The Intolerance of Tolerance (New England Edition)
Dwight L. Moody was the American evangelist and publisher behind the Moody Church in Chicago, Moody Bible Institute and Moody Bible Publishers. He was one of the first big evangelists and had global influence. After he'd found some success, he returned to his birthplace of Northfield, Massachusetts, where he started a school for girls in the late 19th century. He also started a school for boys nearby.
The purpose of the schools was to educate generations of committed Christians to continue his evangelical efforts.
The town of Northfield grew considerably because of the school and because of his evangelical retreats he hosted. Homes and businesses sprang up. But over the years, Northfield went from being an overt evangelical training ground into a very liberal, elite prep school. It merged with its brother school Mount Hermon in 1971 and some famous graduates include White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, actress Uma Thurman, and the late literature professor and pro-Palestinian activist Edward Said.
The board of trustees ended up being unable to keep up with the two campuses and had trouble finding a buyer, selling it for $100,000 to the Green family of Oklahoma (known for their Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores). The Greens hoped to give it to the C.S. Lewis Foundation to launch a college with a Great Books curriculum.
The only problem is that it takes a great deal of money to maintain, much less thrive, on a 217-acre campus with 43 buildings. The Lewis folks never were able to raise the right funds and so the Greens set out to find a new taker.
I wrote about what happened for the Wall Street Journal, which you can read (behind the paywall) here.
Interest from Liberty University was met harshly -- with a national public relations campaign, meetings, and a petition drive to fight any transfer of property. From my story:
After Liberty was ruled out by the Green family, residents continued to worry. In April, at a meeting of the Northfield Campus Collaborative—established by the Northfield Board of Selectmen to improve communication between interested parties—resident Bruce Kahn "brought up the 'elephant in the room' which was the concern that an extremist Christian campus might polarize and upset the peace and tranquility of the town," according to meeting minutes. Resident Ted Thornton said it is a paradox that "we consider ourselves tolerant but we won't tolerate intolerance."
Hobby Lobby's representative tasked with finding a fitting recipient for the campus reminded the gathered that fear of outsiders can be expressed by liberals as well as conservatives, and should be discouraged.
My favorite quote came from another meeting, though:
At another public meeting earlier this year—one that included questions about the contenders' views on creation and same-sex marriage—a Northfield resident argued that "the religious tradition of the area welcomes people of many faiths, belief or nonbelief. There is potential conflict with those who follow more restrictive teachings."
Yes, such a "tolerant" view might be in potential conflict with those who follow in Moody's legacy. Funny tolerance, that.
Stop sign image via Shutterstock.