under the radar at seminary? At what point does it become okay to have a unique sexuality? Celibacy doesn’t matter. You can sleep on the DMC floor in sackcloth and ashes singing Gregorian chants, but if you don’t like the opposite gender, well…have fun in hell, Jamie. Do you see the confusion here?
Dr. Anthony Moore
We have mostly chosen to avoid this topic, simply based on the fact that we have very little to add to the discussion. However, the Justice Collective really found their ground during the scandal that took place during the summer of 2020. Over 2,000 of you may recognize the petition they created to have Dr. White fired in the wake of the firing of Dr. Moore (who, by the way, was only fired because people figured out what was going on). They wrote:
Dr. White’s defense of his decision to hire Moore is both naive and illogical. White had discussed Moore’s criminal behavior with leaders at The Village Church back in 2017. By their own account, they told him everything. Therefore, Dr. White knew enough information–had enough details about Moore’s criminal behavior–to likewise know he should not hire Moore, especially just six months after he’d been fired. Yet, he did.
They bring up some important points: Dr. White knew. He knew everything…he knew that voyeurism had occurred with another man involved but still placed Moore in teaching positions and in the men’s locker room. What parent or student, knowing this information, would have approved his hiring? Dr. White did not have the interests of parents or students in mind when he hired Moore. He and his mentor Paige Patterson had only the glory days with the bros at SWBTS in mind. Dr. White argued that he acted out of a spirit of grace and forgiveness, but in doing so he placed students at risk. The Justice Collective put it this way:
We, too, believe in grace and forgiveness. We, too, believe in restoring the one lost sheep who’s wandered away from the ninety-nine. However, such restoration can never happen WHILE the other ninety-nine (or 4000+) sheep are unknowingly and thus, unethically used and put at risk in the process.
“I filed Title IX and Dr. White helped cover it up,” Kiara Lyford wrote in the comment section of the petition to fire Dr. White, “The person it was against was given a Title IX position. I was the bad Christian “for not showing grace” I ended up dropping out. They blamed me for what happened.”
Ah don’t worry, though. Cedarville fired their Title IX coordinator again, which will fix everything (mainly because they don’t have to answer questions about any misconduct they may have been involved in). Dole out the NDAs (JC: “Anyone purged is forced to sign an NDA in order to get severance pay, an unethical practice akin to blackmail. They are threatened with legal action if they break the NDA”). Fire professors who speak up. Randomly “gift” the police department with thousands of dollars during chapel (this bizarre sequence did in fact take place). Between the silencing of allegations and the shady dealings of the University both with its staff and the surrounding community, I have no doubt that far more lies in the shadows than we could imagine. Cedarville must be held accountable for these shortcomings and abuses.
The Justice Collective listed four statements “from students who went through traumatic events and were shamed by leaders on campus and/or given inadequate professional help.” These stories have been discussed in our previous articles and include figureheads such as Dr. White, Dr. Wood, and Dr. May among others. These individuals must be held accountable, even if that means they are removed from their positions. Parents have no reason to entrust their children to (and, more importantly, students have no reason to trust in) leaders who have propagated such abuse at Cedarville.
The Justice Collective documented eight statements of, “Faculty and student reports of mismanagement by top administrators and how those administrators created and encouraged a workplace of fear, intimidation and unfairness.”
I have personally spoken to professors who have not-so-subtly hinted at the culture of fear that exists for faculty. They must walk on eggshells in order to be teaching the exact right thing for fear of reprisal from the University. This is academic slavery: holding faculty to an impossible standard while ignoring Biblical standards in a plethora of other areas. Cedarville ignores its student body, it ignores its professors, and far too often it ignores fundamental Biblical principles. It has confused “campus culture” with “mandatory community” as well as a plethora of other legalistic requirements.
I cannot emphasize enough that Cedarville University is too strict: too strict in its dress code (especially toward women), too strict in its theological stances on women, the LGBT community (although equally as confused as strict), creationism, and many other questionable doctrines, and it is too strict in its conservative (never EVER leaning toward liberal EVER) ideology. Cedarville cannot and must not ignore these problems forever. It’s time to make a change.
Cedarville ought to create an anonymous way for students to offer suggestions for change of the Cedarville student handbook, whether it be written suggestion forms or an amnesty forum where students can suggest changes in person. The Cedarville University handbook is due for an overhaul, and who better to help shape its future than its own students?
Title IX is a federal law that requires and regulates the investigation and punishment of sexual discrimination in the educational environment. Discrimination is defined to include “standard discrimination,” inequality, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.
In 2013, shortly after Dr. White took over and during the continuing “Purge” that hailed the incoming administration, a federal investigation was launched to look at Cedarville’s Title IX policies. This was due to numerous complaints about their system and was extremely important because it can threaten their accreditation. Cedarville was forced to establish a Title IX office to address complaints and policies at Cedarville. However, the Title IX office is still a slave to the administration. Cedarville remains “exempt” from Title IX complaints as a private institution and can hide any Title IX complaint under the guise of religious exemption.
The purge continued after this investigation, wherein faculty were fired over any doctrinal differences with the new White administration and the opinions of the Board. Dissent was crushed, many female professors were shamed, and dozens of new taboos emerged such as sexuality, inclusivity, and openness to change. Along with the faculty, one of our predecessors in spirit, The Ventriloquist, went out the door as they dissented against some Cedarville policies and doctrines. Cedarville continued its policy of glossing over issues and making free discussion impossible.
More recently, Paige Patterson was (finally) removed from the board after several comments sexualizing women and even telling them to stay in abusive relationships. Two board members left after Dr. White was reinstated as president after knowingly hiring a sexual predator. There are countless stories of sexual assaults covered up and even the dean of the highly regarded School of Pharmacy was dismissed very quietly over sexual assault allegations over the summer. As part of that process, Cedarville refused the formal hearing the victim was entitled to. They avoided any confrontation of the issue and even brushed off her decision to leave the University. Thankfully, Dr. Bates has stepped up to the role and will undoubtedly lead the School of Pharmacy in the right direction.
Many may think that Dr. White’s debacle with the hiring and firing of Dr. Anthony Moore was a one-off mistake—something that can even be forgiven and learned from. But the Moore scandal was not Dr. White’s first run-in with Title IX—in fact, way back in 2003, he participated in the cover-up of Megan Lively’s rape alongside former board member Paige Patterson. His wife, Joy, counseled Megan as part of a “disciplinary plan.” Why a victim of rape was being “disciplined” is beyond me. Regardless, the handling of this situation was inappropriate and disturbing. Patterson stepped down over similar allegations, but White received minimal consequences when this news emerged.
In the Fall semester of 2018, a student named Kiara had sexual rumors spread about her behind her back and was completely dismissed by the administration. Title IX simply was not a priority: for Kiara, that meant she was not a priority. Another former Cedarville student and employee experienced sexual harassment during their time at Cedarville. Kat said, “As a former employee of Cedarville, I do not believe that the actions of those in leadership in this case represented the values and character of the faculty and staff that I had the opportunity to work with. I believe that Cedarville has a strong foundation built from individuals who desire to show students and the world how to live “For the Word of God, and the Testimony of Jesus Christ”. Unfortunately, this was not reflected in the tough decisions that needed to be made by those in leadership.”
Former Cedarville professor Melissa Faulkner was publicly shamed for teaching about a book that included a description of a sexual assault. The board refused to have a discussion about its value and simply shut it down. Unfortunately, Cedarville takes that approach to the vast majority of Title IX issues.
