What is happening (once again) at Taylor University?

James Spiegel, a philosopher professor at evangelical Taylor University, was reportedly fired for refusing to take down a video of him singing a song he wrote titled “Little Hitler.” Watch:

Here is a Facebook post from Chris Date, a friend of Spiegel:

The commentators on the YouTube video also suggest Spiegel has been fired.

Some folks are talking about this on Twitter:

As Date’s Facebook post notes, Spiegel was one of the Taylor University professors involved in the publication of Excalibur, an underground newspaper which, according to a March 26, 2018 piece in Christianity Today, “claimed the evangelical college was becoming more liberal on sex, immigration, and race.” Here is a taste of that piece:

True to its namesake, the controversial newsletter sliced through campus conversation, drawing students and staff to take sides in classroom discussions, op-eds, and official communications since its February 21 release.

Weeks after Taylor president Paul Lowell Haines condemned the anonymous publishers for “sow[ing] discord and distrust, hurting members of our community,” four members of the faculty and staff came forward online as its creators: Jim Spiegel, professor of philosophy and religion; Richard Smith, professor of biblical studies; Gary Ross, men’s soccer coach; and Ben Wehling, marketing director.

They apologized for the uproar, but even their website was pulled due to the controversy.

The newsletter aimed to fill a growing conservative void” on the Upland, Indiana, campus, Spiegel explained in an email to CT.

Since this controversy, Paul Lowell Haines has resigned as president. His resignation came shortly after he invited Mike Pence to speak at the 2019 Taylor commencement. (See my piece on that controversy at Religion News Service here. I still have no idea why it is attributed to Bob Smietana, the RNS editor, but it is my work).

I visited Taylor University on the Believe Me book tour on October 2, 2018. I gave a public lecture and spent an evening with a group of students. If the campus was still reeling from these ideological differences, I did not sense it. After my visit, the student newspaper, The Echo, ran a review of my visit. I don’t think Samuel Jones, the author of that piece, was a big fan of my lecture, but he did not situate my visit in the debates taking place on campus. So far, The Echo has not reported on the Spiegel firing.

So what should we make of all this?

I understand what Spiegel was trying to do here. By invoking Hitler, brutal killers, shotguns, rape, Jeffrey Dahmer, and his own capacity for murder, he was trying to shock us into taking sin and human depravity seriously. But the song offers no antidote to such depravity. For Spiegel, human beings are one step away from committing the worst atrocities known to man. The conscience, natural law, or the indwelling Holy Spirit cannot curb the power of sin.

To be fair to Spiegel, he has also posted a video of him performing a song titled, “What it’s Like to be Born.” This song talks about conversion, the born-again experience, and redemption. Watch:

And if you really want to know where Spiegel is coming from, consider his song, “Let’s Start Our Own Country.” It opposes culture wars, nuclear proliferation, the tearing down of monuments, the renaming of football teams, dysfunction in Washington D.C., “taking a knee,” identity politics, and the closing of churches during COVID. Watch:

Should he be fired for “Little Hitler”? I can’t answer that question. I would need to know more about the local culture on campus at Taylor and the way Spiegel and his song fit into that culture. Perhaps there is a larger story here. Maybe this is more than just an academic freedom issue.

I do know, however, that Taylor University Provost Michael Hammond, a historian of American evangelicalism during the civil rights movement, is a good man with the best interest of Taylor in mind.

Let’s see how this unfolds.

UPDATE (Friday, September 4, 2020 at 9:17pm): The Echo has a piece on this today.