Divinity School under fire

The Yale Divinity School found itself under attack last week, accused of teaching witchcraft, queer values and Marxism.

An opinion piece in The American Spectator, dating Sept. 27, criticized Chris Coons DIV ’92 LAW ’92, Delaware’s Democratic candidate for senator, for his stated desire to apply values he learned at the Divinity School to his political work. The article’s author, Jeffrey Lord, a former Ronald Reagan administration official, attacked the school for being “devoted to the divinity of secular leftist extremism” and identified a handful of syllabi and professors as radical.

“I think most people would dismiss it as partisan political rhetoric,” Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge said. “It has no grounding in reality.”

Attridge said the article could be a part of a broader trend of politically motivated attacks based on “the notion that liberal Christianity is somehow Marxist.” Glenn Beck recently criticized the Divinity School and the Union Theological Seminary, he said. Lord’s critical article was published following a piece published in the Divinity School’s newsletter, Notes from the Quad¸ in which Coons discussed the values he learned at the schooland their place in guiding his political career.

Alex Peterson DIV ’12 said he had taken the “Just Hospitality” course, which Lord criticized for having a book on the syllabus written by Paulo Freire, whom Lord called a socialist.

“I’ve experienced the whole breadth of the political spectrum, and he’s singled out only a specific viewpoint,” Peterson said. He added that the discussions that occur at the school inform student views. Since issues are often discussed and debated, he said, just because a particular text is read does not mean students accept its messages at face value.

Attridge posted a response on the school’s website on Sept. 29, which he said was meant to counter the attacks from the article and attacks on the Divinity School in general.

“Courses and faculty targeted in the article engage in serious consideration of important contemporary issues and perspectives on religion and society. Tackling those issues and perspectives … is necessary to prepare our students for leadership in an increasingly complex world.” Attridge said in the statement.

Since the publication of the article in The American Spectator, the issue was picked up by Slate Magazine, the Think Progress blog and The Washington Times, among other publications. Some criticized Lord’s article, while others — including Coons’ Republican opponent for the Senate seat — used it to attack Coons in anticipation of the Nov. 2 senatorial election for the seat vacated by Joe Biden.

“My opponent wants to bring Yale values to US Senate. I want to bring liberty, limited government, fiscal sanity,” Coons’ opponent Christine O’Donell tweeted the same day Lord’s article was published.

Anthony Damelio DIV ’12 said he was saddened and upset when he read Lord’s article, which he said misrepresented the school.

“He not only cherry-picked from our varying course catalogue, but also attacked our faculty,” Damelio said.

Matt Lindeman DIV ’12 said the article has not been a central focus of campus discussions.

“If anything, from a student perspective, it’s gotten us out of our little world up on the hill and has gotten us thinking about what graduates go on to do,” he said.

The Divinity School is currently conducting a self-assessment process in preparation for reaccreditation, which will occur in 2013.


  • Yale12

    Jesus was a strong capitalist whose favorite topics to speak on were the importance of individual wealth and the dangers of homosexuality. Read your Bibles, people.

  • FreddyHoneychurch

    I’ve heard that they teach that a virgin and god had a son and that we should spend lots of time contemplating how Romans and Jews tortured him and then we should eat his body pretty regularly (the body used to be bread, but NOT the leavened kind); wash it down with blood. Screwed up, huh?

  • FailBoat

    The idea that liberation theology is Marxist is not a new idea and it isn’t even an incorrect idea. Liberation theology, which formally coalesced in the 1970s through the writing of socialist Catholic theologians, explicitly endorses and promotes a political reading of the Bible through the lens of class struggle. Specifically, liberation theology privileges the materially poor.

    Whether liberation theology is “correct” or not is certainly open for debate – whether it is Marxist really isn’t.

  • FailBoat

    Why is “witchcraft” mentioned in the lede (and headline in the print copy) and nowhere else? Shoddy journalism.

  • theantiyale

    [link text][1] *The Anti-Yale* Mr. Lord Ain’t MY Lord

    I’m not sure whether I defended the Divinity School or defamed it in this post.

    [1]: http://theantiyale.blogspot.com/2010/10/he-aint-my-lord.html

  • ldffly

    FreddyHoneychurch, the Yale Divinity School at one time was a Calvinist stronghold. None of those people ate the body of Jesus. I suspect that few do today, even given an ecumenical group of students and faculty.

