Dr. Karl Gilberson's Open Letter to The New President of Northwest Nazarene University

Dear President Pearsall:

The time has come to fight back against the fundamentalists who are destroying the mind--not to mention the heart and soul--of American evangelical Christianity, including your university.

You have just assumed the presidency of Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) under a dark cloud. Your predecessor, David Alexander, resigned in disgrace amidst a scandal that seems to be growing, and you unexpectedly found yourself in an office that you did not seek, confronted with problems that you did not create. The greatest of these problems was your predecessor's termination of Tom Oord, a popular professor and your school's leading scholar.

In terminating Oord, Alexander caved in to pressure from Christian fundamentalists who wanted Oord's ideas--like evolution--removed from the classrooms of NNU. And this happened despite longstanding commitments to intellectual diversity and openness in colleges and universities. As you begin your presidency, you will find yourself surrounded by these same fundamentalists. Oord may leave but they will remain. And they will pressure you to remove other scholars who promote ideas they don't like. Please don't listen to them.


We live in a time when the fundamentalist fear of new ideas--always a defining characteristic of extreme movements--seems to be on the rise. This fear is often expressed in the form of "witch-hunts" in which scholars are targeted and pressure is applied to institutions to have them removed. Even tenure, which is supposed to provide space for intellectual exploration, seems powerless to protect evangelical scholars from their fundamentalist oppressors.

For more see An Open Letter to a New Evangelical College President.
In another place Dr, Gilberson tells us,
Evangelicals seem to view doubt like a cancer. Announce that you have doubts about the existence of God and the response will be the same as if you announced that you have a brain tumor: “That is terrible. I will pray for you.”

My personal history in Christian higher education has driven home this point for me. And recent polls about young people leaving their churches are confirming this. Evangelical colleges insist that their faculty—and often their students—live in a tension that breeds dishonesty. On the one hand, faculty sign documents affirming the mission statement of their employer; and on the other hand, faculty are encouraged to engage in intellectual explorations that might lead them to question that mission statement.

Students whose spiritual journeys take them outside the boundaries of their youth too often feel they have no choice but to leave their faith traditions; after all, doubters are not welcome. The conversation needs to be much broader, with room for students to wander in and out of faith, without having to explicitly reject the faith of their childhood until they know where they have arrived.

For more see Doubt: The Invisible Conversation.
We live in interesting times, an era some evangelicals are describing as a new Copernican Revolution with regard to accepting the results of evolutionary science.