(Un)Righteous Anger? – Yoda, Jonah, Nahum, and Us

(TEXTS: Jonah 3:5-10; 4:1-11; Nahum 1:1-8)

INTRODUCTION

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A great green theologian of old claimed that anger is based on fear, that it leads to hatred, and results in suffering. And while I do not wish to disregard the wisdom of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I would like to take a closer look at anger as discussed in Scripture, and to consider what makes certain instances of anger righteous or unrighteous, legitimate or illegitimate.

This is a question that has been on my mind throughout my final year at Cedarville University. After hearing of a few rumblings at the end of my Junior year, I left for the summer and got myself married. When my feet finally touched the ground at the beginning of term, my university felt like a battlefield. I heard that Michael Pahl had been “reviewed” and then fired over the summer months. Others were being reviewed to see if they really did toe the doctrinal line, or if they were guilty of mind crimes against the thought police. And things didn’t get any better from there.

I saw the havoc that the Cedarville environment was wreaking on my mentors, friends, and their families. My leaders got rid of and harassed beloved members of my community, and then deceptively refused to own up to their nefarious actions.

I got angry. I spoke up. And I was convinced that my anger was righteous. Others were less convinced.

Some stayed poignantly and painfully silent throughout the chaos. Others repeatedly gave platitudes that everything was OK, that we were obligated to trust our leaders, that to question their actions was inherently disrespectful. And some from this latter group met my kind of anger with their own frustration and anger that I dared to criticize their beloved Cedarville.

I’d love to say that I met this opposition with nothing but grace and equanimity, but that wouldn’t be true. I frequently lashed out against these types of people – when they sent me long messages to accuse me of causing unnecessary dissentious strife, or when they parodied us student activists as complete morons with nothing better to do than cook up conspiracy theories.

My university’s behavior was sickening, but these people’s behavior was infuriating. I couldn’t comprehend how they could overlook the suffering I was witnessing and try to protect people who were clearly hiding the truth. So, at times, I lashed out in frustration. And I am convinced that my anger was unrighteous. But what’s the difference between these two types of anger?

Continue reading “(Un)Righteous Anger? – Yoda, Jonah, Nahum, and Us”

A Farewell to Cedarville

(Originally posted in The Ventriloquist. Go check out the rest of Issue 10!)

“A Farewell to Cedarville” – Joshua Steele

As what was once a vision for the future has become an agenda for returning to the past, the list of people who no longer fit the Cedarville mold is growing. I contacted former vice president of Student Life, Dr. Carl Ruby; former professor Dr. Michael Pahl; current professors Dr. TC Ham, Dr. Shawn Graves, and Dr. David Mills; and former trustees Dr. William Rudd and Rev. Chris Williamson to see where things stand as this academic year comes to a close.

Although Dr. Ruby does not know what the long term future holds, he is pouring himself into immigration reform. When asked about his plans, he replied: “I’m motivated by an experience that I had on the Civil Rights bus tour in Birmingham, Alabama. As I read King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I determined that I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history, or more important, on the wrong side of the gospel on these kinds of issues. I leave Cedarville with lots of good memories and a clear conscience. I hope I invested my time and energy in the things that mattered most … loving God and loving people.”

And speaking of immigrants, Dr. Pahl moved his family nearly 2,000 miles as the crow flies from Alberta, Canada to Cedarville, Ohio in 2011. However, after just two semesters, the “promising scholar” and “dedicated teacher” was fired for his inability “to concur fully with each and every position of Cedarville University’s doctrinal statement.” The Pahls have spent the year trying to move on – looking for work, and working on renovations to sell the old parsonage which they bought less than three months before receiving notice of Dr. Pahl’s “review.”

It would be one thing if the Pahls were victims of a broken immigration system. It seems, however, that they are victims of a broken institution which claims the name of Christ.

Although Dr. Ruby and Dr. Pahl had little say regarding their terminations, others are voluntarily choosing to disassociate from the University.

