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Home/Rod Dreher/Which God Is Served At Duke Divinity?

Which God Is Served At Duke Divinity?

Yesterday I posted this tweet:
A reader of this blog who follows me on Twitter, and who has had recent experience studying at Duke Divinity School (I checked), wrote me about this. He remains shaken by his time there. I have slightly edited his e-mail to remove identifying details, and publish this with his permission:
The sentiments Dr. Freeman shared in that tweet are not unusual for Duke Divinity professors. With Dean Greg Jones, a moderate Methodist, leaving this summer, and the famous incident concerning the Catholic professor at Duke [I wrote about that case here and here — RD], there has been a growing intolerance at Duke, a school which once prided itself on being moderate when compared to Yale or Harvard, while still being a great school.
Curtis’ tweet is symptomatic of the culture at Duke, among faculty and students. Kendi and other racial theorists are now fairly common on syllabi. [Deleted a sentence because it made a specific comment about a professor based on hearsay. — RD] It is also common to read and hear things (from professors) like: “Jesus was queer,” “Jesus is non-binary,” as well as statements that amount to: “if you think homosexuality is wrong, then you hate homosexuals and are a bigot.” Further, many professors, most notably the emerita professor, Mary McClintock Fulkerson, are huge Foucault fans, which is problematic on many levels.
It all boils down to this: white people are evil, destined for evil; if you are a conservative you can go rot in hell, even though we don’t believe in hell. I know I sound ridiculous, especially with the first statement; however, I am telling the truth. This is the messaging at its most basic level.
Another popular book to read for classes at Duke includes “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristen Kobes Du Mez, a professor at Calvin, who decries the evangelical movement (and really religious conservatives in general) with nearly no citations. Has Duke had its issues in the past? Certainly! (This can be seen in particular with its treatment of Willie Jennings who made a turn to the radical after pretty bad mistreatment at the school; he is now writing loony things at Yale.) However, Duke is turning into Yale and Harvard. It has been slower, but it is coming. My message to future divinity school students, whatever their denominational leanings: do not go to Duke anymore.
For many years, Duke Divinity was the school of Hauerwas, Richard Hays, EP Sanders and many other fabulous theologians who literally changed the world of New Testament, even I would argue for Catholics and Orthodox. Now we have people like Curtis Freeman, Valerie Cooper, and transgender activist Robyn Henderson-Espinoza who routinely say in class sentiments similar to Dr. Freeman’s tweets. They hate evangelicals. They hate religious conservatives. I promise you, Mr. Dreher, they will sell their brothers and sisters to the consumer state.
I have many friends at Duke who have been ostracized and criticized for being traditional Christians, whether they be Methodists or Catholics. At Duke the goal is no longer to form the next EP Sanders, the next Richard Hays, or the next Hauerwas. The goal is to destroy evangelicals and anyone who stands in the way of the BLM/LGBTQIA religion. If you need more stories or evidence, I have them. Just let me know.
In related Duke Divinity news, these dropped today:
It turns out that CJ — a female-to-male transgender — has a turbulent inner life:
She doesn’t like the governor of Texas any more than she likes Ronald Reagan:
Or me:
Mmmmph! The idea that I would be scared of a fragile person like this pitiable 26-year-old whose name I don’t even know, is risible. I read around this unwell young woman’s Substack, and let me tell you, her Twitter feed and her Substack tell us more about the kind of place Duke Divinity is than they do about her. No kidding, she’s angry and unstable, but she’s angry and unstable for the Woke, so hey, come on down and train for serving the church. Seriously, this testifies to the decadence of one of America’s most prestigious institutions of theological training. What could someone so spite-filled and disordered have to tell anybody about God? Anyway, she’ll fit in at Duke, sounds like.
I have heard similar stories from people I’ve met in recent years who, like my correspondent, have attended prestigious divinity schools. I can think of specific stories from Harvard, Yale, and Emory, but there are others. I’m genuinely curious to know how and why these schools have become so radically divorced from anything like historically normative Christianity. I’m also interested to know why anybody who considers himself a religious moderate or conservative attend them. Sounds completely miserable.

UPDATE: A reader comments:

About 10 years ago I graduated from an ostensibly Evangelical undergraduate college with a thoroughly woke religion and philosophy faculty. That college was a feeder for Duke Divinity, since a sizable percentage of those woke profs came from Duke. The liberal view coming from Duke absolutely steamrolled the sincere Evangelicalism of my cohort of undergrads, including myself for a time. As Dreher notes, the rhetoric traded heavily on demonizing conservatives as pitiably ignorant at best and white supremacist, misogynistic bigots against whom violence could be justified in extreme cases at worst. Two quick observations and a recommendation from someone, as it were, who was once on the inside:

1) Many of my cohort who ended up at Duke were already or have since become LGBTQ. The LGBTQ movement was seen exclusively under the lens of liberation from conservative oppression. These kids—not always without reason—hated something about their parents, or home church, or a politically indifferent America that had failed them. Changing their sexual expression was one way to confirm to themselves and the world at large that the “already” aspect of the liberatory “not-yet” kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Consistent again with Dreher above, this is seeing faith as therapy. Divinity school is the next logical step in the therapeutic journey.

2) The enchanting power of Duke’s woke rhetoric came from the fact that it captured a very real spirit of malaise and anger while simultaneously monopolizing the discourse. That is, it’s a foregone conclusion that there has never been and could never be any competing intelligent conservative voice to address very real political or ecclesial problems. The intelligent voices from the Church’s past—Augustine, Aquinas, Dante, etc.—we were told, had either been co-opted by evil white males in order to justify Western oppression, or were themselves evil white males looking to oppress (Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen, on the other hand, are venerated as anti-patriarchy feminists).

So, here is a recommendation: Duke-style rhetoric was extremely effective at destroying my cohort’s childhood formations in sincere Evangelical churches and homes because it captured our spirit of disgust at the untrustworthy and apathetic institutions (family, church, nation) to which we were desperately trying to reconcile ourselves. Woke theology prophetically promised us liberation if we dedicated ourselves to the wholesale destruction of the conservative order. Yet, my later conversion to Catholicism largely happened because I discovered another narrative in the “rebellious” aspect of traditional aesthetics and morality viz. soulless modernity. So, my heartfelt recommendation as an insider Millennial around the age of 30 and former woke Christian acolyte, is that conservatives build a counternarrative to the one of woke liberation, one capable of being equally compelling to the rage-against-the-machine-mindset so common in my generation.

UPDATE.2: I see that I’m getting trashed on Twitter for criticizing this seminarian, though I don’t do it by name (I don’t even know her name). This is par for the course regarding progressive rhetorical gamesmanship. They get to say whatever horrible, slimy thing they want about conservatives or traditionalists, but if we react to it, it’s all how dare you attack a victim like that, you monster?! 

Sorry, that doesn’t work on me. But I do want to emphasize that I highlighted this troubled young seminarian’s posts not so much to draw attention to her, but to draw attention to the fact that this is the kind of student that Duke Divinity School deems worthy of accepting to prepare for church ministry. This says more about Duke Divinity School and its pathologies than it does about this young woman.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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