Sunday, February 21, 2016

On Evil and Craziness in Mark’s Gospel

Clinical Psychology and Theology in Mark

This is part two of reflections on psychology and the gospel of Mark. I am focused on stories in Mark chapter 3. See my previous post for a social psychology perspective on group formation in Mark 3.

Paralyzed hand 3: 1-6

The healing of the man with the paralyzed hand or arm (depends on translation of cheira) evokes biblical and psychological imagery. Hands and arms are of course critical to work and personal care. Humans who appear different have often been discriminated against and considered as less than whole or normal. People with disabilities have often borne the brunt of callous humor. And in the time of Jesus, many would wonder if the man’s sin was the reason for his impairment.

For not so subtle reasons, hands have been linked to potency or in the case of the withered hand, impotency (Derrett, 1984). So the sexual insult is added to other aspects of being a social outcast.

Jesus’ command gives the man a choice because he can either comply or not. He can either stretch out the hand or not. He chooses to stretch out his hand and in doing so, he is healed. And it looks like Jesus' technically avoided work on the Sabbath.

Psychologically, the description of possible paralysis fits with conditions identified as psychosomatic or in recent language, somatoform disorders--specifically, conversion disorder. Paralysis is a common finding. Whether the man with the withered hand has a somatoform disorder or not, we do not know. Even if it were true, it would not diminish the importance of the story because people with somatoform disorders are in fact often chronically disabled and the conditions are often quite difficult to treat.

Some people with somatoform disorders gain considerable medical attention for their condition. Patients seek help from many providers in their search for a nonmental cause of the condition. Christians may also seek help from faith healers. (Webmd has a useful overview of the condition.)

Christians who seek prayer for healing are much more likely to request healing for problems of backs and other visible body conditions than the less visible illnesses like depression and anxiety not considered “physical” by many. Perhaps it's important to realize that any account of people ought to be holistic with respect to spirituality, thinking, feeling, behavior, physiology, and all within a social context (e.g., SCOPES model).

Crazy 3: 20-21

I find Mark’s inclusion of the episode in which Jesus’ relatives think he’s out of his mind (exeste) to be quite insightful. Apparently then, as now, people wonder about the mental states of leaders of new and different religious groups. And it’s not just anyone asking questions—family members do as well.

Religious beliefs divide families between believers and unbelievers. When people  are passionate about their faith, divisions occur. New converts annoy relatives with exuberance. To his family, Jesus appears to be radicalized.

These family splits over religion are often irreparable. Mark doesn’t take on the mental status challenge in discourse but suggests that Jesus is not mentally ill because of the large group of followers and because of the good works he is doing. Of course readers have the testimony of God in the previous chapter.

The family challenge also points up an important aspect to any notion of mental illness. Cultural interpretations are always important to understanding mental illness. People who are different from others in their culture often get disparaging labels. Some of those labels are cruel and assign a person a diminished status. Family members often do not understand people who are different and seek to obtain treatment. They care. But care might mean, “change my relative so he or she acts like we do.”

People with mental illness have been on the margins of society throughout history. It is perhaps ironic that Jesus, who is focused on ministering to outcasts, is himself an outcast.

Devils and Demons 3: 11-12; 14; 22-30

The topics of demons and devils fascinates many people as evident in novels and films. Some Christians believe in a person-like being called Satan and hordes of evil spirits that sometimes live within human beings and influence their behavior.

For much of recorded history, people have perceived a close connection between the natural and the supernatural world. The witches of Salem Massachusetts provide a powerful illustration of religious panic over supernatural evil.

Jesus casts out a demon

Embodied evil appears in conversational language reflecting the influence of Christianity in western cultures. Political candidates demonize others. People ought to be careful in forming agreements because the devil is in the details. People say “Bless you” when someone sneezes (the history is in question but many link the blessing to protection from the devil or an evil spirit).

Mark’s pictures of Satan and demons as well as exorcism fits the view held by many Christians throughout the world. Perhaps for fear of embarrassment, educated Christians do not talk about these matters to health care providers unless they perceive it’s safe to do so. Health care providers be advised—many of your patients may connect their condition to evil spirits–and that’s not just Christians.

