The Seminary and the “Evangelical Mind”

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Lauren Winner is Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Duke Divinity School. Her lecture on Christian thinking in theological seminaries was one of the highlights of “The State of the Evangelical Mind” conference in Indianapolis.

First, Winner observed that evangelical students often arrive at Duke Divinity School (and presumably other seminaries) hostile to the idea that Christians are shaped by “the great tradition” of the church.  She urged seminary professors to show their evangelical students that Christianity is not “extractable” from Christian tradition and history.  Too often evangelicals arrive at seminary ignorant of the fact that the Bible was shaped by, and is the product of, centuries of theological conversation and debate.

Second, Winner argued that evangelical seminaries must combat “instrumentalism,” or the idea that the purpose of reading Biblical passages or practicing spiritual disciplines is to get satisfactory solutions for pressing problems and concerns. For example, the purpose of prayer, Bible reading, and other spiritual disciplines is not always about “getting something.”

Third, Winner called for an attentiveness to reading.  She quoted a passage from Anselm’s Meditation on Human Redemption: ”

Consider again the strength of your salvation and where it is found.  Meditate upon it, delight in the contemplation of it.  Shake off your lethargy and set your mind to thinking over these things.  Taste the goodness of your Redeemer, be on fire with love for your Savior. Chew the honeycomb of his words, suck their flavor which is sweeter than sap, swallow their wholesome sweetness.  Chew by thinking, suck by understanding, swallow by loving and rejoicing. Be glad to chew, be thankful to suck, rejoice to swallow.

On this point Winner appeared to be echoing her former colleague Paul Griffiths on spiritual reading.  When Christian scholars read they tend to “cannibalize”  the text.  Is it possible for scholarship to be read in a “delightful way?”  Winner also encouraged seminaries to assign fiction and poetry because these genres can tell us things about God and the world that traditional theology is incapable of communicating.

Fourth, Winner argued that seminaries should teach students that “thinking is an action.”  Activism is good, but it is shallow unless supported by serious thought.  For example, Winner wondered why every sermon has to end with a charge to “do something.”  Why can’t a sermon, she asked, challenge hearers to “think differently about something.”  In the end, “thinking differently about something” is a form of action.

Fifth, Winner reminded pastors that they have a responsibility to the life of the mind. They are faced with the task of inviting the members of their congregations to see the world Christianly. Winner, who in addition to her work at Duke serves as an Episcopalian priest in a North Carolina congregation, said that she is less concerned that her parishioners understand the different views of the atonement and more concerned that they can think about “naptime” or “grocery shopping” in a Christian ways.  What would it mean, she asked, “to see the world, the whole world, through a Christian eyeball” in such a way that we “see Jesus” in every aspect of daily life?

In the end, Winner’s words for evangelical seminaries and seminarians apply to anyone trying to live out the claims of Christianity.  But I also wonder if we need to do a better job as Christian scholars to engage in scholarly work and practice informed by the kinds of spiritual practices she discussed in her lecture.  I have been thinking about this for some time now.

Teaching St. Augustine on 9-11-01

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Peter Candler was a graduate student at Duke Divinity School on September 11, 2001.  He was scheduled to give an 11:00am guest lecture in a theological class on St. Augustine’s City of God.

He describes what happened on that day in a piece published Monday at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

This was what the students came to hear from Augustine. They came to hear him argue that when the common interest of a public is not grounded in love for its own sake, and when human rights are not grounded in a universal human calling to love God and one another, then we inevitably serve some other god than the God of Love. We worship at some other altar than that of true mercy and freedom, and above all we end up worshiping an idol whose shifting forms disguise his one name: domination. In our desire for mastery over others, we will merely become slaves to the lust for domination that we mistakenly call freedom.

Read the entire piece here.

 

The *The Wall Street Journal* Weighs-In on the Duke Divinity School Controversy

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I just came across Peter Berkowitz‘s commentary at The Wall Street Journal on the recent controversy over racial sensitivity training at Duke Divinity School.  Also check out the more than 500 comments.

I think religious-affiliated institutions, such as Christian colleges and divinity schools, are actually more prone to these kinds of controversies than secular institutions because there is a temptation to bless or Christianize identity politics as a non-negotiable part of the institutional mission.

