Academic integrity or the lack of it – a thought about the Rollston saga

I learn from Paleojudaica today that a US academic, a certain Christopher Rollston, is in trouble with his employer because of an article that he wrote on the leftist Huffington Post site, entitled The Marginalization of Women: A biblical value we don’t like to talk about.

The article makes clear that Prof. Rollston is a practising leftie.  Charmingly, he recites his faith in the current shibboleths of early 21st century liberal America almost in set terms:

Augusta National Golf Club finally accepts its first women members, and so a Leviathan of gender discrimination at long last makes a move in the right direction. Conversely, Todd Akin falsely states that a woman’s body has biological mechanisms to prevent pregnancy in cases of something he refers to as “legitimate rape.” One step forward, two steps back in our battle for women’s rights.

Emphasis mine.

Well, a man is entitled to hold political views, however daft or repellent they may be to sensible people.  In a free nation he is surely equally entitled to call for the expulsion of all blacks, all Jews, and all Mexicans from the USA, with the words “One step forward, two steps back in our battle for an Aryan America”.  Isn’t he?

Live and let live; the fact that he holds political views with which we disagree (or don’t) is no business of anyone else.  Isn’t it?

But what he really wants to talk about is the bible:

From Mesopotamia to Egypt, women in the ancient world were considered property — valuable property, but property nonetheless. And it’s true of the Bible’s view as well. Yes, there were biblical women who flourished in spite of the patriarchy, women like Ruth, Esther, Lydia and Priscilla. But women in the Bible were normally viewed as second class, if even that.

Emphasis again mine.  Well, this was true in biblical times, certainly.  All sorts of views are reflected in the scriptures.  The patriarchs engage in polygamy, for instance, but … the bible does not teach polygamy. And here we reach the problem with Dr Rollston’s article.

The hostility of the political left to the bible is well known.  What, then, does Dr Rollston have to say?  I’ve taken the first sentence of every paragraph:

The Decalogue is a case in point. … Because the Ten Commandments are so well known, it’s quite easy to miss the assumptions in them about gender. But the marginalization of women is clear.

Women are marginalized in the book of Proverbs as well.

The New Testament contains texts that marginalize women as well.

Of course, there are even more difficult texts, with men said to be willing to surrender women to horrendous violence.

Thankfully, some biblical authors who pushed back against the marginalization of women.

People today often wish to turn to sacred literature for timeless trues about social norms. … After all, to embrace the dominant biblical view of women would be to embrace the marginalization of women. And sacralizing patriarchy is just wrong. Gender equality may not have been the norm two or three millennia ago, but it is essential. So, the next time someone refers to “biblical values,” it’s worth mentioning to them that the Bible often marginalized women and that’s not something anyone should value.

He isn’t talking about attitudes reflected in the bible.  He’s talking about the bible.  He’s talking explicitly about biblical values.  He’s attacking them, and stating that biblical values are … “not something anyone should value”.  He is, in essence, accusing the bible of heresy, heresy against the One True Teaching, that of the political left in the early 21st century USA.

Doubtless he does not value biblical teaching.  And why should he?  An unbeliever is under no obligation to listen to the scriptures.  Let him genuflect humbly to a set of values made up by the babyboomers, if he so wishes, and is so uncritical in his politics.  Just because we may laugh at his credulity in political and theological matters — for of course we are much better informed, and our own political and religious views are above reproach — does not mean we should nail him head down to a lump of wood.  Live and let live.

All in all, so far, so tedious.

But I gather from Paleojudaica that his article has had consequences.  For, it seems, Dr Rollston holds a post at Emmanuel Christian Seminary.  His colleague, Paul M. Blowers, wrote a quick criticism of the article on Facebook, which was seen and roundly abused by a certain Tom Stark who wrote an article at great length in which he quotes the remarks of Dr Blowers here, and attacks him for objecting to them.  He also describes another article by a group of objectors as:

…a bloviating, self-important, contemptuous, slanderous, malignant, condescending, pretentious, cynically dishonest, and ironically oblivious piece of garbage.

The language of political hate is rather in evidence here, which again indicates that we are not dealing with any academic issue.

Even so, Mr Stark accepts:

Yes, as a faculty member at a faith-based educational institution, Dr. Rollston should not publish something in the public square that, say, contradicts anything he would teach in class or say to a Christian community. For instance, Dr. Rollston should not write a Huffington Post article in which he rejects Christianity or rejects the Bible.

And yet, as we have seen, Dr Rollston has done exactly that.  I fear that the problem is much simpler; Mr Stark shares the political and theological views espoused by Dr Rollston.

Various other bibliobloggers have written similarly. Tom Verenna wrote a response along the same lines.  Dr Blowers wrote an article here, rebutting the criticism, for which he too received the lynch-mob treatment.