Many, if not most, health care providers-especially mental health providers— view biblical accounts of evil spirits as a primitive way of speaking about mental illness. This mental health view of evil spirits is in contrast to clergy associated with many religions. It’s true that highly educated clergy in western cultures are more apt to medicalize a condition following the advances of science in treating mental illness. Nevertheless, rebuking the devil, casting out Satan, and conducting an exorcism remain a part of many Christian traditions to this day.

I think it worth noting that in Mark’s gospel there are two major kinds of needs met by Jesus. One type deals with healing of observable bodily conditions like the paralyzed hand and the other type deals with people possessed by an evil (or unclean) spirit. Mark does not report mental illness in modern terms yet problems of depression and anxiety are part of the human condition.

The physical - mental dualism is not unlike the bifurcation between health care and mental health care that exists today. People continue to prefer to have an identifiable “physical” illness rather than a mental condition. People would rather see a medical practitioner than a psychologist. Christians sometimes think only of physicians and clergy. Although some may consider a biblical counselor.

Today Christians who are depressed may consider at least three methods of relief: prayer, psychotherapy, and medication. These may be obtained from three different types of practitioners. Some of the practitioners may be staunch believers in their approach and devalue the interventions of the other.

As a Christian psychologist, I take a holistic view and value all three approaches. For conditions like depression and anxiety, which may well have biological and spiritual components along with distressing thoughts, feelings, and social consequences, healing may require a combined approach.

Effective psychological care is not just about technique but it involves the quality of the relationship between the psychotherapist and the person seeking treatment as well as the commitment of each to a shared narrative of the problem and the cure. Effective care requires understanding the worldview of the patient.

Unforgivable Sin 3:28-30

From a clinical perspective, it is not uncommon for Christians to inquire about the unforgivable sin. I have especially found this worry common among fundamentalist Christians who either read the text for themselves or heard a sermon on the topic. The fear is real. In rare cases, people may be so distressed that they worry about or perceive demonic activity.

The fear can be extremely distressing in those with Obsessive Compulsive disorder in which the content of the obsession is worry over the unforgivable sin and various rituals may represent painful  pleading and penance to obtain forgiveness.

The common pastoral response is to say that any Christian who has worried about committing the unpardonable sin has not sinned in that way because the sin involves a conscious choice to reject the Spirit of God. Pentecostals have warned others against condemning speaking in tongues and other spiritual gifts based  on these verses. Theologians have opined on the verse at length because the sin is not clear. Others have simply said unforgivable sin has to do with rejection of Jesus who offers the path of eternal life.

Note on Beelzebul

The name for the evil spirit in the latter section of Mark is Beelzebul also known as “Lord of the flies” or if spelled differently could be Lord of Heaven or Lord of the House. The term may be derived from the ancient god, Baal. The Lord of the House term would fit well with Mark’s references to Jesus robbing the house. See Oxford Biblical Studies.

Facebook  Page Geoff W. Sutton

Twitter  @GeoffWSutton 

Website: Geoff W. Sutton

Related Posts

See my review of Testing Prayer for more on prayers for healing

Context Note

My specific context for this blog is the study of Mark’s gospel with colleagues at church. See the previous post for my view from the perspective of the social psychology of groups.


Betty, S. (2015). The Growing Evidence for "Demonic Possession": Lessons for Psychiatry. Journal for Spiritual & Consciousness Studies, 38(1), 36-60.

Bull, D. L. (2001). A phenomenological model for therapeutic exorcism for dissociative identity disorder. Journal of Psychology & Theology, 29(2), 131.

Busch, A. (2006). Questioning and conviction: double-voiced discourse in Mark 3:22-30. Journal of Biblical Literature, 125(3), 477-505.

Derrett, J. M. (1984). Christ and the power of choice (Mark 3:1-6). Biblica, 65(2), 168-188.

Horsley, R. A. (2005). Jesus and empire. Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 59(3-4), 44-74.

Stanford, M. S. (2007). Demon or disorder: A survey of attitudes toward mental illness in the Christian church. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 10(5), 445-449. doi:10.1080/13674670600903049

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Evil, Crazy, and Socially Savvy in Mark’s Gospel Part 1

Social Psychology and Theology in Mark 3

I am writing this blog as a reflection on concepts drawn from two major fields of psychology that strike me in my study of Mark 3. In this post I look at social psychology concepts related to group leadership and formation. In the next post I will look at lessons from the perspective of Clinical Psychology.

