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GleaningsGleanings

July 31, 2014

Bryan College Faculty Vote 'No Confidence' in President over Adam and Eve

Trustees defend decision to clarify belief statement. BioLogos: '[We] certainly did not intend to stir up controversy.'
Bryan College Faculty Vote 'No Confidence' in President over Adam and Eve

Bryan College faculty overwhelmingly issued the first no-confidence vote against their president in school history after trustees clarified the creationist nature of the school's Statement of Belief.

The statement, which all faculty and staff (and some student leaders) must sign, includes a point about human origins, which trustees on Feb. 23 clarified to highlight the historical and particular persons of Adam and Eve.

The faculty outcry, focused more on how the change was done rather than what was changed, is the latest sign of how the creation-evolution debate has shifted to the search for the historical Adam, prompting a resulting crisis of faith statements.

The student newspaper, the Bryan Triangle, broke the story. World reports more details.

Bryan College was notably founded in honor of William Jennings Bryan, the lawyer who opposed evolution in the high-profile Scopes trial.

The clarification, which highlights the college's stance toward the Genesis story, reads: "We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms."

The current statement of beliefs reads: "[We believe] that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death[.]"

Faculty supported the no-confidence vote against President Stephen Livesay 30–2, with six abstentions. At that Feb. 25 gathering, the faculty also voted 38–1 to ask the board of trustees for a one-year moratorium on signing contracts that include the clarification.

A related student government petition was signed by about half the student body, reports World.

The board of trustees responded with a statement affirming Livesay's leadership. "Bryan College's desire is to stimulate critical thinking, educating students within the framework of a biblical world and life view," stated the board. "The Board of Trustees is confident that under Dr. Livesay's leadership we are achieving that objective. "

Communication Studies professor Chris Clark told the Triangle that the vote was based on the cumulative effect of many events the college administration handled poorly in the eyes of faculty. "We also see the Statement of Belief as a symptom of a larger series of crises in leadership," he said.

Faculty opinion has routinely been ignored in college decisions, natural sciences professor Stephen Barnett told the Triangle. "Effective leadership should seek wisdom where it may be found and involve stakeholders in decisions that affect them," he said.

The new language "is in no way a change to the Statement of Belief. It is the current and historical position of Bryan, an institution founded and existing on a strong Creationist position," according to the college.

John Carpenter, a journalism professor at Bryan, told the Times Free Press that the updated language could be seen as "the narrowing of a position that doesn't need to be narrowed."

In February, Bryan hosted a chapel discussion between Todd Wood, a young-earth creationist researcher, and evolutionary creationist Darrel Falk. At the end of that talk, college president Stephen Livesay made a statement.

"Scripture always rises above anything else. Scripture rises above science," he said. "Science at some point will catch up with the scripture."

The BioLogos Foundation explores how a grant it gave two Bryan professors, as well as the visit by Falk (a BioLogos senior advisor), might have played into the clarification.

"In giving a grant to Eisenback and Turner, and in appearing in the chapel conversation, BioLogos certainly did not intend to stir up controversy," wrote president Deborah Haarsma. "Rather, we welcomed Bryan's invitation to support charitable dialogue about origins. Although Bryan's position differs from ours, we hope that this dialogue can be renewed and encouraged rather than stifled going forward."

Bryan's board of trustees is assembling a steering committee to "address critical issues about Creation" and possibly produce a position paper on the topic.

CT previously reported on the origins debate and the recent Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate on creationism and evolution. In addition, CT explored how William Jennings Bryan won the battle but lost the war against teaching evolution.

CT has reported on a number of Christian colleges where professors' views on human origins have caused controversy, including Cedarville University, Erskine College, and Campbellsville University. CT also examined whether it matters why faculty believe their school's faith statement.

In addition, CT also reported how two Bryan professors teamed up to write a textbook for homeschoolers to include more viewpoints beyond young earth creationism.

(photo by Sue Hasker/Flickr)