Inside Higher Ed Exposes Emmanuel Scandal: Christian Seminary To Terminate Professor in Exchange for Donation?

Dr. Chris Rollston, a tenured professor at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, has had termination proceedings begun against him. According to documents obtained by Inside Higher Ed, his dismissal appears to be in exchange for a potential donation from a donor who personally dislikes Rollston.

Inside Higher Education reporter Libby A. Nelson has written an exposé this morning that sheds tremendous light on an academic scandal presently unfolding at Emmanuel Christian Seminary (formerly Emmanuel School of Religion).

The scandal involves the current attempt to terminate a tenured professor, Dr. Chris Rollston, the Toyozo W. Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies – a disciplinary process which a another Emmanuel professor, Dr. Paul Blowers, divulged to the public on Facebook last month while criticizing Rollston online for an article he wrote for the Huffington Post in August 2012.

In documents obtained by Inside Higher Ed, it appears that Emmanuel Christian Seminary President, Dr. Michael Sweeney, began the termination process of the tenured Rollston, in part, because of the acute financial crisis presently being experienced at Emmanuel, and the potential of a “six-figure” donation that could bail out the seminary, but from a donor who does not personally like Rollston. In this way, the school could kill two birds with one stone: ridding the faculty of a tenured professor to make way for a donation from a potential donor who does not like Rollston, and saving the money from the endowed chair and salary line Rollston presently earns.

That Emmanuel’s president would list multiple economic reasons (the potential of a donation, trouble recruiting tuition-paying students, etc.) for the termination of Dr. Rollston – in the notice of termination to Rollston – is scandalous in itself.

The fact that President Sweeney would attempt to blame the school’s best known and most prolific professor for the school’s present financial troubles is not only shameful, it appears to be unsubstantiated by the evidence. Dr. Rollston is the very reason many scholars even know about Emmanuel.

And, the fact that Dr. Rollston’s immediate supervisor, Dr. Paul Blowers (who serves as Chair of the Area Chairs, and who is therefore necessarily involved in any termination process) would divulge knowledge of this disciplinary process to the public whilst criticizing Rollston publicly is not only highly unprofessional, it is potentially actionable legally due to the confidentiality that necessarily surrounds cases of termination (that Emmanuel suddenly appears to want to honor as reason for not responding to the Inside Higher Ed article).

Dr. Blowers’ comments criticizing Rollston and divulging the disciplinary process can be found here and here. Dr. Blowers bragged:

We are looking at disciplinary action in the next few days. I still scratch my head trying to figure Rollston out.

I responded to Dr. Blowers in comments on the Bible and Interpretation website.

Yet, even after apologizing for making the disciplinary action public, Dr. Blowers continued his defense of his criticism of Dr. Rollston on the Bible and Interpretation website and various blogs around the web. Dr. Blowers’ apparent obsession with defending himself throughout this entire scandal may have placed Emmanuel Christian Seminary in a very vulnerable position legally.

Indeed, the article notes that Dr. Rollston has retained a lawyer.

The Inside Higher Ed story highlights the central problem in this scandal: The argument over Dr. Rollston’s recent Huffington Post article seems to be, at best, a distraction that the seminary hoped it could use as an excuse for a “for cause” termination of the tenured Rollston.

Likewise, arguments about issues of academic freedom of private Christian institutions are moot for the following reasons:

  1. Emmanuel includes language on “Academic Freedom” in their faculty handbook that is adopted word-for-word from the secular American Association of University Professor’s (AAUP) statement on academic freedom.
  2. Emmanuel sought and was awarded accreditation from the secular Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
  3. Emmanuel awards tenure. (This is unlike many Christian universities that only extend term contracts to professors, so that in the event a professor ever says something the administration finds disagreeable, the school simply need not extend a contract extension to the professor.)

From the beginning, this appears to have been a case about the wrongful termination of a tenured professor, on trumped up grounds of interpretation of scripture, when the real reason appears to be one of a financial nature: sacrificing academic integrity and disregarding the tenure process in exchange for a potential donation from a theologically conservative donor.

If this turns out to be the case, then Emmanuel deserves any and all pending litigation brought against it.

An institution simply cannot fire a tenured professor who broke no rules (and who happens to be the most credible scholar at Emmanuel) just because the institution wants a donation. Tenure is designed to protect freedom of thought. If Emmanuel wants to fire its professors for thinking outside of Emmanuel’s predetermined theological constraints, why offer tenure in the first place?

In my professional opinion, Emmanuel has committed a grievous violation of academic integrity, and one that will not only cost them financially, but one that will ruin the reputation of the institution for years to come.


(N.B.: Note that the image of Rollston used in the Inside Higher Ed image depicts Dr. Rollston wearing a Pepperdine University sweatshirt. Pepperdine is another tenure granting college and like Emmanuel, affiliated with the Restoration Heritage.)


