Today, I learned that my alma mater, Cedarville University, has decided to restrict classes taught by its solitary female Bible professor to women only. This marks a notable change for the university.
I attended Cedarville from 2006 to 2011. During my years as a student, I took Scriptural Interpretations of Gender Issues, one of the classes that’s now been restricted to women. When I took it, the class was co-ed. And it was taught by a tenured female PhD: Dr. Joy Fagan, who taught the school’s courses on women’s ministry.
Dr. Joy Fagan, of course, no longer teaches at Cedarville. As reported by Sarah Pulliam Bailey of Religion News Service, Fagan cited ideological differences in her resignation from the school. “I do not feel I am a good fit for the university going forward,” she wrote in a statement.
It’s worth noting here that Fagan, like other faculty members who have been fired or, in the opinion of alumni, strongly encouraged to resign by the school’s new administration, signed a non-disclosure agreement. That means we’ll likely never know the true nature of her departure. At the time of her resignation, alumni heard that she left due to her refusal to restrict class attendance to women only.
Dr. Fagan is hardly a liberal on the subject of gender. I knew her to be open about her complementarian views. By the time I took her class, I’d diverged from complementarianism and identified as an egalitarian–a Christian feminist. I found Fagan to be unfailingly respectful of our intellectual differences. We studied both arguments in her class, and I was allowed to write papers in defense of a feminist interpretation of Scripture.
In other words, I was allowed to think. And I was allowed to debate my conservative classmates–including men, who seemed unharmed by their contact with my female opinions.
It’s almost as if Christian men can benefit from hearing women’s perspectives on Christianity and gender.
After Fagan’s resignation, Cedarville University hired Erin Shaw to take her place. Erin Shaw does not have a doctorate. She has no university teaching experience at all, in fact. She does have experience leading Bible studies and mission trips–including one to Uganda. Given the role American missionaries have played in encouraging anti-gay sentiment in Uganda, I’d love to have some more details about the nature of Ms. Shaw’s trip to the country. Unfortunately, those details aren’t available on the bio provided on Cedarville’s faculty webpage.
Dr. Thomas White, Cedarville’s new president, regularly insists that Cedarville isn’t really taking a new direction. Pulliam Bailey quotes him as saying, “…nothing has changed in the school’s official policy and Cedarville has women in every department.”
It seems that statement is only partially true. Cedarville might have women in every department, but official policy has certainly changed if classes taught by Ms. Shaw are to be restricted to women.
Since my days in Dr. Fagan’s class, I’ve come to identify as an atheist. That’s not her fault. It’s nobody’s fault, really; it’s an intellectual decision I made for myself. And I’m sure that because of this, Cedarville would love to ignore my opinion on its policies. I’m sure they’d like to pretend that I’m critical because I hate God, and Christianity, and men.
I don’t hate God (because I don’t believe He exists) and I certainly don’t hate men. I don’t hate Christianity, either. I know that Christianity is better than this. I know that the Christian faith can support women and celebrate their intellectual contributions. I know that it can be a powerful weapon in the fight for equality.
Given that: who really hates Christianity here? Who really seems terrified of its potential to elevate women?
Let’s remember we’re talking about a school that’s currently under a federal investigation for Title IX violations. And Michael Loftis, removed from his position at ABWE for his failure to properly investigate abuse allegations against a missionary doctor, is still on the Board of Trustees.
That is the climate on campus right now. And yet the administration of Cedarville University doesn’t seem to think women have anything to teach men about their lived experiences in the church.
This isn’t higher education. This does nothing to foster critical thought and free inquiry among students. It doesn’t even prepare them to counter opposing viewpoints. If this is the path Cedarville chooses to take, it won’t be a college any longer, it’ll be a glorified Sunday School. That’s fine if you want to produce graduates who can only function in fundamentalist echo chambers, but it certainly doesn’t prepare them for the real world. It doesn’t even encourage them to empathize with their fellow Christians.
Here’s what it does do: train half the student body to disregard the other half and treat them as if they’re incapable of holding worthwhile opinions on the religious tradition that defines their entire lives.
To quote the school’s infamous marketing slogan: That’s so Cedarville.
I just wish it weren’t.