True. Honorable. Just. Pure. Pleasing. Commendable. Excellent. Worthy of praise. These principles, from Philippians 4:8, have been my spiritual mantra ever since I learned of the verse. It is one of my favorites. Recently, Cedarville University enacted a policy that removes any content, teachings, or academic material that may interfere with the principles of this verse. At first glance, this restructuring of core policy entices many Christians with the promise of a “pure” or “perfect” institution. However, this intertwining of university politics and religious fundamentalism is a danger to academic freedom. The extent of the policy removes content that may cause students to stumble such as curse words, R-rated movies, graphic violence, erotic content and many others.
Rooted in the history of fundamentalism is a foundation of separatism. The first Christians to come to America were separatists seeking religious freedom. The premise of their intentions were the discovery of what the “true church” should look like. Disillusioned with the Protestant churches in Europe, they schismed. However, in their pursuit of becoming the perfect church, they pushed out anyone and anything that had a hint of unrighteousness and completely eradicated people from the church that truly needed Jesus. This was a result of their obsession with systematizing a way to become the “true church” incorporating a morphology of conversion and whittling faith down to a list of do’s and don’ts. From that moment on, the history of the American church has been one of schism. They were well-intentioned, but it ruined human nature anyway.
Cedarville’s decision to tighten their collars and brush the profanity off of their jackets with a policy that restricts the freedom to have opinion removes a reliance on the Spirit, who teaches, guides and directs us. Not man. John Stuart Mill, a philosopher, describes the “silencing of expressing opinion” as a “peculiar evil” that “robs the human race.” What kinds of literature, history and art will be lost because it is deemed “impure?” The policy even expels plays that have cursing or erotic themes. Goodbye Shakespeare.
I believe that all truth is, in fact, God’s truth. Wherever we may find truth is where God dwells. This policy, by man’s interpretation, restricts the places where we may find God. Was God not with Rahab the prostitute? When man takes control of his, and consequently others’, sanctification we embrace the original sin that we can do it on our own. While this policy is recent and requires more time for proper assessment, it has created outrage among faculty members at Cedarville. One professor remarked, “It seems to me the goal is to have a squeaky clean, shiny place—scrubbed clean like a Christian bookstore.” Jesus meets us where we are with grace. We are deceiving ourselves if we are convinced that we can become sanctified by our own abilities.
Still, I pray that Cedarville experiences the movement of the Holy Spirit because, at the end of the day, we must ask ourselves, “Did we encounter Jesus?” The Christian witness is a balance of being in the world, but not of it. That still implies we must encounter the world. Though not all things are edifying, we are still left to determine what is edifying. For many, rigid fundamentalism has been a stumbling block to faith. Yes, the way is narrow, but God said to Peter in his vision of Acts 10, “What I have made clean, you must not call profane.” We choose to sin or we choose not to sin, but God gives us discernment to make that decision. We live by grace.