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.

Open Letter to Cedarville Admins and Trustees

To my sisters and brothers in Christ, entrusted with the arduous task of leading and directing Cedarville University: greetings, grace, and peace.

Allow me to thank you all for your countless hours of service to this institution. I do not want to underestimate your care and concern for this place. In fact, I want to reassure you that I share your passion. Here at Cedarville I have been blessed with the opportunity of meeting, falling in love with, and marrying my wife. Even more importantly, at Cedarville I have fallen in love with the Gospel. Thanks to godly men and women here – whose vision of God, his Word, and his world I’ve been privileged to catch – my eyes have been opened to the richness, complexity, and scope of God’s redemptive mission.

I therefore raise the following concerns not as one who wants to malign Cedarville, disregard your wisdom, or perpetrate verbal violence. I raise them because I want Cedarville to contribute to God’s Kingdom to the fullest extent possible. I have invested four years of my life here as a CU Scholar, Getting Started Leader, Discipleship Leader, Student Grader, and Resident Assistant. I want future students, perhaps my own children someday, to be able to do the same. I want this University to thrive, inspiring true greatness for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

That is why certain events within the Cedarville community this past year have caused me such great concern. I say this as respectfully as possible: some of your decisions and actions seem to contradict the most precious lessons that I have learned at your institution about the Gospel.

Among other troubling things, including the harassment of those “godly men and women here – whose vision of God, his Word, and his world I’ve been privileged to catch,” I have observed the following:

As your younger brother in Christ, I am obligated to approach you peacefully. However, given the circumstances, it seems I am also obligated to approach you prophetically. Because of the biblical concept of shalom as true peace, I believe I can do both at the same time. For true peace is not the absence of conflict or strong words, but the longing of the prophets for the time and place where the image-bearers of Yahweh will be reconciled to one another, to all of creation, and to God himself. It is the relational fullness and completeness of God’s justice-based, truth-filled, and transparent Kingdom.

In the interests of shalom, then, I cry out for justice.

In the interests of shalom, I cry out for truth.

In the interests of shalom, I cry out for transparency.

For brevity’s sake, I’d like to distill my myriad concerns and frustrations into just two questions. After all, I’m just an undergraduate, and you do not owe me a thorough explanation of all the managerial minutiae behind your every move. However, you do owe me – along with current/future faculty, staff, students, and constituency – a thorough and impeccably honest explanation of Cedarville University’s Identity and Vision.

In the interests of shalom, justice, truth, and transparency, I cry out for answer to the following two questions:

  1. What is Cedarville University? 
  2. What does Cedarville University hope to become?

All of your actions and decisions mentioned above, from the harassment of my mentors and friends to the proposed cancellation of the Philosophy Major, point towards Cedarville University being and becoming a fundamentalist (euphemistically, a “conservative evangelical”) institution – silencing honest dialogue, erecting thick walls between “us” and “them,” and carving out our own niche instead of engaging the unified diversity of God’s kingdom.

After all, Dr. Ruby and Dr. Brown were two of Cedarville’s most prominent voices calling for a robust evangelicalism, for this self-proclaimed liberal arts university to embrace and embody both cultural and ideological diversity – in the hopes of becoming one of the most influential Christ-centered learning communities in the twenty-first century. 

I and many others came to Cedarville University to study, work, and teach because we find this vision extremely compelling. We find things like poorly-written White Papers, inadequately explained rejections/cancellations of valuable majors, and questionable, sudden changes in beloved personnel much less compelling.

I will give you the benefit of the doubt and not discuss at-length the many rumors and reports of shameful things like ad hoc and biased “review” panels, bullying, power plays, and gag orders. If the rumors be true, then perhaps someone much higher than I should call for your repentance, if not your resignations. Such is the high responsibility of having “For the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ” as your institutional motto.

However, I will ask you for one important thing: your honesty about where you want to take Cedarville University.

Here’s why: as the Administration and Board of Trustees, you have a certain right to decide whether or not Cedarville will be robustly evangelical or fundamentalist. We might strongly disagree about which of those two options is preferable, but at the end of the day you make that decision, not I.

However, you have no right to obfuscate or vacillate on these important matters of identity and vision. While I can’t tell you what direction to take this University, I can boldly ask that you decide and then very clearly and publicly announce your decision.

Even if I and many others disagree with your decision, we will respect you much more for your clarity. Trying to accomplish your goals behind the scenes has only resulted in confusion, damage, and pain to several individuals and families within the Cedarville community. In the wake of Dr. Pahl’s dismissal and the questionable resignations of Dr. Brown and Dr. Ruby, we need a clear statement, not a polished and vague press release. If you don’t plainly declare your position and objectives, then we will be forced to assume the worst regarding your motives.

After all, if achieving your goals involves getting rid of:

  • Michael Pahl, an outstanding biblical theologian of whom you were willing to say: “[his] 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.”
  • William Brown, the president and beloved face of Cedarville University for thousands of students.
  • and Carl Ruby, a man whose respect and admiration from students, faculty, and staff transcend cultural, theological, and political dispositions…a preeminent model of Christ-like service, love, patience, respect, grace, and wisdom…and a pioneer for open and honest dialogue for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

…then your goals are probably in need of revision, but they are most certainly in need of immediate clarification.

For the sake of our Messiah, Savior, Lord, and King whose crown our University bears on its seal, I appeal to you as your younger brother in the faith: publicly declare your vision for the future of Cedarville University. In the face of the growing angst, confusion, and frustration among students, alumni, faculty, staff, and constituency, explicitly state who you do and do not want working, teaching, and therefore studying at the University.

It is my prayer that, as a result of your honesty and transparency, Cedarville University might become a more peaceful and just community in the midst of God’s shalom-filled Kingdom.

For King and Kingdom,

Joshua Steele

Cedarville University Class of 2013