Chris Gerhz Responds to Remarks By President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University

Oklahoma Wesleyan University

I have said it before and I will say it again, Chris Gehrz, the chair of the history department at Bethel University and the man behind The Pietist Schoolman blog, is emerging as one of the most important voices in the Christian college world today. I hope you have been reading his posts on Union University’s decision to withdraw from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).  (By the way, we have covered this issue here and here).

Today Chris responds to Everett Piper, the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University (OWU).  OWU, led by Piper, has threatened to pull out of the CCCU unless the the organization expels Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University by August 31 for their stand on gay marriage.

Here is a taste of Piper’s recent remarks to the faculty at OWU:

This past week, I was quoted in several different national periodicals primarily because of my opposition to the actions of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), an organization of which OKWU is a member. The reason for my disapproval is quite simple. After two longstanding CCCU member colleges recently announced their intent to begin affirming gay marriage, the CCCU’s immediate response was not to remove these two schools from membership, but rather, to issue a call for “discussion and deliberation.”
Why do I oppose the CCCU’s action? Put concisely: There are times when the discussion becomes the offense.
Presumably there are some things within any organization that are not—and should not be—subject to deliberation and any discussion to the contrary simply betrays a telling lack of conviction.  For example, would anyone expect the Anti-Defamation League to “discuss” whether or not Jews are human beings, worthy of the same dignity and rights as Germans or Iranians?  Would anyone dare challenge the NAACP for its predictable reluctance to “deliberate” the Dred Scott decision’s definition of a black man? Would any of us seriously condemn the National Organization of Women because it doesn’t want to seek “counsel” on whether or not women ought to be subjugated to the power and privilege of men? Would PETA “deliberate” the health benefits of eating meat? Would we expect Green Peace to “discuss” the advantages of harvesting whales?
I surely hope the answer to all these questions is no. I would assume that all the aforementioned organizations would consider some agendas to be so abhorrent (presumably including the examples I mention) as to be beyond dispute. In like manner, I would argue that any organization claiming the adjective “Christian” should consider certain ideas so far outside the boundaries of any definition of Christianity that they would simply say: “Some things are just not debatable, the discussion is over.”
Here is part of Chris’s response to Piper:
If readers would like to respond to Piper’s argument, the comments section is available. Just don’t expect me to join in. I’ve said enough on the particular topic of marriage and its status as an issue of primary or secondary importance for a Church that is made for unity. If I don’t agree with another CCCU president that our view of marriage “is at the heart of the Gospel,” I’m certainly not going to agree that opposition to same-sex marriage is so central to Christian identity that questioning it is akin to the ADL questioning the humanity of Jews!
But offensive as I find the line of argumentation here (a barely veiled Holocaust allusion!), let me pull apart one of Piper’s rhetorical questions, since it unfortunately pits against each other two words that actually belong together:

Chris Gehrz

Could it be that the CCCU’s openness to dialogue has actually become the offense because its ambivalence demonstrates an apparent lack of conviction in favor of consensus?
Now, I need to acknowledge that I instinctively incline to seek consensus — and that instinct is fallible. Indeed, I’m sure that I occasionally confuse conflict-avoiding with consensus-seeking.
But knowing that those moments are few and far between, let me suggest a few theses — not 95, just thirteen — about what it normally means when Christians talk about holding to their convictions:So I’m probably the kind of person Piper has in mind when he thrice complains about Christians who lack conviction. As Protestants we ought to know that there will be moments when we need to say — against the consensus of the present, and perhaps the past — that our convictions, like our consciences, are captive to the Word of God. Here we stand. We can do no other. God help us.
  1. Consensus is not the enemy of conviction, for
  2. convictions are not meant to be held in isolation, but in community.
  3. (My Latin is virtually non-existent, but doesn’t convictus imply something like “living with”?
  4. Also, the verb from which it descends means first “to convince” and only secondarily “to conquer.”)
  5. We hold convictions about what is true not as private property, to be protected from threats, but as public goods, to be shared as part of life together.
  6. Holding convictions defiantly might feel more emotionally satisfying than seeking the subtle, slow-arriving, and inevitably compromised joys of consensus — but that feeling isn’t always trustworthy.
  7. (As Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” when “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Too many people who think they’re holding convictions courageously are really just full of “passionate intensity.”)
  8. To hold convictions as a way of “living with” others requires more conversation than declaration.
  9. Conversation requires time, but what’s the hurry?
  10. Shouldn’t a deeply held belief sustain more, rather than less, patience?
  11. A dialogue might reveal what you’ll rarely realize in the middle of a monologue: that your belief is misheld.
  12. Which should remind us that we use the word “conviction” far too often to label a strongly held belief and too rarely in the sense of being convicted of our own shortcomings (including shortcomings of understanding and belief).
  13. So finally, conviction is less something that you decide to hold to and much more something that happens to you, a sinner.
Nice work, Chris.  