Prompted by the changing Cedarville climate, Dr. Ham will be making the move to Canton, OH this summer to teach at Malone University. “I should note that I am not being forced to resign. I am leaving voluntarily,” Dr. Ham clarified. “However, I would not have been seeking other ministry opportunities had the past two years been different. For me, it was the events surrounding the termination of my good friend Michael Pahl that prompted me to look elsewhere. Other recent events—mostly known to the student body, but some unknown to them—have served to solidify my decision. While I am very excited about my future ministry, it is with profound sadness that I leave the wonderful men and women I’ve known as colleagues here.”

After the elimination of the philosophy major, Dr. Graves was offered a terminal contract. However, he has instead accepted a tenure track position at the University of Findlay, where he will begin teaching this fall. His wife, Marlena Graves, will conclude her role as the Resident Director of Murphy Hall at the end of this semester.

Dr. Mills, if he is at Cedarville next year, will have to carry the course load for the remaining philosophy minor in Dr. Graves’ absence. Dr. Mills declined the option to drastically expand the Honors Program during the 2013-14 school year before handing it over to an unknown successor, and was therefore removed from his involvement in the program, effective at the end of this semester.

The voluntary disassociations are not limited to faculty and staff, but also include trustees. Recent changes in the Board have included the resignations of Dr. Rudd and Rev. Williamson, two proponents of the same concerns held by student advocates such as myself.

Dr. Rudd, who served as a Cedarville trustee for over 20 years, including multiple terms as Board Chairman, had the following to say regarding his resignation:

“I’m very thankful for CU and the privilege of being very closely associated with it for so many years.  I have many dear friends there who are amazing servants of God.  It saddens me deeply that I could no longer support actions and  direction of the current leadership and that I was no longer able to exert influence for what I believe to be truthfulness, integrity, and Biblical consistency.  God has graciously blessed Cedarville and there are many, many wonderful people still associated with it.  I pray that the leadership will be restored to Biblical integrity.”

In Rev. Williamson’s words: “The board of trustees repeatedly mishandled God’s servants while virtually ignoring the cries of students and alumni alike. Any hint of due process was abandoned, and the ability to have respectful dialogues on key issues was non-existent. I resigned because I could no longer be associated with a group that was constantly untruthful and unjust.”

And so the Cedarville diaspora grows. If this university is going to inspire true greatness, it should avoid driving away godly individuals like Ruby, Pahl, Ham, Graves, Mills, Williamson, and Rudd in the future.

Some may accuse me of biting the hand that feeds. But it is not the same hand.

I have been fed by Carl Ruby’s Cedarville, not the new Cedarville of twenty years ago. As the University hearkens back to the glory days before creeping “liberalism” reached the bubble’s border, the leadership has responded to repeated requests for clarity and honesty with poignant silences and disappointing distortions of the truth.

God is not surprised. I wonder if he is angered, though, by having his knowledge and sovereignty used to justify injustice. 

Cedarville, fulfill your call and be true to our God – not by claiming institutional prerogatives to drive away our Christlike best – but by doing justice, promoting honesty, and walking humbly with Him whose name we claim.

Update: Dr. Carl B. Smith, Professor of Church History, has willfully decided to turn in an unsigned contract. Although he does not have further employment lined up at this time, he will not be returning to Cedarville for the 2013-14 academic year.

Honors, Grace, and Generosity

Yahweh and others have been too good to me.

Today I received two awards at Cedarville University’s 49th Annual Academic Honors Day Chapel.

The first: The Oxford University Press Award in Preseminary Bible, given to the graduating senior with the highest cumulative GPA in the preseminary major.

The second: The Daniel Award.

“Established in 2001 by David and Jean Heyd, this endowed award was created to honor their parents, Charles and E. LaRue Wilcox and Elmer and Kathy Heyd. The scholarship assists a graduating full-time male senior student who has been accepted by a conservative evangelical seminary. The recipient must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.3, demonstrate the spiritual qualifications and godly leadership skills necessary to excel in this ministry, and plan to serve as full-time pastor of a church. […] The Department of Biblical and Ministry Studies faculty select the recipients.”

