published Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Cook: Seeing clear at Bryan College

  • photo
    Robin Harrison, a junior biology major and leader in the organization of the Hear My Voice event, wears a black armband in mourning of the professors that were let go at Mercer Hall on Bryan College on Monday in Dayton, Tenn. The Hear My Voice demonstration was an event put on for the students to respectfully voice their opinions to the board of trustees at Bryan College.
    Photo by Erin O. Smith.
    enlarge photo

Remember when Jesus spits in the mud?

He's found this blind man who can't see a lick. So Jesus kneels down in the dirt, makes this holy mudpack with his spit, and then wipes it over the eyes of the blind man.

"Then I could see," the man says in John's Gospel.

Somebody needs to spit on the campus grounds at Bryan College, and wipe gobs of mud all over the eyes of the powers that be.

Because they're blind.

And deaf.

And in need of some miraculous awakening, for the college around them is falling apart.

"Bryan College is not Bryan College anymore," one senior said.

Oh, but it needs to be. Bryan College needs to exist as an island of Christian intellectualism, a school where believers can chew on the hard questions about their faith and the secular world around them.

That's how iron sharpens iron. That's how faith deepens.

That's the legacy of William Jennings Bryan.

These days, I'm not even sure the man himself -- William Jennings Bryan -- would be able to teach a class at Bryan College. Not long ago, the school's president -- Stephen Livesay -- rewrote the statement of faith that all professors must sign.

He narrowed it. Tightened it. Flogged the freedom right out of it.

It's not like this is Berkeley, and Livesay wanted to double-down on the conservatism of his flock. It was insult, the casting down of dogma onto professors who have made a career out of nurturing students and presenting them -- wisely, carefully -- with different ways of seeing the world and how it was created.

(Read the transcript of the Scopes Monkey Trial, and you'll see even Bryan himself said things that may not fly under Livesay's new rules).

Livesay's directive: Be this way, or leave.

So professors began to leave. Others refused to sign, and were fired. The rest of the faculty passed a vote of no confidence against Livesay.

Now, in very graceful ways, students are protesting. Wearing black armbands. Instragramming messages of support. Writing letters and signing petitions on behalf of their beloved professors. Begging the board of trustees to listen.

Really, they just want their school back.

"Hear my voice," their protest says.

But the administration can't. Or won't. Its deafness comes from a troubling place, and is rooted in the two things Jesus warned about.


And power.

I think the Bryan College administration is trying to go as far to the right as it can, trying to outdo other conservative campuses, trying to out-Liberty places like Liberty University. The goal is not moderation or wisdom, but niche-ness. As our society pushes more and more to the extremes, Livesay may be trying to craft a more extreme campus.

He forced a statement of belief on his professors that reduces the majesty of Creation into a tiny and literal event with no wiggle room for intellectual thought or questioning.

To do so is to operate from an on-high position of power that thinks it can hogtie professors' belief systems. Doing so not only insults them, but imprisons students into a fear-based and rigid doctrinal tomb. Sure, it's not Salem, but it's most certainly not the freedom of God either.

Thankfully, the students are opening the door to reconciliation. They're not turning over the tables so much as asking that they be and if the Bryan board of trustees has any wisdom, they'll listen. Because Bryan professors can be trusted to do what's right.

And Bryan students need the grace and power that come from loving and challenging professors and the classrooms they create.

Our society does not need any more of ideological extremes. We need thoughtful and intellectual believers, those not afraid to dangle their feet into the waters of doubt and swim in the waves of questioning.

Remember when Jesus strong-armed his disciples into believing a certain way? Remember when he insulted them? Remember when he refused to listen to them, and told them to hit the road-Jack and don't come back?

I don't either.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
conservative said...

Those outside of Christianity often offer advice detrimental to Christianity.

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death Proverbs 14:12 KJV

April 30, 2014 at 8:15 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

So you are ass-u-ming that Mr. Cook isn't a Christian? How arrogant.

April 30, 2014 at 8:24 a.m.
conservative said...

You call Hitler a Christian, how lacking in discernment.

April 30, 2014 at 8:41 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Hitler WAS a christian, bone head.

April 30, 2014 at 8:44 a.m.
conservative said...

Hitler was not a Christian.

Your ignorance is appalling.

April 30, 2014 at 8:55 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Hitler was a Christian. Your denial is dishonest.

April 30, 2014 at 9:05 a.m.
conservative said...

Hitler was not a Christian.

Your ignorance is appalling.

April 30, 2014 at 9:17 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Hitler was a Christian. Your denial changes nothing.

Not even my opinion of you. I already knew you were a liar.

April 30, 2014 at 9:37 a.m.
conservative said...

Hitler was not a Christian.

Your ignorance is appalling.

April 30, 2014 at 9:17 a.m.

April 30, 2014 at 9:41 a.m.

Dr. Stephen Livesay tried to hide that one of Bryan's Bible professors had been arrested.

Dr. Livesay claimed that Morgan, the Biblical Studies professor, was leaving “to pursue other opportunities.”

"David Matthew Morgan, age 37, of 304 Osborne Drive Chattanooga, TN was arrested June 24, 2012 for Criminal Attempt – Aggravated Child Molestation, Criminal Attempt – Child Molestation and Sexual Exploitation of a Child."

