Duke Divinity is no longer a Christian institution. It surely has some Christians, both as professors and students, but Institution’s religion is not Christianity but Progressivism. (I last covered Duke in Cathedral Round-Up #15.)
As Progressive ideology has wormed its way into academic departments all over the country, it has also wormed its way into the nation’s divinity schools.
Let’s run down a quick summary of the Duke Divinity “Crisis”:
On February 6, associate professor Anathea Portier-Young sent out an email to the Duke Divinity Faculty:
On behalf of the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee, I strongly urge you to participate in the Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training planned for March 4 and 5. We have secured funding from the Provost to provide this training free to our community and we hope that this will be a first step in a longer process of working to ensure that DDS is an institution that is both equitable and anti-racist in its practices and culture. While a number of DDS faculty, staff, and students have been able to participate in REI training in recent years, we have never before hosted a training at DDS. Those who have participated in the training have described it as transformative, powerful, and life-changing. …
ALL Staff and Faculty are invited to register for this important event by which DDS can begin its own commitment to become an anti-racist institution.
The email continues, but you get the gist and the tone: Mrs. Portier-Young has joined a cult, and she would like it very much if you joined, too. Also, Duke Divinity is totally super racist, and if you don’t come join this (totally not mandatory) two-day weekend event outside of your normal work hours, we won’t even be able to begin to stop being racist.
So who is this Anathea Portier-Young? According to Duke News, “She studied English and French at Yale University before settling on classical languages and literature, graduating in 1995 with Phi Beta Kappa honors.” She then attended the “Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley,” which has since changed its name to “Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University,” probably to reduce confusion because the “at Berkeley” referred to the city, not the university. Returning to the Duke News article, according to divinity School Dean L. Gregory Jones:
“…as a Roman Catholic [Portier-Young] adds a rich perspective both to our faculty and to the Divinity School community. We look forward to her leadership in our faculty with great expectation.”
An example of that leadership came during Portier-Young’s student days. As a Catholic, she was in a distinct minority in the divinity school. To create a space for conscious reflection on issues of Catholic identity and the Catholic intellectual and spiritual life, she helped found Catholics at Duke Divinity School. They invited faculty and students from the divinity school and religion department to listen to speakers and engage in roundtable discussions.
Obviously the Jesuit school is Catholic; it’s primary purpose is to train Catholic priests. Duke is officially a Methodist seminary, so presumably they are training Methodist ministers, though obviously they’re flexible about whom they hire. I’m not sure how all of that works out on a practical level–is a Methodist minister who was trained by a Catholic woman still valid? Is Portier-Young circumventing the Catholic Church’s position that women cannot be priests? What is the role of an academic Catholic scholar working outside the Catholic church, but employed by Methodists? What about students who believe in 1 Timothy 2:11?
Despite being definitely not a preacher, because that would be a violation of Catholic theology, she writes for the website WorkingPreacher.org. I searched for her articles and happened upon her Commentary on Jeremiah 8:18-9:1:
As I write (the date is July 8, 2016), it is three days since the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, two days since the fatal shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, one day since the fatal shooting of five police officers during a subsequent protest in Dallas, Texas.
Our nation is reeling from shockwaves of violence, intolerance, anger, suspicion, and fear. At this moment it feels like our whole country is a powder keg, about to ignite, fueled by long legacies of racism, xenophobia, heterosexism, religious intolerance.
If you’re like me, you might be wondering what “heterosexism” is. Google defines it as “discrimination or prejudice against homosexuals on the assumption that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation.” I don’t know what that has to do with black folks getting shot by the police and vice versa, but I guarantee you Jeremiah was in favor of heterosexism:
I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness; they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah. —Jeremiah 23:14
But back to Portier-Young’s Jeremiah:
My joy is gone. Grief is upon me. My heart is sick. Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” … “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? Oh that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people! (Jeremiah 8:18-9:1)
Did you notice the ellipsis? She left out a line–the line that directly answers the questions, “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?”