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The first award got me a copy of The Contemporary Parallel New Testament (edited by Kohlenberger, III). The second award? $5,000 toward my seminary education. Barring any significant price hikes, that should cover the remainder of my tuition at Beeson Divinity School for the next 3.5 years!

 

Despite my standing critiques of Cedarville University, I must admit that my life would look radically different today had I not arrived here four years ago.

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As I look forward to the next stage of my life, I’m realizing more and more how much my life each day depends on the grace and generosity of others. I’m extremely thankful for the opportunities – even the painful ones – I’ve been given to live, learn, and grow at Cedarville. I never would have imagined meeting so many wonderful, Christlike, and challenging people in the middle of cornfields in Southwest Ohio.

I’m thankful that God’s Kingdom transcends Cedarville,
but also that I’ve gotten to glimpse the Kingdom here.

Grace and Peace,

~Josh

On Building/Burning Bridges

DISCLAIMER: there’s a fair bit about the Church that frustrates me.

However, I’d like to address those frustrations in a way that builds bridges, not burns them down. Especially since sin and justice are both relational. It does no good to flee the former for the latter in a way that creates more rifts than it heals.

Therefore, any criticisms I level against my sisters and brothers in Christ, (many of those criticisms coming from outside the walls of the Church), I’d like first to aim them at myself. After all, if I want to witness self-righteous pride, xenophobia, misplaced anger, etc., I need look no further than the mirror.

However, building bridges (much less walking across them and back unscathed) can be quite difficult in our post-/hyper-modern day. Each post I pass along (usually via Facebook and Twitter, but also here on the blog), thinking it interesting/challenging/inspiring, can generate everything from cheers to tears, it can bring life and also offend. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I’d argue that it’s good and necessary to be both inspired and angered by certain things.

…but it can make things quite complicated and messy.

Nevertheless, I’m more worried about returning from the other side of the bridge *unchanged* than unscathed. But if I’m going to be successful, I need your help.

For one thing, I need your charity. No, not monetary charity (at least not now!), but for you, all of you, to be charitable readers. I don’t have enough time to explain fully my thoughts on and interpretation of every link/article that I post. Frequently, I do agree in some way with the author(s) of those links, but I would almost never be willing to sign off on each and every thing they say. Look for the good and true in each posted thing, and join me in thinking through what these authors have to say. That’s usually the goal of most of my postings: to get people to think.

Second, if something I’ve posted or said has caused a deep rift between you and me – a rift which probably goes deeper than a superficial misunderstanding – feel free to contact me and we can try to clear things up. I can’t guarantee that we’ll see eye-to-eye on things, and we might even have a sharper disagreement as a result, but I’d like to always value people more than I value positions, relationships more than reasons.

Both sides in most debates have at least one thing to learn from their opponents. Give me a chance to learn from you – if not to change my opinions, at least so that I can sincerely hold my own differing opinions.

After all, disagreeing with a bunch of straw men is no good at all. Meaningful arguments have faces.

Let There Be Light: My Resignation

**Please read: Let There Be Light – Leadership Transfer**

Until further notice, I hereby rescind my use of the Let There Be Light platform (including blog, Facebook, and Twitter) to protest recent changes at Cedarville University. The LTBL platform will now be exclusively alumni-run, and I encourage everyone interested in developments at the University to follow their posts and make subsequent judgments regarding Cedarville’s identity and vision.

My goal in all of this is to honor my Messiah by following him well and furthering his Kingdom with justice, unity, and true peace.

Let it be known that I am bitterly disappointed with the direction in which Cedarville University is currently heading. Unless its leaders frankly and forthrightly admit their agenda for the future and their recent decisions including the firing of Dr. Carl Ruby, I cannot in good conscience recommend Cedarville to any prospective students. If CU leaders are willing to get rid of people like Dr. Ruby and yet unwilling to admit that they’ve done so, that’s not just disingenuous – it’s dangerous.

