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Guest speaker Rosaria Butterfield draws contrast with Patrick Henry College’s fear of dialogue

Author Rosaria Butterfield at Patrick Henry College

According to Patrick Henry College professor of government Stephen Baskerville, “PHC is an oasis of academic freedom in an inbred academic environment of stifling orthodoxy.” Given that over half of PHC’s faculty resigned within one year over precisely the issue of academic freedom, I would have to dispute the facticity of this statement. The academic orthodoxy at the school was at the time so stifling that one professor, ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, was suspended for writing a paper suggesting there could be sources of truth other than the Bible. Others were told by administrators that “there are some questions we can’t ask in class or entertain.”

PHC would be more accurately described as an alternative to the usual academic environment in which biblical inerrancy is held to the same evidence-based standard as other ways of understanding the world, and found wanting according to that standard. PHC does provide an environment in which an alternative standard is applied.

Dr. Baskerville (writing to object to the Loudoun Times-Mirror coverage of PHC’s reaction to the student/alumni group Queer at Patrick Henry College) misrepresents the article, claiming that it approaches the presence of sexual minorities at PHC with “scandal-mongering.” The scandal in question is not the existence of these LGBTQ students, but PHC Chancellor Mike Farris’ embarrassing attempt to bully them, an attempt that garnered the group a much wider audience and support base. Queer at Patrick Henry College is a far from unusual signal of the transformation happening within evangelical Christianity, and has surprised virtually no one other than Patrick Henry College administrators.

It is with this in mind that I consider the interview I witnessed last Friday at PHC with author Rosaria Butterfield (prequel here). Dr. Butterfield appeared as a guest of the college to discuss her transition from Syracuse University Women’s Studies professor and lesbian activist to orthodox Christian and pastor’s wife.

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