Group Identity

Mark opens his gospel with a statement about the identity of Jesus as the anointed one and Son of God (1:1). Who is Jesus? That’s a question offered as guidance on one theme to guide people studying Mark’s gospel (e.g., Martindale).

My focus on group identity comes from a consideration that Mark is writing to people after Jesus has left his earthy ministry. In short, Jesus as leader is no longer visible to his followers. I suggest at least one of Mark’s aims is to identify who Christians are, but perhaps more importantly, who they are not. In this chapter he also identifies the legitimate leaders as chosen by Jesus himself.

Many writers (e.g., Horsley) have provided some sense of the historical backdrop to the life of Jesus and the early Christians. Roman power imposed order on the people in their conquered lands. Depending on the degree of threat, rebels met with public beatings and painful death. Roman emperors were the strong men no one dare challenge.

In Mark, Roman influence is in the background but breaks through into our consciousness in references to Caesar, Herod, and the Herodians. I see dual efforts at work and wonder if they were not part of Mark’s intention.

First, Mark separates Jesus’ group from Jewish rebel groups. By clearly identifying Jesus and his followers with a spiritual movement he separates Christians from militaristic Jewish rebels who were intent on exorcising the evil Roman rulers from holy lands. There were rebellions throughout the empire. And there were militarists looking for a warrior Messiah.

Nevertheless, there are subversive elements in the gospel suggesting that at least the Jesus movement was about freedom from oppressive bondage as witnessed in the exorcisms and healings. The Romans were of course responsible for the lived experience of bondage in the life of ordinary Jews.
If the Romans and Jewish leaders worked together to crucify Jesus who was viewed as a political threat, they could easily work together to kill Jesus’ followers. Someone has to tell the real story and make it clear that Jesus and his movement never were a threat to the power of Rome.

A second aim is to clarify the Jesus’ group within Judaism. It’s easy for contemporary Christians to forget that Jesus and his followers were Jews with centuries old laws and traditions. They met in synagogues not churches. And they visited the Jewish Temple not some other religious building. Modern Christians have heard of groups like Pharisees and Sadducees but hearing the names does not offer much in terms of understanding how their groups intersected with other groups.

Mark presents people named Pharisees and Herodians as if they were groups in opposition to Jesus and his growing group of followers (3:6). Another group known as scribes are also mentioned and associated with Pharisees. Although we do not know a lot, we get the impression the Pharisees were particularly concerned with a strict adherence to the Mosaic law including how and where to worship God, maintain the Sabbath (1-6), and comply with purity codes.

In contrast to avoiding a presentation of Jesus as a threat to Rome, Mark does not hold back on presenting Jesus as a threat to some Jewish groups. Jesus and his movement are about new ways of worship and interpreting old laws (Chapter 2). The Sabbath challenge (3:1-6) is a clear example of change as not only does Jesus offer a different interpretation of the Sabbath but his followers would eventually give up the Sabbath in favor of honoring the first day of the week.

Crowds are not groups but members of a crowd may become group members. Mark mentions the crowds in 3: 7-12. They follow Jesus but are not members of his group. However, Jesus status is enhanced by their presence in three ways.

First, it’s human nature to count heads at any rally or gathering. Size implies importance. We see this in churches that count people and in news headlines touting the huge or minuscule crowds at a political rally or sporting event.

The second characteristic of the crowd is their diversity. They are not just from Jesus’ home province but they come from Judea and elsewhere. Many people view him as a religious teacher and leader.

Third, we see an odd testimony that poses a problem. Some members of the crowd are identified as “unclean spirits.” They identify Jesus but he does not want their testimony. Ironically, Mark includes their testimony as if it were important. Christian leaders continue to be careful of those they permit to speak in church. Christian organizations are quick to cut off members who stray from the party line or have been caught in some behavioral act judged undesirable.

Group Leadership

Groups have leaders but their styles may vary. A common contemporary classification of styles includes authoritarian, democratic, and laissez faire.