Last year, a female student at Cedarville filed a complaint with the Title IX office after her application was refused to run for chaplain. Their reason was that she was a woman, and women cannot apply for that position. She would not be allowed to campaign and her name could not be voted on. She began a petition (please check that out, since it speaks better to her beliefs and motivations) for women to be allowed to speak in chapel. She posted her petition to classifieds hoping to gain some traction. Her post was repeatedly removed by the Cedarville administration and one day she tried to re-post it, but she had been banned from Cedarville Classifieds. After going up the chain to find out why she was banned, she was told that ideas that are different from Cedarville’s are always welcome and students do not have to agree with the University doctrinal statement. But later in her statement, she wrote that any disagreement with a Cedarville policy or doctrine cannot be communicated across any Cedarville medium. Cedarville does not value differing opinions—Cedarville medium or not (as we know from the fate of The Ventriloquist‘s forceful censorship). Nearly a year later, the student’s Classified privileges have not been restored. After several months of back-and-forth with the Title IX office, she was informed that—as in all matters regarding Title IX violations—Cedarville was religiously exempt as a private Christian university.
Earlier in this semester, Cedarville launched a brand new Title IX campaign aimed at letting students “Speak Up” about Title IX allegations. In fact, they even dedicated a chapel to it. However, since then very little change has occurred. The reality is that a chapel and some signs will not fix this deeply systemic issue; so, you may ask, what will?
Cedarville is on the right track with increasing awareness, and chapels such as the one with the new Title IX coordinator are good steps, but more needs to be done.
Leave it to the professionals. Get Dr. Wood off the stage. He has done so much to cover up allegations of sexual assault and does not deserve a place on stage with a qualified woman who really seems to know her stuff.
Stay out of it. The Cedarville administration needs to have no affiliation with the Title IX office except to offer it resources and raise awareness. Title IX staff should not be the spouses of faculty or staff and should be fully independent of the University in order to provide due process to student allegations. Cedarville—and whoever heads the Title IX office—also needs to be more persistent in raising awareness and offering resources to students. Signs and a chapel are not enough.
Don’t pin blame on victims. Cedarville’s HR has a lot of say when it comes to sexual assault allegations, especially if such allegations require or encourage the dismissal of a staff or faculty member. The HR staff must not pin blame on accusors, especially if a Title IX investigation has warranted the abuser’s dismissal.
Own up to abuse. This is much more difficult as a step Cedarville can take because it comes down to individual integrity. Cedarville is terrified to address the claims we have made in this article. They quietly dismiss deans, silence accusers, empower abusers (I know of two victims of dating violence whose cases were refused because the Title IX office would not believe them), reinstate presidents after endangering students, and put the very people who allow abuse on the stage to preach against it. Cedarville must own up to its abuses as a Biblical organization. From a Biblical perspective, it is better to lose reputation to honesty than to lose integrity to good PR.
Unfortunately, at this point, corruption is evident within the administration. Any one person who tries to go against them or talk gets a stern talking-to from Mindy May, Jon Wood, or Brad Smith alongside a threat to be removed. However, this is exactly why awareness is extremely important, especially in the way we treat others. While this series has focused on the negative, there are redeeming qualities about Cedarville. The school’s academics are highly rigorous and there are many students who value the humanity and wellbeing of others. However, these qualities do not excuse the real issues that need to be addressed. The administration ultimately does not define the campus culture, we do. So from wherever you are as a student, faculty member, staff member, or parent stay committed to shedding light on abuse and do everything in your power to create a culture of openness, vulnerability, and boundaries. Whether that means talking to your roommate and some friends, making yourself a resource for students you teach, speaking up when you see abuse, or formulating policies that will improve Cedarville’s Title IX response, stand out in courage and take the steps to right the wrongs of the past and pave the way toward a safe, Christ-centered, academically rigorous campus culture.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts, feelings, and opinions alongside the impactful stories of those who have fallen victim to Cedarville’s damaging position toward women on campus. It might not feel like it, but there are students on campus who understand the damage that purity culture has caused and are working to prevent it in our actions and words.
A ‘qualified woman’
Resources for Victims of Sexual Assault, Harrassment, or any other Title IX-related issue:
Our Student Voices series is a compilation of student stories with the intent to give voice to those who cannot speak out otherwise for fear of dismissal or judgement from their fellow students. To tell your story, send us a message through our contact form or by emailing email@example.com
This marks our second “student voices” article, where we take submissions from students that do not require a full-length article and combine them into one. Our goal for these articles is to, as always, shed light on the very real problems Cedarville students are facing every day and this allows us to do so in their own words. Today’s student voices article is particularly exciting because it includes a very real action step you can take today to make a difference at Cedarville University, some incredible insight from another student on the importance of allowing for open and honest conversation about our scars, and an all-too relatable story about the overreach of students in power at Cedarville.
In order to preserve free expression and the open exchange of ideas by all members of the Cedarville community, the administration ought to publicly agree to and sign the Chicago Statement on Free Speech as outlined below. Cedarville University must commit to creating policies consistent with the principles of free speech. Cedarville cannot protect Second Amendment rights by allowing professors to carry weapons while ignoring First Amendment rights by preventing students from carrying dissenting opinions. The guns that have defended our democracy are of far lesser importance than the free exchange of ideas that once invented and still preserve it.
Cedarville’s unfortunate history of censorship must come to an end and policies must be set in place in order to cultivate the pursuit of truth and academic rigor. Cedarville University has been called out by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) as a hotbed of an “invisible free speech crisis” at private Universities that see themselves as exempt from Constitutional Law. (https://www.thefire.org/is-speech-suppression-at-religious-colleges-the-invisible-free-speech-crisis/ While this is technically true, any institution dedicated to freedom, academic rigor, and truth must embrace free speech.
It is time for Cedarville to join the fight against censorship and speech regulations inconsistent with the freedom of expression–a fundamental human right that Christians are obligated to protect.
This statement allows Cedarville to exercise its religious liberty, but only insofar as it allows the proper function of the University. Differing opinions may not be silenced simply because a student or faculty member disagrees with minor doctrines. Rather, ideas that are deemed wrong are subject to debate. Ultimately, the truth comes to the forefront in its purest form when tried by the fire of public opinion. Cedarville University must recognize this by accepting and signing the Chicago Statement on Free Speech.
In its original form, the authors wrote, “As Robert M. Hutchins observed, without a vibrant commitment to free and open inquiry, a university ceases to be a university. The University of Chicago’s long-standing commitment to this principle lies at the very core of our University’s greatness. That is our inheritance, and it is our promise to the future.”
Join us in securing the inheritance of free and open inquiry for Cedarville University:
The Chicago Statement:
Because Cedarville University (hereafter referred to as “the University”) is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the University, it fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the Cedarville University community “to discuss any problem that presents itself.”
Of course, the ideas of different members of the Cedarville University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although Cedarville University greatly values civility, and although all members of its community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.
The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. Cedarville University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University. In addition, Cedarville University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of Cedarville University. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with Cedarville University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.
In a word, Cedarville University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the community, not for Cedarville University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the Cedarville University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of its educational mission.
As a corollary to Cedarville University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University’s community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the Cedarville University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, Cedarville University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.