Any discussion of the Duke Divinity School situation should begin with the fact that most Christian institutions do not uphold academic freedom in the way that the secular academy defines it.  At my institution, Messiah College, I am not free to be an atheist.  If my intellectual journey should lead me down that road, I think it would be fair for the administration to ask me to leave.  I teach at Messiah College because I do not have a problem with my academic freedom being bound by the teachings of orthodox Christianity.  In fact, I welcome such boundaries.

Paul Griffiths also seems to understand that academic freedom is limited at Duke Divinity School. In his e-mail to his faculty colleagues he writes: “We here at Duke Divinity have a mission. Such things as this training are at best a distraction from it and at worst inimical to it. Our mission is to think, read, write, and teach about the triune Lord of Christian confession.”

If this is indeed the mission of Duke Divinity School, then it makes sense that those who do not uphold a belief in the “triune Lord of Christian confession” would not be welcome on the faculty.  But does a faculty member who has a legitimate critique of racial sensitivity training or does not embrace identity politics as a way of addressing race on campus, but still upholds the theological and confessional mission as stated above, still have a place in such a Christian institution? And if they do have a place in the institution, will it be a marginalized one?

So when I say that religious-affiliated institutions are more suspect to controversies over academic freedom I am referring to the potential of undermining academic freedom within the Christian tradition.

Don’t get me wrong–Griffiths did not handle this well.  But I do think that his views on racial sensitivity training should not be out of bounds at a Christian college, nor should his opposition to this training imply that he somehow doesn’t care about racial injustice on campus.

Law Professor Jonathan Turley Weighs-In on the Duke Divinity School Case

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You see him on CNN, NBC, FOX News, CBS, and other news channels.  Now George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley offers his thoughts on the recent controversy at Duke Divinity School.

Turley believes that Paul Griffiths, who recently resigned his post at the school, did not receive a written account of the charges against him and did not get a chance to confront his accuser.  Duke may have denied Griffith due process.

Here is a taste of Turley’s post:

Notably, Griffiths asked for a written account of the charges against him, a chance to confront his accuser, and the evidence against him before a meeting. He was denied those accommodations, which is consistent with the denial of due process in our university proceedings.  I have written about that loss of due process in prior columns: here and here.  Duke of course has a troubling history of the denial of due process and the rush to judgment in cases involving students and faculty.  Many of us were appalled by the actions of Duke against the lacrosse players accused of gang raping a stripper. Eager to appease the outraged public, the university suspended the players and all but declared their guilt. It was not just an abdication of their responsibility to their own students, but a betrayal of a long-standing academic tradition to protect the community from prejudice and threats. For a column on the symbol of this academic tradition, click here.  Schools now routinely deny the accused access to witnesses, the right of confrontation, and other basic protections.

While Pfau said that he believe Griffiths resigned without pressure from the school, his resignation has led to a great deal of concern over the response to his original email and the language of the Dean in her email.  He is an accomplished academic who studied at Oxford University and the University of Wisconsin. He is the author or co-author or editor of 17 books.

Interesting.

Read Turley’s entire post here.

 

Thinking Historically About the Duke Divinity School Controversy

DukeLast night on my train ride home from Philadelphia I got caught up in a Twitter exchange devoted to the recent controversy at Duke Divinity School.  If you are not familiar with this case, I have assembled some links here.  If you follow these links you will get up to speed.

Most of what we know about this case comes from six documents.  They all appear on Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative.  You can read them here.

Dreher and nearly everyone else who has read these documents have done so in order to figure out who is right and who is wrong.  This is a worthwhile exercise and people are going to have strong opinions on both sides.

But I wonder if we really know enough about what happened at Duke Divinity School to make an honest assessment one way or the other.  It is easy in the age of social media and blogs to rush to judgement and start posting about it.  (I know because I am sometimes guilty of this myself).   Yes, the voices are loud and people seem to be responding with moral certainty, but unless understanding precedes criticism, such statements of moral outrage will be shallow.

Here are some of the tweets from last night’s exchange:

There is a lot to chew on here. I should also add that not all of these tweets connect directly to the point I want to make below.

