Testimony by Gerald Eichhoefer's "staunchest supporter"...

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Note: this comment was just made by Dr. Jack Chisolm, a principal witness to the Greenville College termination of Dr. Gerald Eichhoefer. Chisolm sheds significant light on the matter and it seemed best to promote his comment to the main page to interested readers would not miss it.

Revs. Bayly:

I'm the Jack Chism referred to in the AAUP documents. I tender you my thanks for your coverage, and also my tribute to your father's memory: I used to love his "Out of my Mind" column in the old Eternity magazine.

[I found you through Dr. Rasmusen's blog, where I had left a comment, which I will repeat here, hoping it might be helpful to anyone following this discussion:]

I was involved in the Eichhoefer case, and the AAUP referred to me as Jerry's "staunchest supporter." I'm not sure if that's true, but I was certainly a visible one whether I wanted to be or not. Many of his other supporters were afraid to be publicly identified because of fear of retaliation. I suspect that this will put some restraint on comments that they might post here, in his support. (unless you were to provide a way for their names to be withheld)

The religion department's hostility to evangelical faith at Greenville did not occur just recently; I've seen evidence of it for decades...

Not all members of the department shared it fully; and individual members adjusted their views as time went by. But the dominant position came to be one of condescending ridicule toward evangelical faith and toward Christian exclusivism. Many of us were pleased to see someone with the courage to criticize it, even if some of us thought that Jerry may have swept too wide a stroke. This was unfortunate, because his subsequent termination has solidified the fear of saying anything at all critical of GC's program of faith development.

One discouraging symptom of these deep troubles has been the complete inability to set up a courteous dialog about the issues involved. Dialog is what Jerry pleaded for in every one of his public communications. In the midst of the angry reactions to Jerry's first couple of mass emails, both Dr. Rick McPeak of the religion department and I tried to set up conciliatory meetings between the aggrieved parties. Rick and I had understandably different reactions to Jerry's positions (understandable because Rick had come under criticism in Jerry's paper, and Rick believes that the criticism was both inaccurate and unfair) But both of us were troubled by the outpourings of hateful rhetoric that were occurring, and wanted to help find peace.

What might have helped would have been this: Numerous people, reacting to Jerry's emails, were heard to say that he had said false things, or had committed logical errors. But it was impossible to get those people to list what the falsehoods and errors were, at least within Jerry's hearing, so that he could respond with whatever evidence or reasoning he might want to offer.

It may be that Jerry said things that were incorrect; but we could not find out. His accusers insisted on working entirely behind his back, and on attacking his character rather than challenging his specific assertions. One of the earliest, angriest, and most repeated accusations against him was that "Jerry claimed in his first email that members of the religion department did not believe in the physical resurrection of Christ." But that email is now part of the public record, so that anyone can read it and search for such an accusation. They will not find it, or even an implication of such. His critics apparently had given it an angry, hasty misreading.

This is the kind of fact-issue that I wish we all could have confronted together. If Dr. Eichhoefer said things that were unfair or untrue, he should have been confronted with them in detail so that he could retract them and apologize. On the other hand, if some of his complaints had value, those deserved to be addressed by the faculty. None of this was allowed to happen.

I genuinely believe that Greenville could have profited and grown if we had honestly sat down and talked through the various complaints-his about the college's program of faith development; and his accusers' about the fairness or accuracy of his criticisms. I pleaded with numerous people of influence to bring about such dialog, but failed totally.

Now the faculty tries to get along, but with some key subjects totally taboo. I'm so sad for the demise of the loving, collegial, Christian spirit that once prevailed here. Many are now afraid to make spontaneous comments to each other.

[This ends the comment I posted previously.]

I will add some detail here, since that's been so sorely lacking in all the discussions here on campus.

Dr Eichhoefer offered two broad concerns that he had about the behavior of the religion faculty. The first was that they were conducting general education courses in such a way as to manipulate young believers away from specific Christian beliefs, or to relativize Christian truth-claims with those of other religions. He said that their methods were (1) manipulative, and (2) based on a theological mistake--a mistake made by the originator of Fowler's "Stages of Faith" and incorporated uncritically into their approach to spiritual formation of students. He wanted to have public dialog about this, because the content of general education courses was the business of the entire faculty and not just of the department that happened to teach them.

While I agree with that last point, and therefore supported his efforts to provoke dialog, I can't tell you whether his suspicions were correct or not. He was speaking of things that occurred behind classroom doors. He got his information from complaining students, and I did not hear their testimony. Also, the issues surrounding "Fowler Faith" are much beyond my expertise, and I could only have been a spectator if these issues had ever been debated. Dr. Eichhoefer had the education to discuss these things with religion professors, but that was not true of most of us who shared his concerns about how our students were taught and shaped. We just wanted to get it out in the open so we could know what was going on.

But there was a second concern he voiced, both in his papers and to me, about which I did have personal knowledge. He was upset by many statements over the years by members of the religion department (though not all of them) in which they attacked and ridiculed evangelical faith. Sometimes they actually made open, sardonic attacks; but more often they would use a gentle condescension. (Either way, they made it clear that if you wanted to be cool like them, you would not go around saying the Bible was true or (perish the thought) inerrant. And you would not proclaim too boldly that people of non-Christian faiths urgently needed Christ to have any hope of eternal life.) I myself heard numerous statements like this over the years, by some of the faculty members in question. They made them in chapel, and in faculty meetings.

It was always understood that making fun of evangelicals or conservative believers was OK. They were all lumped together as "those Fundamentalists who think God dictated the King James Version."

I have to admit that they meant well, as far as I could tell. They seemed to believe they were on a mission to enlighten these poor, narrow kids from youth groups and home-schooling, and they seemed to act out of real concern for them. I wonder if they may have wanted to protect them from the disappointment sure to follow for those who, in their opinion, trust God too much.

And again I want to point out that not all members of that department participated in these actions I saw. And the views of those who did seemed to change over the years, sometimes more hostile to evangelical belief, sometimes less so. I know that each of them is on a spiritual journey, experiencing change and victory and defeat. And of course the department had changes of personnel over the years.