The Moody Bible Institute made national news last week when it dropped the ban on drinking of wine on the part of faculty members and staff.
Born on Dwight L. Moody’s birthday, able to keep an eye on the Moody Bible Institute from my apartment’s west window, friend through the years of some faculty and students, and remembering that the Institute has shown hospitality to some of my researching former graduate students, I am always interested in seeing how it negotiates its way in American culture.
The internet brought forth many "comments" to the Institute’s change, and we outsiders try to find the meanings in a move which would have been unthinkable a generation or two ago, but now elicits responses which we must call wide-ranging, but hardly ever wild.
As a long-time visitor to and guest speaker at many conservative evangelical colleges, I can sympathize with the tension that many aspects of our culture create for their leadership. Allowing moderate, off-campus drinking of wine is not, by itself, all that significant.
Some Evangelicals celebrate the move, even as they persist in calling for temperance. Swedes among them tell of an aged and pious church member, a constant Jesus-quoter and critic of all wine-drinking on the part of her fellow church members, who said that if her church started serving wine instead of grape juice at communion, she would have to leave it. “Why?” she was asked. After all, Jesus drank wine. She, undaunted: “You know, that’s the one thing about Jesus that I never liked.”
A couple of cynical commentators maintain that schools like the Institute have to adapt to today’s culture “because otherwise they cannot recruit enough top-notch staff.” Non-cynically, one can relate this and other change to fresh Biblical scholarship, studies of evangelical hermeneutics, recognition of internal diversity among conservative evangelicals, and awareness that strictures like the old ban often caused embarrassment to many of the most conscientious and able employees, including faculty. It might be most useful to try to assess where compromises like the Institute’s register among adjustments to contemporary culture(s) in general.
Whoever is of temperate disposition and conscientious commitment and has weathered weekend-night drinking-orgies on many kinds of campuses might look with envy for the peace and quiet—not always dullness—in colleges where self-restraint has endured. Still, many who have nothing against, or who favor, the relaxation of rules like the wine-ban can sympathize with leadership caught in the conflict between old restrictions and new experiments with freedom.
As with “moral” issues, so it is with intellectual ones. The New York Times (October 7, 2013) told of conflict at Loyola Marymount University between faculty, students, and supporters who insist that such schools must strictly follow Catholic social teaching as interpreted by bishops and other authorities on the hot issues of the day. (This year, of course: legalized abortion, gay marriage, and “religious freedom.”) Loyola Marymount’s faculty is now less than 50% Catholic and, writes Ian Lovett, “students said there were few reminders that they attended a Catholic university at all . . . .”
How to assure that specific religious identities are vivid is debated at the Los Angeles school, just as Moodyites are asking how much accommodation to cultures are legitimate for them.
Bailey, Sarah Pulliam. “Moody Bible Institute drops alcohol and tobacco ban for employees.” Religion News Service, September 19, 2013. Accessed October 11, 2013. http://www.religionnews.com/2013/09/19/moody-bible-institute-drops-alcohol-tobacco-ban-employees/.
Pashman, Manya Brachear. “Moody Bible Institute relaxes rules on employee drinking.” Chicago Tribune, September 29, 2013. Accessed October 11, 2013. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-09-29/news/ct-met-moody-temperance-ends-20130929_1_moody-bible-institute-moody-graduate-moody-students.
Oppenheimer, Mark. “In Culture Shift, Evangelical College Lifts Alcohol Ban.” New York Times, September 27, 2013. Accessed October 11, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/28/us/evangelical-college-lifts-alcohol-ban-in-culture-shift.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
Lovett, Ian. “Abortion Vote Exposes Rift at a Catholic University.” New York Times, October 6, 2013. Accessed October 11, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/07/us/abortion-vote-exposes-rift-at-catholic-university.html?ref=california.
Image Credit: Ragne Kabanova / Dreamstime Stock Photos
Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.
Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She was a 2012-13 Marty Center Junior Fellow.