As I participated in this discussion and read these tweets again, I was struck by the fact that historians tend to approach documents very differently than other kinds of thinkers. The primary documents that Dreher posted tell us a lot, but they don’t tell us everything. (Any historian knows that we need more than just a handful of isolated documents to understand the past).  Any  judgments we make about Duke or Griffiths must be made tentatively and cautiously because we don’t have all the information we need to make a definitive (or close to definitive) interpretation of why this incident happened.  The “why” is important.  Historians are interested in causation.  We are also interested in context.  Does Garret Bowman’s tweet about the racial tensions that existed at Duke before the Griffiths incident help us to better understand what happened in this particular case?  Of course it does.  Do we need to know more about the way Griffith has behaved in past faculty meetings? Yes, that would help.  Does the fact that Griffiths has signed statements and spoken out in defense of marginalized and diverse groups give us any insight into his controversial remarks?  I think it does.

All of this adds to the complexity of the entire situation and should be factored into our interpretation.

*The New York Times* on Paul Griffiths and Duke

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Get up to speed here: and here and here.

Here is a taste of Anemona Hartocollis’s NYT article:

Mr. Schoenfeld said that Duke did not comment on personnel matters, but issued a statement saying that the divinity school “is committed to scholarly excellence and academic freedom, which includes a commitment to diversity and inclusion,” and to the “robust exchange” of ideas.

“As part of an ongoing effort to foster and support such a community, we will continue to offer voluntary opportunities for faculty, staff and students to participate in diversity training,” the statement said.

Professor Pfau defended Professor Griffiths, saying by email on Tuesday that his departure would leave intellectual life at the school “greatly impoverished.” “It remains to be seen whether under its current leadership, the Divinity School has the political skills and intellectual discernment needed to rebuild what has been lost,” he said.

Professor Griffiths, a native Englishman who has taught at Duke Divinity School since 2008, converted from the Anglican church to Roman Catholicism in 1996. He has not shrunk from views that might be controversial. In 2014, he wrote a glowing review of “Darling,” a book of essays by Richard Rodriguez in which he writes about spirituality and about being the gay son of Mexican immigrants.

In the review, Professor Griffiths took a view of homosexual love that the Catholic Church does not: “Insofar as such acts are motivated by and evoke love, they are good and to be loved; insofar as they do not, not. In this, they are no different from heterosexual acts.”

He signed a statement from Catholic theologians on racial justice in 2014. In 2005, when he was at the University of Illinois in Chicago, The Baltimore Sun quoted him on the subject of Catholics in Africa, saying they were conservative socially but liberal on social justice questions, adding, “We might see that our categories are not the only ones, that we have something to learn.”

Read the entire piece here.

“Inside Higher Ed” on the Duke Divinity School Controversy

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Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed reports on the controversy at Duke Divinity School surrounding professor Paul Griffith’s opposition to diversity training and the subsequent backlash.  Get up to speed here.

Here is a taste of Flaherty’s article:

Griffiths’s offenses, according to the letter, included refusing to meet with the dean to “discuss expectations for professional behavior as a faculty member and to abide by the agenda of the meeting which I have set.” Griffiths and Heath reportedly did not agree on terms of for such a meeting, and it never happened. Heath threatened further consequences for continuing not to meet with her, including loss of travel and research funds.

Heath also cited “your inappropriate behavior in faculty meetings over the past two years.” It’s unclear exactly what that means, but Griffiths in an email to colleagues referred to his past public comments about “the vocation and purpose of our school; the importance of the intellectual virtues to our common life; the place that seeking diversity among our faculty should have in that common life,” and — perhaps crucially — “the nature of racial, ethnic and gender identities, and whether there’s speech about certain topics forbidden to some among those identities.”

Portier-Young, who originally invited Griffiths to the training, allegedly brought a separate complaint to Duke’s Office for Institutional Equity, based on her interactions with him over the course of a year. Saying that he stood by his conversations with his colleagues but that he refused to defend himself against Portier-Young’s complaint, Griffiths in an email called it “illiberal, anti-intellectual and shameful” and an “attempt to constrain speech by blunt force rather than by free exchange.”

