Christianity Today reports that Cedarville University is strengthening its ‘complementarian’ stance (a theological position that forbids women to “teach or have authority over” men and teaches that men stand in authority over their wives.)

The Center for Biblical and Theological Studies at Cedarville University. Photo courtesy Jeremy Mikkola via Flickr Creative Commons.

The Center for Biblical and Theological Studies at Cedarville University. Photo courtesy Jeremy Mikkola via Flickr Creative Commons.

In a new move, the Ohio university has also recently restricted Bible and theology classes taught by female faculty to female students only.

(This despite there being no text that I can find in the Bible equating institutions of higher learning with churches…in which case even the most literal readings would not apply…)

There are many definitions of fundamentalism (the truly curious — and brave — should read George Marsden) but I have found that fundamentalism reliably shows itself whenever you hear someone say something along the lines of

 “I’m just gonna preach to you what the text says.”

Those, in fact, are the exact words used by Cedarville University president Thomas White in his March 10 chapel address, to which I listened in its entirety. If I may translate that into the vernacular, “I’m just gonna preach to you what the text says” means:

 Don’t even bother arguing with me, because I’m just the mouthpiece of God.

White’s text was 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 — a passage attributed to St. Paul and one that is more than a little confusing, since it says things like

“does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?”

Again, along the lines of “just what the text says,”  White quickly insists that anyone taking a “feminist” or “egalitarian” approach to the Bible has no respect for the Bible and basically disregards it altogether. So, for the young impressionable student, the choices are:

#1 Believe what White is saying, lock, stock, and barrel

OR

#2 Reject the book you have been raised to believe has all the answers to everything

(That there might be other intelligent and compelling ways of reading the text is not entertained as a possibility.)

What’s most fascinating about White’s chapel address is how he does exactly the thing he says he’s not going to do: he doesn’t  ‘just’ preach what the text says, because he doesn’t say that women can’t cut their hair or that men can’t have long hair — and he doesn’t say that women ought to have head coverings on every time that they pray — even though that is ‘just’ what the text says.

He says that those things are obviously culturally specific to the time and place in which they were written.

The only problem? The text itself — St. Paul, if you like, says that “nature”not culture — teaches us what is what regarding men and women and their hair.

White tipped his own hand, though, in favor of long hair on women, in a rant that even he seemed to realize verged on inappropriate…

“If you’re here and you have short hair and you’re female and you have short hair, that doesn’t mean this is a problem for you […] although I do really like long hair, I mean, I think it’s beautiful…I think, I mean, girls with long hair, God’s given you a blessing there, I…grow the hair out. […] My wife has long hair. Now you know why she has long hair. Cuz I really like her long hair…it’s pretty. I’m going to stop before I get fired.”

And he even approved of men having long hair, as long as that long hair is accompanied by sufficient signifiers of culturally coded masculinity:

 “If you wanna be a guy with long hair, have a [big beard too]. Like Duck Dynasty…be a man.”

Right turn. Photo courtesy Kamyar Adl via Flickr Creative Commons.

Right turn. Photo courtesy Kamyar Adl via Flickr Creative Commons.

Southern Baptist blogger Denny Burk took all this as “a sign of great things happening at Cedarville” in a recent post.

The same cannot be said for numerous students, former students, and former faculty from Cedarville, who find the institution’s tone and tactics reprehensible quite apart from the serious theological questions involved.

Another sign that you might be a fundamentalist?

When people raise alarm bells at your activities, you wear it as a badge of honor — we’re being persecuted for the faith! – and keep right on going.

Note: Just for the record, White’s chapel address also contained a weird rant in which he urged “men” to “grab their shotguns” in response to the widespread abuse and trafficking of women and girls. But that is a post for another day.

43 Comments

  1. Don’t look now, Rachel, but your prejudice is showing:

    “Southern Baptist blogger Denny Burk”?

    Seriously? Not theologian, professor, editor, author, pastor … But blogger.

    Sigh.

    • For every post Denny writes that is theological in nature, there are about two dozen in which he, in his typically alarmist manner, screams at the decline of society and over-parses cultural happenings

      So yes, blogger is an appropriate moniker.

