Calling Out (with) Hope – At least become like Calvin …

While this is a piece that stands on its own, it may read differently if you understand my take ‘On Faith, Individualism, Decency, Tolerance and Public Policy’ – a piece that precedes this one in this blog.

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28:

Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is?  
Shakespeare, William  – Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1 http://shakespeare.mit.edu/merchant/full.html

 

Recently America has seen an increase in something between deep religious parochialism and outright religious intolerance. Mr. Trump’s campaign for President has fanned such feeling, but is not responsible for generating them. For some time now, religious parochialism has been practiced in what would seem the most unlikely of places – some Liberal Arts Colleges!! There is a group of colleges which will not hire folks who are not Christian, or some even narrower religious category. They include, and I’ll touch upon the mentioned ones in this piece, Wheaton, Calvin, and Hope Colleges. I would not be surprised if there are other institutions, either Christian or affiliated with other religious denominations who also practice the “we will hire only our religious kind” type of parochialism. If there are, I would be grateful if someone would share their names with me.

Recently in the news was Wheaton College, in Illinois, U.S.A.. The powers that be at Wheaton College are so Christian that they have a problem with a tenured faculty member, Larycia Hawkins, “standing in religious solidarity with Muslims” and stating that they “worship the same God.”  The institution’s reaction to the professor’s statement seems so bizarre that I am simply going to suggest that in my book any attempt to explain and justify the actions of Wheaton’s powers that be is making a case for a society that I will find deeply troubling. I can only ask, what are they thinking? The Wheaton administration first suspended Hawkins, then began termination proceedings against her, before both parties reached a “confidential agreement under which both parties will part ways.” In case you are interested in some of the details of this incident I give you the following links.

 I wouldn’t be surprised if you were not aware of the existence of such religious parochialism. My life centers around American liberal arts colleges and for the longest time I was simply unaware that folks who thought this way also taught undergraduates. About a couple of years ago I learned that Calvin College and Hope College (both in Michigan, U.S.A.) excluded folks from being hired if they were not Christian. In fact I have visited Calvin and Hope after knowing that there was no chance of my being hired in these institutions and I did not think too much about it. I remember walking around the Hope campus wondering how an institution can be so parochial in its hiring practices. But I didn’t act on those thoughts. I’ll come back to talking about Hope College in some detail soon. But first a word about Calvin because it presents an interesting contrast with Hope – a difference I think, that matters.

Calvin College is upfront about its hiring practices. The Faculty handbook clearly states – “For regular appointments (i.e. tenure track and renewable term appointments), it is expected that a department will conduct a thorough examination of candidates… Although a variety of procedures may be employed, each examination must address the candidate’s reformed Christian commitment, teaching ability…” (http://www.calvin.edu/admin/provost/handbook/Handbook.pdf).

In fact the college defends this policy with great clarity. On the college’s website it explains – Calvin College is a Christian institution situated within the Reformed tradition. As such, the college may, under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and various relevant statutes, lawfully discriminate on the basis of religious and confessional criteria in its hiring, personnel practices and admissions. One example is the College’s use of religious faith, confessional commitments and church membership as conditions of employment for faculty and administrators with faculty status. Another example…” (http://www.calvin.edu/admin/hr/handbook/employment/#hiring)

As much as I think Calvin College is parochial and wrong-headed in its hiring policy, I deeply appreciate Calvin’s transparency. Calvin clearly is willing to unambiguously articulate the rationale for its discrimination policy. It seems to me that when institutions want to discriminate based on some deeply held belief/value/principle/faith then at the very least they should have the courage to be open and articulate about their beliefs and the form of discrimination. Clearly Calvin has more than met that minimal yardstick.

Not so with Hope College. Based on public documents, websites, etc. you will be hard pressed to figure out that to be hired by Hope College you must be a Christian. In its jobs page (http://www.hope.edu/jobs/) the college says – “Hope College places a high priority on sustaining a supportive environment that recognizes the importance of having diverse faculty and staff in order to best prepare our students for successful careers in our multi-cultural nation and global community. Applications with diverse backgrounds and cultures are encouraged to apply. Hope is an equal opportunity employer.

