Personal Autonomy Versus Institutional Conformity
by Nate Schilt
I argued in my blog last week that the request for the resignations of the LSU4 was not criminal, and it should not be seen in the stark moral terms that those who demonize the General Conference (GC) and La Sierra University (LSU) administration wish to portray it. Some who read that blog seemed to think I might be an ‘Educate Truth’ plant. Far from it! I think Educate Truth (EC) likely sees these issues in very stark moral terms as well. They just demonize the LSU4 rather than the administration. About the only thing I have in common with the sponsors of the EC website is a belief we should expect no less transparency, accountability and openness from academic institutions in the Church than we do from clerical institutions.
Unlike the folks who host the Educate Truth website, I believe the Church and LSU are being tragically diverted and enervated by challenges over doctrinal conformity. Creationism and abstinence would not be on my top 28 list of priorities for the Church or its institutions of higher education. I do not agree with the Church’s traditional teaching regarding biogenesis and the Noachian Flood, though I am certainly not qualified or competent to defend my skepticism. And I wish SDA science professors felt greater freedom to honestly present the scientific problems with creationism. Furthermore, I do not believe in the Cana Grape Juice Myth, a major pillar in the SDA Church’s teaching regarding alcohol consumption. (I do behaviorally conform to the Church’s teaching on this issue, however, because I do not wish to breach covenant relationship with my faith community.)
Having said that, I believe a private organization has the right to set its own rules, even if they’re stupid, archaic, and have nothing to do with morality. Furthermore, the organization should be able to anticipate those who choose to become part of the organization will do so with the understanding they are expected to conform to clearly articulated policies. They should generally be free to question the wisdom or legitimacy of those rules, but they cannot reasonably expect to casually violate those rules and policies without adverse consequences. Those in leadership roles should feel even less freedom to publicly or privately undermine institutional values and standards. And yes, the institution should also follow its own policies and rules.
Getting beyond the question of whether the recording should have been used, I suspect most partisans who are upset over the 'forced' resignations would be no less upset if the alcohol consumption had come to light in a different manner, and been used as a basis for requesting the resignations. They believe the policy prohibiting alcohol consumption is a stupid policy with no Biblical or moral basis. Yet progressives regard as sacred the due process policies which they claim were not followed by LSU administrators. Is there a double standard here?
So who decides what policies are sacred, what are not, how to prioritize those policies, and what consequences should flow from violation? And why do we have to make huge moral issues out of every policy concern? Suppose a judicial review concludes LSU administrators didn’t dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ when they offered resignation in lieu of disciplinary hearings. Does that make them evil, malicious, and un-Christian? Does it mean they intended to violate their own policy? So what if the LSU4 chose to drink alcohol? Does the fact they obviously violated policy with intent to do so, make them bad people? Surely not! But why is the LSU administration being demonized by the Left while the LSU4 are being canonized?
Every issue with policy and legal ramifications doesn’t necessarily come with clear moral choices. If the legal considerations clearly favor the position of the resignees who want do-overs, I am sure the Board will sound the retreat, and the LSU 2, 3, or 4 – whatever the number – will either be reinstated, have their hearing, or both. It will be because it is legally prudent to do so, not because it is a moral imperative. What if the legal analysis does not clearly support vacating the resignations? Would the LSU4 partisans then concede the moral issue to administration? I doubt it. So aren’t the partisans really offering a 'heads-we-win-tails-you-lose' analysis? "If policy and law support our position, LSU administration acted immorally; if it turns out we’re wrong on policy and law, LSU administration still acted immorally."
It is generally assumed top leadership in an organization serves at the pleasure of the CEO and/or the Board. When a leader is philosophically and behaviorally out of step with the values of his/her organization, and when that nonconformity becomes, or threatens to become, notorious, why doesn’t the institution have a right to respond in a self-protective manner? Why can’t the institution simply say, “We understand your values, and we respect your personal freedom. We just want someone representing the institution who is more philosophically aligned with its values.”
Is it possible to have deeply held opinions and beliefs without insisting that God is on your side?