The responses that I have seen all deploy the tired old “academic freedom” argument:  If you don’t allow our religious views to be expressed at your private college, if you don’t give us a platform, then you aren’t academics at all. I hope we all laughed to see this dreary old attempt at manipulation trotted out again.

The joke about this, of course, is that there is any amount of comment on the web on the policies of American universities, which state that several have developed a hideous political conformity, to the extent that expressing any non-left views at some of them risks harassment by the authorities!  Yet I do not hear similar complaints from the same people.

It’s all deeply tedious, all this special pleading.  Anyone is allowed to hold any views they like, in a free country (although I believe quite a number of US Republican bloggers believe that, if you hold views of the political right, this does not apply to you).  But no-one is entitled to demand, as of right, that other people pay for him to advance those views.

There is no special moral principle here.  If I join a university founded by atheists, I can hardly take their money and use it to attack atheism.  To do so would be dishonest.    If I wish to abuse them, I must stop taking their money.  Likewise, if I take money from scientology (which God forbid), I cannot honestly write an article in a major publication holding up L. Ron Hubbard to ridicule.  To do so is dishonest.  If I gain employment from the National Union of Perverts and Paedophiles (will become a privileged minority in California by around 2020, if history is any judge), I cannot take their money and write against them in the national press.

This elementary moral point has always been ignored by those who call themselves liberals, since these can rarely find anyone willing to voluntarily fund them.  Instead they assert a right to loot the funds of others.

In a state university a diversity of views should certainly be permitted, which reflects the fact that the taxpayers who pay for the staff are entitled to expect that academics who share their political or religious views are not prevented from holding a post there.   Whether this is indeed the case in a liberal theological college, or a liberal controlled university in the modern US, we need not enquire curiously.  But this is not because the university is “neutral”; nor does it imply that Catholic universities are not universities, or any of the other hysterical claims being advanced.  It is simply because there is no agreed basis for belief.

Tom Stark has written, I gather, that Christopher Rollston may now be under investigation at his employers.  Considering the nature of the article that Dr Rollston has published, I would hope that this is so.  For that article makes pretty clear that, to him (at least as edited by the Huffington Post), the bible is not the final authority of faith and morals.  That exalted role is reserved for the edicts of those who control the media agenda in the time and place in which he happens to live.  And a person holding those views can hardly continue to take the money of those who believe differently.  But of course Dr Rollston may not hold the views that the article pushes at every person who can read; for we must never forget the power of the editor of a site.

There is indeed a question of academic integrity here, and of integrity among “bibliobloggers”.  There is nothing very fine about campaigning for other people to endorse your views at their own expense.  On the contrary, it is a selfish, greedy, intolerant game.  I’ve read quite enough paragraphs asserting that the article states “uncontroversial views” — yes, of course, any views you agree with are “uncontroversial”, if you are self-centred enough.

I would ask all those who have written “in support” of Dr Rollston — really of the sentiments of the article in the Huffington Post, for I know nothing against the man himself — to ask themselves if they would feel the same if he had written in support of an Aryan America.  If they would not, then I suggest they withdraw their comments and search their souls.

For the measure we give is the measure we will undoubtedly get.  It was the legislation of the liberal Weimar Republic that made the Nazi state possible.  Those who establish the principle that academics who conform to societal values, and reject the values of their employers, may not be expelled for so doing, may not enjoy it, when those societal values change.  And if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that societal values change, and often violently.

For the right to create a private university, where the evil of the times does not seep in, where the commissar may not meddle, is of inestimable value in an oppressive state.  In communist Poland it was the Catholics who kept things alive.  To continue to exist, such universities must expel those who would wreck their purpose, or cease to exist.  There is, after all, nothing very praiseworthy about the man who, supported by every engine of the state, demands that a minority “tolerate” him.  On the contrary, we should treasure these islands of rebellion and different thinking against the certainties of “society”.

Live and let live.

UPDATE: Within 12 hours of my writing the above, mentioning the lack of openness to different views alleged against some US universities, comes the news that “Gaullaudet University has put Dr. Angela McCaskill, its chief diversity officer, on paid leave because she signed a petition to put gay marriage before the voters of Maryland…”.  That is, she signed a petition which suggested that this particular policy should be voted on rather than just enacted.  Apparently that is grounds for disciplinary action.  I don’t believe this (deaf, black) woman is an academic; but it shows how little respect for dissent there is in US universities.


20 thoughts on “Academic integrity or the lack of it – a thought about the Rollston saga

  1. Do you have a url for your article? I’d like to link to it, but I was on the run today and wrote in great haste.

    It is curious to see how intolerant of dissent so many people are. Either subscribe to the political/religious consensus; or else be abused for being “non academic”, if you try to preserve your own identity and work with others who agree with you. It’s really very horrible to witness.

