Monday, September 24, 2007

Anti-Evangelical Bias outstrips Anti-Semitism amongst America's college Professors

It really isn't all that shocking to discover there is an anti-Evangelical bias amongst college professors in North America. A recent poll shows just how much this is so, and what is shocking is how much more animus is directed at Evangelicals compared to Mormons or Muslims or Jews. The survey of college professors can be found in World Magazine-- follow this link

The most salient information is this---

In a scientific survey of 1,269 faculty members across 712 different colleges and universities, 53 percent of respondents admitted to harboring unfavorable feelings toward evangelicals. The next closest group in the unfavorable ratings was Mormons at just 33 percent. Muslims’ unfavorable rating was just 22 percent.

The study was done by Gary A. Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, who set out to gauge levels of academic anti-Semitism compared to hostility toward other religious groups. He found that only 3 percent of college faculty holds unfavorable views toward Jews.

Notice please who did this survey-- a group that could be called an 'anti-Semitism' watchdog agency! They certainly could not be construed as a group given to distorting or concocting data that would simply confirm Evangelical suspicions.

What this survey does not deal with is anti-Evangelical sentiments at non-Evangelical seminaries (particularly mainline seminaries) in North America, but I can tell you that a survey, if honestly done would find evidence of that as well.

I do have to say however that my own anecdoctal non-scientific personal experience is that things have actually changed for the better in some quarters in recent years if we are talking about hirings at seminaries. I was once told by a Dean of a United Methodist seminary that over his dead body would an Evangelical be hired at his institution. This was 25 years ago, and today that institution has hired more than one good Evangelical scholar, and frankly so have other major non-Evangelical seminaries as well. Old prejudices however die hard.

What is perhaps most interesting to me about this extensive survey is that while 'liberal arts' colleges apparently have become less 'liberal' or open minded about Evangelicals over the last three decades, various seminaries have become more 'liberal' or open-minded in their thinking about Evangelicals in some ways.

Progress can be cited not only at many mainline seminaries, but also well-qualified Evangelicals have also been hired at some of the more prestigious Ivy League Divinity schools such as Yale and Princeton. To some degree this can be put down to the coming of age of Evangelical scholarship in this same period. When I was entering college at the beginning of the 70s, there were about 2 Evangelical NT scholars who had world-wide regard and could be hired anywhere-- I am referring to F.F. Bruce and Bruce Metzger. Things have changed in a major way since that point in time. Now Evangelicals are leaders in many areas of the study of the Bible and cognate disciplines. We have much to be proud of, but also miles to go before we sleep.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Isn't "World" magazine, as well as F.F. Bruce biased as to Reformation theology? I thought you were at a Methodist insitution, where there was a "greater" understanding of the context of the Church, not just the Bible as THE source...

Does the issue of the "new perspective" on Paul ever darken the doors of your institution?

Scholars of every "bent" are biased. It is only in admitting it and understanding that bias honestly in interpreting the text.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Angie:

Obviously you are darkening words without knowledge. Of course we discuss the 'new perspective' on Paul here, which isn't really very new honestly. Check out my Romans commentary.

Asbury is indeed a Wesleyan seminary in the holiness tradition, but not an official U.M. seminary, though we do train more U.M.s than any three U.M. seminaries combined.

I honestly don't know the pedigree of World Magazine, but it is irrelevant since they are simply citing by reproducing a Jewish report.

I quite agree with you that every interpreter of the Bible has there own tendencies and limitations. Of course this is true, and being aware of what they are, and reading those who disagree with you, are two good hedges against bad interpretation.

But frankly 'bias' in the pejorative sense is a form of sin, not just a fact of life. There is a difference between adherence to and acknowledgment of some profound truth, and being 'biased'.

For example, I believe in the reality of gravity, and I believe that those who have demonstrated it's reality have informed me about a great truth. Shall I accuse them of bias, because they are gravity believers, even though we can't see, smell, taste, or touch gravity (and actually we can't feel it either-- what we are feeling is its effects on our bodies when we fall, for example from a height)? Well no.

So we need to be careful of course how we throw around the word bias. If there is such a thing as truth, and there is, then being in favor of it is in no sense a mere prejudice or private opinion reflecting arrogance.

As for F.F. Bruce, he was a Plymouth Brethren, and so not really in the narrow sense 'Reformed' though his theology was more 'Reformed' than 'Wesleyan' in some respects.



