Thursday, May 25, 2017

False Claims about Duke

This post was originally going to be a tweet storm, but it got out of control. This is why it's bullet pointed. Please, read this article first because, if you don't, this post will make no sense.

·      Duke is one of the most progressive schools in the country. To claim that it’s systemically racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. just does not line up with reality.

·      You can find Duke’s statistics on ethnic diversity here:

·      These are for the university as a whole rather than simply the Divinity school. DDS’s stats are found in the original article.

·      Let me be honest: I have heard of some students who have acted racist. But what counts for racism at Duke is often that which is mistaken for ignorance.

·      For example, I have a friend– a theologically conservative Christian– who preached a sermon in a preaching class wherein he said the word “gay.”

·      It was used like this, “Jesus commands us to see the poor and love them, to see the oppressed and love them, to see those who are gay and love them.” [Several other groups were also listed]

·      This was labeled as “incredibly offensive” and “boardering on homophobia.” Why? Because “gay” is not inclusive enough. LGBTQI was the appropriate term. My friend’s “ignorance” (if even that is fair) was mistaken for homophobia.

·      The same is frequently true of racism. For example, someone asking what “whooping” is in a preaching class is not racist; it’s ignorance.

·      The kinds of accusations made in this article have no real substantiation. The one story of someone using the N-word in class is so far-fetched that it’s beyond belief.

·      No professor at DDS would have allowed something like that to occur without serious punishment, even ones that write vitriolic emails.

·      While it is entirely possible that Black/African American students have been called the N-word by fellow students outside of class, this is no one’s in-class experience.

·      Had some situation occurred, the professor and the students would immediately have taken action. How do I know this?

·      Most students and professors are not conservative evangelicals, unlike the article’s description. Most are left-leaning, if not left-wing entirely.

·      I would estimate that out of the entire faculty (i.e., non-adjunct), there are perhaps only two that could fit the description of “evangelical” accurately.

·      While there is a significantly higher percentage of evangelical students than professors, most students are still left-leaning or left-wing, especially politically.

·      The article’s narrative that everyone is a Trump-loving evangelical at DDS is completely false. In fact, in every single class I’ve had at Duke during & after the election season, I have heard students openly insult or criticize only one side– the republicans. Trump is used almost as a curse word. It is not the case that most students or professors openly support Trump.

·      In fact, even those who opposed Hilary but didn’t vote for Trump are often afraid to share their opinions for fear of being labeled racist– because that is actually what happens.

·      Some left-leaning students are more level-headed about this kind of thing; but a good many aren’t. I didn’t go a week without hearing the words racist, homophobic, & other similar slurs.

·      Let’s talk grades. That black students are consistently given worse grades is particularly difficult to believe. Here’s why I think it’s just whining and complaining by those in the article.

·      First, it’s exceptionally difficult to get good grades at Duke. During the first year, every student is told in almost every class that they will not receive an A unless their work exceeds expectations and is of publishable quality.

·      Here is an excerpt from one of my syllabi– and this from an upper level, where grading is actually less severe:

·      “Papers that satisfactorily meet all of the above criteria will receive a grade of B. The grade of A is reserved for papers that demonstrate…

·      unusual precision and depth of analysis, along with originality and imaginative richness.”

·      My syllabus for ethics said something even more severe than this.

·      Second, many classes have A’s begin at 96. Most begin at 95.

·      It is very difficult to get a preceptor to give you above a 95. It’s frequently hard for a prof to do so either.

·      Strangely, many students, black and white, post their grades on FB. I think this is a silly practice. Nevertheless, the grades I see are consistent.

·      Students often make usually two or three B’s (either plus or minus), and sometimes an A- or two. Rarely are there any A’s. Rarer are there more than one.

·      Third, this is, of course, experiential and anecdotal, but I suspect that the students who complained in this article is thinking the same thing that everyone else is thinking: “Oh man, I’ll bet everyone in this room is doing better than I am…” without ever asking to see if this were true.