  2. Kamilla, if I may nit-pick on your nit-pick: Denny Burk’s site, from which Ms. Stone drew her citation, specifically states that the articles there represent Denny’s private opinion…when he writes there, he is specifically and pointedly NOT speaking as the pastor of his church or as the voice of Bryce College. In the vernacular of web publishing, it’s perfectly legitimate to refer to him as a blogger, just as someone referring to Ms. Stone could refer to her as a “blogger” and not as “missionary to Malawi” or “author of last year’s award-winning ‘Eat with Joy'” etc etc. Anyway, now can we get back to the main point…that President White is clearly and dangerously affirming the sinful choice of the Duck Dynasty stars to shame themselves by keeping their hair long?

  3. Justin,

    I’ll remember that the next time I see a gaggle of girl bloggers get all twitterpated about being, ahem, marginalized, the next time a conservative male describes one of their number as such.

    And, BTW, it’s Boyce College ;-)

  4. *Sigh*
    This is not the Cedarville University I graduated from 2 years ago. Unfortunately, most people who bother to look up the college on my resume won’t ever realize it was an entirely different place when I attended.

  5. You’re right: Boyce. Typo. And if those bloggers are over 21, they’re probably getting more twitterpated about being called “girls” than they are over whether or not someone listed all their positions/titles/degrees. “Blogger” seems perfectly respectable to me. Anyway, back to the main point…how ashamed should Christian writer/speaker Joni Eareckson Tada of her short hair? A little ashamed, or a lot?

  6. Unfortunately, the stance is true. Good friend of mine disagreed with the stance and has been dismissed from his duties at the university. Well God does have a rank order, female domination is not a part of submission. Bad choice Cedarville, your balanced ministry is turning way too far right. And yes I am a republican and right winger…

    • I’ve been to the town of Cedarville, and the University is far from an eyesore. The campus is lovely, and if I’m not mistaken, houses almost as many students as there are residents of the quaint village. I dare say the buildings on campus are as beautiful, if not more beautiful than those of the rest of the village.

      • Devin, Cedarville Univerisity is arguably one of the uglier campuses I’ve ever seen. It’s obvious it was built on abandoned agriculturual land because there are hardly any trees at all. The campus looks like cheap plastic suburbia.

  7. The Bible does teach that women should not be in authority over men when it comes to teaching Biblical matters. I agree with Cedarville and this stance. When White said, “I’m gonna just preach what the text says…” He wasn’t saying, “If you don’t agree with me you are rejecting the book you were raised to believe has all the answers!” It’s him saying, “I am going to preach to you what I believe the text is saying.” Now if he didn’t study the passage in it’s historical, grammatical, and literal context, then he would be wrong. I am not saying he did or didn’t do that.

    Oh, and it’s not called “anti-feminism” when they limit the teaching of Bible and Theology classes taught by women to only women… it’s called Biblical :)

  8. How is this even considered a Liberal Arts College when you can’t question the “authority” of scripture. So what if the Bible teaches you to have long or short hair, submit to men, keep your mouth shut in church, clip your toenails on Thursday. How about we stop living our lives dictated by something some old man wrote in a cave thousands of years ago. There are more important issues in the world today. Christians argue over **** that the rest of the world solved decades ago, they are laughing at you. This isn’t a University it’s a $100,000 bible camp.

    • Dear “Really?”

      By what authority are you telling us that we should be able to question the authority of the Bible?

      The Bible is a compilation of books written by men over the span of thousands of years, not by a solitary man and not by “cave men” as you suggest. A practice that serves me well is to always question whether I have dismissed something because I have enough evidence to do so or because I am afraid of the implications if it is valid. Do you agree?

      • Lyle,
        You asked me what authority grants us the ability to question the Bible. I find it interesting you need an authority figure to tell you how to think and behave. Why not form your own opinions and beliefs? Do you really care deep down whether a woman has short or long hair? Whether women are being submissive enough, or if women teaching men in a Christian University is appropriate from a biblical standpoint. I remember racking my brain about such stupid issues when I was a student at Cedarville. Am I on the right path? Am I following scripture? Am I in my bible every day? Am I meeting the standard. Oh wait I don’t have to meet the standard because Jesus did it for me! But wait…. Faith without works is dead you know! I’m glad I didn’t go insane because having this shoved down your throat for most of your life can do wonders for developing mental illness. Taking a step back from this madness was the best thing I ever did for myself. Few have the balls to do it. I encourage you to open up your mind and fight fear of being thrown into hell or having God or the Church be ashamed or disappointed in you. There is a freedom from this cage on your mind.

