An Innocent Victim: How SES’s Response to Evangelical Exodus Caught a Good Man in the Cross-fire.

Back when I was going to protestant seminary (before my conversion to Catholicism), I had a professor named Wayne Detzler.  His honest and academic look at Christian history helped me deeply on my journey toward Catholicism.  I was excited to hear that he endorsed the book and gave a very nice quote about our conversion stories.  But then SES began giving “responses” to our book.

And I understand why one might worry about this work from SES’s perspective.  The evangelical audience who might serve as SES’s student base would be upset if they were to get the picture, from this book, that SES is a Catholicism entrance training school.  This would be very damaging for SES.  So some kind of response seems appropriate.  SES should re-affirm that they don’t teach Catholicism and that they hold to evangelical theology.  But the big groups of converts is a problem.  It may be just as damaging for people to think that students are (relatively independently) reaching Catholicism from SES teaching.  Who would send their loved ones here if this were well known and unaddressed?

There is a tempting, but deeply unethical, route to take in addressing this issue from the perspective of Southern Evangelical Seminary.  Southern Evangelical Seminary could construe the series of converts as a conspiracy by individuals that are no longer with the school who engaged in a sort of bad faith corrupting of the youth.  This is a convenient story because it not only allows the SES representative to calm the worries of prospective students, but it will also allow the SES representative to avoid coming head-on with the issues which have been involved in the conversion of many.

It’s funny but the official response from SES held to this very predictable line.  First, in his ‘review’ of the book, JT Bridges alleges that the conversion stories are falsely representing how “independent” they are.  In fact, JT Bridges informs us, nearly all of these conversions are as a result of the evil influence of Jason Reed and Douglas Beaumont.  Doug and Jason “sort of illicitly peddled their proto-Roman Catholic theology under the guise of their teaching position” (see link in Doug’s blog if you want to hear the direct quote).  The idea is that these individuals moved toward Catholicism and brought the whole gaggle with them.

But never mind the fact that many of these people converted before them, and that some of the people in the book were even instrumental in converting these two individuals.  I want to acknowledge what might be the truth behind these accusations, while calling attention to an unjust situation that my former professor Wayne Detzler has been put in.

Where the official story (it’s weird when a ridiculous conspiracy theory is the official story) goes wrong is in giving the reason Doug and Jason has something to do with some of these conversions.  It’s true that I had discussions (in confidence) with Jason and Doug over the space of my conversion, but it is categorically false that they were proto-Catholics out to peddle their proto-Catholic theology.  But follow the link to Doug’s blog above for more on this.

What Doug and Jason had in common in the evangelical exodus is that they are intellectuals, they are generous, they are honest, and they were willing to discuss these issues without starting a witch hunt.  They never held onto the deep anti-Catholic prejudice that some others had, and they were the sort of person that you could feel comfortable discussing the issues relating to these doubts you were having about evangelicalism and protestantism without having to fear being brought before a quasi-inquisition or treated like a crazy person who needs to be cured or saved from these thoughts and concerns.  Doug and Jason had some effect merely by being professionals and good friends.

But the problem with this story is that we should implicate others if we’re implicating Jason and Doug.  Wayne Detzler (categorically not a Catholic, and there is no doubt that he at no point endorsed Catholic theology in his courses at SES) is also a professional.  He is also and intellectual who was interested in hearing and talking about the interesting questions that come up (even ones involving Catholicism).  He engaged with these questions with the most refreshing academic honesty.  I cannot say enough good things about this class.  And the honest discussion in this class was probably one of the most important parts of my conversion.  The warm inviting intellectual atmosphere of his class allowed me to really ask and think about my remaining questions regarding Catholicism.

It is because of this that I feel deeply sorry for the predicament that I feel I’ve put Dr. Detzler in.  Dr. Detzler said some beautiful and nice things about the book.  But clearly the people of SES were deeply unhappy with Detzler’s positive comments with the book.  The fact that someone on the SES team thought the book was good or interesting could not be tolerated.  Obviously the comments Detzler gave needed revising.  So SES eventually put Detzler’s “revised” comments on their response page.

Here they are:

wayneupdatedcomment

The tenor of these comments, if I were SES, would make me think twice before posting them as something that favors SES.  Detzler has remained consistent while attempting to build back the bridges that apparently were burned by the simple endorsement of a set of conversion stories.  In fact, a reasonable reading of these comments will see them as an indictment of the ridiculous paranoid anti-intellectualism of SES’s consideration of this case.

Who misconstrued Detzler’s comments?  Was it the authors of the book?  Well, they just put his endorsement on the back of the book.  No, his accusations of misconstrual fall squarely at the feet of SES.  SES panicked at the thought of one of their own endorsing this very personal work, and read the whole thing unreasonably.  If you read my chapter in the book, you will get no inkling that Detzler gave carte blanche approval of any doctrine other than evangelical.  In fact all you’ll get is that Detzler was an honest and generous teacher.  It is SES and those that, being pissed off about this book, that misconstrued the comments on Detzler’s work in the book and on Detzler’s approval of the book.  Detzler’s comments should give those at SES who reacted to his approval of the work something to think about.

SES, when accusing former professors of wrong-doing, should at long last realize that they are in fact only accusing former professors of being honest intellectuals who will give views contrary to their own an honest hearing.  In turn SES is guilty of reactionary, anti-intellectual, and unethical accusations of former professors.  I had hoped better for my alma mater.

If you want to hear the real story of some really widely different conversions, then I suggest you take a peak at the book Evangelical Exodus, to which I have contributed.  After this, I hope to put any unpleasantness behind me and go back to my regularly scheduled eclectic pop culture/Catholicism/philosophy blog.  Join me every MWF for new content!

Peace be with you.
-JS

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