    Not a Div. school graduate by the way. Just one who longs for the days of Richard Niebuhr, Roland Bainton and others long gone.

  • theantiyale

    [link text][1]

    [1]: http://doctorbainton.blogspot.com “Remembrance of Doctor Bainton”

  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    (You knew it was coming…)

    “The Yale Divinity School found itself … accused of teaching witchcraft, queer values and Marxism.”

    Yep, that sounds ’bout right.

    “Accused,” though? Kinda like I was accused of breathing today?

    Spectator article states “Values are transmitted by a university in at least three ways: courses, assigned reading, and last but certainly not least through the leadership and professors of the school.” Author omits the milieu, the crowd, the group, the consensus of those around you, the setting of the reference point, the zeroing process whereby things that the rest of the world identifies as seriously out of whack are, in the YDS bubble, normal (or “normative,” to use stupid-speak). Which may also help explain the disappointment expressed in the YDN article by current DIV “students.” My dean used to say “only 20% of what you learn at Yale is in the classroom.” Sounds ’bout right.

    Speaking of out of whack: DIV’s dean accuses Lord of abandoning “any pretense to reasonable discourse.” Vis-a-vis the state of DIV today, irony abounds in that statement.

    Yale M.Div is about as rigorous/prestigious/authentic as a Harvard A.L.M. (if you know what I mean…), but points go to the Cantab for understanding the value of a dollar.

    Failboat: re: “lede”: nice bit of applied esoterica there.

  • theantiyale

    I promised myself i would only be drawn in to YDN when a national Yale headline slapped me in the face—and here it is:

    Crumpets with my teapot, please.

    The Dean of Yale Divinity School, Harold Attridge, has criticized a blog article in The New Spectator by Jeffrey Lord, entitled, “Coons: I Will Bring Yale Divinity School Values to Senate”.

    Mr. Coons, running against the Delaware surprise candidate Christine O’Donnell, who has recently been crucified by the press for remarks she made about witchcraft as a youth, has made a fatal political mistake, which shouts from his own quotation “I Will Bring Yale Divinity School Values to Senate”. He has failed to understand that Yale “anything” (Divinity, Medical, Drama School, you name it) is perceived by the public as elitist:

    He’s simply added more boiling water to the already screaching national egalitarian teapot.

    Mr. Lord, on the other hand, (and he’ ain’t MY LORD) has made a fatal intellectual mistake in his saucy satire of Yale Divinity School which eviscerates the values of its courses, books and professors, and lays their leftist (“marxist”) entrails on the mortuary table for all to revile:

    Mr. Lord assumes that Yale Divinity School is ashamed of its “leftist” heritage and will be embarrassed by his (Lord’s) satire. Note: Wasn’t there a Palestinian Carpeneter 2000 years ago who advocated sharing all one’s possessions with the poor? Sounds like the orginal “leftist” to me.

    Just to prove him wrong (and to celebrate that lefty-ist of all left ideals, FREEDOM OF SPEECH), Dean Attridge publishes the link to Lord’s article in his own statement criticizing its shallowness (see [link text][1]).

    Yale Divinity School isn’t ashamed of its heritage—-nor should it be.

    Paul D. Keane
    M. Div. ’80
    M.A., M.Ed.

    [1]: http://www.yale.edu/divinity/notes/101004/values.shtml

  • RexMottram08

    Yale Divinity! Aww you adorable little tyke up on the hill. Someday you can come down to play with the big kids!

  • theantiyale

    [link text][1]

    Tyke? Pretty old “TYKE”:

    ***History of Yale Divinity School** (from Yale’s website)
    Training for the Christian Ministry was a main purpose in the founding of Yale College in 1701. As expressed in its original charter it was to be a school “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts & Sciences who through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church & Civil State.” That purpose has always been recognized at Yale, and the history of the University is one of increasing development in the facilities for training for religious service.
    During the early years of Yale College its general curriculum, supplemented in some cases by a year or two of reading under the directions of its instructors, was deemed sufficient for ministerial preparation. In 1746 an enlarged recognition of the needs of the ministry led to the establishment of a professorship of divinity through the efforts of President Thomas Clap. By 1822 this had developed into a separate department, later known as the Yale University Divinity School.
    The degree of Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) was first conferred in 1867. In June 1971, by vote of the Yale Corporation, this degree was replaced by the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree.*

    [1]: http://theantiyale.blogspot.com “The Anti-Yale”