        • I understand – you choose to live by YOUR authority, and not God’s. No one can tell you anything you don’t want to hear. Respectfully, that’s convenient, but hardly compelling. We all submit to an authority – someone else’s or our own. The only choice we get is which one to pick. But the notion that any of us are free from authority – even if it is our own – is untrue. I’m not advocating for long or short hair on women or men per se, nor for Cedarville’s list of ‘rules”. i’m simply saying that your position is to reject anything contrary to what YOU already think, rather than what God (through scripture) may have to say about it.
          Honestly, I hear you saying that you tried hard to follow the ‘rules’ when you went to Cedarville. But what if you misunderstood Christianity as ‘obeying rules’ in the first place? What if Christianity is primarily the message that YOU can’t follow rules or obey God’s laws and that God has done something about that through Jesus Christ? Yes – faith without works is dead, but faith based on obligation is dead too!
          Real faith is born out of JOY, not obligation. When I think about how unworthy I am on my own, and yet realize that God accepts me, I am motivated to please Him rather than looking to see how i can stay in His good grace. You are saved by grace, not works – when that hits home, works always follow. Problem is all of us have a hard time not trying to be our own Savior.

  9. Besides his several references to “cultural applications,” which you address here, I was most fascinated by how how he critiqued head as source by employing a bit of simplistic, mundane logic to the notion that the Father is the source of the Son. Why, he said, the Father can’t be the source of the Son, because that would mean the Father existed at a time when the Son did not. Besides using an entirely non-Biblical bit of reasoning that limits God to a wholly temporal cause-and-effect, this more or less tosses aside all that I have understood of Orthodox Trinitarian (as in, Ecumenical Councils and such) dogma. I don’t know what the confession at Cedarville believes about the Trinity, but even the Scriptures (I’m just gonna preach the text, people) say that Christ is the Father’s only-begotten son. Dr. White’s conclusions, even any that may be correct, suffer considerably from his dishonest and convoluted logic.

    P.S.: I think his grab your shotguns remark may fall in line with his it’s OK to have long hair, as long as you have a beard or some other outwardly masculine characteristics advice. I scarcely think he was encouraging the marshaling of posses to attack sex slave traffickers. The remark was really just his own masculine display: as in, I’m so outraged, and the way a real man shows his outrage is with violence.

  10. Edward Borges-Silva

    To the author, while your comments regarding Dr. White’s inconsistencies are certainly legitimate, I am dismayed by what I perceive to be your sarcastic tone regarding fundamentalism. If you were trying to be funny, I didn’t get the joke. Fundamentalism is not a faulty approach to theology; It emphasizes basic precepts of God’s Word as traditionally understood by orthodox theologians. I am ready to affirm both my fundamentalism and my evangelicalism without apology.

  11. I realize not all people commenting would call themselves Christian, but for those who do, why are we commenting without the love and grace that embodies every thing Jesus teaches? I myself agree with the author’s stance and wholly disagree with the President of Cedarville, but it gives me no right to engage myself in directing negative comments towards either person. We can disagree with love, can’t we? Do we need to focus on petty issues like typos, the aesthetics of buildings on campus, etc etc?

    I believe this is where the enemy grabs hold of our faith and uses it not for Christ’s glory but his own. Because now, the importance of Christianity has turned into a battle of semantics instead of embodying love even when we disagree.

    Can’t we all just get along??

  12. Phil Mitchell

    A very interesting definition Rachel. If you are right virtually every professor in American universities in the humanities and social sciences is a fundamentalist. Try arguing with them in class–or at lunch–or writing papers that disagree with academic orthodoxy and see what happens.

  13. Susan Humphreys

    One “gent” once told me that IF I wasn’t going to read the Bible as it was meant to be read I had no business reading the Bible. I told him that I agreed, he had no business reading the Bible since he refused to read it as it was meant to be read as myth and metaphor, poetry and prose, as the work of men who claimed though they may not have had divine inspiration! I think the definition of a fundamentalist is one who claims that he/she and he/she alone is in posession of the TRUTH and that all other readings, interpretations (of the Bible, of God) aren’t just misunderstandings, differences of opinion, but are LIES.

  14. This place is so far removed from what I remember when I graduated in 2006. Seriously submissive does not mean domination. What’s next??? Woman will only be allowed to major in “homemaking.”

  15. I just finished listening to the message of Cedarburg’s president. I have heard many messages over my +50 years of being a Christian woman….I also have read The Blue Parakeet by Dr. Scott McKnight. Anyone who seriously wants to be knowledgeable about this issue needs to learn and read both sides and then decide. My own personal journey is I moved from complimentarian to egalitarian and it has been so freeing as a woman!!! I will pray for my younger brothers and sisters in Christ.

