Let the Huntington Healing Begin...The John Sanders saga continues at Huntington. Because of my distance from campus, the actual things happening on campus come to me through reports from people closer to the situation. There has been some open dialogue, with a forum on academic freedom and meetings between administration and student groups. What lies ahead on the horizon, however, appears to depend heavily on one's personal point of view and position in the situation.
President Dowden sent out an e-mail to students that is consistent to the statements coming from the administration throughout. It includes a brief overview of what has gone on, a statement of appreciation for Sanders, defense of the board's history, a warning against making Academic Freedom an idol, and finally calling everyone to a state of submission to the authority of the board and taking the Christian road of healing and reconciliation. To quote, briefly:
"Many believe that Open Theism represents a significant challenge to traditional theological understandings. It is an idea that has, sadly, generated much controversy and division among evangelicals generally, within scholarly societies, in the United Brethren Church (our sponsoring denomination), and here on our own campus. The question now before us is: What next? Should there be further division? Or should the healing begin?
Over the next weeks and months, I will engage with students, faculty, trustees, alumni, and other constituents to try to promote mutual understanding and healing. I would appreciate your continued prayers and thoughts as together we work to represent the Body of Christ at Huntington College."
I have written a letter to President Dowden in response. I will post here, for the sake of open conversation, part of that letter.
In regards to your call for healing as opposed to further division, you must understand why many would find this a difficult pill to swallow. In brief, you applauded the way the conversation has gone on, with the scriptural principles of "love, unity, compassion, patience, deference to fellow believers, and forbearance" as part of the process.
It is difficult to see how unity can be called forth in a community where division has been taken as an acceptable step in the process. To remove Dr. Sanders from his position is an act of disunity and appears to have been done with a lack of patience. Because a member of the community has been cut off, the body suffers, and 'unity' in light of this takes on a different meaning. It is difficult for those who have been wronged or believe they have been wronged to allow those who they believe to have done the misdeed to set the time table and agenda for healing and reconciliation. I am hopefully, however, that the leadership of Huntington College can lead toward this healing. To this end, I have a few suggestions that I believe characterize the Christian principles laid out in your letter and would lead to a renewed trust at Huntington.
1. Send Dr. Sanders out in a loving departure. While the two years salary is a step in this direction, love in the body of Christ always goes beyond what is necessary. As such, Huntington should give Dr. Sanders insurance coverage during this time of transition as well or give him more money to cover these expenses. In addition, a convocation service of prayer and celebration of Dr. Sanders' time at Huntington would be helpful. Show Dr. Sanders the love of Christ by celebrating him and giving him more money.
2. Institute an open door policy. I suggest that all future board meetings be held in an open forum, allowing any interested parties to observe the processes and interact with the board. The meetings could still progress as normal with a limited time for public response, but if the board is operating on the behalf of the campus community, that community must be invited into the process. For too long the board has been a remote institution distant from the students and faculty of Huntington.
3. Provide equal voice to faculty and students on the board. While some representation has been present historically, I recommend appointing students and faculty to the board itself, allowing them to be represented as an equal voice at the table instead of a minor presence. Again, the board is the vision setters and decision makers for Huntington; they must be an accurate representation of Huntington.
4. Clarify the vision and future of Huntington. It is important that the people of Huntington understand where the institution is going. A service of covenant and articulation between the administration, board, students, and faculty is a necessity. Making promises in public to uphold the trust of the community could go a long way to keeping this in mind. At that point the community can hold each other accountable for the actions taken. It seems abundantly clear that presently Huntington is a divided community. Those who have written and accepted the philosophy of education have a very different understanding of where things are going than does the Board. This situation will only be resolved through public confession, conversation, and covenant making.
I understand that several, if not all, of these suggestions could be categorized as 'idealistic' or 'unrealistic'. If this were an institution grounded on the pursuit of the secular aims of financial capital and individual exaltation then that would be the case, but since Huntington is founded ultimately on the truth of Jesus Christ and the abundant love of God, action as suggested here is not only possible but may be necessary.