Jesus is clearly authoritarian in his selection of followers (3:13) and combative dialogue with outgroup spokespersons such as the Pharisees. In his status as the Son of God he claims the ultimate authority and is appropriately pitted against the Roman Emperor. Although in Mark, Jesus’ savvy answer about paying taxes separates his focus on a spiritual kingdom from the concerns of Caesar. Mark chooses not to present Jesus and his movement as a threat to Rome. Of course he wasn’t a threat because in a physical sense, Jesus was long gone by the time Mark was writing.

It would also seem that Jesus is matched against the official Jewish leaders such as the High Priest. Ironically, at the time Mark was written, Roman delegates chose the Jewish High Priest and not the priestly clan using a quasi-democratic approach of casting lots. Rome was in control of official Judaism.
In establishing Jesus authority, Mark shows him to have authority over demons. It’s hard to ignore the possible references to Romans and Jewish leaders when Jesus is portrayed as the one who can bind the strong man and rob him of his territory.

In addition, Mark calls the spirits “unclean,” which condition characterizes the possessed people as belonging to a different group than the purity-focused Pharisees. The whole enterprise of casting out unclean spirits also puts Jesus in close contact with the unclean and heightens the interest in the meaning of the dialogue between Jesus and his Jewish interlocutors.

Group leaders know that for a group to survive they need trustworthy leaders to carry out the aims of the group when they die. Mark makes the identity of the chosen leaders clear (3: 13-19). As contemporary readers we know little about most of these men yet presumably, contemporaries of Mark knew the names. By naming names and identifying their authority, the early Christians had a guide to who’s who and presumably to who is not who. The list informs Jews and Romans of the official leaders of the Jesus movement.

The list omits Paul, which makes sense given his later conversion (estimated timeline for Paul). But the list may be important to those questioning Paul’s status as an apostle- see his remarks in  2 Corinthians 11). Another point of relevance is the biblical footnotes identifying a textual variation. Some manuscripts have Mark calling the leaders “apostles” and others do not. Again, it is noteworthy that Paul laid came to being an apostle. 

What’s at stake? In his charge, Jesus commands his chosen leaders to preach and he gives them authority to drive out demons (14-15). Authority is a big deal in groups. After any leader dies, leaders of subgroups often lay claim to take over the official leadership slot. Leader conflicts happened in the early church. And they happen today.

Jesus authority is challenged in the Beelzebul episode at the close of the chapter. The teachers of the law accuse Jesus as being possessed by the prince of demons. Mark phrases Jesus’ response as an absurdity using the well-known “House Divided” remark followed by a modus tollens argument. Mark includes episodes of healing and exorcisms. Mark wants readers to know that Jesus’ and his followers are at war with evil. Every healing and every exorcism reveals their focus on the spiritual life and death struggle, which culminates at the crucifixion.

Ingroup and Outgroup

Mark offers a changing picture of ingroup and outgroup statuses.

Ingroup and outgroup identification is an important influence in how people function in groups. Under threat, group identification increases. People are bound by strong attachment affiliations to kinship groups. And it is no accident that Christians are identified as part of the family of God. We lack details about the variety of groups within Judaism in Jesus’ day but Mark illustrated the early formation of ingroup and outgroup status.
In previous chapters we saw Jesus’ participation in John’s Baptism revealing an affiliation with John’s group. But Mark also reveals a feature of Jesus’ Baptism in the Spirit, which would mark his followers. Clearly the violent opening of the heavens (1:10) when the Spirit comes to Jesus at John’s baptism followed by being driven by the Spirit into the territory of Satan (12-13) reveals a focus on the kind of group Jesus was forming. Jesus’ group would be spiritual warriors.

It turns out, Jesus is not just dealing with unclean spirits but with people representing other groups who continually challenge his ministry.

Jesus’ group consists of those he chose to be with him and carry out his ministry—with a specific focus on preaching and exorcising evil spirits. Ingroup members are in flux in Mark as for example, one of the twelve betrayed Him. And in verse 33 we see the stark challenge: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” The concluding verses in fact focus on ingroup and outgroup membership framed as family and not family.

