Having grown up in the Church of the Nazarene, I still feel a sort of odd thrill whenever I see that the Nazarenes have made it into a newspaper or magazine article or TV News. Sometimes the Nazarenes even become fodder for slang, as at a restaurant on Kansas City's Plaza shopping center. It's no longer open, but for several years, whenever a server got a bad tip, they would announce their displeasure to their colleagues by saying that they "got Nazarened." To be fair, I'm fairly certain the practice was started by a Nazarene Theological Seminary student - not me, though it's the type of thing I would do.
Last week, two of the Church of the Nazarene's 12 universities (4 are outside the US: England, Canada, Kenya and the largest is in Korea) were the subject of an article in Newsweek
(subscription required), titled "Can God Love Darwin Too?" Richard Colling, a biology professor at Olivet Nazarene University
, found himself in some trouble for writing a book called Random Designer
In a letter posted to the website, Dr. Colling states that he wrote this book because he believes that God is far bigger and "more creative" than he is usually portrayed, and that his lifelong work as a microbiologist not only fails to threaten his faith, but actually strengthens it. I haven't read the book but I'm quite interested.
Predictably, Nazarenes on Olivet's educational region went crazy over this. Several of the larger churches threatened to withhold their educational budgets - which, speaking theologically, is a sin since those budgets are assigned and accepted by vote of the congregation at annual meetings; therefore refusing to pay them is to break their word. People wanted Colling sacked, something that unfortunately has precedent in the Church of the Nazarene's schools. I'm friends with one professor who lost his job because the daughter of a friggin' youth pastor*
didn't like what he had to say about Exodus, a seminary professor was sacked for saying that using A Thief in the Night
as an evangelical tool wasn't really a good idea, another professor was forced out of his position for not being sufficiently condemnatory of the Jesus Seminar, etc.
Dr. Colling still has his job, but he's now forbidden to teach general biology - which he has taught for 16 years - and his book is banned from the classroom, though a quick check shows that it is still in the Olivet library's collection. As for banning it from classrooms, we all know that such an action will probably only increase interest in the book. I wonder if Olivet's president had such a dynamic in mind when he made his decision. My instincts, though, tell me that Bowling simply isn't that complex a thinker; if he were, he probably wouldn't be the college president*.
Next year, Karl Giberson
of Eastern Nazarene College
, will come out with Saving Darwin
, a book that explains evolutionary processes as the means by which God creates. Good for him, but I can only say, "Duh," to something like that. Of course, I wasn't raised by morons, so that helps. Giberson probably won't get in much trouble, Eastern is one of the "liberal" colleges, the other being my alma mater, Point Loma Nazarene University
That these incidents continue at Nazarene schools is further evidence of the continuing slide of the Church of the Nazarene into undifferentiated American Evangelical Fundamentalism. For decades the Nazarenes prided themselves on the fact that they were not
fundamentalists. And this belief was supported by the astonishing number of social programs the church offered. But American Fundamentalism is an easy ethos to accept, with simply-stated beliefs and rock-solid absolutes. Sure, if you think about it very much it starts to fall apart, but human beings are not always willing to expend the effort required to really think about what they've been taught or what they assume they believe.
So as the Church of the Nazarene embraced Christian Fundamentalism, it started to shutter its social programs and focus on people's souls
, and its colleges increasingly became battlegrounds. Nazarene Bible College was literally pushed through the General Assembly because the son of a General Superintendent became an Episcopal priest after attending the church's seminary. It was that GS's deep and abiding hatred for the seminary that propelled him into pushing the idea of a bible college which would take ministerial students away from the universities, put them in a "safe" setting and give them a worthless degree so they wouldn't even be able to enter seminary. Two new universities were started at the same time - 1964 - in the Midwest because the church had two schools with enrollment over 2,000, and it was a stated policy of the church that no school would be allowed that level of enrollment, over fears that they would be able to attain financial independence from the church and therefor "go liberal."
So it goes. The fundamentalization of the Church of the Nazarene, like so many others, continues apace. Good professors at good schools live in fear of their jobs and reputations, until there won't be good professors and therefore there won't be good schools.*Not every youth pastor is an idiot. However, the longer a person lasts as a youth pastor, the more likely it becomes that he or she either has been an idiot all along, or is turning into one. Trust me on this.