Jeremiah gives God’s answer: “Why have they aroused my anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?”
They have been worshiping foreign idols. Not just metaphorically, in the loving money sense, but in the literal “building altars to Baal and sacrificing your children to Moloch” sense.
Indeed, the whole of Chapter 8 kicks off with:
‘At that time, declares the Lord, the bones of the kings and officials of Judah, the bones of the priests and prophets, and the bones of the people of Jerusalem will be removed from their graves. 2 They will be exposed to the sun and the moon and all the stars of the heavens, which they have loved and served and which they have followed and consulted and worshiped. They will not be gathered up or buried, but will be like dung lying on the ground. 3 Wherever I banish them, all the survivors of this evil nation will prefer death to life, declares the Lord Almighty.’
Jeremiah doesn’t beat around the bush.
Back to Portier-Young:
Earlier in chapter 8, Jeremiah demands that the people of Judah behold the mortal wound that afflicts their entire nation. They must stop pretending that nothing is wrong, stop turning away from the blood and the stench, stop ignoring the voices of the wounded and oppressed, stop silencing those who testify to the wrongs that have been done them.
Really? Here is what Jeremiah actually says:
Why then have these people turned away?
Why does Jerusalem always turn away?
They cling to deceit;
they refuse to return.
6 I have listened attentively,
but they do not say what is right.
None of them repent of their wickedness,
saying, “What have I done?”
Each pursues their own course
like a horse charging into battle.
7 Even the stork in the sky
knows her appointed seasons,
and the dove, the swift and the thrush
observe the time of their migration.
But my people do not know
the requirements of the Lord.
The law. He’s talking about the Law of Moses, which is kind of a big deal in Judaism.
8 “‘How can you say, “We are wise,
for we have the law of the Lord,”
when actually the lying pen of the scribes
has handled it falsely?
9 The wise will be put to shame;
they will be dismayed and trapped.
Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,
what kind of wisdom do they have?
10 Therefore I will give their wives to other men
and their fields to new owners. …
Why are we sitting here?
Let us flee to the fortified cities
and perish there!
For the Lord our God has doomed us to perish
and given us poisoned water to drink,
because we have sinned against him. …
16 The snorting of the enemy’s horses
is heard from Dan;
at the neighing of their stallions
the whole land trembles.
They have come to devour
the land and everything in it,
the city and all who live there.
17 “See, I will send venomous snakes among you,
vipers that cannot be charmed,
and they will bite you,”
declares the Lord.
In summary: You have worshiped false gods and not kept God’s Laws. Therefore you will be conquered and suffer terribly.
While Jeremiah does call people liars, there is nothing here about listening to the wounded or the oppressed, nor about not silencing testimony. If anything, in Jeremiah’s account of things, when your enemies come and murder you, it’s it’s because YOU SINNED. You suffer because God is PUNISHING you for worshiping false gods and not keeping the Law. Jeremiah is really clear about this.
Back to Portier-Young:
Jeremiah looks upon the wound. Jeremiah hears the cry. And Jeremiah’s response is overwhelming grief and sorrow. It afflicts his body at the core of his being. He repeats the testimony of people from across the nation.
“Testimony.” Jeremiah does not use that word. He does use quotes, (at least in this translation–I can’t read more than a few words in Hebrew, but I don’t see anything that looks like a quotation mark in the Hebrew version.) I see no reason to assume that these are meant to be literal quotations of what people are saying and not rhetorical paraphrases. Continuing:
They do not all offer the same testimony. Some are searching for God and not finding her.
Testimony. Her. Words that do not occur in this passage.
The god of Judaism is pretty much established as masculine, and I don’t think Jesus did anything to change that.
All of them are asking questions, and so is Jeremiah. Don’t we have resources? Don’t we have medicine? Don’t we know, somewhere, what kind of radical change is needed, and how to bring it about? Why haven’t we committed? Why do we keep suffering from the same affliction? The prophet, too, feels powerless, and in this moment can only weep for those who have been slain.
