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Canadian Evangelical Scholar Fired Following University Investigation

A Christian college terminated John G. Stackhouse after an independent report alleged a pattern of inappropriate remarks to students. The professor challenges the findings.
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Canadian Evangelical Scholar Fired Following University Investigation
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Edits by CT

Canadian evangelical scholar and commentator John G. Stackhouse lost his job as a religious studies professor following a six-month investigation into accusations of inappropriate behavior toward students, spurred by an online campaign.

Students said Stackhouse made sexist remarks and unacceptable jokes in the classroom, according to an independent investigator commissioned by Crandall University, the Baptist college in New Brunswick where Stackhouse had taught since 2015. The investigator also said the professor’s email exchanges with a female student amounted to sexual harassment.

A statement from Stackhouse’s legal counsel to CT said he “categorically disagrees” with the report’s findings and disputes the university’s decision to publish them online, “turning a private matter into a public spectacle.”

The summary of findings, released last Wednesday, also noted unanswered questions about sexual harassment complaints against Stackhouse from before he worked at Crandall. Regent College in Vancouver, where Stackhouse was on faculty for 17 years, declined to comment, citing privacy law; a CBC news program reported Sunday that Regent and Stackhouse agreed to a settlement following a 2014 investigation.

When asked about allegations at other institutions, Stackhouse told the investigator, “I do not see how it’s in my interest to answer that question,” the report said. Stackhouse said there had been no open complaint at the time he left Regent, but the investigator concluded that, whether directly or by omission, he misled Crandall prior to his hiring about the circumstances of his departure.

Stackhouse has been a voice calling for accountability at evangelical institutions and women’s inclusion in leadership, and he was among the earliest critics of the late Ravi Zacharias. He wrote books about ethics, apologetics, evangelicalism, and gender roles, including Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender and Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism.

Starting last spring, an Instagram account called DoBetterCrandall began anonymously sharing stories of inappropriate jokes, behavior, and treatment from an unnamed Crandall professor. More than 100 students signed an open letter calling for the university to respond.

Crandall launched an investigation in April and announced Stackhouse’s dismissal last Wednesday. University leadership issued a letter expressing “deepest regret to all of its students, and particularly to any student or students who were made to feel threatened, diminished, or victimized.”

“Paramount at Crandall University is the safety and security of its students,” stated former board chair Sheila Cummings, who oversaw the investigation, current chair Douglas Schofield, and university president Bruce Fawcett. “We cannot and will not tolerate behaviour from its administration, faculty, or staff that in any way violates the University’s mission and identity.”

While Stackhouse became the “key subject” of the investigation, the summary of findings mentioned other faculty as well as recommendations for strengthening the university’s policies.

Stackhouse’s attorney Denis Grigoras issued a statement to CT on Monday.

“While Dr. Stackhouse acknowledges and respects the importance of addressing any misconduct allegations thoroughly and fairly, including by way of a workplace investigation that complies with best practices, the manner in which Crandall has chosen to handle this matter is profoundly concerning to him,” the statement read.

Crandall had released a six-page summary of findings from the investigation, which was led by Joël Michaud of the law firm Pink Larkin. In the report, Stackhouse is referred to as “the faculty member,” though he is identified by name in a university press release. Students and former students recounted how the 63-year-old professor would make “gender-based comments, sexist remarks, comments about a person’s looks, dress and appearance.”

According to the report, Stackhouse said Crandall’s president spoke to him about his remarks in class following complaints from a few students prior to the launch of the DoBetterCrandall Instagram account.

Michaud wrote that “jokes (or stories) that might have come across as charming 25 years ago are no longer acceptable”—instead, the investigator considered them sexual harassment and said that Stackhouse’s behavior “bordered on abuse of authority” as defined in the university’s policy. He also said that he believed Stackhouse’s “antics detrimentally affected the learning environment.”

Stackhouse also had a reputation for being brash and abrasive, students said. While that is not uncommon in academia, the investigator stated, “the line is crossed where the behavior rises to the level of harassment or abuse of authority.” Michaud believed that Stackhouse was “deserving of severe disciplinary action.”

The investigator also reviewed around 100 pages of emails with a student that he believed constituted sexual harassment. The student did not engage in the email banter or “otherwise encourage” the inappropriate messages, Michaud wrote.

During the investigation, according to the report, Stackhouse acknowledged that his email exchanges with the student were “inappropriate, unhealthy, unbecoming of a professor.” Stackhouse said he “would not defend it” but argued the banter was “something of an aberration from a long career.”

Stackhouse’s attorney has referred to the findings as a “private investigative report” and plans to “explore legal avenues” in response to their publication since “these matters have caused significant harm to Dr. Stackhouse’s reputation and career.”

“This approach is unnecessary and damaging,” his statement said, “impacting not just Dr. Stackhouse but the very fabric of privacy and due process within private academic institutions.”

On Threads, Baylor University historian Beth Allison Barr commented that she was grateful “that @crandalluniversity did the right thing in public. It is time for us to stop allowing Christian churches and institutions to sweep this behavior under the rug.”

Cummings, the university’s former board chair, quoted Micah 6:8 in a segment with CBC and told the outlet, “I think it’s important that we are open and honest about everything that we do. Would it have been easier to just try to sweep this under the carpet? Perhaps, but it was not what was right and honest.”

Stackhouse regularly comments on evangelical issues in outlets including CBC and Christianity Today. Years before the death of Zacharias and the news of the apologist’s abuse, Stackhouse was a leading voice calling out Zacharias’s inflated credentials. He has also spoken about concerns around transparency and ethics in ministry, including finances.

And Stackhouse has addressed women’s roles in the church and been involved with organizations such as Christians for Biblical Equality. As an apologist, he recognized how the church’s missteps on gender and abuse hurt those within it and its mission, lamenting in a 2022 blog post that “many women and girls suffer unwanted flirting, condescension, sexual harassment, and sexual assault—even in our Christian homes and churches, as too many studies now prove.”

Days before Crandall announced the findings of the investigation, Stackhouse shared pictures on social media from the American Academy of Religion / Society of Biblical Literature annual meetings in San Antonio.

A week before his termination, he published a post on his blog announcing a series on salvation. Before that, he wrote about Psalm 23: “Far from the pastoral sentimentality of too many well-meant Sunday School lessons and funeral sermons, it depicts the life of faith as the Bible actually depicts it: fraught with perils, dark with threats, and terrifying to everyone who does not walk beside the Good Shepherd.”

January/February
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