Known as Shorter College for must of its life, the school was a stalwart Baptist institution and an integral part of cultural and community life in Rome. Alas, hardline fundamentalists controlling the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) found the liberal arts school to be too liberal. In a carbon-copy repetition of the Southern Baptist Convention‘s earlier transformation of its six seminaries, the GBC replaced Shorter’s trustees with agenda-driven persons whose assignment was to remake the school in the fundamentalist image.
There were ups and downs in the early 2000s, including an attempt to create an independent board before the GBC could take over the school, and lawsuits here and there, but the ultra-conservatives who ran the convention eventually gained control of the school and began to implement restrictive policies designed to weed out nonconformists.
Last October, faculty and other employees were instructed to sign a “Personal Lifestyle Statement” in order to remain employed. The statement demands that employees agree to a variety of “principles of conduct,” including that they be active members of a local church, never drink alcohol in a place where students might see them, and that they openly reject (by signing the statement) any sexual activity “not in agreement with the Bible” (with premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality being spelled out).
Those things grab the headlines, but the most significant, I think, comes in the first paragraph, which requires faculty and staff to be “committed Bible believing Christians, who are dedicated to integrating biblical faith in their classes and who are in agreement with the University Statement of Faith.”
It is telling that “Bible believing” comes before “Christian,” as in the school’s Statement of Faith itself, where the first article is not about one’s belief in God or faith in Christ, but about one’s view of scripture: “We believe the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. It was given by inspiration of God and is the only certain and authoritative rule of every aspect of the Christian life.”
Thus, one must affirm a belief that the Bible is “inerrant and infallible” — the rootstock of Christian fundamentalism — in order to be employed at Shorter. Professors who are supposed to help students develop critical thinking skills are not allowed to think for themselves, but required to adopt a very narrow view of scripture that allows precious little room for any interpretation beyond the pick-and-choose literalism common to fundamentalism.
Not surprisingly, at least 60 professors and other staff members have chosen to resign rather than surrender control of their conscience to the school’s trustees, even though they may not have another job to go to. One of the most recent was a librarian who had worked faithfully for 14 years, but happens to be gay. Others have refused to sign on principle: they recognize that professors cannot teach when their brains are in chains and academic freedom no longer exists.
The end result is that the school’s mission has morphed from education to indoctrination, and something very important has been lost. Repercussions from the shift at Shorter could be longer than we know.