Yes, we know the change that’s needed, Jeremiah is very explicit on this point: stop worshiping false gods and start following the Law. But does Portier-Young suggest that we renew our commitment to God?
The preacher must listen to the testimonies, not just of those who are close, but also of those who are far. I speak of geography, but I also speak of identity, ideology, politics, culture, history. It is easy to listen to those who are like us, who share our views, and it is easy to mourn when they mourn. But why are those people so angry? What history separates “them” from “us”? What hard words do they have for me and my congregation?
I have spent at least 15 minutes of my life reading Leviticus and researching things like, “Can Jews Use Refrigerators on Saturday?” and I guarantee you that there is nothing in Jewish law regarding “identity” in the sense that it is used here, aside from a ban on homosexuality and cross-dressing. There’s also nothing in Jeremiah about how the Israelites need to listen more to the folks from Judah, or to women or Moabites or Egyptians. It is not the Hebrews who have hard words for each other, but Jeremiah who has hard words for everyone.
Jeremiah’s testimony and prayer offers an opportunity to teach the people to grieve together, to create space for shared lament, and to surrender to the overwhelming sorrow that courage and virtue are not strong enough to vanquish.
You know, in the very next verse, Jeremiah says:
Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people.
Jeremiah doesn’t want to grieve with you. He wants to get away from you.
Does Portier-Young suggest, at any point in her essay, that maybe we should return to God as Jeremiah exhorts? Does she caution against false gods, of the literal or metaphorical sort?
If you are tempted to follow the lament with words and rites of assurance, of comfort, of hope, talk of resurrection and new covenant, new creation, reconciliation — hold back. Don’t give in to that urge. Not yet. On the day we let ourselves grieve together, we must not move too quickly for that quick fix. It won’t fix it. It will not restore our sight and health, but submerge us once more in the dark disease of denial.
You have one job. ONE JOB. It’s to bring people to Christ so they can be saved. And you are advising other priests/ministers to delay salvation in order to prolong suffering in the darkness of sin. You are telling them that Christ’s salvation won’t “fix” our problems. I’m pretty sure that’s the entire point of salvation, but then, what do I know?
If atheists have one advantage in reading the Bible, it’s that we might be slightly less tempted to try to twist the text to support whatever causes are currently fashionable. We have no need for a god who supports transgender people or has an opinion on police killings.
When I see a “Catholic” advocate denying people salvation, I conclude that she is not a Catholic. For it is not in Catholicism–nor in Christianity at large–that one finds any reason to deny salvation. One only denies salvation if 1. You want the other person to burn in hell, or 2. You don’t believe salvation is actually possible.
Of course, I’ve been saying this for a while, so it’s really no surprise, but it might be new to some people.)
Let’s talk for a minute about anti-racism and what religious people can actually do if they want to help the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden of various walks of life:
Tend the sick.
Feed the homeless.
Minister to prisoners.
Fight for the lives of innocents stuck in war zones.
Move to the Congo and help people there learn better farming techniques.
Tutor kids who are falling behind in school.
Adopt a foster child.
Comfort a widow.
Befriend a disabled person.
But I do not think there is a line anywhere in the Bible that says, “For I was discriminated against, and you attended a conference on anti-racism.”
Anyway, back to Duke Divinity, Paul Griffiths, Professor of Catholic Theology, responded to Portier-Young’s invitation to attend totally not-mandatory racism re-education training:
I’m responding to Thea’s exhortation that we should attend the Racial Equity Institute Phase 1 Training scheduled for 4-5 March. In her message she made her ideological commitments clear. I’ll do the same, in the interests of free exchange.
I exhort you not to attend this training. Don’t lay waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show. Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual. (Re)trainings of intellectuals by bureaucrats and apparatchiks have a long and ignoble history; I hope you’ll keep that history in mind as you think about this instance.
