Cook: Seeing clear at Bryan College

Cook: Seeing clear at Bryan College

April 30th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

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.

Robin Harrison, a junior biology major and leader...

Photo by Erin O. Smith /Times Free Press.

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.