Mollie Ziegler Hemingway on why some New England progressives won’t tolerate evangelicals. A taste:
Unable to maintain its 217-acre campus and 43 buildings, the board of Northfield Mount Hermon tried to sell the campus for $20 million in 2005. With no takers and prohibitive annual upkeep costs, the school sold the property to the Green family of Oklahoma City, owners of the Hobby Lobby craft stores, for $100,000.
The Greens planned to give the property to the C.S. Lewis Foundation to launch a college with a Great Books curriculum. But the foundation’s fundraising fell short by the end of 2011 and the Greens began soliciting new proposals. The family does insist that whoever ultimately takes over the school promote Christianity in “the tradition of Moody.” That has people in Northfield worried about how well the new neighbors will fit in culturally.
More than 100 interested Christian groups toured the campus this year. When word got out that the contenders included Liberty University, founded by the fundamentalist Rev. Jerry Falwell, some school alumni launched a petition drive arguing that Liberty was a “homophobic and intellectually narrow institution” that would be “fundamentally incompatible” with the prep school’s principles. Some residents of Northfield, home to 128 alumni and 60 employees of the school, held meetings to fight the transfer of the property to Liberty.
After Liberty was ruled out by the Green family, residents continued to worry. In April, at a meeting of the Northfield Campus Collaborative—established by the Northfield Board of Selectmen to improve communication between interested parties—resident Bruce Kahn “brought up the ‘elephant in the room’ which was the concern that an extremist Christian campus might polarize and upset the peace and tranquility of the town,” according to meeting minutes. Resident Ted Thornton said it is a paradox that “we consider ourselves tolerant but we won’t tolerate intolerance.”
Jerry Pattengale, a college administrator and the Green family’s representative tasked with finding a fitting recipient for the campus, attended the meeting. He suggested that fear of outsiders can be expressed by liberals as well as conservatives and should be discouraged by all communities.
By June, Mr. Pattengale narrowed down the finalists to Grand Canyon University and the domestic missions agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. Residents expressed concern about both Southern Baptist doctrines and the impact of the 5,000 students that Grand Canyon proposed to bring to Northfield
In September, the Green family named Grand Canyon as the recipient of the campus. But five weeks later Grand Canyon walked away from the gift, citing millions in unanticipated infrastructure, environmental and other costs. Mr. Pattengale has said there is another candidate with the means to operate the campus, but “it’s hard to get excited” because the mystery school is as big and conservative as Liberty University.
At another public meeting earlier this year—one that included questions about the contenders’ views on creation and same-sex marriage—a Northfield resident argued that “the religious tradition of the area welcomes people of many faiths, belief or nonbelief. There is potential conflict with those who follow more restrictive teachings.”