  2. Note, I’m not trying to be frivolous… but you’re willing to wholeheartedly invoke Godwin’s Law over this topic? I find this a perplexing choice.


  3. “Godwin’s law” is simply a trick to make people afraid to draw comparisons with Nazi Germany. In an age that shrieks “fascist” incessantly, we might ask who wants to stifle that comparison, and why.

    Resist Big Brother’s attempts to manipulate your thinking.

  4. Roger,

    Interesting. I sifted through C. Rollston’s article, and it does indeed seem as if he (a) affirmed that the Bible advocates — not just depicts, nor merely tolerates, but *advocates* — a degrading view of women (i.e., that women are property), and (b) affirmed that the church should transcend what the Bible says about women.

    Now it looks as if Jim West and some others are telling the folks at Emmanuel words to the effect that if C.R. is dismissed, everyone will say that Emmanuel is being run by wild-eyed fundamentalists. Perhaps I read too much into this, but read Jim West’s comments at his blog — — and tell me if it does not seem as his predictions seems a bit like threats, as if to say that if ECS’ overseers insist that their professors uphold a statement of faith that says that the church is to be guided by the Bible (and do not write online articles stating that the church should not be guided by the Bible because the Bible promotes mysogyism and chauvenism), and we’ll all call you stupid.

    What say ye?

    Thom Stark has mentioned your comments (but does not engage them), at .

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  5. Your reading of Rollston’s article is mine. It is possible, of course, that his original draft has been edited; but as published, it certainly makes both points.

    I agree that some of the comments are more or less threats, although I have not read much of the commentary, nor followed the issue — for what is it to do with me, or most of those writing about it? It does seem that an attitude of entitlement, not to mention arrogance, is definitely abroad among this group of people. It’s interesting that this post of mine attracted two abusive ‘comments’ (of the “you’re an idiot” form). Evidently I’m doing something right!

    It’s very hard not to dislike intolerant people who are attempting (as far as they know) to bully a Christian institution into violating its own principles and adopting theirs. All very distasteful.

  6. Just noting something in the background here: at one finds the following; the first sentence on the page:

    “Emmanuel Christian Seminary is a Graduate Christian Seminary committed to the lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture and to the vision of the unity of world Christianity as arising from the work of such thinkers as Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone.”

    I invite comparisons between this affirmation of the commitment of ECS to the authority of Scripture, and Dr. Rollston’s statements in his HuffPost article.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  7. That is incorrect. Emmanuel is not a conservative seminary. Even Dr Sweeney points that out in his letter to Rollston to be less antagonistic. Rollston is a Christian who believes in progressive revelation, as in the Christian message was revealed through people’s search for truth and that God used Israel’s search for truth over the years to guide them toward Christianity. Not only that, but he is particularly affiliated with the independent Christian Churches of the Restoration Movement of which Emmanuel and Milligan College find their historical roots.

    Dr. Bembry the individual who will be taking his place teaches the same thing. Rollston’s interest is that the particularly problematic texts of the Bible aren’t glossed over, or ignored, but rather realized as part of the process.

    Many people do not understand what this debate was about within ECS. Having familiarity with Rollston and ECS, I can understand it better. Rollston is not anti-bible, or anti-inspiration. He simply holds a wierd type of belief in inspiration that tries to synthesize the undeniable data and belief in the validity of the Christian faith. He uses antagonism to overcome belief perseverance/denial that is common when dealing with problem texts.

  8. Only in the event that you make assumptions. You can’t go around in life judging things on what they “seem”. You don’t have all the data. And you say you can only read what you wrote. That not a good excuse to pass judgement. Of course you can do more, you can do fact checking. You can attempt to contact a former student of Rollston. This is something Blowers should have done too.

    As a former student of Rollston, Blowers, and Bembry, I remember when we all had a long conversation in Rollston’s class about his view of the inspiration of the bible. He may have a wierd wacky belief that doesn’t make sense to a lot of us, but honestly that was my entire experience at Emmanuel. When I asked Bembry at one of the first events I attended at Emmanuel why he believed the Bible was inspired even though it had dubious origins, he said “I have seen a lot of changed lives”.

    Bembry wrote a dissertation on the evolution of YHWH and you can get the book on Amazon. It is called “YHWH’s Coming of Age”. You seriously just don’t get these people, or Emmanuel. They believe that God allowed the Jewish religion to evolve from paganism. Now I don’t know what Dr. Sweeney’s position is, because I found him to be the most conservative professor at Emmanuel. He used to be a missionary with Pioneer Bible Translators, and taught my missions classes when I was there.