The American Conservative reported secondhand that Griffiths has resigned, effective in 2018. Griffiths did not respond to a request for comment, and Duke said he was still employed, and that it was immediately unaware of a resignation but otherwise unable to comment on a specific personnel case.

“Duke Divinity School is committed to scholarly excellence and academic freedom, which includes a commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Audrey Ward, a spokesperson, said via email. “We seek to foster an environment where diversity of opinions is respected and members of the community feel free to engage in a robust exchange of ideas on a range of issues and topics. We believe that all faculty have a right to speak out as members of a civil academic community, and if all voices are to be heard, diverse perspectives must be valued and protected.”

As part of an ongoing effort to foster and support such a community, she added, “we will continue to offer voluntary opportunities for faculty, staff and students to participate in diversity training.”

Pfau, who supported Griffiths, told Inside Higher Ed that the main problem has been his colleague’s “sometimes strident tone,” rather than his objection to the training. And Griffiths’s opposition to the training, Pfau said, was “strictly to the means chosen,” not the expressed goal of equity or diversity. Pfau also said that Griffiths is resigning — a decision arrived at “without any administrative pressure being brought to bear on him.”

Portier-Young did not respond to a request for comment.

Read the entire article here.

Rod Dreher Publishes E-Mails from Duke Divinity School Controversy

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You can read them here.

Get up to speed here.

Some quick thoughts on what I have read:

  1. Faculty were invited to attend the Racial Equity Institute training at Duke.  They were not forced to attend.
  2. Regardless of what one thinks about racial equity training, Griffith’s response to Anathea Portier-Young‘s e-mail was unnecessarily rude and provocative.  If Griffiths does have a legitimate critique of this training, he is not going to get very far convincing others with an e-mail like this.  The e-mail was very unprofessional.  Nevertheless, in an environment defined by academic freedom he has the right to express his views this way.
  3. Keep your eyes on the prize.”  Interesting way for Griffiths to end the e-mail.
  4. One of the best things I have read about this kind of racial sensitivity training is Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn’s book Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training, and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution.  I recommend it to all involved.
  5. Elaine Heath‘s original response to Griffiths is fair, but I think Dreher has a point when he says that Heath was assuming a lot when she described Griffiths’s e-mail as a model of “racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry.”  Thomas Pfau, who holds an endowed chair in the Duke English Department, seems to agree with Dreher here.
  6. Griffiths sounds like he can be a real pain in the neck.
  7. For someone who has never been part of an academic institution–Christian or otherwise–Dreher sure seems to have this case all figured out.
  8. How will the faculty who Griffiths offended respond this week?  How will Griffith’s defenders respond this week?  This will say a lot about the Christian character of the Duke Divinity School community.  One self-proclaimed “conservative” student has already said that “repentance” is needed.  Dreher seems most concerned about how this all relates to the culture wars.
  9. This raises a big question for me:  Where does one draw the line between exercising academic freedom and using such freedom to undermine the community of a Christian institution?  Often-times Christian schools use “community” to stifle academic freedom or marginalize independent voices. Those who approach issues from a Christian perspective or confessional commitment that might be different from the dominant Christian culture of the institution can be easily ostracized.  I have seen this happen.  At other times independent voices spew forth their ideas without any consideration for how they might hurt or damage the community in the process.  I have seen this happen.

In the end, I am sure there is a lot more to this story.  It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

What is Going on at Duke Divinity School?

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Rod Dreher of The American Conservative and “Benedict Option” fame blogged about this yesterday under the title “Brave Prof Stands Up To Duke Divinity SJWs.”

The “brave prof” in question is Catholic theologian and Duke Divinity School faculty member Paul Griffiths.  After receiving a Ph.D in Buddhist Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1983, Griffiths taught at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago where he spent ten years in the Department of South Asian Languages  & Civilizations.  Between 2000 and 2007 Griffiths was the Schmitt Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago.  Since 2008 he has been the Warren Chair of Catholic Theology at Duke.  In 1996 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church.

