Tenured NNU theology professor fired, possibly for beliefs

Thomas Oord, a ten­ured theology professor at Northwest Nazarene Uni­versity, learned on March 31 that he was being laid off, as a response to dropping stu­dent enrollment numbers. Now, supporters of Oord claim that the professor was discharged because of his belief in evolution and open theology, and that the school cited plummeting enroll­ment as justification to get rid of the professor who had long been a thorn in the side of the Nazarene church. The incident may have implica­tions for theology professors at other Christian colleges.
Ric Shewell, a decorat­ed graduate of NNU and pastor at a United Meth­odist Church who took classes under Oord and wrote a blog post defend­ing his professor, spoke to the Record about the issue.
He said, “I think that Oord has been an outspo­ken agitator in the church of the Nazarene and espe­cially in areas of free will and dialogue with science, so I think that has given NNU a lot of negative at­tention from some of the more conservative mem­bers of the denomination.”
Those conservative Naza­rene church members ap­parently have some clout in how Nazarene educa­tion institutions are run. Denominational dues from Nazarene churches are distributed to meet a va­riety of The Church of the Nazarene’s needs, includ­ing the funding for North­west Nazarene University.
“I hate to make this all about money,” Shewell said, “But some of the (denomi­nation’s) leaders do have quite a bit of sway because money is involved in help­ing out these institutions.
For him, the occurrence presents other Christian colleges like Wheaton Col­lege with the chance to re-examine their hiring and firing policies when it comes to theological differences.
“This is a time when ad­ministrators can say, ‘Our college is the kind of place where theological thinking can be explored over a spec­trum of thought…’” Shewell said. “Or, it could be an op­portunity of administra­tors to say, ‘Our college is the place where we want our students to think one thing and one thing only about theology,’” he said.
Provost Stanton Jones declined to address the im­plications of Oord’s firing for Wheaton’s own college professors, confirming only that Wheaton College’s fac­ulty all subscribe every year to the Statement of Faith and Community Covenant.
The annual faculty letter accompanying the faculty contracts, provided by Jones, said that the Statement of Faith is the set of core be­liefs that holds the entire faculty together. Signing the Statement of Faith makes faculty eligible to be hired by Wheaton College, but specific beliefs outside of the Statement of Faith are not reasons for firing a pro­fessor. In fact, the letter said, “By affirming this Statement together, we can all confi­dently say that it describes the faith identity of our en­tire community of learning, and that beyond this iden­tity, we can celebrate our denominational, intellec­tual and other differences.”
Likewise, two of Whea­ton’s theology profes­sors declined to com­ment for the article.
Wheaton theology pro­fessors do not all adhere to the exact same set of beliefs, and that same po­tential problem escalat­ed dramatically at NNU.
This event raises impor­tant points that Wheaton College and other Chris­tian colleges may need to address in the future, because faith and theol­ogy are such important sub­jects in both communities.

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