The mash-up images and internet memes below are satirical commentaries on the present apparent Emmanuel scandal as first reported by Inside Higher Ed. They do not reflect the opinion of Emmanuel Christian Seminary. All free-speech, satirical comments below are solely the opinion of the blog author. All images below are freely available online.


Dr. Jodi Magness to Give E.P. Adler Lecture at the University of Iowa as part of National Archaeology Day

Dr. Jodi Magness

Dr. Jodi Magness

Dr. Jodi Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will be the keynote speaker at the 2012 University of Iowa Department of Religious Studies E.P. Adler Lecture.

The lecture is entitled: “Ossuaries and the Burial of Jesus and James“. In this slide-illustrated lecture, Professor Magness will survey Jewish tombs and burial customs in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, and consider evidence for the claims surrounding the so-called “James ossuary” and the “Talpiyot tomb,” recently claimed to be the tomb of Jesus and his family.

(Click here for flyer.)

The lecture will take place on Thursday October 11, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum. (The gold dome of the Old State Capitol building in the center of the Pentacrest)

A reception co-sponsored by the Dept. of Religious Studies, the Office of the State Archeologist and UI Pentacrest Museums will be held prior to the lecture beginning at 5:00 in the Old Capitol Rotunda. All are welcome.

This year, the E.P. Adler lecture is part of the National Archaeology Day celebrations at the University of Iowa, sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America, including the Iowa Chapter.

Don’t miss the new exhibit, Conflict on the Iowa Frontier: Perspectives on the War of 1812, which opens at the Old Capitol Museum just prior to Dr. Magness’ lecture.

On Friday, October 12, Dr. Anna Roosevelt will present an academic seminar entitled, “Amazonia: A dynamic human habitat, past, present, and future,” in Kollros Auditorium, 101 Biology Building East.

Dr. Magness will also give a lecture entitled “Masada: Stronghold of the Jewish Resistance against Rome” on Saturday, October 13, 2012 in Macbride Auditorium.

Visit the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History’s website for more information about the University of Iowa National Archaeology Day, or download the National Archaeology Day flyer for more details.


The full schedule is as follows:

Thursday, Oct. 11

  • 5-7:30 p.m. – Conflict on the Iowa Frontier: Perspectives on the War of 1812 exhibit opening and reception at the Old Capitol Museum
  • 6-6:45 p.m. – Eugene Watkins will talk about Old Fort Madison in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum
  • 7:30 p.m. – Jodi Magness will lecture on “Ossuaries and the Burial of Jesus and James” in the Senate Chamber at the Old Capitol Museum

Friday, Oct. 12

  • 4 p.m. – Anna Roosevelt will present an academic seminar, “Amazonia: A dynamic human habitat, past, present, and future,” in Kollros Auditorium, 101 Biology Building East

Saturday, Oct. 13

  • 10 a.m. -Magness lecture: “Masada: Stronghold of the Jewish Resistance against Rome” in Macbride Auditorium
  • 11 a.m. – Roosevelt lecture: “The First Americans: From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego” in Macbride Auditorium
  • 12:30-3 p.m. – Archaeology activities, tours, and demonstrations in and around Macbride Hall and the UI Museum of Natural History.
  • 1-5 p.m. – Plum Grove will be open Saturday and Sunday for tours of the home and for viewing archaeology displays on the grounds. Visit www.johnsoncountyhistory.org/ for more information.
  • 2 p.m. – Cindy Peterson “Meskwaki-Related Archaeology near South Amana: The Patterson Trading Post and the Village of Wacoshashe and Poweshiek”  at the Johnson County Historical Museum
  • 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. – UI Office of the State Archaeologist laboratory and repository (700 South Clinton Street – free parking)

Sunday, Oct. 14

  • 1-5 p.m. – Plum Grove open hours
  • 6 p.m. – Johnson County Historical Society Museum activities will include an interactive tour of the Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City

why fundamentalist evangelical republican politicians scare me (and should scare you too)

Georgia Congressman Paul Broun

Georgia Congressman Paul Broun, standing in front of a wall of mounted animal heads, tells the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet that he does not believe in “evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory”, which he defines as “lies straight from the pit of Hell”. Broun is a Republican representative on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

This is the US Congressman from Georgia’s 10th Congressional District, Dr. Paul Broun. He is a member of the Republican Party and the Tea Party Caucus.

He recently gave a speech to the “Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet” (yes, THAT exists, I kid you not) on September 27, 2012, in Hartwell, Georgia. (This explains the WALL OF MOUNTED ANIMAL HEADS that serves as a backdrop for the Congressman.)

Watch a clip of the speech:

Here is the transcript of what he said:

God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.

And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.