After Griffith’s conversion he stopped writing about Buddhism and turned his attention to issues related to Catholicism.  He is perhaps best known for his book Religious Reading: The Place of Reading in the Practice of Religion (Oxford University Press, 1999).  It is an excellent book and I recommend it.

Dreher published a post that Griffith wrote on his Facebook page:

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

(This email is a public document. Please feel free to copy and distribute it in whole or in part, with or without attribution, with or without commentary.)

Intellectual freedom – freedom to speak and write without fear of discipline and punishment – is under pressure at Duke Divinity these days. My own case illustrates this. Over the past year or so I’ve spoken and written in various public forums here, with as much clarity and energy as I can muster, about matters relevant to our life together. The matters I’ve addressed include: the vocation and purpose of our school; the importance of the intellectual virtues to our common life; the place that seeking diversity among our faculty should have in that common life; the nature of racial, ethnic, and gender identities, and whether there’s speech about certain topics forbidden to some among those identities; and the nature and purpose of theological education. I’ve reviewed these contributions, to the extent that I can (some of them are available only in memory), and I’m happy with them and stand behind them. They’re substantive; they’re trenchant; and they address matters of importance for our common life. So it seems to me. What I’ve argued in these contributions may of course be wrong; that’s a feature of the human condition.

My speech and writing about these topics has now led to two distinct (but probably causally related) disciplinary procedures against me, one instigated by Elaine Heath, our Dean, and the other instigated by Thea Portier-Young, our colleague. I give at the end of this message a bare-bones factual account of these disciplinary proceedings to date.

These disciplinary proceedings are designed not to engage and rebut the views I hold and have expressed about the matters mentioned, but rather to discipline me for having expressed them. Elaine Heath and Thea Portier-Young, when faced with disagreement, prefer discipline to argument. In doing so they act illiberally and anti-intellectually; their action shows totalitarian affinities in its preferred method, which is the veiled use of institutional power. They appeal to non- or anti-intellectual categories (‘unprofessional conduct’ in Heath’s case; ‘harassment’ in Portier-Young’s) to short-circuit disagreement. All this is shameful, and I call them out on it.

Heath and Portier-Young aren’t alone among us in showing these tendencies. The convictions that some of my colleagues hold about justice for racial, ethnic, and gender minorities have led them to attempt occupation of a place of unassailably luminous moral probity. That’s a utopia, and those who seek it place themselves outside the space of reason. Once you’ve made that move, those who disagree with you inevitably seem corrupt and dangerous, better removed than argued with, while you seem to yourself beyond criticism. What you do then is discipline your opponents. The contributions to our common life made by, inter alia, Chuck Campbell, Jay Carter, and Valerie Cooper exhibit these tendencies. I call them out too. I hope that they, together with Heath and Portier-Young, will reconsider, repent, make public apology to me and our colleagues for the damage done, and re-dedicate themselves to the life of the mind which is, because of their institutional location, their primary professional vocation. That life requires openness, transparency, and a willingness to engage. I commend all these things to them, and hope devoutly that they come to see their importance more clearly than they now do..

I’m making public the following narrative of these disciplinary proceedings under the pressure of three closely-associated thoughts. The first thought is that several more or less inaccurate versions of these events are already in circulation among us in the form of gossip; full and accurate disclosure is always better than gossip. The second thought is about responsibility. I’m happy to take full responsibility for my contributions to our common life at Duke Divinity. Those contributions have all been public, as is this message. But responsibility requires publicity. Heath’s and Portier-Young’s disciplinary proceedings are not public: they’re veiled, and accompanied by threats of reprisal if unveiled. I’d like them to take responsibility for what they’re doing, and so I’m making it public. The third thought is about the kind of confidence in speech (and writing) whose opposite is fear. Duke Divinity is now a place in which too many thoughts can’t be spoken and too many disagreements remain veiled because of fear. I commend a renunciation of fear-based discipline to those who deploy and advocate it, and its replacement with confidence in speech. That would be appropriate not only to our life together in a university-related Divinity School, but also to our life together as disciples of Jesus Christ.

the disciplinary actions

What follows, under (1) and (2), is a bare-bones factual account of the disciplinary procedures to date, together with two attachments. It may be useful to know that there’s a good deal of recent literature on the nature of university-based disciplinary proceedings like the ones I’m about to describe. I recommend, from quite different angles, Jon Krakauer’s Missoula (2015), and Laura Kipnis’s Unwanted Advances (2017). These books, with distinct agendas, agree that there are deep moral, legal, and procedural problems with university-based Title IX disciplinary procedures. These include, but aren’t limited to, their attempt to control speech and conduct by stifling expression; and their contempt for due process. It may also be useful to know that I’m not alone among Duke Divinity faculty in currently being, or having in the recent past been, subjected to discipline along these lines. I call upon those involved to share the details with us.