This next piece written by an anonymous Cedarville student about an experience that many of us share: the fear of showing our scars for fear of judgement. It perfectly describes a disturbing culture of self-censorship, especially in the area of mental health. TW//self harm
At Cedarville, people are dismissed for their current or past scars in life. Instead of loving them, they turn them away or “hide” the truth. Scars make us who we are today and no scar is too small. People should be allowed to embrace their scars and grow from them, but Cedarville just tears them down making them think that they can’t speak up and they are left to fend for themselves. I know so many people who are afraid to talk to their friends about a mistake they made or a trauma they went through because of the judgement they will receive. Being a Christian is more than just reading your Bible and going to chapel everyday and praying 24/7.
Being a Christian is loving your neighbor and to walk with people through their struggles and love them through that. We are not called to judge someone because they made the mistake because as we all know, no one is perfect and God knows that. God knows that we are not perfect and yet He chooses to love us anyway, so why can’t we? Why are we so quick to judge people and tell them they aren’t a Christian because they put themselves in a situation where something bad can happen. We all learn from our mistakes and it is about time Cedarville understands mental health should not be dismissed, but instead be accepted with open arms. The students shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and talk to someone, they should feel comfortable walking into the counseling department without fear of dismissal.
Abuse of Power
We have written previously via our social media channels about the excessive degree of power Cedarville has given its RAs. We performed polls and asked questions and unfortunately the vast majority of students have negative experiences with their RAs abusing the authority they have been give. This is one such story from an anonymous author.
One time freshman year, I was in my dorm attempting to get water with my Brita filter. In Willetts you have to go to the kitchen to do this because the sinks in the bathroom are not deep enough for Brita filters. Anyways, it was about 8 o’clock at night when I ventured to the dorm kitchen. I was met with 3 lovely couples who were shamelessly showing PDA; and I mean *showing* PDA. I ignore these common nuisances, and go about filling up my water filter. Just then an RA comes in and I think, “Wow, finally someone will tell these people to, I don’t know get a room, (just kidding) but you know, break-it-up, you’re in public. To my surprise, the RA walks up to *me*, who just so happens to be wearing a tank top (because I live 3 feet away from the kitchen and it’s my dorm) and tells me that I am making her and everyone else uncomfortable with my inappropriate attire, and will need to return to my dormroom to put on a sweater and then come back for my filter. I was shocked, embarrassed, and confused.
This was only my third or fourth week at Cedarville and I was completely appalled by her complete disregard of the couples were being inappropriate in the dorm. If you live in Willetts you know that couples who do not live there will come to the dorm to “chill”, because it’s co-Ed.
I was completely embarrassed and infuriated at the fact that she completely ignored the people who were actually making the residents of the dorm uncomfortable, and instead choose to talk to me, the tank-top wearer, (which by-the-way, dress code within the dorm is not discussed at length anywhere). After this incident, I had two other run-ins with this same RA, in both incidences she was extremely rude and demeaning to me over small, accidental dress code mishaps.
RA’s should not hold this type power over other students, especially when they have blatant bias towards their friends and certain rules.
These three words have been used over and over to address problems with The Interpreter. After all, we exist as an anonymous website. However, we are students who want to see change in the policies and culture at Cedarville University. We do not want the school to be torn down, its programs to be destroyed, or its faculty or staff to be shamed. We want to see change for the better.
The purpose of this article is to defend our credibility against the plethora of criticism we have received. To do that, we will look at our mission, our motives for publication, and finally look at our reliability from historical and pragmatic perspectives.
No one can deny that Cedarville has problems. Legalism is deeply pervasive among the student body and the administration. Third-tier Christianity (i.e. so-called doctrines of personal preference) has become too much of the focus of the administration. There is a noticeable sense of moral superiority. The school has permitted abuse and mistreatment, discrimination and disrespect, censorship and ignorance to very real issues. Its dress code is too strict, its punishments too severe, and its code of conduct too vague. Such vagueness perpetuates abuse: rules that do not clearly define free speech, for example, can be interpreted by the University in favor of censorship.
With all of that said, Cedarville does have its bright spots. A recent Title IX campaign attempted to highlight real issues at Cedarville. There are generally bad college professors wherever you go, but on the whole, Cedarville’s faculty are incredibly smart, talented, and encouraging individuals. There are many students who are genuine, loving, and respectful. At best, our hope is to spark real and legitimate change at Cedarville: we have proposed amending alcohol rules and the dress code, eliminating the practice of censorship, avoiding Groupthink in decision-making, improving mental health resources, and end overt discrimination against LGBTQ+ students that is not excused by out-of-context Bible verses or religious exemption (as well as more articles to come). At worst, we hope to offer differing opinions on key issues among students to spark discussion and bring openness and change to the student culture at Cedarville.
All of this to say, our motives in creating The Interpreter are pure. We hope to see change in a university with thriving academic programs (Cedarville’s pharmacy program ranks as one of the best in the nation and its computer science program recently received national recognition, among many other excellent academic programs). However, we will not tolerate abuse or the elimination of dissent. Our mission is to be a voice of the student body and to shed light on the hidden problems at the University. We do not claim to have perfectly correct opinions, but these are our opinions. As we have mentioned repeatedly, however, our firmness of belief does not mean we are not open to conversation, disagreement, or even ‘hateful’ responses. All of these are conducive to free speech and open conversation. Free speech and open conversation are the ultimate catalysts for change.
We do not make money off of The Cedarville Interpreter. We write because we are passionate about these issues and want to see change for the better. We are inspired by those who reach out to express their appreciation for our articles and motivated by those who reach out to express their disagreement.
Perhaps the most common critique of the Cedarville Interpreter is in reference to our anonymity. Many have said that our anonymity is unethical. Some have said that opinions are more respected with a name attached, the information can be perceived as unreliable, and one follower said we cannot be trusted because the truth has already been filtered through our eyes. People often ask, “If you really believe what you’re saying, then why don’t you reveal who you are?”
Pastor David Epps, a proponent of such arguments, asked, “Who wants to read the writings of someone who refuses to own up to their opinions and will not engage in some dialogue?” The key here is that the problem lies in anonymous sources not opening themselves up to criticism, refusing to own up to what they believe, and preventing dialogue from ocurring.
In the Weekly Vista, Houston Enzymes CEO Devin Houston wrote an opinion piece arguing that writing in anonmity is a cowardly act: “The cowards in the dark have always been with us. The hidden voice in a crowd and unknown phone calls were predecessors to the anonymous online commenters and bullies of social media. Regardless of the venue, the motive is to make their target afraid of speaking out again. Because the coward cannot form an appropriate answer to an argument, he resorts to using fear as a means of control. The coward’s biggest fear is being exposed for what he is: ignorant and small of mind and character.
He continues, “The skin of a writer must be thick. There will always be those with differing opinions. Most writers welcome respectful arguments and actually look forward to a civil debate. This is why they put their names and addresses in their bylines. I have had my share of those who do not side with my views. I am always willing to reply to their arguments personally or at least acknowledge their disagreement. Some go so far as to express their differences publicly in a letter to the editor of the newspaper rather than in a private email or letter. I actually find this exhilarating, because a public discourse on any subject promotes understanding and makes newspapers more relevant.
