MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Wednesday, August 21st. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Megan Basham.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. WORLD Radio’s Janie B. Cheaney remembers when “liberal arts” was a good thing.
JANIE B CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: “Liberal Arts” is an old-fashioned term for the kind of education that’s supposed to expand a young person’s mind. No school has a better claim to the title of “liberal arts institution” than Oberlin College.
Founded in 1833 by a pair of Presbyterian ministers, Oberlin was the first co-ed college in the United States and the first to admit students of all races. While evangelist Charles Finney served as president, Oberlin became a hotbed of the abolitionist movement.
But the school’s idealism made a hard left turn in the late 20th century, leading to a rude awakening in the 21st.
During the fall 2016 semester, three African American freshmen tried to purchase liquor at Gibson’s Bakery, a family owned business since 1905. When the shop owner’s son refused their fake ID, one of the students walked out with a bottle of wine. The owner’s son pursued, the shoplifters fled, punches were allegedly thrown, and all three students were arrested.
This looked like a clear case of bigotry to students and administration, leading to weeks of protests, chants, and boycotts. Faculty and administrators got involved.
Finally, wounded by damage to their reputation no less than their revenue, the bakery owners sued. Last June, a jury of county residents decided in their favor and awarded a total of $33 million in damages, putative and compensatory.
In court records, Gibson’s Bakery comes off as reasonable and Oberlin as arrogant. The school actually proposed that the bakery allow students one incidence of shoplifting before pressing charges.
Would any business agree to let customers with a student ID rob them “just once”?
Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College is a glaring example of what happens when ideals become ideology. Born in evangelical fervor and dedicated to the proposition that all men (and women) are created equal, Oberlin eventually let propositions crush people. The college stood for the oppressed by oppressing its next-door neighbors.
The same spirit is at work in Seattle and other West Coast cities, where ideology about homelessness runs roughshod over citizens wanting clean sidewalks.
In California, ideology about zoning and the environment jacks housing costs out of reach for middle-class Joes. Ideology about women’s “reproductive rights” silences women who regret their abortions—not to mention silencing generations of future women.
And ideology about wealth redistribution, now playing on presidential debate stages, has historically led to the murder of literal millions who had no wealth or vote.
While standing for godly principles, Christians mustn’t forget that Christ offers not ideology, but himself. Rather than standing for the oppressed, he meets them one by one. Instead of broad-stroking endless guilt, he identifies sin with surgical precision and freely forgives. Can we do any less?
For WORLD Radio, I’m Janie B. Cheaney.