I also cannot recommend a place which holds un-scholarly documents as the White Papers as official explanations of its doctrinal stances. I cannot recommend a place where people like Dr. Michael Pahl are not allowed to teach, and where good evangelicals are “reviewed” by ad hoc doctrinal panels. I cannot recommend a place where my mentors are harassed for being forthright with their students. If Bob Gresh’s words are true and men like Mr. Scharnberg want to return Cedarville University to the “real Cedarville” of 19 years ago, I cannot support such a move. That’s not the Cedarville I’ve known and loved.

My resignation from Let There Be Light does not change these personal opinions. However, I do pray that Cedarville might change and thrive, so that one day I can gladly and sincerely recommend it once more.

I will continue to use my own personal social media outlets to express my views freely and openly. For now, as a current student of Cedarville University, I will content myself with asking questions, trying to make sense of all this, and encouraging the members of the CU community who have had the biggest impact on my life.

With people like Carl Ruby, Chris Williamson, and Bill Rudd gone, we’re quickly losing leaders at Cedarville who will advocate for these types of concerns. I’m therefore convinced that my time left at Cedarville will be better spent on encouragement than advocacy. Although I am unsatisfied with the recent decisions and direction of my University, there are still many good and godly women and men here whom I’d like to uplift and affirm before I graduate.

Although I will no longer be a contributing member of Let There Be Light, I ask you to join with me in always calling for transparency and justice within our respective communities. The justice-filled Kingdom of God is being built one context, one community at a time, all over the world.

I do not regret founding Let There Be Light, nor do I regret my efforts to make Cedarville a more just community by striking a prophetic pose as a student with relatively little to lose. I’ve not done it perfectly (see my Open Apology), but speaking truth to power will always be necessary.

Our God is a god of justice, peace, and unity. There can be no true unity or peace without justice.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Grace and Peace,

Joshua Steele

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Open Apology

To whomever the following concerns:

I’d like to apologize publicly to any persons I may have offended during the past few months of my student activism efforts at Cedarville University. 

After all, I recognize that some of my statements/claims about the perceived injustices at my University have seemed quite shocking, especially without further context. So I apologize for the times when I put pithiness before precision and unwittingly ostracized many good people whom I was not intending to criticize at all.

Many times my frustration – directed at the nebulous group of trustees and administrators most directly responsible for things like the White Papers, the firing of Michael Pahl, and the firing of Carl Ruby – has seeped over and negatively affected some of the good people I’d like to defend and advocate for, if it were their necks on the chopping block.

There are MANY great people at Cedarville University in between those who’ve been fired and those who’ve made the firing decisions, and I don’t want to overlook them or accidentally attack them. If you’re a member of that group and you’ve been put-off by my recent words and actions, I truly am sorry. Please forgive me. 

I’d also like to apologize publicly for any embarrassment I’ve caused to the Kingdom of God in this process.

That is, while I’m NOT sorry for seeking prophetically to address injustices being committed by the people of God against the people of God, I AM sorry if I’ve given the impression to those on the outside looking in that this is how Christianity always goes.

(This is not a retraction of my activism efforts, for I am sincerely convinced that the University has committed institutional sins, if you will, in its recent decisions.)

However, I would like to remind all “outsiders” that following Jesus of Nazareth is not supposed to look like the current controversies which plague Cedarville University. Christianity is more than just intrigue and infighting, although those things will always be a part of Christendom until the end of days because us Christians are messed-up people just like everyone else.

Would you please forgive me, and please forgive us Christians, for doing a poor job of representing Yahweh to you?

He is a God of unity, justice, and peace, and yet far too often we, as his people, miserably fail at embodying those things.

In the end, Yahweh has told us human beings what is good: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. (Micah 6:8.)

Justice, mercy, and humility. 

