Bryan College, a Christian College in Dayton Tennessee, is embroiled in controversy after its Board of Trustees and President revised the school’s statement of faith to affirm the Biblical account of creation. The move, which resulted in a vote of No Confidence from the faculty and some professors to quit their jobs in protest, shows how far the church is falling into the apostasy – the prophesied falling away in the church from sound, Biblical doctrine in favor of worldly and New Age heresy. Many Christian colleges have voiced they’re support for belief in Biblical creation in their own institutions instead of updating to secular beliefs. By maintaining support for Biblical teachings, Christian educational institutions can help keep schools such as Ellenbrook Christian College as a safe haven for those who want to give their children a full Christian education. Since for some families, it is reassuring that their children receive an excellent Christian education from an institution (similar to tca-pa.org) that will allow them to practice their faith in safety. It can be said for schools all over the world who have wished to teach biblical teachings for example somewhere like PVCC who are in Australia.
The College’s Board of Trustees made the Decision to update its Statement of Faith, a declaration of the school’s Christian doctrine which all faculty and some student leaders are required to sign. The revision was done in order to be more specific with its belief on the origin of humanity and demonstrate that the college was not endorsing unbiblical positions such as theistic evolution. The long-standing statement on creation stated:
that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death; (source).
In a message to all students and faculty, the college stated the following update:
Because of questions arising about Bryan College’s position on origins (Statement of Belief #4), “that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God…,” the Board of Trustees provides this clarification of the College’s origins position:
“We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.”
This interpretation of Bryan’s position is in no way a change to the Statement of Belief. It is the current and historical position of Bryan, an institution founded and existing on a strong Creationist position.
“Our goal,” stated Board Chairman Col John Haynes, “is to ensure that the College stays true to its purpose and on course with the Statement of Belief that is the basis of and directs all of us who are charged with fulfilling Bryan’s mission of educating students to become servants of Christ to make a difference in today’s world.”
President Stephen Livesay added that, “This clarification will not hinder the rigorous teaching and discussions that are and will continue to be a hallmark of a Bryan education. We want current and future generations of Bryan students and faculty to experience a robust learning environment enjoyed by the generations before them.” (source).
The move sparked outrage among the Bryan college faculty who responded to the revision by issuing a 30-2 vote of No Confidence in college President Stephen Livesay, effectively calling for his termination.
“There is a disconnect [between the administration and faculty]: it does not consult faculty when it makes crucial decisions. It has no obligation to do so, but effective leadership should seek wisdom where it may be found and involve stakeholders in decisions that affect them. I believe a vote of no confidence indicates that we don’t think he is the man to lead the college,” Dr. Stephen Barnett, Associate Professor of Natural Sciences, said. (source).
Christian Students Protest The Biblical Account
The Bryan College Student Government Association also took issue with the Board of Trustees’ affirmation of the Genesis account. Shortly after the announcement, the Student Government organized a petition expressing its dismay with the school’s stated belief in the Biblical account of creation:
On behalf of the student body, Bryan College Student Government Association would like to express its strong opposition to the measure to clarify Bryan College’s statement of faith.
We believe that the current motion will alienate faculty, our brothers and sisters in Christ, by requiring them to affirm a negative on an ancillary matter of faith.
We believe that the expertise and opinions of faculty have been largely if not entirely disregarded in the making of this decision. We believe that there has not been sufficient counsel sought, as per Proverbs 15:22, of those the college has hired specifically for their breadth of wisdom.
We believe that the manner in which this motion has been carried out threatens the atmosphere of academic freedom at Bryan College. We believe that the clarification promotes factionalism at the cost of honest debate and discussion.
We believe that the actions that the Board of Trustees and administration have taken are contrary to the Bryan College Board Policy Manual, §1.4.1 which states “The college community continues to represent a wide spectrum of religious denominations and the normal divergence that is characteristic of the larger American evangelical community” and §1.4.2, which states “[Bryan] does not seek to wield ecclesiastical power and influence, nor does it set itself up as a judge on such matters [. . .]. The Trustees do not legislate ‘stands’ for faculty or students.”
We believe that the Board and the administration is legislating an undue stand at the cost of the spiritual unity of Bryan College.
We believe that though the change has been largely billed as a clarification, professors who came in under the old statement of faith—having made no secret of their theological distinctives—will lose their jobs. We believe that it is unjust that professors who gained tenure, published research, and served faithfully under this old statement of faith will be either fired or be forced to choose between violating their consciences or providing for their families. (source).