This ingroup-outgroup tension is common in all sorts of groups and remains a factor today as evident recently in the Wheaton College episode over the status of Professor Hawkins. Group members and their leaders are keen on maintaining boundaries. We all want to know- is he or she one of us. Presumably ingroup people can be trusted but Mark reminds us that one of the 12 was a traitor.


Facebook  Page      Geoff W. Sutton

Twitter                   @GeoffWSutton 

Website: Geoff W. Sutton

Context Note

My specific context for this blog is the study of Mark’s gospel with colleagues at church. My broader context is a career-long interest in Social Psychology, especially the Psychology of Religion. But the bulk of my career has been in applied psychology in the United States where many are affiliated with Christianity. My work in Clinical Psychology also influences my view of many verses in Mark’s gospel, which I will address next.


Betty, S. (2015). The Growing Evidence for "Demonic Possession": Lessons for Psychiatry. Journal for Spiritual & Consciousness Studies, 38(1), 36-60.

Busch, A. (2006). Questioning and conviction: double-voiced discourse in Mark 3:22-30. Journal of Biblical Literature, 125(3), 477-505.

Derrett, J. M. (1984). Christ and the power of choice (Mark 3:1-6). Biblica, 65(2), 168-188.

Horsley, R. A. (2005). Jesus and empire. Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 59(3-4), 44-74.

Skinner, C. W. (2004). 'Whom he also names apostles': a textual problem in Mark 3:14. Bibliotheca Sacra, 161(643), 322-329.

Taylor, N. H. (2000). Herodians and Pharisees: the historical and political context of Mark 3:6; 8:15; 12:13-17. Neotestamentica, 34(2), 299-310.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Christian College Culture

Wheaton Chapel

Christian Colleges - know before you go

Wheaton College was in the news because questions about statements by a professor were questioned. The communication became public. Since then I've hear that professors are being cautious or have been cautioned about what they may say.

Christian colleges declare their beliefs and values. Freedom of speech is restricted as is the freedom to pursue some research. That's why I say, "know before you go." Know what you are committing to as a student, faculty, or staff member.

Seven Facts About Christian Campus Cultures

1. The Statement of Faith is taken seriously.

Read the statement of faith and decide if you believe the words. Life's too short to put on an act. If possible, it's obviously best to learn or work at a place where your beliefs and values mesh with those of the organization. If your views or values change, move on. Organizations change slowly, so working for change may not happen during your time at the school. The Wheaton College controversy is one example of a conservative Christian college where specific professions of faith matter. Although Wheaton is characterized as evangelical, it is not close to the fundamentalism espoused by other Christian schools (i.e., colleges or universities).

Of course there are closet agnostics, atheists, and liberals at Christian schools and organizations. As in any culture, survival often requires they remain closeted until graduation. Some didn't take the statement of faith seriously when they came. Some students attend under pressure from parents. Some people (students, faculty, staff) discover their different beliefs and values while at school.

Living amongst people holding conservative values and beliefs helps define identities for those who share the beliefs and those who do not. And some schools (and organizations) change their policies to become more restrictive in response to constituent complaints.

2. Behavior codes must be followed.

The behavior code of Christian schools is a plus for those who want a setting that emphasizes abstinence from alcohol and other drugs, modesty in clothing, polite language, and restrictive rules on clothing, art, film, music, gambling, and sexuality. In addition to these cultural elements, Christians enjoy the freedom to worship according to their faith tradition. Many students report favorable memories. Many faculty and staff enjoy their work at their school.

For some offenses students, staff, and faculty can be dismissed. Schools post their behavior codes online or in handbooks and expect students and faculty to comply. If you are not used to the rules, it can be naïve and risky to believe you can make some newly reformed behavioral changes last for several years. If you are used to drinking alcohol or smoking, what are the odds you will abstain for the years you are at the school? Limitations on sexual expression are often clearly stated. Check the prohibitions before you sign up.

Of course, some drink alcohol, use drugs, curse, watch porn, and gamble. But the official environment does not support those acts. There are various negative consequences for those who are caught.

1920s swimwear

3. Academic freedom is very restrictive.

Some would say you do not have academic freedom at a Christian school. If you agree with the doctrine and values of the school and the parent Christian group (e.g., Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal), you will likely find the school to be a good fit. In fact, you may feel quite free compared to how you might feel at a secular school where certain Christian worldviews are debunked or treated with derision.

