Campus News

Where does Bethel stand on evolution?

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imagesCA72U2J6Bethel College president Dr. Gregg Chenoweth is working with Missionary Church pastors and Bethel College faculty members to examine the issue of evolution and how it might be represented in classroom lecture and research settings. “Our goal is not to create controversy,” said Chenoweth. “The goal is to have Christian maturity.” Chenoweth said the Board will meet Jan. 15-16, 2015 and will spend approximately two hours discussing the issue at that time. He expects that Bethel will reach a resolution of some kind at some point during the 2015 calendar year. “I can assure you that, with me at the front of the line, and lots of other people, this is not an exercise in liberalism where we are thoughtlessly going to dispose of this issue and just make people get over it,” said Chenoweth. “Not at all. This is very important. It’s sensitive, and it’s something that’s best done guided by the Holy Spirit and community, not by some guy in an office or a cubicle who drafts some position statement and says, ‘Let’s just do this.’ This is something we’re doing together.” Chenoweth said this process of discussion officially began in the fall of 2012, long before his tenure at Bethel began, but that the discussion has been ongoing since Bethel opened its doors in 1947. “I think it would help if we had an institutional position statement,” said Chenoweth. “That position statement might be about our educational responsibilities and not choosing one of the many positions that people hold, but at least, in doing that, it would still affirm certain things that we’re committed to and certain things that aren’t an issue to us. There might be some bright lines to define there. I think three really important words are: what do we investigate, what do we teach and what do we advocate? Because all three are going on at the same time.” Chenoweth said that, in December of 2012, a group of faculty members met to discuss the issue and whether Bethel as an institution should perhaps develop a more defined position on the issue. At that time, according to Chenoweth, the issue was established as significant. Chenoweth was chosen in March of 2013 to succeed Dr. Steve Cramer as the president of Bethel College, and a temporary gap in activity on the issue occurred due to the transition of leadership. In December of 2013, the issue was brought to Chenoweth’s attention. “I had been here (about) five months and learned that this is an issue of interest for our constituents,” said Chenoweth, noting that constituents include faculty members, the Board of Trustees, Missionary Church pastors, pastors outside the Missionary Church, donors and community members. The 2014 calendar year has seen meetings with faculty members, administration and Missionary Church pastors on the issue. Earlier in the 2014-15 school year, Bethel hosted 60 Missionary Church pastors for a district meeting. At that time, Chenoweth said he raised several topics, including the topic of evolution, for input. “The spirit of that was to say… we value our relationship with the Missionary Church denomination,” said Chenoweth. “It was a way to say, ‘We invite you in. We’re taking initiative. We want to hear from you. What do you think about this?’” A follow-up group of about 12-15 Missionary Church pastors was formed and conversations continued. “It’s a rampway, should we need a position statement,” said Chenoweth. “Officially, we haven’t decided if we need one. But I would imagine, among the options we have of things to do, actions to take, that is certainly a viable one, but it hasn’t been decided. So we’ve mostly just been listening.” In a couple of weeks, six Trustees who serve as clergy members will come to Bethel for a meeting on the subject of evolution in preparation for the full board meeting, which will occur Jan. 15-16. “It’s one of those topics that’s technical, both scientifically and theologically,” said Chenoweth. “There are denominations and colleges that have really done this process wrong, and it’s blown up in their face.” Chenoweth referenced Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. Bryan College faced a similar situation and adopted a position statement requiring faculty members to hold to a young-earth, literal six-day view of creation. The statement created much outcry from Bryan College students and alumni. “It is a sensitive issue, and it’s something that we really want to get right,” said Chenoweth. Chenoweth said that people are watching to see how Bethel handles the issue, on many different levels. “If there is a position statement, what would it say?” Chenoweth posed the question. “What would it obligate people to? How would it affect students’ education? How would it affect faculty contracts? And how would we evaluate all of this? So, it’s a sensitive topic.” Chenoweth said the pastors he has talked with about the issue hold a variety of opinions but are all “committed to a high view of Scripture” and “would view researching these things and talking about them as a function of discipleship.” Faculty members have been instrumental in this process of discussion, serving as specialists, including geneticists, philosophers and theologians. “They have been advisors to the process, as specialists,” said Chenoweth. “They know things some other people don’t know.” Chenoweth emphasized the need to create a sense of security for faculty members involved, explaining that he did not want to put individuals in a position where they felt they were expected to choose between their job and their personal convictions on the matter. Throughout the process, faculty members have functioned as representatives, conducting research projects on the issue, talking with their colleagues and reporting on the general sentiment of other faculty members. They also edit documents containing information about what the current conversation is on the issue. “Things have not been privatized,” said Chenoweth. “We circulate things, talk about things.” Chenoweth emphasized that the conversation on the issue is based on the premise of reconciling scientific findings with Scripture and faith. “A person couldn’t be hired here or stay here if they didn’t commit that God created,” said Chenoweth. “We’re talking about how He created, so there’s no room here for atheistic evolution. No room for that. So, we’re talking about committed Christians, who believe in the authority of Scripture, who are reconciling that with theories and findings, and science and theology.” Chenoweth emphasized that Bethel is purposely not moving too quickly on the issue, in an effort to reach the most effective solution possible. “This is important,” he said. “We want to support biblical authority. We want to be responsive to convictions of the scientific community… so there’s a lot of elements to all this.”
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