One more on Christians (of all kinds) in the academy. From Timothy Larsen, professor at Wheaton College, on the anti-Christian bias among the academy:
A persecution complex is not a healthy thing. A mantra among Christian academics is that if your work is rejected, assume it was because it is not good enough. Like others experiencing discrimination, we expect that we might need to do significantly better than the competition to have a chance and think that we should primarily just get on with trying to do exactly that. We are apt to apply to ourselves the Canadian politician Charlotte Whitton’s observation about gender discrimination: “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”
So, although we hear these stories frequently, Christian academics are the first ones to respond to them with suspicion. Maybe John got a bad grade because his work was not very good. Maybe my proposal was written in an irritating tone that baited some members of the committee to respond that way.
Nevertheless, scholars ought to be concerned that Christians often report that the academy is a hostile environment. Are academics generally glad that such a perception exists? If not, how might it be dispelled? If it is based on genuine experiences, what can be done about a climate that tolerates religious discrimination? If the two stories presented here are merely assailable, anecdotal evidence, then why not gather information on this issue more systematically? Do academic institutions ever try to discover if their Christian students or scholars experience discrimination?
I am hereby calling for such an effort. This could be done through surveys, or focus group discussions, or even just by inviting people to tell their experiences and following up on them, seeing if certain patterns emerge. If these are not the best methods, just think of what you would do in response to reports that a university or academic society was marked by institutional racism or sexism and then apply those same strategies of listening, investigation, and response. Like John with the department chair, however, I too am tempted to be defeatist about the academy being willing even to investigate the possibility of discrimination against Christians, let alone attempt to eradicate it.
These are precisely the sort of stories that evangelicals love to tell. Anything that reminds us of our beleaguered status in the world? Yes, please. And more of it.
Of course, there’s a tacit craving in these sorts of anxieties that the work isn’t legitimate unless it’s received the stamp of approval from the appropriate authorities. While I understand that people have to eat, and that professional careers are on the line, there are (I suspect) many other publishers besides Yale that would take a book like Dr. Larsen’s. Let the work stand on its own merits, or lack thereof.
I don’t want to minimize the problem. I have a number of friends facing precisely these sorts of institutional and professional challenges. As someone looking to eventually reenter the hollowed halls of the academic world, I worry some about what my publishing record will do for me.
It might be my belligerent anabaptist streak coming out, but if the institutions won’t have you, set up better one’s. That’s what the Catholics have attempted, and it seems to be going just fine.
But whatever we do, let’s just quit moaning about the anti-Christian bias. I suspect it’s simply not helping.