Bill said...

I beg pardon for my ignorance, but could you tell me what the "new perspective on Paul" is and where I can read more about it?


Josh said...

Hello Ben,

Evangelical scholarship has really blossomed lately. I love the head and heart approach to academia and the positive ecumenical conversation that evangelical scholarship brings forth.

I have a question for you:

What is the future for the liberal mainline seminary? Liberal mainline churches are dying. In our post-Christian culture, there is no social value in going to church any more. One doesn't have to go to a church to be in the "in" crowd or meet new people. The only churches that are growing in the Memphis district I live in (UMC) are praying, slightly charismatic churches that preach the gospel and place a high value on scripture.

Who is going to fund these liberal mainline churches? Better yet, who is going to attend them? I have found that the level of scholarship in the mainlines is actually lower than similiar evangelical types.

Is the end nigh for those institutions that don't obey our Lord in this post-Christian culture?

God bless.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Josh:
I think you have a fairly limited view of the situation, to say the least. Most of the growing UM churches are small to medium size churches (say about 1,000 in attendance max for the larger ones), and many of them do either a traditional worship service or a blended service. They are certainly not charismatic churches in the sense of Pentecostal. I preach all over the country in the UMC and in other denominations, and churches which have vision, good leadership, sound worship, service and teaching, and good pastoral work tend to grow.

Long story short, the mainline churches are a long way from dead, or even dying. What is true that denominations like the Episcopal Church who have made some radical ethical moves have lost a lot of members recently. Laity seem to care a good deal more about ethical integrity than the fine points of orthodoxy, though I wish they cared about both equally.

What is also true is that the Evangelical and more moderate or conservative parts of various mainline denominations are the parts that are doing most of the growing. This has led to the Southeast and South central jurisdictions to now containing almost half of the UMC.

Long story short, I wouldn't take what you see happening in Memphis as all that typical.


Ben W.

Josh said...

Hey Ben,

I probably come across in the wrong way. I didn't mean charismatic as Pentecostal but more as people who have a vibrant and enthusiastic faith. The church that I attend is the fastest growing church in our district and it is blended in style (really more traditional than contemporary).

I hope you didn't think I was taking a swipe at the mainlines like the UMC. I am in the ordination process and will be sitting in one of your classes soon.

I just wonder what the church scene will look like in the next 10 or so years when so many of the elderly who are so loyal to their church pass away. My generation is not so loyal to denomination or the physical location of a church.

yuckabuck said...

"Notice please who did this survey-- a group that could be called an 'anti-Semitism' watchdog agency! "

I wonder if those taking the survey knew from whom it came, and therefore rated themselves lower on bias against Jews. Also , I wonder if the larger response against Evangelicals was due to respondents giving answers they thought the survey taker wanted to hear.

I'm not denying that there is a problem, but due to taking a Social Psychology class, these are the kinds of questions that I usually have about surveys like this. Of course, additional surveys could be constructed to account for both of these issues.

Michael F. Bird said...

That is interesting! But I am not surprised as I've heard of many similar cases where institutions have taken the "over my dead body" line over hiring evangelicals. Probably the best thing evangelicals can do is to make sure that they do their scholarship is better than anyone else and give critics no ground or quarter for attacking the academic integrity of their work.

Ben Witherington said...

Exactly Michael, exactly.

mjasog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MJ said...

Dr. Witherington,
I have greatly enjoyed your blog. I am currently a student at the Candler School of Theology. It's kind of tough being there learning about scripture. I would rather take a theology class than a biblical studies course. At any rate, I was able to escape OT my first year without any problems. But now, Im taking NT and man, these guys are really crazy. The other day, we were discussing Paul's view on married people's conjugal rights and the prof concluded that Paul believed married people should be celibate. As a result, people argued with him and he said "the only opinion that matters is mine." In all my years in Collegiate study I have never heard something like that. It was shocking. But anyway, that is kind of how the anti-Evangelical mindset is. Most profs I have engaged in discussion of scripture have made drastic conclusions and seem to be willing to revisit them. If there are any tips you could give me for making it, let me know.

Ham Solo said...

I guess i am not sure what is meant by "evnagelical"... could someone provide a definition, and why seminaries wouldn't want them in their midst?