I present these arguments exactly as they were presented to us. They are valid by nature of their existence because clearly these are legitimate concerns for several in our followership. However, I would argue that these positions do not take into account the whole picture. In short, as one of our followers said, “A system where honest opinions have to be hidden behind anonymity is flawed.” We would undoubtedly prefer not to be anonymous, but Cedarville deems our opinions and our stories too dangerous for their liking and would gladly silence our voice by any means possible. If you don’t believe me, check out our article on censorship. But to go more in depth, I’d like to take a look at two aspects of anonymity: First Ammendment rights and our personal case for anonymity.
The First Ammendment: The Federalist Papers are widely considered to be some of the most important documents in American History, in particular in regards to free speech. They argued in favor of the ratification of the Constitution in its current form. The Antifederalist papers, similarly, are key documents that favored state’s rights but opposed the ratification of the Constitution in its current form. All of those authors wrote under pseudonyms in order to prevent bias on the part of the reader so that they would not read their opinions in light of their identities or positions. Furthermore, considering the divisiveness of those topics, the authors wrote anonymously to protect themselves from threats and from censorship. Back then, the media consisted of random dudes who owned printing presses and published what people brought to them. They got to decide what was published and what was not (which relates to the idea of “filtering truth” previously mentioned), similarly to how The Interpreter accepts anonymous submissions from students for publication. Not comparing ourselves to the significance of these publications by any stretch, but the principles are the same: we write anonymously about policies and behaviors in order to prevent the perception that our authors are “just students” or “a faculty member we must agree with.”
According to the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, “After reviewing the weight of the historical evidence, it seems that the Framers understood the First Amendment to protect an author’s right to express his thoughts on political candidates or issues in an anonymous fashion.” It would appear to me that this principle applies not only to the political establishment, but to any social establishment that someone lives under (i.e. a University).
The Personal Case for Anonymity: We have been asked dozens of times, “If you have problems with Cedarville, why don’t you just leave?” Yet we would not ask the Antifederalists why they didn’t just leave the country if they had a problem with it and their ideas did not need to have a name attached to them to be a valid opinion. Again, not comparing ourselves to the significance of these publications, but the principles are the same. An environment where dissent is not tolerated is a deeply fractured one and one which will see stagnated innovation and growth. Cedarville is uniquely positioned to be a school where Christian students can learn important skills from a viewpoint that aligns with their own, but to enforce your non-Biblical standards on students is completely unacceptable. Many professors, especially in the Bible department, must teach disputable doctrines they do not agree with as if they are fact in order to keep their jobs. I know this because my professors as well as several others I have been told have made statements that they are teaching a certain doctrine as a Cedarville requirement, not because they agree with it. These professors’ livelihoods depend on Cedarville and–in a less direct way–so do ours. Going public with our identities alongside our dissenting viewpoints would risk our educational and career pursuits. If we eliminate our anonymity, we are opening ourselves up to discipline or even dismissal for our supposedly “anti-Cedarville” views.
But beyond that, publicizing our identities could threaten the viability of the Cedarville Interpeter and end in its censorship. This publication is the second of its kind at Cedarville. The first ultimately fizzled after substantial pressure and censorship from the University. The staff of that paper did not give up their principles, but are only able to make their arguments and express their opinions in less student-directed mediums. Because of this, in reference to our approach, I have to agree with an old Ugandan proverb which says, “Caution is not cowardice; even the ants march armed.”
According to Stanford, many Chinese Christians “want to tell the truth, but they want to stay [in China] too. So it’s truth without attribution. Take it or leave it. They didn’t make the rules. Persian Gulf women are forced to write under pseudonyms because they are “trapped by tradition and afraid of the social consequences. Many women writers in Persian Gulf Arab states are using pen names to air their views to the general public.”
Similarly, we want to stay at Cedarville to achieve our goals and to hopefully make an impact on the student body and the campus community. The only way for us to continue to make an impact on campus on our own personal levels and also publish The Interpreter is through “truth without attribution.” We ask only that you examine the soundness of our arguments and their legitimacy before dismissing our work because it is anonymous. Anonymity in and of itself does not decrease reliability: otherwise, we wouldn’t have half the Bible and authors such as Shakespeare, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Mark Twain, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Mary Shelley, and a host of others would have had their work dismissed as inaccurate, unworthy of respect, and “filtered truth.” The problem with anonymity comes when it is used as a form of cowardice to avoid the need to construct valid arguments.
Admittedly, when it comes to accuracy and reliability, it is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. We can tell you we are accurate until our faces turn blue, but establishing ethos when discussing matters of opinion is not as easy because there are some arguments that are simply not fact-based. However, we do our best to provide as much outside research as possible as well as considering different opinions in order to demonstrate our commitment to impartiality and accuracy.
Pastor Epps, quoted earlier, said no one wants to read a source who refuses to own up to what they believe and refuse to engage in dialogue. We will gladly own up to everything we believe and certainly do so in our personal lives, but doing so through this medium would be inappropriate since it would assume everyone involved with this publication has the same viewpoint and also could endanger each of them over an opinion that is not their own. Furthermore, through our social media we engage in dialogue on a consistent basis. Epps’ concerns about anonymous reporting are concerns for us as well, and something we have and will continue to strive to guard against.
In response to Houston’s claims, I fundamentally disagree with one of his statements. He claims that for all anonymous writers, “Regardless of the venue, the motive is to make their target afraid of speaking out again. Because the coward cannot form an appropriate answer to an argument, he resorts to using fear as a means of control.”
Our publication in no way has used fear as a means of control and in fact we have worked hard to exemplify the principles he noted in the next paragraph such as welcoming differing opinions, conducting civil debate, replying to arguments, acknowledging disagreements, and accepting dissenting viewpoints to consider them for publication (which, sadly, we have yet to receive). We are diligent to construct our arguments logically and are always open to our minds being changed.
If nothing else, we can offer our commitment to all of our readers that we do not publish without extensive thought, consideration, and consultation. When we feature stories or make statements saying multiple students deal with issues, it is because those issues have been submitted to us dozens of times. We do not write an article unless that topic has been brought up a substantial number of times through our DMs, on Twitter, or on Instagram.
Hopefully as you read our posts you will see our principles of honesty and genuine care demonstrated throughout each of them and if you reach out to contact us you will have a sense of the heart behind this publication as well as our commitment to free thought and free speech. We will, however, continue to remain anonymous until we are able to have a constructive conversation with the administration without fear of reprisal for ourselves, our contributors, or any other students involved. In other words, for us to change our approach to publication, Cedarville–on a much larger and more important scale–must in turn live by the standards our critics ask of us: transparency and authenticity. A system without those principles necessitates anonymous publications that will voice differing opinions, offer action-steps for change, and protect the identities of those involved. Our anonymity gives us opportunities to talk about things that cannot be talked about anywhere else and out from underneath the thumb of the administration. But we commit to each of our readers that our accuracy will never suffer as a result of our anonymity. We will always strive for the utmost quality of journalism that is ethical, relevant, and accessible.
In previously cited article from Stanford University, they write, “New Jersey governor, William Livingston [pictured left], was at work writing anonymous articles that defended the right to publish anonymously as part of the freedom of the press. Under the pseudonym -Scipio,- Livingston wrote several articles attacking the Legislature’s failure to lower taxes, and he accused a state officer of stealing or losing state funds during the British invasion of New Jersey.” After it was demanded he give up his name, he wrote, “And pray may not a man, in a free country, convey thro’ the press his sentiments on publick grievances…without being obliged to send a certified copy of the baptismal register to prove his name.”