    But Emmanuel took a stand years ago with the Beck Thesis, when the former OT Chair Dr. Hull signed off on Beck’s thesis about the single authorship of Isaiah stating something akin to “This is signed with the caveat that I do not endorse the single-authorship of Isaiah”. In the resulting firestorm, Emmanuel took a stand for honest scholarship over mental gymnastic attempts to preserve traditions. It lost funding and supporters and Restoration Movement churches took critical stances over the issue.

    Hull also wrote an article for the Stone Campbell Journal called : The Bible Only? Too Many (Cracked) Eggs in One Basket. That was vol 5 issue 1

    The actual problem here is much more complicated. Did you actually read Dr. Sweeney’s letter to Rollston?

    It tells him to tone it down, it mentions that he understand that fundamentalist students may have a harder time understanding what is actually believed in scholarly circles that students are losing the faith on account of the way he presents the material, which is a new thing for Emmanuel.

    My feeling on the matter is that Dr Sweeney was misunderstood from the beginning, and a firestorm of conflict was unleashed in that misunderstanding. Rollston was already on edge after Blowers acted the way he did. Blowers’ mistake was to completely have no clue about what Rollston taught or believed. Dr. Sweeney’s interest seemed to me to be the students like me who went to Emmanuel and realized “okay, this isn’t believable anymore”. But I was having my doubts from the moment I got there anyway.

    I was baffled at the time at how Rollston’s belief in inspiration actually kept the students able to believe in the inspiration of the bible and not collectively begin to doubt the whole thing as he talked about the pagan origins of the Israelite religion that are evident from hidden cues left over in the bible. It seemed like a cognitive dissonance twilight zone to me actually.

    Did you know when I was at Emmanuel that there was a Mormon there who was earning his master’s degree for the military chaplaincy? That is right, Emmanuel worked to ordain a Mormon as a Mormon minister.

  9. John, this won’t do. I don’t want to offend you, but this is a terrible, terrible piece of special pleading. Are you not aware that every liberal clergyman intent on making a media career engages in these kinds of dodges? Not that I form any judgement on Dr Rollston personally – I don’t know him. But this kind of “defence” is utterly damning, at least to me.

    A man writes an article in a journal, in which he makes some pretty plain statements. And we’re supposed to believe that he means something other than what he says? No, that won’t do.

    There is no reason to engage in complicated gymnastics here. A man is generally understood to mean what he says, in print, in public, in the face of the world, at some length, after deliberation. If what he says happens to be a crime to say, none of these kind of excuses will save him from prison. This is what is meant by “publication”. It’s a formal process.

    But say that he mispoke. Well, he could easily have disavowed it. He did not. Nobody is saying that he didn’t mean every word of it. Instead we get this “oh you don’t understand”. Now that is a very tired old ploy for this sort of game, which we have seen a million times before; the dishonest cleric posts a Christian-baiting piece in the media, and then professes that his critics “don’t understand”. On the contrary, we understand entirely too well.

    I’m afraid that your friendship for the man is causing you to miss the point. If we work for a company, we toe the company line. Do something else, and we will be sacked. That’s what employment means. It matters nothing if we have some complicated justification for so doing. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

    I think the point you are making here is that you believe that the company line is wrong, so the company should change, or certainly not sack him. But it should. To do anything else is to surrender control of its principles to someone else.

  10. Well I have not had any contact with Rollston since I left Emmanuel. He is not a friend of mine, though I respect him as a scholar and professor.

    I never said Rollston misspoke. What I said is that Rollston and Emmanuel have a very strange take on inspiration. That is represented by the Old OT professor Dr. Hull, and the current chair Dr. Bembry.

    Emmanuel has no problem ordaining mormons, it has a history of taking the side of biblical higher criticism, and Rollston believes in progressive revelation.

    Rollston isn’t out to discredit the bible. Rollston has a type of view of the bible that you aren’t really familiar with. He sees it as a written account man’s journey of discovery as they wrestle with discovering more about God.

    The point is that Rollston’s beliefs and Emmanuels beliefs are not in conflict. Rollston’s beliefs reflect what Emmanuel teaches. Emmanuel just has wierd crazy beliefs as it tries to combine faith with quality scholarship and not make the thing come tumbling down like a house of cards.
    Again I refer to the Beck thesis, and the precedent it set for Emmanuel.

  11. In other words, Emmanuel teaches that the bible can have flaws, and can have forged books and still be inspired. This is why I said it was a bit of a twilight zone.

  12. I’m pretty sure it was Bob Owens, not Bob Hull, who wrote the famous title-page note, though it’s been more than a decade since I’ve looked at it myself.

    Yes, the irony of all this is that, most folks who don’t primarily identify themselves with university religion departments, ESR (now ECS, of course) is a “liberal” seminary. But since on the Internet, those with the most free time get to set the agenda more often than not, they’ve been cursed (or blessed, depending on how things pan out) with the scarlet “C” for conservative over the last five months. It’s funny stuff when one steps back from it.

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