Although not anything goes at secular schools, the contrast in what you can express at a secular school and a conservative Christian school is noticeable.

In addition to being careful to comply with the school’s theology, students, staff, and faculty must be careful about expressing views contrary to the policies and official positions of the school. Be careful to note the official position of the parent organization e.g., the specific church group linked to the school.

At conservative Christian schools, faculty get in trouble if they seem to openly support same-sex marriage, LGBT rights, evolution, alcohol, marijuana, and exceptions for abortion.

In the USA, you may be reprimanded or harassed for openly supporting Democrats and not supporting Republicans. You will be suspect if you criticize actions of the United States unless you are criticizing actions taken by a member of the Democratic Party. You must support the U.S. military. Pacifists are rare and have been harassed.

But, try being an Evangelical Christian at a major State University and expressing a conservative Christian worldview. Some examples below suggest limitations on free speech at public universities when that speech violates the values and beliefs commonly held at the secular institution.

4. Critical thinking is limited to safe topics.

If any of my colleagues read this, they might object. Christian schools are places where students and their parents can feel safe that they will not be exposed to a non-conservative Christian worldview (at least not as a viable alternative). The Christian school is a place where the teachings of their church will be upheld. A conservative Christian school is no place for liberal Christians, people of other faiths, or no faith at all.

Some Christian school faculty are proud of the critical thinking of their students and believe they teach critical thinking. But my point is, there are certain topics that are not permitted in public discussion. Students who come to the belief that human evolution is true, the universe happened as a result of a “big bang,” or believe any of a number of conservative theological positions or social values are not true need to be quiet in public settings. Because the faculty are not free to openly discuss many controversial views, they cannot help students fully explore thinking that is critical of core beliefs and values.

Here's the risk. Any bright student who learns critical thinking in their discipline might apply the same analyses to the religious or spiritual beliefs and values of their school, denomination, or even Christianity itself. Because they are not free to publicly express their emerging views, those views are not subject to vigorous critique.

5. Heterosexuality without sex is the rule

The official position of conservative Christian groups is that a Christian marriage is between one man and one woman. Conservative Christian schools are places to enjoy nonsexual relationships with the opposite sex.

Premarital sex is forbidden. The plea for explaining what is and is not "sex" often results in funny and graphic descriptions- some examples below.

There is no way same-sex relationships can be endorsed by a Christian college when leaders have publicly expressed their disapproval. Conservative Christian schools can be a challenging environment for sexual minorities. (For example, see Zavadski, 2015).

Some conservative schools have recently become more interested in providing a supportive environment for sexual minorities but that is a long-way from supporting romantic relationships and marriage. Messages can include condemnation of homosexuality (the old term is still in use), testimonies of conversion to heterosexuality, expressions of "love the sinner and hate the sin," and the importance of celibacy.

Of course, students of all sexual orientations attend conservative Christian colleges. Also, students, faculty, and staff have sexual relations outside of marriage. Single women become pregnant. Some must leave the school.

Some students live by the subversive mantra "oral is moral" or the belief that anal sex preserves virginity. When it comes to sex, students draw fine lines between guilty and not guilty. But administrators do not view sex as students do.

6. Women may have a lower status than men.

Evangelical Christians are divided when it comes to legitimate roles for women. Take a look at the administrators and board members- how many are women? Now take a look at the theology or Bible departments--how many faculty are women? Even if a school's theology embraces women as equals, the hiring practices of the school may not support their expressed views.

Of course, at some schools, women may not hold a position of authority over a man. This remains  a current issue (See Moon, 2014).

Other Christian schools are proud of their support of women in leadership (for example, Charisma, 2014).

The bottom line question: Can you support either the official or manifest attitude toward women at the school?

7. Racism is NOT in the distant past.

When I was considering a Christian college, I asked a friend about his recent experience. He told me some funny things he enjoyed doing with friends. We laughed. Then he told me that he was refused service at a local hangout. He is black. It's true, I am old. But take a look at the leadership on your campus. What percentage of board members, administrators, and faculty are ethnic minorities?