We will not be sending a certified copy of the baptismal register to the administration unless they begin to value the principles of transparency, authenticity, and reliability. Until that day, enjoy The Cedarville Interpreter for what it is: opinion pieces, student stories, and calls for much-needed change for a University with vast potential and widespread flaws.
William Shakespeare, who once published his controversial plays anonymously, famously wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Whatever name our articles fall under, maybe they’re at least worth a sniff.
Disclaimer: I am not member of the LGBTQ+ community, so my writing does not reflect the perspective of that community. My writing instead reflects the degree to which I understand the issue, which is admittedly far from comprehensive (hence this article taking months to write). I use the terms LGBT, LGBTQ+, “homosexual”, and gay interchangeably to encompass the core community at Cedarville. As mentioned in the article, I think that homosexuality is probably wrong but even if that is true I don't think it is my place to judge others considering the egregious sins I commit every day and I am open to my own human opinion being wrong, so please feel free to share your thoughts and engage with this content. This issue is massively polarizing within society and especially within the church, but contrary to what society says, we do not have to agree on every single thing in order for us to respect each other and learn from each other. I hope you—gay or straight—enjoy this article and that it sheds some light on some key issues facing Cedarville University today.
Avery Redic once served as the SGA Campus Community director at Cedarville. He was an active participant in SGA events and meetings and ended up hitting it off with SGA advisor Eric Garland. Garland was very friendly, including making casual, innocent remarks that he loved Avery and missed him over breaks. This was purely platonic and–more notably–both Avery and Eric were men.
But Avery was gay.
Avery (pictured left, credit: Caleb Morris, https://www.caleb-morris.com) was abstinent and was not engaging in “homosexual activity.” (I use quotes to express the weird cringe I experience when I hear that phrase and imagine an old Bible-thumping preacher raining down hell-fire on the evil homosexuals) But nevertheless, Dr. Jon Wood labeled him as spiritually unstable and threw a handful of pamphlets at him to hopefully cure his same-sex attraction. The next day, his fellow SGA members were informed of his “resignation,” which seems to be a Cedarville code word for “unknowingly fired,” since Avery had no idea he was being removed until that moment.
Dr. Wood’s rationale included a statement that—were Avery in a less visible position—he would have maintained his position.
Avery writes, “How did I feel? I hated myself. Immediately after Jon’s decision I asked myself these questions and I hated myself for it: Should I have asked God to take homosexuality away from me more often? Should I have cried out more often than I had? Should I have asked for more counseling in high school than I had already received? Should I have been receiving counseling now? Should I have tried dating women, to see if I’d like it? Should I have never come to Cedarville, knowing that this would be an issue?”
Avery had executed the largest diversity event the campus had seen just weeks prior. He was the newly appointed officer of the Cedarville gospel choir. He was a charismatic believer who exerted a positive influence on those around him at every turn.
But Avery was gay.
There was never any talk of restoration. No, Avery was publicly removed in the midst of the excellent work he was doing on campus for the gospel and for the student body because the position he held was “too visible.” In other words, his (at the time, latent) sexuality posed a threat to the University’s reputation. Imagine if the Southern Baptist Convention found out that Cedarville had hired even a non-acting homosexual to a position of leadership? That would be a disaster. Yeah, we’re going to wrap back around to that at the end.
What the Bible Says
In this discussion of the LGBTQ+ community at Cedarville, it is vital to ground ourselves in Biblical perspectives on sexuality. I’m going to skip over some of the verses that are always brought up in this discussion because I assume you’ve heard them a thousand times by now (i.e., “a man shall leave his father and mother” etc.) To summarize the following paragraphs, I have an unpopular opinion, which is that there are valid arguments on both sides and while I err on the side of believing it is probably wrong to act on same-sex orientation, I am open to the possibility that I am wrong. But here’s the bottom line: it is not my place to cast judgement, make assumptions, or claim to know God’s opinion on someone else’s lifestyle. The reality is that we really don’t know anyone’s hearts. For example, Christians are far too quick to cast judgement on someone they perceive as “effeminate” or “butch” when those behaviors are not inherently sinful: they are simply stereotypical comparisons of someone’s personality to society’s expectations.
Playing the devil’s advocate here, the Bible really does not say a whole lot about homosexuality. There are a couple of Old Testament passages that address it (admittedly, very harshly), but it is addressed alongside nearly every other aspect of Old Testament law that we gladly disregard today. We cannot use Old Testament verses about homosexuality to argue for its sinfulness when listed alongside other things we don’t believe are sinful anymore after the New Covenant was established. I mean, we can hold to that standard if you want and next time Cedarville serves pork at Chucks I’m going to be LIVID. The reality is that Christians have far too often cherry-picked verses from the Bible to justify condemning something that makes them uncomfortable. This may not be the best comparison, but under slavery many “Christians” used verses about slavery, servitude, and “mastery” to justify their horrible actions. We must be careful to be consistent in our interpretation of Scripture. If we are going to teach in Old Testament Literature back in freshman year that the Old Testament Laws were purity codes under the covenants God created with the Israelites; that the whole point of the Law was to separate Israel from other nations so they would be fully committed to Yahweh; and that Jesus removed the need for that law on the basis of the New Covenant, one could argue that Old Testament Laws against homosexuality no longer apply.
So, what does the New Testament say about homosexuality?
1 Corinthians 6:9–10: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Timothy 1:8-11: “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”
Romans 1:26–27: For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
There are many Biblical scholars who interpret New Testament texts about homosexuality as referring to male prostitution, pederasty, or even the many cults that existed in Rome when Paul wrote his letters in which older men abused young boys. These are certainly legitimate thoughts, but in Romans 1, for example, Paul references the fact that all of these individuals strayed from the original design of God’s creation into sin. According to Genesis, God did create humans with two genders, so it is more plausible that Paul is referencing the fact that those who were engaging in homosexual activity were participating in something that goes against God’s original design and—in some cases—were promoting abuse within Roman culture.
So what does all of that Biblical interpretation mean for us? Contrary to the opinions of far too many believers, the next action step is not to condemn the LGBTQ community, but to welcome, encourage, and edify them as fellow believers who struggle with sin. In fact, let’s go through those lists of people who, according to Paul, deserve death alongside those who engage in homosexual behavior:
The Sexually Immoral: Homosexual or heterosexual, you cannot try to convince me that you have never lusted, had inappropriate sexual thoughts, or viewed pornography in any way or of any kind. We have all done it.
Idolators: Don’t even get me started with this one. Think of the thousands of things throughout your life you have—even for just a moment—put before God. Think of all of the times you sin and thereby idolize your personal wants above the commands of God. The reality is that most of us are living a lifestyle of idolatry even as Christians. We put money, status, relationships, work, possessions, and even seemingly Biblical things like service, missions, and church before God who is the one who gave us all of those things or the ability to have them in the first place. We have all done it.
Adulterers: This falls in essentially the same category of sexual immorality, so just reread it for emphasis. We have all done it.
Men who Practice Homosexuality: Yeesh, listed right up there with all the things we perfect straight Christians are in the habit of doing as sinful people. While we’re on the subject, could someone remind me where the verse is about God condemning people who don’t act on their sexual temptation? I can’t seem to find it anywhere.
Thieves: Okay, this one may be more of a stretch to say we’ve all done, but we’ve all wanted to have something someone else has: all of those things we idolize that our friend has that we covet after. I think it’s safe to say that—at least on some level—we have all done it.