As I wrote in an earlier post, the decisions of Union and OWU to leave (or threaten to leave) the CCCU are an example of “second-degree separation.”  Back in the day I actually wrote an M.A. thesis on this phenomenon as it developed among self-described “fundamentalists” in the middle-decades of the 20th century who were unwilling to cooperate with liberal Protestants (“modernists”) and those conservative evangelicals who cooperated with liberal Protestants in theological and evangelistic matters.

For example, Billy Graham regularly invited liberal clergy to participate in his evangelistic crusades. According to Grant Wacker’s new biography of Graham, the evangelist often insisted that he work with mainline and ecumenical Protestants wherever he set up a crusade.  Such cooperation would have certainly taken him outside the bounds of traditional Christian orthodoxy.  In 1960 Episcopalian Bishop James Pike prayed at Graham’s San Francisco crusade.  Pike rejected the doctrine of Virgin Birth, believed that Hell did not exist, rejected the Trinity, and supported LGBT causes.  

As Wacker writes: 

…horizontal cooperation [with liberals or modernists] was not minimalist cooperation.  It required fellowship, a genuine exchange of hearts, not just a polite shaking of hands.  Graham said that he had studied what Scripture had to say about the relationship of orthodox to fellowship.  On the eve of the 1957 New York crusade, Graham told the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals…that the “one badge of Christian discipleship is not orthodoxy, but love. There is far more emphasis on love and unity among God’s people in the New Testament than there is on orthodoxy, as important as it it.” These may have been the most widely quoted words Graham ever uttered. (Wacker, America’s Past: Billy Graham and Shaping of a Nation, 182).

Self-styled fundamentalists such as Carl Mcintire, John R. Rice, Robert T. Ketcham, and Bob Jones were furious about this kind of cooperation with the theologically unorthodox.  In response they refused to cooperate with Graham. Second degree separation.

I bring up Graham here because a certain faction of the Southern Baptist Church–the faction that is in control–claims to carry the torch of Graham and his neo-evangelical movement.  Union University is a Southern Baptist school in this tradition.

Is cooperating in an organization of Christian colleges with institutions that uphold gay marriage worse than cooperating in an evangelistic crusade with people who deny certain orthodox doctrines such as the Trinity?  I will let my readers decide.

3 thoughts on “Chris Gerhz Responds to Remarks By President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University

  1. John Fea's “The Way of Improvement Leads Home” is a lively, thoughtful and useful account of colonial American Philip Vickers Fithian's life as a Presbyterian minister, a Revolutionary War soldier, and a human being struggling with the inconsistency of being enlightened and yet bound to a sense of place.
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  2. Is cooperating in an organization of Christian colleges with institutions that uphold gay marriage worse than cooperating in an evangelistic crusade with people who deny certain orthodox doctrines such as the Trinity? I will let my readers decide.

    Perhaps both are unacceptable.

    “I’ll presume to call it Neuhaus’s Law, or at least one of his several laws: Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed. Some otherwise bright people have indicated their puzzlement with that axiom but it seems to me, well, axiomatic. Orthodoxy, no matter how politely expressed, suggests that there is a right and a wrong, a true and a false, about things. When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy’s good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others.

    A well-mannered church can put up with a few orthodox eccentrics, and can even take pride in being so very inclusive. “Oh, poor Johnson thinks we’re all heretics,” says the bishop, chuckling between sips of his sherry…


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