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 https://thewheatonrecord.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/IMG_0048.webpistrators 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.