The Greedy: The sickness of greed pervades each and every one of our lives. We are constantly seeking to achieve or obtain things for ourselves, and too often push God to the background. “Oh, I’m doing this missions trip to Tahiti for God!” Yeah, okay Bethany. But don’t worry, we have all done it.
Drunkards: This is where someone gets excited and is like, “See, Cedarville Interpreter, drunkenness IS wrong which goes against what you said in your article on alcohol!” To which I say, “Ya didn’t read the article, G.” Anyway, this one is more of a stretch than thievery, so for the purposes of illustration I will say that we have all given way to the passions of our flesh in one way or another and—if we’re honest—we probably do that every day. We have all done it.
Revilers: Well this just got awkward. Paul just said that people who insult and degrade others deserve death. I don’t know, maybe Paul realizes that degrading and dehumanizing other people is very, very wrong and believers should not do that even if we think we are “discipling” them. But, sadly, we have all done it.
Swindlers: This one is fun, just because it’s fun to say swindlers out loud. But seriously, how many times have we purposefully or unconsciously manipulated others to get what we want? We do it all the time and call it “persuasion” or “exhortation.” The reality is that, as sinful people, we will do just about anything to get our way. We have all done it.
People who Dishonor their Parents: Yeah, okay at like two years old we all started doing this constantly. Even as we get older, we still rebel against our parents and dishonor them with the intent of getting what we want. We have all done it.
I think you’ve probably gotten the point by now. The homosexual behavior listed in the New Testament is listed alongside a dozen other sinful behaviors that arise as the result of the curse, nearly all of which pervade our lives every single day. So maybe we should consider the fact that acting upon a non-heterosexual desire is no “wronger” than most of the things we do and don’t think twice about every day. So before we start picking the dust out of our brothers’ and sisters’ eyes, we should start sawing off the plank in our own. In Romans 1:27, Paul even writes that those who engaged in homosexual relationships did so “receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” They received the due penalty for their actions, meaning that whatever judgement God placed on them was sufficient. God does not need our help judging others’ sin, so let’s back out of that area and love others like Jesus told us to.
Speaking of which, Jesus preached against hypocrisy, but to date the church continues to condemn some sins as more evil than others based on what makes them the most comfortable. It’s time to put an end to this belief. If we see homosexuality as merely one of dozens of other vices believers struggle with, we can have a more Biblical perspective on the issue. I can’t offer all of the steps required for all hearts and minds to be changed on the issue of the LGBTQ community at Cedarville, but maybe it just begins with recognizing that it is just another struggle we face even as believers.
Something to chew on as we conclude this section: if I made the claim that it was possible Jesus experienced same-sex attraction (or we can even use the word temptation, if you want), I would probably get burned at the proverbial stake on Cedarville’s campus. But is that really so wild and disgusting of a claim when Jesus (the literal Son of God) was tempted to physically worship at the feet of Satan? Maybe that’s a double standard we need to think about.
What Cedarville Does
First of all, I have some breaking news for you good Cedarville boys and girls: The gay does exist. In fact, there is a large LGBTQ community at Cedarville much to the university’s chagrin. If you need proof, just take a look at “Cedarville Out,” which operates as a way for Cedarville students to out themselves in a safe environment. Unfortunately, the LGBTQ community is still woefully underrepresented in every aspect of campus life because these individuals feel that their voices are suppressed by the university and their opinions are not tolerated or accepted. Coming out at Cedarville would mean shame, emotional trauma, and/or expulsion or being removed from your job. Listen to one student’s story:
“My experience being a gay Christian on campus has been difficult. The vast majority of the student body is closed off to the idea that there are opposing viewpoints regarding homosexuality. I’ve experienced condemnation from certain people. I would even label someone homophobic in my dorm for making crude and insensitive comments. Most students aren’t willing to understand the other side.As for the university, it’s quite obvious that they don’t care to listen to the LGBTQ+ community. According to the handbook, I’m not allowed to believe or say things that differ from their values. Furthermore, I cannot openly oppose them for fear of expulsion. Due to Dr. White’s mistakes, they added a Title IX office on campus to prevent discrimination. However, they have a legal exemption from that office that allows them to purposefully discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. This is so hypocritical. While some faculty have been helpful and cordial when I share my feelings, others have not.
I am forced to believe that the faculty stands with Cedarville, so it automatically feels like a hostile environment to live in. This is dangerous to my mental health and for others as well. Finally, Dr. White has hurt me the most. Regarding Dr. Moore’s fiasco, Dr. White let him participate in basketball locker room activities while being a same-sex attracted male. Dr. White knew Dr. Moore had recorded another naked male, yet he still turned him over to the lion’s den of temptation. Dr. White’s ignorance on the issue destroyed any trust I had in him. I have never been to one of his chapels since then, and I never will. Cedarville and the student body need to learn to love and understand people who are different from them. That doesn’t mean they have to agree, just try to understand.”
This student poses some great points, and demonstrates that many LGBTQ+ students have lost trust in the University. Another student said:
“I’m gay and coming to Cedarville was really hard. There’s a kind of underground culture of LGBTQ+ kids on campus. This has two sides to it. One side that’s a good encouragement and support system, but it’s also scary because you never know who’s gonna be a snitch. Even if nothing happened, if things are said to the administration there’s a risk you could be kicked out if whatever is said is taken in the wrong way. The University’s stance creates a culture of fear, isolation, and secrecy. I would argue that a stance more similar to Biola university would be healthier for the LGBTQ+ population on campus. Biola isn’t affirming, but they are accepting and have an LGBTQ+ support group on campus. Cedarville on the other hand says that they’re accepting of people struggling with same sex attraction, but then have a no tolerance policy with individuals who act on their sexual orientation, kicking them out when they need help most.”
Another student wrote:
“I’m a fairly closeted gay man and I can straight pass when I need to so I really haven’t had any negative experiences myself. But I still hear everyone casually talking about how gays are going to hell and then get surprised when they find out there’s a gay student at Cedarville (gasp!). I also know someone here who is constantly called the f word (the bad one) because he doesn’t straight pass. And of course I’ve heard all the stories of students losing their jobs and positions because their secrets got out.
Cedarville is not, in any way, an accepting community, and I think everyone can see that. I have to be very careful with what I say and how I act when in public. And Lord knows I can’t let anyone see my YouTube recommended unless I want to be publicly lynched. There are a lot of chill people here but sadly not enough, and especially not enough that are in positions of power. I just wish it was talked about more and not treated as an issue with a clear-cut answer because it’s not. Really, the main thing I want to happen is for Cedarville students to realize that LGBT people exist right next to them. One of my closest friends used to be against it and he didn’t like gay representation in the media. But once I came out to him, he realized that the LGBT community isn’t just out there in the middle of nowhere, they’re here and they can actually be pretty cool. I feel like that’s the first step for most people here, to just understand that we’re real.”
Those statements are powerful and that those suggestions are well thought-out. There is undoubtedly a culture of suppression in the area of sexual orientation at Cedarville University, but the good news is that there is also a supportive community to some extent. We have a help group for those addicted to pornography on campus. Why is there no support offered to LGBT students? Cedarville ought to adopt a policy of acceptance, not necessarily affirmation because the reality is there is no biblical support for systemic discrimination against any member of the LGBTQ community who is addressing their sexual orientation in a biblical manner. How amazing would it be if Cedarville said, “You know what? We’re going to lead the way on this issue by demonstrating a Christlike spirit of tolerance and love toward believers who have different sexual orientation.” Ah, but alas: Cedarville would lose too much of its massive donor base to address this problem. Money is king.