Please forgive me for when I’ve failed to embody mercy and humility in my pursuit of justice

Sincerely, 

Joshua Steele

Oh Cedarville…

Have you ever been extremely frustrated with someone/thing you love?

That’s been my experience during my final year here at Cedarville University. See, I love this place. And that’s why I can’t stand it sometimes. There are still so many good and godly women and men here, so much potential for God’s Kingdom. And that’s why recent decisions made by Cedarville Admins and Trustees are so heartbreaking. I’ve written about this before (Open Letter).

The sources of my angst? I’ll give you the top three from my growing list of concerns.

The White Papers

I found out about these a year ago, when I had no idea of the storm that was brewing. I won’t spend time repeating what’s already been well said about the Papers here and here, but suffice it to say that if I turned in a White Paper as an undergraduate theological essay, I’d be getting a C- and a talk from my professor for my sub-par work. It’s patently obvious that Bib/Theo scholars were NOT consulted in the composition of these documents. Or, if they were, they were summarily ignored. And CU is making PhDs in Bib/Theo studies sign these things! Despicable.

This seems like a shameful attempt of reigning in the “creeping liberalism” of Cedarville’s Bible department. First, if you know any of the conservative evangelical CU Bible faculty, you’ll realize that this is some sort of sick joke. Second, at least proofread your documents to the standards of good scholarship! Even if I agreed with the White Papers’ attempts to silence debate and discussion on matters related to creation, justification, and omniscience, I would still be ashamed of their poor quality.

If you haven’t read Cedarville’s White Papers, they can finally be found here (to the right), on the University website. We had to petition and then wait a couple months before the Administration publicly posted the White Papers, even though they are supposed to describe the University’s official position on three important areas of doctrine!!! Did Cedarville ever intend on releasing these documents if students hadn’t petitioned Dr. Gredy and Dr. Cornman? Or were the White Papers just supposed to be a secret weapon to cleanse the Bible faculty? Apparently they were important enough to be used in the firing of Dr. Michael Pahl.

Michael Pahl

Dr. Pahl was hired before the 2011-12 school year. He moved his family (wife and four children) all the way from Canada to Cedarville, OH, persuaded that he was going to be a good fit for the Bible department at Cedarville University. After all, the CU hiring process is lengthy and it’s a very long way to move one’s family. After teaching for just two semesters, and closing on a 100 year-old farmhouse in town, he was fired for a doctrinal discrepancy related to his book, The Beginning and The End.

Keep in mind that the book was already in manuscript form when he was hired by CU, meaning that he wrote this book before he even knew he’d be working at a place that would have loved to see a shout out to Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis somewhere, anywhere in the tome’s 106 pages. Furthermore, the hiring committee was made aware of Dr. Pahl’s forthcoming book, and he taught his sample lecture during the hiring process on Genesis and the creation accounts! But that wasn’t enough to save him from getting “reviewed” by an ad hoc panel and “released from his teaching duties.”

Thankfully, he’s remained on the school’s payroll this academic year, so that he and his family didn’t get sent back to Canada right away without work or housing. However, to the best of my knowledge, he is still looking for work.

“Dr. Pahl’s orthodoxy and commitment to the gospel are not in question, nor is his commitment to Scripture’s inspiration, authority and infallibility.  He is a promising scholar and a dedicated teacher, and he will be missed by his colleagues and students.  Nevertheless, the University has determined this decision to be in the best interests of its constituency at this time.”

What a shameful way to treat a gracious and godly immigrant family.

Carl Ruby

As if the previous two concerns weren’t enough, the University quickly got rid of Carl Ruby, the Vice President for Student Life, this January. Not only have the Administration and Trustees neglected to justify this decision, they refuse to admit that they made the decision in the first place!!! According to the University PR statements, we’re to believe that Carl Ruby, after 25 years of service to his alma mater, randomly decided in January that now would be a great time to seek employment opportunities elsewhere. Apparently he also thought it would be great to leave his office just five days after his resignation was announced for him!