If you read that and thought that Hope College encourages folks with diverse religious backgrounds – Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and the all-encompassing Non – Christian Others including Zorastrians –  to apply, you will be demonstrating a reasonable grasp of the English language, but will be wrong. For in that A to Z list, anyone who does not belong to category C and applies for a job at the Holland, MI’s liberal arts institution which encourages applications from people of diverse backgrounds and cultures will find that it is a Hopeless (the pun is begging to be made multiple times!) endeavor. Even if they think you are the best person for the job, they will reject you once they know that you are not a Christian! Let me repeat that, even if they think you are the best person for the job, they will reject you once they know that you are not a Christian! I’d been told that by a few people very familiar with Hope’s hiring practices. When I heard about this, in the abstract I didn’t think highly of it, nor did I think much about it. But then…

It happened to a colleague of mine. He is not Christian­­­ by birth. He applied for a position at the Philadelphia Center (http://www.tpc.edu/), which is managed by Hope College. He understood that Hope hired only Christians for on campus positions, but wasn’t sure this restriction applied to the off-campus Philadelphia Center, especially since he thought that there were other faculty at the Philadelphia Center who were not Christians (if that is , true, it further puzzles me!). So when he interviewed he asked and was assured by the Dean for International and Multicultural Education at Hope College that “being Jewish was not a bar to serving as the Executive Director of TPC.” Unfortunately, in spite of “having been the choice of the Search Committee for the position” my colleague was informed by the same Dean who assured him earlier that being Jewish was not a sufficient condition to deny him the position that “the expectations for this position had changed and that the Executive Director would now need to meet the same standards for employment as would any Hope College faculty member, namely, to be a Christian.” The quotes in this paragraph are from a letter my colleague wrote to the President and Provost (two different people) of Hope College after he learned that not being a Christian was the sole reason for his not getting the position at the Philadelphia Center. It is worth pointing out that the thrust of my colleague’s letter to the President and Provost of Hope College did not focus on his personal disappointment, but rather on the “relationship between Hope College and The Philadelphia Center (TPC).” Those details are tangential to the central point of this piece and so I will not address them here. But  it shows what a classy guy he is, and is an indication of TPC’s loss.

In his response to my colleague the Provost at Hope College addressed what he thought was the relationship between Hope College and the TPC. That made sense given the thrust of my colleague’s note. But he also said, “Allow me to begin by saying that I regret that your valuable time – to say nothing of the emotional investment involved in applying and interviewing for the directorship of TPC – was ill used (sic) by our process. I take personal responsibility for this, and I apologize on behalf of Hope College. Our intention from the outset was to hire an executive director who would meet the standard criteria for executive positions on our home campus.  We regret that these expectations were not made sufficiently clear to applicants.” He forgot to add, “and to the Dean from our institution who has been with us for about twenty years and who was involved in the search.”

It is not difficult to make clear that you hire only Christians. Just say it in your advertisement.  It is not unreasonable to ask, “Why does Hope College not make it clear that to be hired by Hope College you must be a Christian? If it is a matter of deeply held belief/value/principle/faith then it seems to me that there must be no confusion whatsoever about what the expectations and religious criteria are. And making the expectations and religious criteria clear are far from difficult. One just needs to say, “ONLY CHRISTIANS NEED APPLY.”

So what is the difference between Calvin and Hope, both of which hire only Christians (though, Calvin seems to be narrower in defining who is worthy of being hired) – Calvin is open and clear, whereas Hope is not. As much as I think both of them are deeply parochial and wrong-headed, I think Calvin’s openness and transparency is worth appreciating. Also, given that a Dean, who thought it was okay for a Jewish candidate to be hired, and his superiors (presumably the Provost and the President) disagreed calls into question how deeply conscientious (and as someone who read this piece before I posted it commented, and contentious) a position is the “hire only Christians” position at Hope. And one need not be too cynical in concluding that if Hope College is not clear about its hiring criteria based on religion, they might think that there is a strategic advantage to the obfuscation and lack of clarity. One wonders what that might be?

It seems quite obvious that Calvin and Hope (and others I am sure, even if I am ignorant about them) are not breaking the law. That surprises me. I am not sure how I feel about whether what Hope and Calvin do should be legal. It is complicated and I’ll hopefully get to tackling it in the near future. But one thing I do know, legal or not, if you are acting on a matter of faith and conscience, then be as open and transparent about it as you can.

I hope someone at Hope is listening. In fact my guess is that there at least some part of the Hope faculty are deeply troubled by this religious litmus test. As I said, I hope someone at Hope is listening.