The Double Standard
Avery’s story was a disturbing and upsetting story of blatant discrimination with no thought of supporting him or understanding what he was going through. Avery—like so many other students—simply deals with a different set of feelings than most other people and when he expressed that, he was publicly shamed and, whether he left voluntarily or not, he was essentially forced out of the University.
Fast forward from Avery’s story to 2018. Dr. Anthony Moore—a man who openly dealt with same-sex attraction—was hired into a leadership role at Cedarville University as part of a “redemption plan.” The difference was, Dr. Moore had engaged in disturbing sexual harassment and took advantage of a youth pastor at his previous church.
What message does Cedarville send when they fire a single gay man who did nothing but great things for the university and then five years later hire a known sexual predator? Do you mean to tell me that Dr. Moore was more qualified for a position of leadership than Avery Redic? And a more public one at that? Ah, but Dr. Moore was Dr. White’s pick for the job, while he knew nothing about Avery Redic. Dr. Moore was favored by the administration over godly individuals like Avery. The reality is clear: Cedarville does not support believers who are LGBT. They would love nothing more than to see them expelled from the University. Last time I checked, Jesus did not throw sinners out of his presence. He sought them out, ate with them, talked with them, understood who they were as people, and ministered to them in the most effective way possible. Cedarville must change its policies to reflect the actions of our Savior. Let’s be honest, they probably won’t. But we can initiate change from where we are so that—no matter the administration’s policy—we create and sustain a culture of openness and acceptance that will bring our brothers and sisters closer to Christ. We are all deeply broken people in dire need of abundant grace from those around us. Let’s give it as we need it.
RESOURCES FOR LGBTQ+ STUDENTS:
For our LGBT friends, even in the strictest Biblical interpretations, simply “being gay” is not a sin. There is nothing wrong with you: God made you exactly the way you are for a perfect reason and you deserve to be respected, humanized, and heard. Unfortunately, Cedarville does not agree with this and because of this does not offer any resources for LGBTQ+ students, except maybe forcing them into counseling. Below are two resources (far sparser than I would like) to help you along the way during your time at Cedarville.
Cedarville Out: www.facebook.com/CedarvilleOut/; www.cedarvilleout.org (We are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (GLBT) alumni of Cedarville University. We are straight alumni who support our GLBT friends. And we are bound together in our belief that everyone’s sexuality is a precious gift from God.)
Albert Einstein wisely noted, “When we all think alike, no one thinks very much.” Many of us have heard of the theory of “groupthink,” which, at its core, is the idea that groups can be too similar and can become ineffective at best and abusive and totalitarian at worst. I began to wonder where this concept came from. I had heard it used particularly in the discussion of totalitarian regimes in books such as 1984 or Animal Farm by George Orwell, both criticisms of Russia’s brand of communism. But through research, I discovered that the term “groupthink” was coined by Yale professor and psychologist Irving Janis. As I explored this theory, I noticed some alarming similarities to the culture at Cedarville University.
Groupthink lurks quietly and lures its victims subtly and if we are not vigilant we may fall prey to the cultural and practical destruction. Groupthink is an acid that slowly but surely corrodes. It is a fall of dominoes that can only be stopped with firm intentionality. It is a creeping virus whose symptoms seem minimal until you find yourself crippled and muted.
So what exactly is Groupthink? According to Irving Janis, groupthink occurs when an organization or group prioritizes cohesion over problem-solving. But the idea of problem-solving means more than using deductive reasoning to find a solution to a problem. Problem-solving also encompasses debate of different ideas and use of critical thought. It could more accurately be defined as the way organizations handle dissent or conflict. Groupthink, at its core, involves too much cohesiveness, internal focus, and closeness. Too quickly, cohesion (coming closer together) turns into “adhesion” (becoming stuck together by identical principles and homogeneity) and there is a total loss of impartiality or tolerance for dissent.
According to Janis, there are three catalysts that create groupthink. First, there is an illusion of invulnerability. This means that the group ties moral superiority to what they do and so they see themselves as indestructible. After all, good always wins out in the end, right? Second, the group develops a spirit of close-mindedness. The group will begin to shut out ideas that are contrary to the group’s agreed values or beliefs and members of the group will rationalize each other’s statements and beliefs and thereby further affirm the group’s correctness. These lead to the third catalyst, which is pressure toward uniformity.
This pressure can be spoken or unspoken pressure including threat of a job, loss of money, blackmail, school admission (wait, who added that into this article?!), or reputation. Spoken pressure can also be a form of psychological manipulation: “Well, you are allowed to believe differently but we’ll subtly call you a coward for compromising our group’s principles” or “Of course we allow other opinions, but this is how we’ve always done things and it’s always worked” or “Oh…you think…that? Okay…I mean I guess I could see where you’re coming from but I don’t think any of us really agree with you.” This manipulation is especially effective in the university setting where reputation is everything, both for the University and for faculty and staff whose academic success depend on their reputation and levels of respect remaining intact. These pressures toward uniformity result in self-censorship, which is the idea that someone withholds their dissenting opinion and stays silent for fear of judgement or negative consequences. They’re probably the only one who thinks that, anyway. After all, everyone believes everyone else is on the same page and that everyone agrees on all values and all decisions. This can result in a scenario like this: “Well, we all agree that sin should be punished, and being gay is a sin, so being gay should be punished, so I think we can all agree that anyone who engages in that activity should be punished by the University since we don’t ever want to condone sin, right?” Do you see what happened there? Deductive reasoning that originates with those “fundamental truths” (whether or not you believe them to be true…don’t yell at me until we publish our article on the LGBTQ community at Cedarville), pressures toward conformity, and the illusion that everyone agrees on what actions should be taken.
One interesting aspect of the theory of Groupthink is the “self-appointed mind guard,” who—as the name suggests—appoints themselves to a position of moral authority within the group. They strongly pressure conformity to group ideas, advocate for total consensus, and they shut down dissenting voices. This person can be an individual who sits on a board of directors or any number of people who reside in a large group where conformity has become the norm.
By now, like I did when I read about Janis’ theory, you may have already noticed for yourself some similarities between the concept of “groupthink” at its base meaning and the culture at Cedarville. What do I mean? Think about it: How many people at Cedarville think that Cedarville has moral superiority? So many students believe that Cedarville’s theological stances are the “be all, end all” of Biblical academia. There is no doubt in their minds that Cedarville’s (admittedly, mostly right) Biblical principles are critically impenetrable. No one could come onto campus and successfully argue their case for evolution, homosexuality, or political liberalism because Cedarville is simply right, and there is no more to it, not because of strong, tested argumentation against these viewpoints. There is an illusion of invulnerability within the community.
Think about how many self-appointed mind guards reside on the Cedarville campus. How many students are willing to correct others on their nonconformity? Students are quick to judge girls who break dress code, people struggling with mental health issues, or anyone struggling with sin they deem “more egregious” than their own.
Furthermore, Cedarville is notoriously close-minded. As referenced in our article on censorship (which, by the way, is the natural descendant of groupthink), Cedarville consistently and systematically shuts down opposing voices. This goes beyond the policies of the administration, however, into the community Cedarville has created. The concept of “intentional community” could more accurately be described as “pressured community,” where students are peer-pressured by other students to constantly be social and engage in campus activities. These activities tout the correctness of the University’s stances on everything, never on new ideas or differing opinions. Every event on campus is a celebration of unity and cohesion, never of diversity and critical thought that may dare to stray outside the bounds of Cedarville’s markedly Southern Baptist ideology.