We here at Duke Divinity have a mission. Such things as this training are at best a distraction from it and at worst inimical to it. Our mission is to thnk, read, write, and teach about the triune Lord of Christian confession. …
This sounds totally reasonable to me, but the Dean, Elaine Heath, decided she needed to steep in:
First, I am looking forward to participating in the REI training, and I am proud that we are hosting it at Duke Divinity School. Thea, thank you for your part in helping us to offer this important event. I am deeply committed to increasing our school’s intellectual strength, spiritual vitality, and moral authority, and this training event will help with all three.
On another matter: It is certainly appropriate to use mass emails to share announcements or information that is helpful to the larger community, such as information about the REI training opportunity. It is inappropriate and unprofessional to use mass emails to make disparaging statements–including arguments ad hominem–in order to humiliate or undermine individual colleagues or groups of colleagues with whom we disagree. The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution.
Yes, she is accusing Griffiths of expressing racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry because he said he thought a conference would be a waste of time.
I’m not going to dig up and dissect Heath’s writing, but I wager it’s as bad as Portier-Young’s, because she actually lists under publications on her Duke bio, “The Gospel According to Twilight: Women, Sex, and God (2011).”
No. Just no.
Thomas Pfau speaks up on behalf of Griffiths, and Heath and Portier-Young, being highly reasonable, caring, Christian people, decide to launch disciplinary actions against Griffiths:
In February 2017, Heath contacts Griffiths and asks for an appointment in which she’ll communicate her expectations for professional conduct at Duke Divinity. … No agreement is reached about conditions for meeting: Griffiths and Heath each have conditions unacceptable to the other. Standoff. No meeting has occurred at the date of this writing. In a hardcopy letter (PDF attached) dated 3/10/17 [see below — RD], Heath initiates financial and administrative reprisals against Griffiths. Those reprisals ban him from faculty meetings, and, thereby, from voting in faculty affairs; and promise (contra the conditions stated in his letter of appointment) to ban him from future access to research or travel funds. Heath’s letter contains one material falsehood (item #1 in her letter; the accurate account is here, in this paragraph), together with several disputable interpretive claims. More reprisals are adumbrated, but not specified, in the letter. There that disciplinary procedure for the moment rests.
In the comments, someone notes that Heath has only been dean since last summer, and so could not have experience with Graiffiths’s behavior for the past two yeas. I would also point out that this means that Griffith has been at this job for far longer than Heath, and therefore probably knows far more about “professional conduct” than she does. Continuing:
Discipline initiated by Portier-Young against Griffiths, via the University’s Office for Institutional Equity (OIE). In early March, Griffiths hears by telephone from Cynthia Clinton, an officer of the OIE, that a complaint of harassment has been lodged against him by Portier-Young, the gravamen of which is the use of racist and/or sexist speech in such a way as to constitute a hostile workplace.
I’m pretty sure Jesus said things like “turn the other cheek” and “forgive each other 7 times 7 times” and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” but maybe I just missed the verse where he said, “If a guy doesn’t want to come to your seminar, totally ruin his life.”
Long story short, Griffiths has resigned, driven out of his job by a couple of catty harridans who understand nothing about Christ. If you ask me, Jesus would drive these two out with a whip if he saw what they were doing in his name.
A final, anonymous comment notes:
I’m a recent graduate of DDS, and while this story saddens me, it doesn’t really surprise me. … I thought the environment at DDS concerning racism was totalitarian and oppressive. I am a white female, and I was second-career student with about 15 years of experience in the corporate world. What I saw was way worse than the corporate world. …
Note that everyone arguing here about racism–Anathea, Heath, Graiffiths, Pfau, and this lady–is white. One white person is bringing a disciplinary action against another white person for using “racist speech” to make the workforce hostile to A WHITE PERSON.
It’s all the petty, sophomoric Mean Girls social preening of highschool, now at grad school.
How many divinity schools are gone? How many are left?