  16. Rachel Marie Stone, I’ll make this as pragmatic as I possibly can; Dr. White is doing exactly what he was hired to do, make a quality general studies school with conservative Christian values. There are many Christian schools with a primary focus of training future ministers, but Cedarville will be a place for conservative Christian families to send kids seeking secular degrees in an environment that does not assault their beliefs. Cedarville will reinforce the values on which its students were raised. Since you are obviously offended by these values, you should spare yourself the anxiety and just look the other way because I expect Dr. White and Cedarville to be successful in their mission.

    • It was a takeover, nothing more or less. And it will not be successful, it the standard for measurement is the informed opinions of theological moderates (many of whom chose Cedarville precisely because they didn’t want Al Mohler’s indoctrination).

    • Mac,
      Cedarville’s mission is indeed to provide a quality education supported by conservative Christian values. However, the problem with the current administration is that it’s approach to “teaching” feels more like indoctrination. Young believers should be encouraged to critically examine why they believe what they believe, not have presuppositions forced upon them with no room for questioning. How can anyone’s faith be genuine unless he first examines it?

      I am a senior at Cedarville this year. I sat under the teaching of Dr. Brown and learned so much from his approach. Dr. Brown encouraged students to think critically and ask tough questions. As a result, my faith has been strengthened. My relationship with Christ is deeper because I took the time to truly discover the truth.

      I am concerned for the students under Dr. White’s leadership because his teaching doesn’t encourage independent thought. He presents his interpretation of the Word as absolute truth and implies that we should accept what he is saying without question. This is so much more harmful than many people realize. When students graduate and leave Cedarville, they will be faced with all kinds of questions and dilemmas. If they have never been encouraged to explore those questions and find answers, how will their faith remain firm once they are on their own? Cedarville needs to teach students, not indoctrinate them.

  17. Buck Thornton

    I am a complimentarian and I agree with the teaching as taught by Dr. White. An old church I attended, close to a University campus filled with students, has also just spoken last weekend on 1st Corinthians 11, claiming “source”, instead of headship. This despite the denomination’s Women in Ministry position stating “headship”. That Pastor previously spoke during a series of “debate” month on sensitive biblical topics and presented both arguments (egalitarian and complimentarian), and “came out” as an Egalitarian to the congregation, but claimed he would surrender to the authority of the denomination, and would have signed documents upon hire agreeing to abide.
    This week, he did not submit to the denomination, despite stating publicly he would, but taught Egalitarian “source” doctrine, and finished with “and all God’s people said”…. Should he be fired as a pastor ? Ninety nine percent of what he teaches is biblical. But in this area, in my opinion, has gone astray.
    Where does it stop ? Next year Cedarville may have doctrinal statements on divorce and remarriage. David Jeremiah says remarriage is possible. The Cedarville local Baptist pastor says that it is. Where does the “keeping those who do not come into doctrinal agreement” end ? What about those CU profs who disagree with remarriage…..and teach students this as opposed to one of the CU trustees ? They hold a fundamental doctrine that remarriage is breaking the “one flesh union”. If Dr. White is not for remarriage, and should state that CU now needs further “white papers”, as these things always tend to grow, should Dr. David Jeremiah then be fired from the Board of Trustees ? It becomes a slippery slope and Mark Driscoll has left behind a trail of wreckage and has apologized for it. I was at a christian Act Like Men conference, based on 1st Cor 16.13-14, and James McDonald, a great preacher of truth, spoke on vs 14, Let all that you do be done in love. His congregation and his trail of wreckage had taken him to task. He was humbled. He did speak truth, as is Dr. White, but he realized he did not do it in love. He took on the task of speaking on the section of let all that you be done, be done in love.
    I have worked in Universities and held a position where I enforce the employers policies and procedures. Everywhere you go, employees are violating the employers rules. Some are extreme and demand termination. Others a process of resolution. Thank God we are being transformed slowly and God deals with us gently. We are all violating God’s rules, and if we all had to come to the church signing doctrinal statements before walking in: every church globally would be empty, and every employer would have no employees upon recruitment.

  18. Hello,
    I am a ‘06 Alumni of Cedarville University, former student leader, and former staff member (07-11 Residence Life) at the school. I have witnessed much damage done to many godly women and men over the years by people in positions of power at the institution.

