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.