The Evangelical College and the Question of Integrity

Of all the bemusing utterances I’ve heard from colleagues at evangelical colleges, perhaps one of the most frequent that I’ve been told — usually in the midst of a heated disagreement about one disputed institutional stand or another — has gone something like this: “It just seems to me that if someone doesn’t agree with the mission of the college, he should resign for the sake of his integrity.” This is polite evangelese that basically translates to: “If you don’t like it here, then leave.” Integrity — and ethics in general — is seen in this view as primarily a question for the individual. Little thought is given to what it would mean to think through the meaning of institutional integrity, let alone about what it would mean to come to terms with the legacy of broken and shattered lives wrought by institutional policies across the years.

I was led to these thoughts in the wake of re-reading this searing passage from Gordon College’s Dr. Paul Borgman in the context of his call for “unity within a context for diversity” as the way forward for evangelical colleges:

“[In] 1970, while finishing my doctorate in Chicago, I was offered a teaching position at nearby Wheaton College. After accepting the contract, I was asked by then Academic Dean Robert Baptista    to sign a belief and conduct statement. The belief side included a prohibition against accepting evolution, a theory declared unsound ‘by an obvious and authoritative view of Scripture.’ In good conscience and with the weight of an opposing interpretation of the Biblical six-day creation, I could not sign and was denied the position. The school’s uniformity lacked the richness of a unity in diversity, a diversity based on critically informed views on Scriptural interpretation of a huge cultural and religious issue.”

I wonder many brilliant scholars were refused employment at Wheaton College based on its hideous policies, of which the above, surely, is just one of many.  How many were denied tenure? How many have been hounded, harassed, and harangued for refusing to lie to their students about this most basic of scientific theories? How many could not make it past their third year review because their consciences would not permit them to distort evidence, or perform hermeneutical contortions, or for refusing to be complicit in the bullying of black people, Latino/a students and faculty, LGBTQIA subjectivities, and women?

And I wonder, do Wheaton College professors — and those at Westmont College, Gordon College, or Calvin College — ask: “Where is our institutional integrity?”