·      Most students at Duke assume that because they are at Duke, everyone else must be doing far better than they. In reality, this often turns out not to be the case– at least according to the experience of me and several of my friends, which group includes Black students, by the way.

·      Finally, could it not be simply that those Black students who the article claims compared their grades did so with very studious students? There are, after all, some extremely brilliant students at Duke. There are also some students who do not thrive in an academic environment. I know a number of (white) students with very poor grades.

·      As far as racial representation for students among faculty goes, their claims are also wrong. The article claims that 16% of students are African American. The article later claims that of the 42 faculty, 6 are Black. That means that 14% of the faculty is Black. Are they right, then? No. Within the past year, two black faculty members have left for Yale. (One white faculty member also left for Yale, by the way.) So before the two faculty left, 18% of DDS’s faculty was Black. If they were not over-represented by the faculty, they were at least equally represented. Even now, they are hardly under-represented. In fact, African Americans make up 13.2% of the US population. Given that percentage, one might expect fewer African American students and faculty, but that is not what one finds.

·      The demands to hire more Black faculty immediately evinces an ignorance of the state of higher education. Academic jobs are extremely hard to come by for would-be professors. Why? Because the universities are finding it more and more difficult to fund these positions. Duke’s situation is no different. In fact, I’m told by a member of the faculty that several important positions will go unfilled for a few years now because DDS literally does not have the money to employ anyone else. If this does not satiate the demands of those who have been protesting– white, Black, Asian, and Latinx alike– then I pose this simple question: which white professor would you like to fire so their position may be filled by a person of color?

·      The pastor, Kenny, who was interviewed by the writers of the article claimed “When I arrived at Duke, there was a place for dialogue around issues of race and homosexuality. But the evangelical thrust has pushed Duke in a different direction.” I do agree that the school has gone in a different direction, but I do not agree that it has been back towards conservatism. Diversity necessarily includes contradictory beliefs; otherwise, it is not genuine diversity. Hence if there is space for dialogue at DDS about race and homosexuality (and we could also include transgenderism and social justice), this necessarily means that dissenting opinions must be included. If they are excluded, you do not have a dialogue; you have a monologue. The explosion my first year among many students over some claims that a certain theology professor made concerning Black and queer theologies demonstrates that at least one side is not interested in dialoguing about these issues. I repeatedly heard that someone should not be included in the faculty if they maintained such a position. How is this diverse? How is this dialogical?

·      Two more points:

o   First, the article says this: “ "That's my primary concern, that the future of the black church is at risk," he said. "In the future, you no longer will have people like Jeremiah Wright and Johnny Ray Youngblood who are really centered around black liberation theology and giving a message to people about social justice. You will see the kind of conservative black pastors who support the Trump administration, with an emphasis on reconciliation without any dialogue. That's a very dangerous place for those who are committed to the black tradition." ” I can think of a very few things more absurd than this. Please, Pastor Kenny, give a list of professors who support the Trump administration. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single one. But this isn’t my point. What’s so absurd is that he’s claiming that the future of DDS will refuse to encourage Black students to read black liberation theology and ignore social justice. What he is probably unaware of is that in the stairwell on the second floor of DDS, there is a display that everyone passes in order to get to the second and third floors. This display has in it something like ten books all on black liberation. In the center you will find James Cone’s God of the Oppressed. This has been there my entire time at Duke. The kinds of claims he is making are incredible; they do not match up with reality.

o   Finally, the article claims in the first sentence that African American students are “being fed a curriculum with no inclusion of black religious tradition.” Yes, you read that correctly. With no inclusion of black religious tradition. Folks, every single MDiv student at Duke has to take a Black church studies course. This is from the Divinity school’s website: “Duke Divinity School is the first school in the nation to have a course requirement in black church studies for all of its M.Div. students. The school also offers courses open to all its master's and doctoral students.” Well one class hardly makes one an expert on the Black church, to be sure. But the initial claim of the article is already proved false by a simple, quick glance at DDS’s website. The claim is that there is no inclusion; but there is obviously some inclusion. All you have to do to find this information is to google “MDiv Duke Divinity Black church studies” and you’ll find the exact page that I just referenced. But this is not the whole story! In fact, the MDiv at DDS has eight (yes, eight) elective courses. Do you know what you could do with those electives? You could take all Black church studies courses. That would total nine Black church studies courses. If this does not demonstrate that even the most basic claims of the article are factually false, I don’t know what will.

