Wheaton, Idaho college controversies both touch on academic freedom

Thomas Jay Oord talks about temptation

The Rev. Thomas Jay Oord meets with fellow Nazarenes at The Table, a Nazarene Church he helped found in Nampa.
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The Rev. Thomas Jay Oord meets with fellow Nazarenes at The Table, a Nazarene Church he helped found in Nampa.

The Rev. Thomas Jay Oord’s run-in with school and church administrators over religion is rare in U.S. schools, but not unheard of, says Jack Fitzmier, executive director of the American Academy of Religion.

Oord was the subject of the Statesman’s two-day report last week on academic freedom at Northwest Nazarene University. The Statesman stories detail the ordeal Oord, an NNU theology professor, faced when some of his teachings didn’t square with other Nazarenes’ beliefs, and how the school is now focusing on academic freedom questions.

I worry that what happened to me could easily happen to others.

Thomas Jay Oord

Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at the evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois, found herself in trouble with administrators in December 2014, after a Facebook post in which she said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Her statement touched off a controversy and letters of complaint from alumni. University officials planned a hearing on whether Hawkins should stay at the university, the Washington Post reported in January 2015. Hawkins provided Wheaton with a statement of her theology but declined to answer further questions..

A month later, as a faculty council was about to meet and consider the case, Hawkins announced he would leave the school, the Washington Post reported.

Oord explains his decision

Why did the NNU theology professor decide to speak out about his experience at NNU?

In a Facebook post, Oord told his family and friends that he’s concerned that the Nampa, Idaho, religious university hasn’t done enough to protect the faculty’s ability to speak freely.

“I also want NNU to be a place in which big and difficult questions can be asked openly and helpful answers explored without fear. I worry about a real or felt ‘clamp down’ on any topic remotely controversial,” Oord wrote.