Now, I’ve come to accept that there are some people on this earth that will NEVER accept science, no matter how logical, rational, or intellectually compelling it is because they are not interested in facts; they are interested in maintaining the beliefs and worldview compiled thousands of years ago by desert nomads. But this is not the problem.

Every American has every right to be religious. And every American has every right to make religious speech (just not in places where others are compelled to listen to it or participate in it, like public schools). And every American has the right, if they so choose, to deny reality. You can argue that aliens created human technology, Santa Claus, whatever – you have that right.

Every American, if they so choose, can choose to deny basic science, facts, and data. That too is OK…foolish, but within one’s constitutional rights. Likewise, every American has the right to elect as their representative someone reflects their skewed, ancient, and defunct worldview – a representative who also denies facts and information that science provides. Therefore, even though such behavior is utterly foolish IMHO, Americans have the right to believe what they want, deny reality if they want, and elect someone as their representative who reflects the denial of science, facts, and reality. It’s foolish, but they have these rights as Americans. This too is not the problem.

The real problem, and what frustrates me to no end, is that the Republican Party would place someone like Paul Broun, who obviously has a disdain for science and the factual reality of the world around us, to THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE, SPACE, AND TECHNOLOGY! Forget the fact that he’s been married four times. Forget the fact that he’s a Conservative Evangelical. These aren’t the problem. The problem is that, based upon his fundamentalist religious convictions, he DENIES the fundamental tenets of science. Yet, despite this, the Republicans named him the CHAIR of the SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS AND OVERSIGHT!

The Republicans bring this upon themselves.

While I’m sure the Medical College of Georgia is embarrassed to have Dr. Broun represent them as an alum who rejects the “lies” of basic medical disciplines like “embryology” and other tenets of basic science, they can’t help what he chooses to believe and deny today. But the Republicans can! The Republicans do themselves a major disservice when they promulgate the perception – one rightly deserved – that they are anti-science, and that they are anti-science precisely because they are conservative Evangelicals.

Do you see the problem? The Republicans don’t have to promote a scientifically ignorant congressman to the Committee on Science. Yet, they do. Thus, the Republicans completely deserve to continue to be chided as the party of anti-intellectualism and anti-science, because they continue to elevate people who see no possible compatibility between their faith and the reality of the worldview that basic science has provided. For fundamentalist Evangelical Republicans, faith and science are an either-or choice. And they choose faith. And that’s OK. But that the GOP elevates them and puts them in places of authority over budgets and curriculum for science and technology, this is the problem.

I shake my head.

hag sameach! happy sukkot

SukkotMay all who celebrate enjoy a bountiful Sukkot, and may your ingathering produce a fruitful harvest.

Hag sameach!

!חג שמח

A Quick Thought on ‘Reception History’

“The ‘correct’ interpretation of a myth does not necessarily confirm the historicity of the myth”.

Or, put another way:

“Arguing over the best way to interpret a story does not prove the story historical, factual, or true”.

I find that a great deal of theologians get caught up in the interpretation of claims made in the Bible, and jump to the fallacious conclusion that because they have arrived at the best interpretation of a particular verse, the verse must therefore be “true” or historical.

These are two separate arguments.

Lightsaber cutaway

No matter how detailed a myth might be, or how compelling the interpretation of a particular myth might sound to a large number of people who really like the myth, it does not prove the myth to be true. It’s still a mythical lightsaber (whether it can theoretically operate underwater or not).

Arguing about whether lightsabers will work underwater, no matter how convincing your argument, does not mean that lightsabers are historical or real.

The argument about what a text meant to the author (or what the author meant in writing a particular verse or text) is a quite common legitimate, scholarly enterprise. We call this “exegesis” or simple interpretation. Likewise, how that text was interpreted by subsequent communities is also a legitimate, scholarly enterprise. We call this “reception history”. “What the text means to me”, or alternatively, “What I think the text says”, is far less of an academic pursuit, despite being very popular among many religious individuals.

But all of the above endeavors – the debates over the interpretation of a text – are completely separate and apart from the examination of the actual historicity of the claim made in the text under discussion. Just because one interpretation of a text wins a consensus and place of preference within a majority of confessional interpreters DOES NOT prove that the story or text being interpreted has any historical or factual merit at all. It simply means that the author believed what he was writing to be true, or that a community believed or accepted what an author had written to be true.

The debate about a text’s interpretation has absolutely no bearing upon whether the claim is, in fact, factual.

The historicity of factual nature of a claim is left to disciplines outside of reception history, namely science (like archaeology) and history. These disciplines examine the claim itself and weigh evidence to determine if the claim is valid. These disciplines could really care less (and should care less) about what people thought about the claim.

Or put another way:

“The ‘correct’ interpretation of a myth does not necessarily confirm the historicity of the myth”.

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