It should noted that the university has not threatened the jobs of any of its faculty over this change to the Statement of Belief. Similarly, science teachers have full latitutde to teach evolutionary theory. The sheer audacity of the students’ position (half of the student body signed the petition) shows the lack of concern for Biblical Christianity. The petition drafted by Student Government President Joseph Murphy and Vice President Allison Baker cites Proverbs 15:22 to criticize the college’s Board for not seeking “sufficient counsel” before daring to state that all people descended from Adam and Eve. Here is that verse in context:
Folly is joy to him that is destitute of wisdom: but a man of understanding walketh uprightly. Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established. – Proverbs 15:21-22.
The petition asserts that the Board of Trustees erred by not consulting with faculty members before stating their position on Creation and thus did not seek a “multitude of counsellors.” However what the petition misses is that the Board consulted with the greatest counselor of all: God. The Book of Proverbs states: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7).
The Board demonstrated fear of The Lord by going to the Bible to make sure their position on creation was clear. They were willing to take God’s Word on the origin of humanity over Professors who are atheists, believe in theistic evolution or any other positions that contradict the clear teaching of Scripture. Rather than fearing God, the students are more concerned with their professor’s doctrine and ensuring that non-Biblical views on creation are given the same platform and recognition as God’s Word.
A School Founded On Biblical Creation
William Jennings Bryan, for whom Bryan college was named, was an early 20th century politician and outspoken Bible-believing Christian. He served in the House of Representatives, was a Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson and was a three time nominee for President. His “Cross of Gold” speech, in which he argued against big banks and the gold standard, is considered one of the greatest political speeches of all time. Bryan was also an outspoken opponent of Darwinian evolution.
In his speech entitled ‘The Prince of Peace’ Bryan said:
“The Darwinian theory represents man as reaching his present perfection by the operation of the law of hate—the merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak. If this is the law of our development then, if there is any logic that can bind the human mind, we shall turn backward toward the beast in proportion as we substitute the law of love.” (source).
He very accurately predicted that Darwinian evolution and the theories of evolutionist Friedrich Nietzsche were the foundation that led to World War I and eventually led to the rise of the racist, genocidal Nazi doctrines of World War II (which took place two decades after Bryan’s death).
Bryan devoted himself to banning the teaching of evolution in schools as he feared that American society would become corrupted by its philosophy of “survival of the fittest” and its abject rejection of God and the Bible. He ultimately became most known for the Scopes Trial also known as “The Scopes Monkey Trial” – a staged political trial, that pitted Bryan on the stand as a witness against legendary attorney Clarence Darrow, who despised Christianity. At issue was a Tennessee statute called “The Butler Law” which banned the teaching of evolution from certain texts. While certain aspects of evolution could be taught, the popular textbook at that time cited the “human ancestor” Piltdown man as “proof of evolution” (Piltdown man was later exposed as a hoax). The book also openly advocated eugenics – the belief that certain races were more advanced than other (in this instance the text taught that Caucasians were superior to all others) (source).
John Scopes, a public school teacher purposely taught from the book under direction from the ACLU in order to intentionally get arrested and bring forth the trial. But soon the local leaders turned the matter into a media spectacle. The invitation of Bryan, a famous orator and politician at that time, to serve as counsel for the prosecution turned the tiny town’s legal proceeding into an event. Once Darrow agreed to take on the defense, it turned into a celebrity battle of doctrine pitting the Bible against evolution and Fundamental Bible believers against the rising tide of “intellectual atheists”, agnostics and those who oppose Christianity. The magnitude of this case cannot be overstated as this was the first public debate between the Bible and evolution. Over 200 newspapers attended the trial. International journalists attended. More words were sent via telegraph to British news outlets than any other story in American history up to that point.
Rather than take on the ACLU’s argument that the Butler Law was unconstitutional, Darrow instead used the trial to attack Biblical Christianity. On day seven of trial, Darrow requested that Bryan be a witness on the stand as an expert on the Bible, an unusual move which Bryan agreed to on the condition that he be allowed to cross-examine Darrow in return (to which Darrow agreed).
Despite intense summer hear in the courtroom and excess fatigue from diabetes, Bryan withstood a barrage of questions from American’s most famous criminal attorney. Darrow’s sole purpose was to try and debunk the Bible and he asked questions regarding the specific year of the flood, if Jonah was truly swallowed in a whale and other miracles of Scripture. His goal (as if often the goal of Bible skeptics today) was to show that if he could get Bryan to trip on one answer, then he would have exposed and “debunked” the entire Christian faith. And the world watched the showdown with baited breath.
Here are some samples of the back and forth between Bryan and Darrow. (The entire transcript can be found here):
DARROW: Do you believe Joshua made the sun stand still?
BRYAN: I believe what the Bible says. I suppose you mean that the earth stood still?
DARROW: I don’t know. I’m talking about the Bible now.
BRYAN: I accept the Bible absolutely.