What’s the other option? Moral or legal failure, right? Well, Dr. Gredy (acting CU President) himself denied this at the SGA Town Hall meeting last month, saying that Ruby’s resignation was not due to a personal/moral failure.

What’s left, then? Well, despite my University’s urging to “not connect the dots” on these matters, the unavoidable conclusion is that Dr. Ruby was FIRED and that CU Admins/Trustees are hesitant (and deceptively so) to admit that.

Compare this “official” answer from the Cedarville Alumni and Family Questions and Answers page:

“Why did Dr. Carl Ruby leave? 

“Dr. John Gredy, Provost, announced to the University family on January 10 that he and Dr. Ruby had come to a mutual understanding and that Dr. Ruby would conclude his service to Cedarville University. His last day in the office was shortly thereafter, although Dr. Ruby’s administrative contract continues through June 30. The University is committed to protecting the privacy of its employees so is not commenting publicly on the reasons for the decision.

“Sadly, much speculation and questions have arisen. The Board of Trustees at its January 25 meeting carefully reviewed the events surrounding the announcement that Dr. Carl Ruby would conclude his service. The Board acknowledged and expressed regret that the lack of clarity had made this transition even more difficult for the Cedarville University family. Nonetheless, the Board of Trustees supported the understanding between Dr. Ruby and the administration. The Board of Trustees expressed its gratitude to Dr. Ruby for his service.

“Dr. Ruby built a legacy at Cedarville, and he will be missed by many. The passions Dr. Ruby embraced were not simply his personal interests, but rather reflect core values of the Cedarville family. The University is committed to continuing these priorities.”

with this excerpt from the Dayton Daily News’ most recent piece on Cedarville:

“Tennessee Pastor Chris Williamson said he resigned from the school’s board of trustees after being “blindsided” by what he called the administration’s “mistreatment” of the vice president for student life, Carl Ruby, a popular 25-year veteran of Cedarville who resigned last month. […]

“And then, on Jan. 10, it was announced Ruby would “step down” effective June 30. But his last day on campus was Jan. 15, and hundreds of students showed their support by wearing red and lining his walk from his office to his car. Ruby’s departure was publicly called a resignation. But Williamson said he learned at a January trustees’ meeting, “it was a termination of employment.”

and with this excerpt from the New York Times piece on the Cedarville controversy:

“The Rev. Chris Williamson of Franklin, Tenn., who last month resigned from the Cedarville board of trustees, said that both the president and Dr. Ruby were considered problematic by the faction of trustees fearful of what they perceive as a creeping liberalism. “They were threatened by Carl’s approach not to theology but to ministry,” Mr. Williamson said, “in terms of his ministry to people struggling with gender identification, how he ministers to people on the margins.”

It would be frustrating enough if it were a secular organization committing these injustices. But to watch an organization which claims the name of Christ behave in such despicable ways? It’s intolerable.

I’m not the only one who’s frustrated by these things: consider Scot McKnight, Anthony LeDonne, LeDonne again, Michael Bird, Mark Goodacre, and James McGahey

No, this does not mean that everyone at Cedarville is dishonest, evil or misguided. In fact, there are plenty of godly women and men here. Women and men whom I’d like to defend, because I’ve seen how stressful and fearful this environment has become for them and their families.

But it’s the leadership here I’m worried about. And as often as the Bible urges respect for leaders, it holds the leaders of the God’s people accountable even more so, often with strong language. Don’t believe me? Go and read the prophets, focusing on their words for the priests and princes of Israel.

As Chris Williamson put it on his Twitter account:

“There’s nothing more dangerous to the cause of Christ than religious people with an ungodly agenda. #cedarville

(@gdk_chris; 12:49 PM – 1 Feb 13).

I couldn’t agree more. And that is why I’m calling the leadership of my University to repent, or to quit claiming to be Christ-centered in these matters.

God will not be mocked.