Dr. Livesay said, "Scripture always rises above anything else. Scripture rises above science. … Science at some point will catch up with the scripture."

“For believers to end the discussion as open ended, however, undermines the authority of Scripture,” he said. “The merits of any theory must be judged by a literal interpretation of creation as recorded in Genesis.”

Unfortunately for Dr. Livesay science has refuted a literal reading of scripture and the ancient myths of creation, talking fauna, miracles, and magical saviors.

Would you want too send your kids to a school under the direction of someone whose interest is in protecting a "Bible" professor over children?

Dr. Livesay said he prayed to God before he attempted to silence the student Alex Green's newspaper report on the arrest of Bible professor Morgan. Did God tell Dr. Livesay to tell the truth or to cover it up?

Science works; crazy fundamentalist theology stuck in close-minded beliefs does not.

There are good, sincere, open and honest people at Bryan; both teachers and students. But to command that students and teachers pluck out their own eyes to match the blindness of Dr. Livesay and trustees is not education but forced indoctrination.

Bryan's faculty is not free to teach and Bryan students are not free to learn unless it's the mindless dogma of theological primates.

April 30, 2014 at 9:45 a.m.

Hitler wrote: "I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.."

From the Nazi party: "We demand liberty for all religious denominations in the State, so far as they are not a danger to it and do not militate against the morality and moral sense of the German race. The Party, as such, stands for positive Christianity, but does not bind itself in the matter of creed to any particular confession. It combats the Jewish-materialist spirit within and without us, and is convinced that our nation can achieve permanent health from within only on the principle: the common interest before self-interest."

"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before in the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.... And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.... When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom to-day this poor people is plundered and exploited. -Adolf Hitler, in his speech in Munich on 12 April 1922

In the Bible we find the text, 'That which is neither hot nor cold will I spew out of my mouth.' This utterance of the great Nazarene has kept its profound validity until the present day. -Adolf Hitler, speech in Munich, 10 April 1923

April 30, 2014 at 9:56 a.m.

We are a people of different faiths, but we are one. Which faith conquers the other is not the question; rather, the question is whether Christianity stands or falls.... We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity... in fact our movement is Christian. We are filled with a desire for Catholics and Protestants to discover one another in the deep distress of our own people. -Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Passau, 27 October 1928

The Government of the Reich, who regard Christianity as the unshakable foundation of the morals and moral code of the nation, attach the greatest value to friendly relations with the Holy See and are endeavouring to develop them. -Adolf Hitler, in his speech to the Reichstag on 23 March 1933

We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out. -Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin on 24 Oct. 1933

These are just a few of Hitler's words of support of and claim of Christianity.

Actually, this sounds likes Mr. Conservative's brand of Christianity. I'm wondering if when Mr. Conservative looks in the mirror does he see his reflection or the Fuhrer's?

April 30, 2014 at 9:57 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Mr. Cook, the term "Christian intellectualism" is an oxymoron. You say that Bryan College ought to be "a school where believers can chew on the hard questions about their faith and the secular world around them," but if one really chews on those questions, one will most likely come to the realization that blind faith is just that - blind; and there is no room in the fully engaged intellectual mind for blind faith. As far as religion is concerned, blind faith is simply making God a default mechanism for that which we don't fully understand. And when we do that we stop questioning those deeper, unresolved questions and resort to the complacency (stagnation) of belief.

I'm not saying that everyone who truly bares themselves naked and wrestles with the unknown, the deeper philosophical questions of life, would come to the same conclusion about their faith and would discard it. But if one is serious about arriving at the truth, one must start from ground zero and question everything, including their faith, their God, their holy books....everything. It seems that few Christians are able to do that. They feel the need to keep intact at least some vestige of their comfort zones of something or someone to cling to, whether it be their belief in eternal life, or a hero (Jesus/God) to make an icon or idol of, or the need to have a label to attach themselves to.

A university or college which considers itself an institution of true intellectual freedom would not have the word "Christian" attached to it in any way. If some of its teachers or students were to personally embrace Christianity after "chewing" on the deeper questions of the mind, then so be it. But to cling to the Christian label as a qualifier for intellectual freedom is the antithesis of true intellectual freedom.

April 30, 2014 at 10:40 a.m.
librul said...

Your last paragraph says it all, Roo. Thought I would extend the admonition to ALL schools, not just universities. To put blinders on minds seeking growth of knowledge and to constrict their view of the world with "statements of faith" is child abuse in the young and amounts to looking at the world through a keyhole for the more mature. As Dawkins says, "We should value people for what they THINK, not what they have been taught to believe."

The castles of faith that have been built in the sky are all destined to crumble as science demonstrates the absence of any foundation under them. Watching the "young earth" creationists and science deniers roil and bark at the rock solid science that Dr. Tyson lays out each weekend is, for me, making Sunday a day to look forward to again.

May 1, 2014 at 7:38 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Good point, librul. I amazes and sickens me that so many fundamentalists even exist today. It takes a LOT of pigheaded stubbornness to continue to hang on to such primitive concepts when science so clearly explains those things that they are trying to force into their own "sacred" narrative.

May 1, 2014 at 1:57 p.m.
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