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In my previous post, “Dueling Petitions at the American Philosophical Association” , I called attention to a controversy in which several Christian colleges and their philosophy faculties are accused of unjustly discriminating against practicing homosexuals in violation of the rules of the American Philosophical Association (APA). Since each member of the philosophy faculty signed their school’s “statement of faith”— implicitly supporting such “discrimination”—each and every faculty member is personally implicated to the indictment. How have they reacted to this accusation?

To recap, the original petition in question was authored and subsequently promoted by Charles Hermes, a visiting assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Arlington. Prof. Hermes, who is not a homosexual, launched the campaign after applying to teach at Westmont College, which requires a “statement of faith” to be signed by all prospective faculty. That statement requires affirmation to the school’s prohibitive stance on “acts that Scripture forbids,” including homosexual acts. Hermes refused to sign and subsequently declared , “to avoid offending those Christians who love their neighbors, and who leave the judging for God, I will hereafter refer to statements like these as statements of discrimination instead of statements of faith.”

In his petition to the APA, Prof. Hermes specifically mentioned several Christian colleges and universities that require prospective faculty to sign these “statements of discrimination” as a condition of employment. The list of schools included in Hermes complaint include, “Azusa Pacific University, Belmont University, Bethal [sic] University, Biola University, Calvin College, Malone College, Pepperdine University, Westmont College, and Wheaton College.” In response to the Hermes campaign a counter-petition was initiated that called for the APA to maintain its current policy and to completely reject the recommendation that these schools be marked or censured. The counter-petition was endorsed by several distinguished philosophers, including Alasdair MacIntyre, Alvin Plantinga, Roger Scruton, Linda Zagzebski, Peter van Inwagen, Germain Grisez, Robert P. George,  John M. Finnis, Roger Scruton, William Lane Craig, and C. Stephen Evans.

Given that a considerable number of philosophical luminaries signed the counter-petition, I was curious to explore the response of philosophy faculties at those institutions singled out for censure. Naturally, I thought, the philosophers at these institutions would be among the first to defend their institution’s statements of faith against charges of invidious discrimination and bigotry. Surely the philosophers at these institutions would follow Plantinga, McIntyre, et. al., in endorsing the counter-petition. After all each and every one of the philosophers at these institutions had agreed to these statements of faith (or “discrimination”) as a condition of employment. Having agreed to these statements of faith in good faith, they should be eager to reject any suggestion that they themselves were agents of bigotry and discrimination.

So with the help of an intern I crosschecked the signatures on the counter-petition with the philosophy faculty members at each of the named institutions. I did so after ensuring the philosophy faculties at each institution were aware of the petitions and the controversy. A philosopher who had signed the counter-petition sent an email calling attention to each petition to the philosophers at the named colleges. The executive director of the Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP) also sent an email to all members informing them of the two petitions (without endorsing either one, I might add). It is reasonable to assume that all these philosophers are aware of the petitions and have had an opportunity to sign the counter-petition.

Unfortunately, the results of my finding are discouraging.

As of March 13 none of the philosophers from Belmont College signed the counter-petition. Of course this isn’t surprising since the department chair, Prof. Ronnie Littlejohn, quickly responded to the Hermes petition by insisting that Prof. Hermes had made a big mistake: Don’t confuse us with Wheaton or these other schools, Littlejohn insisted. We have no such policy.

Now the Belmont University Faculty Handbook , “the contents of [which] are made an express part of the contracts of employment between each faculty member and the university,” says in section 2:

In order to assure that faculty continue to function in support of the mission, vision and values of the institution, faculty are, as a condition of ongoing appointment, expected to show strength of character, as well as exemplary professional and moral conduct. They are expected to show a personal Christian commitment in both precept and example, evidenced in part by active involvement in a local church committed to the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.

But despite this statement, Littlejohn insists on behalf of Belmont College that the “mission, vision, and values” of the institution has nothing whatsoever to do with the sexual behavior of Belmont’s faculty, including homosexual activity. Belmont does not, he announced, require consent or affirmation of a “statement of faith” (or discrimination) by its faculty, nor does it consider “sexual preference” in its hiring process.

