By John Pierce
A friend keeps me reminded of the old saying: “If you know it’s a snake when you pick it up, don’t be surprised when it bites you.”
That line came to mind when strong reactions followed the news late last week that trustees of now-Shorter University adopted a new doctrinal statement, personal behavior policies and an oath of loyalty to the Georgia Baptist Convention school’s mission. Faculty who fail to affirm and adhere to these new requirements could face termination, President Donald Dowless said according to various media.
Alumni and others took to cyberspace as well as the Rome News-Tribune, in the northwest Georgia town that is home to the school, to express their dismay, anger, opposition and shock. Other voices affirmed the private school’s right to take such actions with some rejoicing in the clearer, narrower definition of “Christian education.”
Most all of these reactions could be anticipated. However, it is hard to imagine that anyone would react to this news with surprise. Despite some alumni telling me (and trying to convince themselves) that nothing has really changed at Shorter, much has changed indeed. And more change is to come.
In 2005, in a split decision, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the Georgia Baptist Convention is the sole member of Shorter College and has the exclusive right to name trustees. Since then, the fundamentalist-controlled GBC has moved to make the school into its own likeness.
Narrow doctrinal creeds, hostility toward churches with female pastors, and condemnation of gay and lesbian persons have been the big motivating factors in the convention for several years now. Only the most buried head would be surprised that a similar agenda of exclusion and control is being manifested in the colleges controlled by the GBC.
Some alumni are wasting their time now asking that the new demands be reconsidered. But those imposing this agenda on Shorter's faculty are powerbrokers with nothing less than 100 percent certainty that they are right. Anything short of complete compliance will find no hearing.
Not everything is a mystery. Fundamentalism is highly predictable. It only moves in one direction: tighter, tighter and tighter.
Only the most foolish observer would expect something else from Georgia Baptist Convention appointed trustees and an all-too-willing accomplice as president. Sadness, yes. Surprise, no. It’s like picking up a snake and then complaining if it bites you.
Rightfully, some voice fear that the recent actions by the administation and trustees will harm the academic reputation of Shorter. But, on the other hand, it can be a time of learning as well. For example, this episode offers great insight into the fundamentalist understanding of sin.
Have a glass of wine at a fine Italian restaurant or show acceptance toward a gay or lesbian person and a faculty member will risk unemployment. Become an egomaniac, however, and there is an increased chance of being chairman of the trustees.