·      In conclusion, are there racial problems at Duke? Sure. The entire US has racial problems. Are they anywhere near as pronounced as this article would lead you to believe? Not by a long shot. The claims of this article are so obviously exaggerated– some even obviously fabricated for someone who has attended– that it boarders on slander. I do want to see the Black church thrive, and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to work alongside so many great Black students at the Divinity school. Indeed, I think that Duke is perhaps one of the best places for those who would like to study and work in the Black church. Finally, I want Duke to be an ever more effective institution at training Black ministers, but calumniating this institution as “a racial nightmare seemingly from another era” is not the way to do so. It’s hurtful, and it’s false. The best thing for NPR to do would be to remove the article so that someone can do actual investigation into these claims to see to what degree any of these claims are true.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Review of "Martin Luther in His Own Words"

Martin Luther in His Own Words is an edited volume of some of Luther’s writings, which were written between ca. 1520 and 1530. The book is divided into five sections (excluding the four page introduction) corresponding to the five solas (faith alone, grace alone, scripture alone, Christ alone, and glory to God alone). This is an interesting approach to Luther’s writings. I think the purporse of organizing the writings this way is helpful heuristically. Happily, the editors provide a very brief introduction to each work; these introductions usually span about 1½ to 2 pages– though some are shorter, and some longer. These introductions are also printed in a smaller font, so there is a little bit more than a first glance would suggest. The introductions are helpful, but they would be more effective had a brief overview of Luther’s life been provided in the introduction to the book. (Perhaps this is the point. At the end of the book, they have printed a very large advertisement for Lutzer’s other book on the Reformation, which covers Luther’s life more extensively, though still briefly.)

I think the selections from Luther’s writings are excellent. I was happy to see On Christian Liberty among the works. Along with that, selections from his commentary on Galatians and his translation of Romans have been included. These too are very good places to begin with Luther. I was surprised at the inclusion of Luther’s That Doctrines of Men Are To Be Rejected since it is seldom found in other Luther anthologies. This is both good and bad: good because the reader is introduced to a work that might otherwise have been missed; bad because this hardly should be included in a volume composed of “essential writings of the Reformation.” Alas, Luther’s Two Kinds of Righteousness and the Ninety-Five Theses have not been included in this short volume. Surely the Theses are “essential” reading for the student of the Reformation or of Luther. And Two Kinds of Righteousness is one of my favorite works by Luther. In addition to these, his Introduction to the Gospels, Babylonian Captivity, and selections from his Romans commentary (or its introduction) are some others that might have been included. But this is a review of what is there, not what isn’t. I think what is present in the volume is good. The translations are very easy to read, and for the most part, Luther’s works have been abridged in a way that doesn’t diminish the character of the work. That is, you get the “essentials” of what Luther has to say in them, though you certainly do not get it all. But this is not a book for scholars or even those who are studying the Reformation. This is a book for pastors and for laity. Insofar as this is the case, this is an excellent book. Admittedly, I was skeptical of this little volume when I signed up to review it. Having read and reviewed Lutzer’s Rescuing the Gospel a few months ago, the dearth of references to primary source material suggested to me that Lutzer might not be too familiar with the writings of Luther. However, I am pleasantly surprised with this book, and I happily recommend it to pastors and lay people who have neither the time nor desire to read Luther’s lengthier works but still would like a brief introduction to Luther’s work. For those who would wish to dig a little deeper, or for those who discover that they can’t get enough of Luther from this little volume, I would recommend John Dillenberger’s anthology, Martin Luther:Selections from His Writings, Edited and with an Introduction (Garden City: Doubleday, 1961). In either case, you can’t go wrong with reading Luther!

Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher. I was under no compulsion to write a positive review. All thoughts or opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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