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Philosophy professor resigns after Bethel releases new position statement

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Stump-head-croppedOne of Bethel's longtime faculty members resigned this summer after the school released a new position statement on the origins of man. Dr. James Stump, who had served more than 16 years as a Bethel College faculty member and administrator, resigned of his own volition. The new position statement states that the first man, Adam, was created by an immediate act of God and not by a process of evolution. It also states that faculty members cannot hold leadership positions with organizations that have different points of view. That section of the statement is written this way: "This Statement does not intend to suppress faculty opinions about Origins, but prevent public contradiction or disparagement of this corporate commitment. This permits faculty to participate in academic communities which might be at variance with the Position Statement in order to learn from that community, but faculty are not to advocate for, nor hold leadership positions for, nor sustain a contractual relationship with an academic community which may be at variance with the Statement." Stump has served as Content Manager for BioLogos since 2013. BioLogos is an institution that, according to its website, "invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation." BioLogos affirms the evolutionary creationist theory, which states that God is the Originator of life, but over millions of years through the process of evolution. On June 26 of this year, Stump and Bethel College president Dr. Gregg Chenoweth sent out a joint open letter regarding Stump's resignation. In the letter, Stump wrote: "I fully respect the right of the Bethel Board of Trustees to determine policies for the College. The recent 'Educational Philosophy Statement on Origins,' adopted by the Board in June 2015, reflects the will of the broader community of which Bethel is a part. In considering this corporate commitment, I decided to resign from my position at Bethel in order to pursue alternate work, rather than remain under the new Statement and bring tension to the Bethel community." In addition to his teaching role, Stump previously oversaw the Bethel Undergraduate Intellectual Leadership Development (B.U.I.L.D.) program, which consisted of 37 students last year. Stump founded the group in 2011 to challenge "spiritually motivated and intellectually ambitious students" to "increase (their) leadership capacity by enriching (their) academic experience, serving the campus and community, and encouraging the integration of the love of learning and love of Christ." Since Stump's resignation, leadership of the program has passed to Dr. Cristian Mihut, associate professor of philosophy. Many faculty members regret Stump's resignation, but respect his decision. "I think what we have here is a sharp disagreement within the college regarding some of the teaching regarding origins, and, at least in the part of (Dr.) Stump, there's been a decision to part company," said Dr. Dennis Engbrecht, professor of history. Engbrecht related the resignation of Stump to the "sharp contention" between the Apostles Paul and Barnabas related in Acts 15. Some faculty members, including Dr. David Schmidt, associate professor of history, and Dr. Janna McLean, dean of arts and sciences, hope that this new statement will remind and refocus Bethel to its roots in the Missionary Church. "One of the changes I've seen which I appreciate is a better understanding of our relationship with the Missionary Church," said Schmidt, "Strengthening those ties, I think renewing those ties (is) a good thing, and (it) sometimes takes a difficult moment in our life together to sometimes recognize how important some things are." McLean said that she feels that the statement is a clarification. "I think it clarifies things, and I think that's not a bad thing," she said, "I think it's good that we have clarified what's going to happen, how we're going to respond." McLean went on to say that she feels that man's origins is a topic that needs to be discussed among faculty, and the statement has made discussion easier among faculty members. The new position statement is the end result of a 2 1/2 year process of discussion and meetings to determine where Bethel stands on the subject of man's origins. "We've had a very clear overarching statement that said everyone we hire, all faculty, must believe God is Creator, God is Sustainer of Life," said Dr. Barbara Bellefeuille, vice president of academic services, "But, you know, you can tease that a lot of different ways." Bellefeuille stated that the discussions began with former Bethel president Dr. Steven Cramer. The administration had been approached multiple times by constituents outside of Bethel asking what Bethel believed about origins. "It began to escalate, the amount of times (Dr. Cramer) was approached about that," said Bellefeuille. "And he said, what's happening is (people) will go to this person and get this answer, (and) they'll go to this person and get another answer." All the answers boiled down to having the same basic principle at their core: God is Creator. But outside of that, the answer varied. Cramer thought it was important to have an institutional position, since the issue had grown so prominent in recent years. Now, after 2 1/2 years of discussion, the statement has officially been released. The statement addresses the issue of human origins by stating: The Article of Faith on Creation states: "We believe that the first man, Adam, was created by an immediate act of God and not by a process of evolution.' While faculty aresupported to investigate and teach all viewpoints on Origins, this doctrine is a corporate commitment on Adam and all humanity." A few faculty members, including Dr. Robby Prenkert, declined to be interviewed on the topic. Dr. Prenkert specifically said, via email, that he has "no comment" regarding Bethel's position on human origins. And that mood might be shared by more faculty than you might think. "The two things that we get caught up in the church regarding is how we got here and how we're leaving," said Engbrecht, "And I'm thinking, God put us here, God's taking us from here. I mean, isn't that the basic issue? Now, you can have all kinds of fun figuring out when He's going to take us and all that. I'm not going to waste a lot of time on it."
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