    I’d just like to say that I am thankful for those who are willing to investigate the story, most specifically, those who are willing to dig deeper into the new direction that Cedarville is taking under the White administration. The frustration for myself (and many alumni) is the secrecy and silence behind the removal of key administration officials and staff members. There is no transparency, only cheap sound bites coming from the media office.

    Alumni deserve to know why people are being forced out, forced to sign non-disclosure agreements, and banned from speaking freely. Alumni deserve to know why 8 out of the 10 trustees brought in by Brown along with high level administrators all ‘resigned’ either prior to, during, or right after president Brown “retired”. Alumni deserve to know why over 50% of the bible faculty departed last year and why all the positions are now filled by theologians with degrees the same 2 southern Baptist seminaries. Alumni deserve to know the full profile of those who hold the reigns of leadership on the board and understand how this profile is startlingly different from those who directed the school under Brown’s administration just a short time ago.

    Thank you for your commitment to transparency. You can also find more research, historical context, along with my narrative on what is going on at the institution. I invite you to join the conversation in a respectful manner. The facts do not lie.

    http://villefeedbackforum.wordpress.com/
    Password: Cedarville2014

    Sincerely,
    Anthony Mandela, MBA

    • Buck Thornton

      I am an outside viewer, looking at what is going on at CU. It is so obvious. You see, but you do not want to believe. Why do you ask the question, for that which you already know the answer to ?
      I’ve been around a long time. I’ve seen a lot of pendulum swings, leaders come and go, but the word of God never changes, is inerrant, and God sees the beginning and the end. God is in control. The school is His, and His alone and if it is outside the will of God, God will bring it back on track. If it is not understood what is going on at Cedarville, is that any different than a lot of what God does. A loss of son…a spouse that abandons you…death of a loved one.
      Institutions change direction, and leadership. I have been on the receiving end, and on the transformative end.They have a right as an institution to do so, and where the pendulum swung one way has now swung the other way. The last President and the BOT could not sign on the bottom line for the new direction. So new people who will, came on board. It’s really all that simple.
      Tick- Tock. Pendulum’s swing. The pendulum of America has swung to the left. CU has swung to the right. I praise God for CU being a Light for the current North American culture. America needs a voice of truth. For that, I see the changes and praise God for that.
      BUT- Jesus told a parable. The Pharisee prayed to God, thank God I am not like that ex employee over there, they could not follow the rules and sign on the dotted line, but I keep the rules. Spiritual pride.
      Next year, a new law is added, and that same Pharisee realizes they could no longer follow the new rules and sign on the bottom line. Then they are out. The remaining Pharisees now look at them and say, “thank God I am not like that sinner, who could not follow the rules. All of a sudden, the condemning Pharisee becomes friends with those they condemned not the year before. Unity of Spirit of like-mindedness. My sense is there is a lot of beating of the chest, not like the sinner in the parable, but of Tarzan, who’s just killed himself a lion. Which goes back to my previous posting- everything you do, do it in love. Standing Firm in your faith with a hard position, is too often done with a hardened heart. Which is why Jesus told the Pharisees regarding divorce – it is permitted because of your hardness of heart God allowed divorce. There seems to be a lot of employee – institution divorce going on.
      Because their ex employer gave them a certificate of divorce, ( or non disclosure statement) with a hardness of heart, broken and violated the Unity of the Spirit, not just the flesh, because they’ve changed the marriage vows mid marriage ? Then sit back and condemn the faithful spouse who has not changed, but has been cast off with the new terms of employment (marriage) ?

      Alumni of any University is empowered. If the University does not feel the need to explain by what authority it does these things, you are under no compulsion to explain why you will not give money or send your children.
      You do not need to sign on that bottom line.

  19. As an alumnus of this great university, I am embarrassed by much of the alumni in the discussion of this topic. I am not worried about a school pursuing God’s will. If it’s different than your personal opinion, so be it… However, I do not see anywhere where they are going in a sinful direction and becoming overtly worldly like former excellent Christian institutions like Belmont University. They are still preaching the word, and loving the Lord. Do not let the technicalities of theology bog down your mind. Rather, remember the heart of the gospel: God created the world…loved us SO MUCH…that He came down to earth through His only Son, Jesus Christ… He lived…loved…and died a painful death on account of our sins….ROSE AGAIN!!!….and we can be saved.

    You see, theology is simple. I see no problem with my beloved Cedarville because they are still following the Bible and the Lord. Theology should not bog us down as it only hurts the entire church. Frankly, I am quite sickened by the discussions and backhanded gossip I’ve heard from many alumni.

    I pray that the Lord will be glorified through all of this.

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