It is worth noting, however, that Belmont’s student handbook seems to hold students to a higher standard or, as Profs. Hermes and Littlejohn would put it, “discriminates” against students who engage in homosexual activity. Their Student Handbook says, with regard to sexual conduct:

Specific behaviors of sexual misconduct are those which occur on campus or at a university sponsored activity (on or off campus) and include, but are not limited to: sexual relations outside of marriage, sexual harassment, rape (date, acquaintance and stranger rape), other non-consensual sex offenses, homosexual behavior and possession or distribution of pornographic materials. [emphasis added]

Still, Prof. Littlejohn has made it perfectly clear, that unlike Wheaton College (which he specifically mentions) Belmont has no issue whatsoever with its faculty engaging in homosexual activity. That’s something Christian parents, no doubt, will want to take into consideration as they debate the respective merits of Belmont College versus say, Wheaton, Westmont, and the rest. We should be thankful Prof. Littlejohn helped to clarify the matter.

But what of the philosophers at the other colleges and universities mentioned in the petition? All three philosophers at Westmont College, the institution that so offended Prof. Hermes, have signed the counter-petition. While, surprisingly, none of the three philosophers on the undergraduate faculty at Biola signed the counter-petition, four of the nine affiliated full time faculty members (Craig, DeWeese, Moreland, and Smith) have signed, as did several of Biola’s graduate students.

But then things get bleak.

Only five of the ten philosophers at Azuza Pacific signed, though it is still better than Wheaton, where only three of the nine philosophers participated. Only one of the seven philosophers at Bethel signed, although George K. Brushaber , president of Bethel University , who is also a Christian philosopher, added his name to the counter-petition. Several former Calvin philosophy professors signed the counter-petition (e.g., Al Plantinga, C. Stephen Evans) while only two out of thirteen of the current professors signed. This is more than most expected from the Calvin philosophy faculty, though, given Calvin’s recent commitment to fads like “Ribbon Week”—a sexual orientation week for Dutch Calvinists trying real hard to be cool. Calvin is apparantly open to all perspectives and persons with diverse sexual orientations, not at all like the evangelicals at Wheaton.

(For my Catholic friends, a lot of this is inside baseball. All you need to know is that the typical Calvin professor is the type who would recoil at horror should their peers in the guild have reason to believe that the school might be considered “homophobic.” On the other hand they are likely to be completely unfazed and accepting when they are told that, as a condition of employment, they must not only subscribe to traditional Reformed confessions of faith but also send their children to a Dutch Reformed day school. You could spend a lifetime trying to trying to figure out the Dutch-American Calvinist intellectual. But I wouldn’t recommend it.)

Aside from the quirkiness of Calvin College’s bizarre mix of sectarianism and wannabe-cosmopolitanism, how do we account for this rather poor showing? After all, wouldn’t you expect the philosophers at these colleges to be the first to defend themselves and their institutions against charges of discrimination and bigotry? Each of these philosophers has expressly affirmed that their school not only has the right to exclude practicing homosexuals from the faculty, but that it is morally right to do so (including Calvin College). Had they objected to the right or to the rightness of that policy, surely as Christian men and women of integrity and as philosophers committed to truth, we could expect them to have made known publicly their objections at the time of their employment, just like Prof. Hermes. Or, if they subsequently developed objections to the “no homosexual activity by the faculty” policy, we would certainly expect them to announce their objections now. To be secret in withholding their assent would be dishonest.

Admittedly, the pressure put on young Christian scholars in academia who hold to traditional Christian teachings on sexuality should not be dismissed. And it certainly can’t help a young Christian philosopher’s prospects for professional advancement if he or she is tainted with being “an agent of discrimination, intolerance, or bigotry,” when it comes to homosexual activity. It is understandable why a young Christian graduate student or recently minted Ph.D. might not want to sign the counter-petition and instead keep her head down for a while (or keep her light under a bushel if you prefer a biblical metaphor). I can also understand why a non-tenured Christian philosopher in a secular university might want to avoid revealing their beliefs on this issue. But why the hesitancy of those who have already affirmed these “statements of faith”?

At least we can take comfort in the fact that none of the cited Christian college philosophers have signed the original petition. Christian charity requires that we give these Christian philosophers the benefit of the doubt and not too hastily ascribe the absence of their signatures to moral cowardice. It is worth noting that there are thirty anonymous signatures on the counter-petition, roughly ten percent of the total. (The original petition has no anonymous signatures out almost 1500 signatures.)  So a few of these Christian College philosophers might well have signed on anonymously.

Still, there must be other reasons to explain this rather dismal defense of their integrity. I’m just not sure what they are, though, which is why I’d love to hear an explanation from those who, by their acceptance of employment, signify that they defend and endorse the right and rightness of their institution to expect their faculty to refrain from unethical sexual behavior, including homosexual behavior and yet refuse on principle to sign the counter-petition. What objections could these Christian philosophers have to the petition that the likes of Plantinga and MacIntyre may have overlooked?

(And no, “hedging your bets” on future employment opportunities is not a sufficient reason)



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