Shorter University President Donald Dowless has notified the faculty and staff that they will now be required to sign mandatory pledges that affirm their rejection of homosexuality and other unChristian acts. The pledge, Dowless, insists, is necessary as an “affirmation of our Christ-centered mission.” It has caused a considerable controversy, though the countervailing religious practice rights should be considered.
The university in Georgia promises a “Christian education” as opposed to just an education.
Shorter University is a Christ-centered liberal arts university dedicated to academic excellence within the context of a biblical worldview. As a Christian university, Shorter is committed to keeping an emphasis upon a biblically sound, integrated, faith-based education that promotes a zeal for academic, spiritual, and professional growth. The educational process of teaching and learning involves the whole person, and Shorter is committed to the principle that all truth comes from God and finds its fullest expression in the person of Jesus Christ.
It now will only hiring or presumably retain “Bible- believing Christians, who are dedicated to integrating biblical faith in their classes and who are in agreement with the University Statement of Faith.” We have previously seen such rules applied to both faculty and students.
The personal lifestyle statement requires adherence to four principles: be loyal to the mission of Shorter University, do not engage in the use and sale of illegal drugs, do not view premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality “as acceptable” and refrain from the use of alcohol in the presence of students and in public. The University announced:
“Member campuses have a continuing institutional policy and practice, effective throughout the time they are members, to hire as full time faculty members and administrators (non-hourly staff) only persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ.”
The pledge raises a long debate over the right to discriminate on the basis of religion. I have long argued that anti-discrimination laws are beginning to cut into free exercise values. These people have a right to structure their university according to their own values. As an educator, I find it offensive and counterproductive to deny employment to faculty or staff who have different lifestyles or sexual orientation. It is anti-intellectual and defeats the mission of creating an open environment for learning. Of course, that is the conflict. Dowless and others view their mission as not learning but restricted learning. The university professes that it “deeply cares about the academic and spiritual development of its students and believes that students should be challenged academically and spiritually to impact culture.” However, that academic development must confirm to the “spiritual development” which means “biblically sound, integrated, faith-based education.” That means a process of exclusion that now includes any exposure to faculty or staff who may diverge in private from the dictated lifestyle of the university.
That makes them something less than a full educational institution and more of a church. That is their right, of course, but it is a shame that these students will learn in an environment that is not only artificial but discriminatory. That may be framed as a biblically correct education, but it is less of an education than an indoctrination.
Notably, the school’s motto may be Lux Veritas or Light Truth as opposed to the usual found at places like Lux et veritas, or light and truth. At Shorter, the light cannot be separated from the truth, even by a conjunction. Where this motto usually emphasizes the role of faculty in exposing different ideas to the light to find truth, Shorter views the light as the truth and the light is the biblical word. The light is not illuminating ideas, but the glow of faith illuminating the accepted truth for students. Their faith and their development, however, would be be profound if tested in an intellectual environment that emphasizes demonstrated thought as opposed to forced compliance.