Of course, events that build community, teamwork, and togetherness are very important, especially in a Biblical education environment. But when these types of events are the only events Cedarville hosts and they try to shut down organizations like Turning Point USA or the College Democrats (R.I.P.), it builds a culture of adhesion, homogeneity, and intolerance towards other ideas. According to SGA President Jake Johnson, in reference to the availability of SGA election results, “No, historically those haven’t been released for the purpose of protecting the candidates and encouraging student unity following an election.” This is not Jake’s fault: this is the policy SGA has always had and, like all policies, promotes cohesion (or, more accurately, adhesion) even at the cost of transparency and openness. Ironically, as evidenced across non-Cedarville-affiliated student-run social media accounts, it creates a culture of division among students and doubt about election results.
In The Lego Movie, the antagonist Lord Business’ goal is to use Kragle to solidify the perceived perfection of Bricksburg. Nothing can break, nothing can be changed, and everyone and everything is frozen in time. Cedarville’s intentional community encourages this type of adhesion: it never allows students to fail or encounter challenging ideas, it never offers alternatives to the self-appointed truth it propagates, and it resists any sort of change or forward-thinking perceived as “progressive Christianity.” Students are frozen in time: permanent residents of the Cedarville bubble whose behaviors are all but predetermined by the fear of judgement instilled by this community. Groupthink is winning the day at Cedarville.
At Cedarville, you are expected to fit the mold. You must always be growing in your faith. You must be involved in as many ministries as you can handle. You must incorporate Biblical principles into every assignment even if it has nothing to do with the assignment (yep, I’m calling you out, Humanities). People who dare to break that mold are viewed as “struggling with their faith,” being in pursuit of “liberal ideology,” or “not adhering to the Cedarville covenant half of the campus definitely didn’t sign when they were minors.”
Think of the amount of judgement you would face on campus if you had an unexpected pregnancy, had an emotional breakdown in the middle of Stingers, or accidentally exposed your leggings (yeah, that’s a thing. Read about it HERE). Think of how many people judge alongside others who use Christianese to support their legalism. Think of the backlash The Interpreter received after merely requesting an interview with SGA candidates. Think about the fact that the request for an interview resulted in many people with no prior engagement with our content reaching out calling us cowards, internet trolls, traitors, and even ungodly people because two individuals in authority said an anonymous interview did not support their values of transparency (a decision they had every right to make which we fully respect). Rufus and Kasey did not create that monster: Cedarville’s culture of groupthink did. Surely, if two godly individuals decided against an interview with an organization, they must therefore be ungodly, anti-Cedarville, and nonconformists. We always look to approach issues from a godly perspective, we are not “Anti-Cedarville”, but darn right we’re non-conformists, because this type of close-mindedness, this pressure to conform, and this reaffirmation from other students merely demonstrate that Cedarville’s culture is sick with the disease of groupthink and adhesion. So stop and ask yourself: how quick am I to judge others based on my friends’ opinions? How often do I express moral superiority over others in sin while I ignore my own? How often am I that self-appointed mind guard who dictates morality without considering the consequences it could have on that person or based on my interpretations of Scripture rather than its contextual meaning? “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus said to a group of religious leaders who wanted to enact “justice” on an adulterous woman. They all walked away with the realization that there is none without sin. We are all imperfect: our ideas, our perceptions, our morality, our behaviors, our attitudes are all broken by the curse of sin.
Ultimately, our sin is what makes conformity so dangerous. When we conform to the religious ideas, rules, regulations, or pressures of people (key word: of people, not God) broken by the curse of sin, we simply mask our sin under the guise of Biblical truth. The sin of judging others flies in the face of God’s ultimate justice and judgement. We are saying that we have the right to make judgements rather than or in addition to God. Matthew 7:1-5 says, ““Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Do you think Jesus is saying you’re only judged if you judge others? Absolutely not. Jesus is saying that our judgement is sin: disgusting, ugly, dark sin. When Jesus came to earth, most of his interactions involved undermining the religious leaders of the day who had taken God’s word to be used for their own wellbeing, personal advancement, and domination of God’s people. They were considered the “end-all, be-all” of Biblical academia. But when the Pharisee prayed about all the ministries he participated in and all the community he had engaged in, Jesus was all, “Wow! Step on in to the Kingdom of God!” Wait no—Jesus sided with the money launderer who cried out to God for forgiveness of his sins. Yeesh—that doesn’t bode well for groupthink.
Leadership & Closing Thoughts
Former Vice President Carl Ruby “resigned” at the conception of the White administration along with dozens of other professors because of their differing opinions. The “Purge” is the widely documented event that occured before and alongside the appointment of Dr. White into the role of Cedarville’s presidency. Cedarville forcefully eliminated any and all dissenting voices at the University, building a theological and social echo-chamber. In our articles on mental health, censorship, and womanhood, we have outlined a pattern of silencing differing opinions, beliefs, or anything that may damage the University’s “impenetrable” reputation.
Cedarville’s administration must not continue in this pattern of groupthink and homgeneity. To do this, Irving Janis proposes a few ways to overcome groupthink. 1) Leaders must open their ears to outside voices and avoid isolation. For Cedarville, this means inviting speakers with differing opinions and allowing dissenting opinions on campus. I’m going to suggest that physically confiscating an independent newspaper was not a step in the right direction. Free expression must be allowed on the campus of Cedarville, regardless of their place out of the bounds of Constitutional law as a private institution. Furthermore, we ought to be actively engaged in our community, not an isolated Christian bubble in Ohio. 2) Eliminating groupthink requires the appointment of responsible, impartial leadership who allow, encourage, and respectfully resolve conflict. I won’t make any specific comments on that step to eliminating groupthink. I’ll leave that to your interpretation of how that could apply to Cedarville University. 3) Instead of self-appointed mind guards, individuals must be willing to encourage skepticism. This involves being loyal to the organization or group but also offering up different viewpoints. The truth can only be argued at its best when it has been tested by criticism and skepticism. 4) Janis proposes dividing groups to present different perspectives. This isn’t really practical at Cedarville, but I would recommend a greater degree of autonomy between the administration and student organizations. For example, Cedarville could let discipleship groups pick their own study material (within reason). Or perhaps reduce regulations on how campus orgs can operate to allow for the free flow and exchange of ideas without being tied to the University’s specific flavor of Christianity, politics, etc. Maybe leave in the comments some ways you think Cedarville can overcome groupthink and become a more open, vigorous academic environment.
As I conclude, let me as you this: Do you feel like a misfit? Do you feel like you’re alone in your thoughts and ideas? If you do, don’t be fooled by the strong grip of groupthink on Cedarville’s student body. The fact that this newspaper even exists and continues to grow evidences that there are more students than any of us thought in search of something different: of new ideas, of critical thought. There are more students around you than you’d think who have unique, different perspectives who are not judgemental, who are seeking to grow in genuine faith, and who would gladly stand against damaging policies at Cedarville if they were given an opportunity. But self-censorship born of the pressure to conform have silenced our voices. Do not let the University silence your voice. Continue to share your stories, your experiences, your thoughts, and your feelings. Your voice matters. Your differences are important. Your thoughts mean something.