DARROW: The Bible says Joshua commanded the sun to stand still for the purpose of lengthening the day, doesn’t it, and you believe it?
BRYAN: I do.
DARROW: Do you believe at that time the entire sun went around the earth?
BRYAN: No, I believe that the earth goes around the sun.
DARROW: Do you believe that the men who wrote it thought that the day could be lengthened or that the sun could be stopped?
BRYAN: I don’t know what they thought.
DARROW: You don’t know?
BRYAN: I think they wrote the fact without expressing their own thoughts.
DARROW: Have you an opinion as to whether or not the men who wrote that thought . . .
STEWART [Stewart served as Bryan’s co-counsel]: I want to object, Your Honor. It has gone beyond the pale of any issue that could possibly be injected into this lawsuit, except by imagination. I do not think the defendant has a right to conduct the examination any further, and I ask Your Honor to exclude it.
JUDGE RAULSTON: I will hear Mr. Bryan.
BRYAN: It seems to me it would be too exacting to confine the defense to the facts. If they are not allowed to get away from the facts, what have they to deal with?
JUDGE RAULSTON: Mr. Bryan is willing to be examined. Go ahead.
DARROW: Have you an opinion as to whether whoever wrote the book, I believe it was Joshua — the Book of Joshua — thought the sun went around the earth or not?
BRYAN: I believe that he was inspired.
DARROW: Can you answer my question?
BRYAN: When you let me finish the statement.
DARROW: It is a simple question, but finish it.
BRYAN: You cannot measure the length of my answer by the length of your question. [Laughter.]
DARROW: No, except that the answer will be longer. [Laughter.]
BRYAN: I believe that the Bible is inspired, and an inspired author, whether one who wrote as he was directed to write, understood the things he was writing about, I don’t know.
DARROW: Whoever inspired it, do you think whoever inspired it believed that the sun went around the earth?
BRYAN: I believe it was inspired by the Almighty, and he may have used language that could be understood at that time, instead of using language that could not be understood until Darrow was born. [Laughter and applause.]
DARROW: Don’t you believe that in order to lengthen the day, it would have been construed that the earth stood still?
BRYAN: I would not attempt to say what would have been necessary, but I know this: that I can take a glass of water that would fall to the ground without the strength of my hand, and to the extent of the glass of water I can overcome the law of gravitation and lift it up, whereas without my hand, it would fall to the ground. If my puny hand can overcome the law of gravitation, the most universally understood, to that extent, I would not set a limit to the power of the hand of the Almighty God, that made the universe.
DARROW: I read that years ago, in your “Prince of Peace.” Can you answer my question directly? If the day was lengthened by stopping either the earth or the sun, it must have been the earth?
BRYAN: Well, I should say so. Yes, but it was language that was understood at that time, and we now know that the sun stood still, as it was, with the earth. [B&E: Not only is Bryan correct about language – it still holds true today. Our modern language is geocentric with respect to the sun as we use terms like “sunrise”, “sunset” or “the sun will come out” on a daily basis. All this despite the fact that the Earth revolves around the immobile sun].
- On the issue of other ancient religions:
DARROW: What about the religion of Confucius or Buddha?
BRYAN: Well, I can tell you something about them, if you would like to know.
DARROW: Did you ever investigate them?
DARROW: Do you regard them as competitive?
BRYAN: No, I think they are very inferior. Would you like for me to tell you what I know about it?
BRYAN: Is there any way by which a witness can make an affidavit that the attorney also is hostile?
DARROW: I am not hostile to you. I am hostile to your views, and I suppose that runs with me, too.
BRYAN: But I think when the gentleman asked me about Confucius I ought to be allowed to answer his question.
DARROW: Oh, tell it, Mr. Bryan, I won’t object to it.
BRYAN: I had occasion to study Confucianism when I went to China. I got all I could find about what Confucius said, and I found that there were several direct and strong contrasts between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Confucius. In the first place, one of his followers asked if there was any word that would express all that was necessary to know in the relations of life, and he said, “Isn’t reciprocity such a word?”
I know of no better illustration of the difference between Christianity and Confucianism than the contrast that is brought out there. Reciprocity is a calculating selfishness. If a person does something for you, you do something for him and keep it even. That is the basis for the philosophy of Confucius. Christ’s doctrine was not of reciprocity. We were told to help people not in proportion as they had helped us — not in proportion as they might have helped us, but in proportion to their needs, and there is all the difference in the world between a religion that teaches you just to keep even with other people and the religion that teaches you to spend yourself for other people and to help them as they need help.
- And near the close of their confrontation Bryan was able to get Darrow to reveal his true intention:
STEWART: I want to interpose another objection. What is the purpose of this examination?
BRYAN: The purpose is to cast ridicule on everybody who believes in the Bible, and I am perfectly willing that the world shall know that these gentlemen have no other purpose than ridiculing every Christian who believes in the Bible.