(1) Discipline initiated by Heath against Griffiths. In February 2017, Heath contacts Griffiths and asks for an appointment in which she’ll communicate her expectations for professional conduct at Duke Divinity. There’s back-and-forth by email about the conditions for this meeting, and agreement is reached for a four-way meeting to include Heath, Randy Maddox (Dean of Faculty, as support for Heath), Griffiths, and Thomas Pfau (as second for Griffiths). That meeting is scheduled for 3/6/17. Shortly before that date Heath cancels with no reason given, and then in short order asks for a new meeting on the same topic, this time with new criteria as to who can be present that rule out Pfau’s participation. Griffiths responds to this change in conditions by saying that he’s happy to meet, but now, given the changes, only under the condition that the meeting should be a one-on-one free exchange between himself and Heath. There’s email back-and-forth about this between Griffiths and Heath, all copied to Maddox. No agreement is reached about conditions for meeting: Griffiths and Heath each have conditions unacceptable to the other. Standoff. No meeting has occurred at the date of this writing. In a hardcopy letter (PDF attached) dated 3/10/17, Heath initiates financial and administrative reprisals against Griffiths. Those reprisals ban him from faculty meetings, and, thereby, from voting in faculty affairs; and promise (contra the conditions stated in his letter of appointment) to ban him from future access to research or travel funds. Heath’s letter contains one material falsehood (item #1 in her letter; the accurate account is here, in this paragraph), together with several disputable interpretive claims. More reprisals are adumbrated, but not specified, in the letter. There that disciplinary procedure for the moment rests.

(2) Discipline initiated by Portier-Young against Griffiths, via the University’s Office for Institutional Equity (OIE). In early March, Griffiths hears by telephone from Cynthia Clinton, an officer of the OIE, that a complaint of harassment has been lodged against him by Portier-Young, the gravamen of which is the use of racist and/or sexist speech in such a way as to constitute a hostile workplace. A meeting is scheduled for 3/20/17 between Griffiths and representatives of the OIE to discuss this allegation. Griffiths requests from the OIE a written version of the allegation, together with its evidentiary support, in advance of the scheduled meeting. This request is declined by Clinton on behalf of the OIE, as appears typical for these proceedings. Griffiths then declines the 3/20/17 meeting, and sends a written statement to the OIE, which is attached. The OIE will, it seems, now draw up a report and submit it to the ‘responsible persons’ in the case, which may include either or both of our Provost, Sally Kornbluth, and our Dean, Elaine Heath. (This may already have happened.) Those persons will then take whatever disciplinary actions they see fit, which may range from nothing to dismissal, with intermediate possibilities. There that disciplinary procedure for the moment rests.

With sincere good wishes to my colleagues, and in hope of better things, fuller transparency, more exchange, an increase in love, and, as always, more light: in lumine tuo videbimus lumen —

Paul.

Now it looks like Griffiths has resigned his post:

As I poke around my social media feeds I am not learning much more.  In other words, it is unclear what Griffiths wrote or said that led to disciplinary action from the administration.  It appears it had something to do with a critique of what has become campus orthodoxy on matters related to diversity.  Dreher suggests that Griffiths stood up to what he describes as “Social Justice Warriors” on Duke’s campus.

I am guessing that Griffiths or someone else involved will provide more details about what happened.  In the meantime, however, people have taken to social media–defenders and critics of Griffith–to cast judgement, engage in name-calling, and draw conclusions with very little evidence.  And those who are privy to the details seem to be sharing just enough one-sided information to feed the sharks.

Stay tuned.