One of the subtext issues in the Wheaton College-Hawkins issue was the fact that Hawkins is an African American. News stories commented on the low percentage of African American faculty on the Wheaton campus.

The issue of race or ethnicity is not just an issue at Christian colleges. It is a problem for all humanity around the world. But race and ethnicity get highlighted in the U.S. when discrimination persists in the host culture.

Who should care?

  Students need to be careful to choose wisely because they are often bound to certain conditions for about four years.

  Parents need to be aware because the rules and expectations influence the 24-hour campus environment of their adult children as well as the content of what they will and will not learn.

  Faculty need to be aware of the rules and expectations because it is not always easy to move from one setting to another once a reputation has been established.

  Taxpayers have a stake in religious schools and organizations. The beliefs and values taught at religious schools influence society--especially when graduates become influential leaders. As a society, we support many, if not most, religious colleges and universities. Many students receive federal aid and many are on work-study programs. A tax exempt status obviously reduces revenues to the government. If we were to remove federal funds and tax exemptions, many religious schools would fall on hard times.

Tales of Christian Colleges

Some stories are funny. Others are not.

I was called by an administrator because a student thought I said something critical about President George W. Bush. In a later year, I was given an Obama cap when a student trip visited Kenya. There were no negative consequences but it is a reminder that Christian colleges are Republican strongholds.

As a student, I wrote an essay for a public forum that referred to William James' famous quote about the "bitch goddess success." When I saw the posting, the word "bitch" was removed by the censors.

Friends across the USA have shared their memories...

-Women report having their skirt lengths measured. Apparently the Christian battleground is the knees rather than the ankles of yesteryear or those of other faiths.

-A psychology professor was investigated about his expressed view that there is a biological basis for same-sex attraction.

-A mower complained about the skimpy clothes the female students wore (presumably, he was not cutting a straight path). I never heard a complaint from male students.Nod did I hear complaints about skimpy clothes on male students.

-A Christian college professor apologized to a Rabbi for the questions his students asked about her salvation. She responded that she is used to Christian students trying to convert her.

-An art professor complained that his students were deprived because he was not allowed to use nude models in art class. Conservative Christian colleges still vary on nudity in art issues.

-A woman complained about an empty bottle of alcohol used in a school play.

- A male Christian college professor angrily complained about the low cut tops on female students--apparently interfering with eye-contact during lectures.

- A Human Sexuality professor was not permitted to use textbooks that contained drawings of nude persons.

- A school's swimming pool was reportedly buried underground to avoid dealing with issues of mixed bathing.

-A woman opposed to gambling shut down a raffle fund raiser at her college. Rumors abound of students bragging that they lived off their winnings at casinos.

- Challenges about evolution are very common. I have known several professors who do not disclose their views to avoid dealing with angry students and their parents-- not to mention the administrators.

-A group of young graduates from a conservative Christian school, which teaches abstinence celebrated the event at a local bar and several came out as gay.

Old stories reflect changes in Christian campus cultures influenced by the changes in western host cultures. Past limitations are scarce if nonexistent such as limits on men's beards and hair length. Restrictions used to be in place for piercings and tattoos. Dancing is more common-- at least for cheerleaders and in theatrical plays. Midwestern Christians forbade mixed swimming. Curfews vary as do regulations on dating practices but most are more liberal than was true decades ago. But compared to the general culture, conservative Christian schools conserve values and traditions from the past.

And from the press...

> Bryan College takes a stand on creation.
> ORU professor appeared on Dr. Phil and lost his job.
> UNC professor’s Christian views cause trouble
> The God issue at Wheaton and professor Hawkins
> Professor Shea at Boston College
> CCCU member schools and Same-sex marriage policy
> Christian Bethel College professor resigns over creationism
> Nazarene University tenured professor gone
> Moody Bible Institute and the ban on alcohol and tobacco
> Indiana Wesleyan – heat over abortion views
> Azusa Pacific, Fuller, and the case of Ryan Bell
> Professor at Bucks County Community College mentions God- the letter online

Note: I use the word "school" or "college" to refer to institutions of Higher Education. Many of the comments also apply to the Christian cultures in conservative organizations.

Respectful comments are welcome.

My commercial for relevant books

A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures at Pickwick

at Amazon

Christian Morality