DARROW: We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States, and you know it, and that is all.
BRYAN: I am glad to bring out that statement. I want the world to know that this evidence is not just for the view. Mr. Darrow and his associates have filed affidavits here stating, the purpose of which, as I understand it, is to show that the Bible story is not true.
MALONE: Mr. Bryan seems anxious to get some evidence into the record that would tend to show that those affidavits are not true.
BRYAN: I am not trying to get anything into the record. I am simply trying to protect the Word of God against the greatest atheist or agnostic in the United States. [Prolonged applause.] I want the papers to know I am not afraid to get on the stand in front of him and let him do his worst. I want the world to know that agnosticism is trying to force agnosticism on our colleges and on our schools, and the people of Tennessee will not permit that to be done. [Prolonged applause.] (source).
Bryan stood up to Darrow so strongly that Darrow capitulated and backed out of his promise to allow Bryan to cross-examine him afterwards. After responding to several questions from Bryan, Darrow requested a guilty verdict be entered, effectively surrendering. Despite Bryan’s very competent answers and ability to match wits with Darrow, the media portrayed the Christian former Secretary of State as the clear loser of the first battle of evolution and Christianity. The New York Times called Bryan’s testimony an “absurdly pathetic performance”. Life Magazine said Bryan should have been awarded: “the Brass Medal of the Fourth Class,” for having “successfully demonstrated by the alchemy of ignorance hot air may be transmuted into gold, and that the Bible is infallibly inspired except where it differs with him on the question of wine, women, and wealth.” (source).
Legendary journalist H.L. Menken, wrote numerous articles on the trial for the Baltimore Sun. Attending the trial with the specific intention to “get Bryan” Menken’s scathing portrayals of Bryan and the people of Tennessee reflected his deep-seeded hated for southern Christian culture. It was Menken who coined the term “Bible belt” as an insult to the South. He wrote of Bryan’s testimony: “It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon.” He said of Dayton Tennessee, “I expected to find a squalid Southern village, with darkies snoozing on the horse blocks, pigs rooting under the houses and the inhabitants full of hookworm and malaria. What I found was a country town of charm and even beauty.”
Historian Paul Boyer wrote: “Beneath Mencken’s ridicule of the ignorant hayseeds of America was a very profound suspicion of Democracy itself. Mencken really believed that there was a small elite of educated and cultivated and intelligent human beings, and then there were the masses who were really ignorant and capable of nothing but being led and bamboozled.”
Even the Hollywood version of the trial, a film called “Inherit The Wind” portrayed Bryan’s character as an ignorant, bungler who cannot answer Darrow’s questions and finally surrenders sadly on the stand (the movie was so inaccurate the producers could not use real names to avoid defamation lawsuits). Yet despite the media’s falsehoods the record is clear: Bryan was a champion for the faith who in his last days proclaimed to the world that the Bible is the Word of God and its literal interpretation is true. Bryan died five days after the trial.
The College In His Honor – Dishonoring a Christian Legacy
One of Bryan’s final wishes was that a school would one day teach from a Biblical perspective right in the beautiful hills of Dayton, Tennessee. Following his death a memorial association was established to fund the school and in 1930 William Jennings Bryan University was founded. Given the history and legacy of this small Christian college, imagine how Bryan would feel to know that a mere statement of belief in the Genesis account of creation has caused such an uproar? Could Jennings had imagined that a school President would be given a vote of no confidence for putting his own confidence and trust in the Word of God? The book of Hosea gives The Lord’s thoughts on the issue as it says: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”
The irony in all of this is that the college has one of the best biology programs in the nation. On the ETS biology exam, a national standardized test for college students, Bryan’s seniors scored in the 95th percentile and finished in the 99th percentile in both the ecology and population genetics and evolution categories. So the school teaches evolutionary theory even though it does not hold it. One fourth of the professors at Bryan College are threatening to leave after the school years ends (another has already retired in protest). Many state that it is the way the clarification of the Statement of faith was handed down to them, rather than the statement itself. Despite all of the controversy, college President Stephen Livesay has remained resolute in the Board’s proclamation of faith:
“For believers to end the discussion as open ended, however, undermines the authority of Scripture,” he said. “The merits of any theory must be judged by a literal interpretation of creation as recorded in Genesis.”
Pray for the President and Board of Trustees of Bryan College to continue to stand for the faith and belief in the inerrant Word of God in the face of this controversy. Not because William Jennings Bryan certainly would have, but because the Bible commands true Christians to do so. As academia becomes increasingly hostile to Biblical Christianity pray for those few, bold believers who are still willing to contend for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” – Jesus Christ praying to God The Father, John 17:17.