A couple weeks ago, James Sweet had a spontaneous but ill-considered momentary fit of truth-telling for which the educated class has abominated him these two succeeding weeks. Dr. Sweet is the current president of the professional guild of American historians calling themselves the American Historical Association, and his fit occurred in his short, monthly president’s column in AHA’s monthly publication. Titled, “Is History History: Identity Politics and Teleologies of the Present,” Sweet’s essay gently and kindly points out the inarguable truth that suppression of anything but present woke ideology in the doing of history in the Academy today has resulted in the censorship of our forebears, and that it’s bad for the development of any perspective outside of our own midget (my word) selves, let alone learning wisdom from the past that might inform our future.
The warning was about as controversial as a lump of clay to any of us who are past or present students of history and familiar with how terrified most every intellectual is today of appearing insufficiently progressive. Anyhow, the fury unleashed against poor Dr. Sweet reduced him to an abject apology the likes of which I doubt I’ve seen before, even from Germans. While the essay is still online, it only took two days from its original publication for Dr. Sweet to add this pathetic self-flagellation. Do read it for a lesson on the state of anti-intellectual, know-nothingism today under the masters of what they refer to as “higher education”:
AUTHOR’S NOTE (AUG 19, 2022)
My September Perspectives on History column has generated anger and dismay among many of our colleagues and members. I take full responsibility that it did not convey what I intended and for the harm that it has caused. I had hoped to open a conversation on how we “do” history in our current politically charged environment. Instead, I foreclosed this conversation for many members, causing harm to colleagues, the discipline, and the Association.
A president’s monthly column, one of the privileges of the elected office, provides a megaphone to the membership and the discipline. The views and opinions expressed in that column are not those of the Association. If my ham-fisted attempt at provocation has proven anything, it is that the AHA membership is as vocal and robust as ever. If anyone has criticisms that they have been reluctant or unable to post publicly, please feel free to contact me directly.
I sincerely regret the way I have alienated some of my Black colleagues and friends. I am deeply sorry. In my clumsy efforts to draw attention to methodological flaws in teleological presentism, I left the impression that questions posed from absence, grief, memory, and resilience somehow matter less than those posed from positions of power. This absolutely is not true. It wasn’t my intention to leave that impression, but my provocation completely missed the mark.
Once again, I apologize for the damage I have caused to my fellow historians, the discipline, and the AHA. I hope to redeem myself in future conversations with you all. I’m listening and learning.
Dr. Sweet apologizes for “causing harm to colleagues, the discipline, and the Association.” Indeed, he has, but not the harm he means. The real harm he has done his colleagues, his discipline (if we can dignify higher education with any slightest association with that word), and his AHA guild is his cowardice giving in to the powerful, and thereby abandoning the weak and oppressed who desire to learn and grow from past voices; those weak and oppressed who are utterly weary of the voices of selfish loudmouths, often lost in moral debauchery, who have proven themselves incapable of escaping their own lusts, desires, lies, and arrogance.
Universities were in bad shape back in the late seventies when I read history at University of Wisconsin (Madison). A couple years later while taking the MDiv at the seminary that produced Tim Keller, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I realized Evangelical institutions of higher education, especially seminaries, were even more fearful of appearing insufficiently progressive than secular institutions. At least I had the privilege and comfort of my father warning me as I had matriculated at Gordon-Conwell, “Tim, it took me three years to get through seminary, and seven years to get over it. The only thing seminary has in common with Christ’s training of His disciples is they’re both three year institutions.”
A decade after seminary, I read Bloom’s jeremiad against fellow intellectuals and their educational institutions, The Closing of the American Mind, and it was clear to me then thirty years ago that, despite his context of unbelief, homosexuality, philosophy, and University of Chicago, he’d done a masterful job exposing the cowardice of Evangelical scholarship, particularly professors of Bible, Old Testament, and New Testament. (For decades, Wheaton’s most close minded, ideologically progressive department was their Bible department, as board members, administrators, and local pastors knew very well and warned about privately.)
Truthfully, readers don’t need to read Dr. Sweet’s essay. Just his abject apology. We all know the routine. We’ve all observed our Bible publishers and the Bible scholars they hire as they’ve gagged the Bible, and it’s predictable they’ve done this most zealously at those places where Scripture commits thought crimes and is accused of being heteronormist, anti-Semitic, hateful, racist, and other terrible, awful, no good, very bad things.
What Christian colleges and legacy seminaries are suffering today in their radically declining enrollments and loss of endowments, campuses, and prestige, is exactly what they have long deserved. They would have known it was inevitable had they given any slightest thought to the Word of God and the history of the Church, rather than spending their time trying to assure their institutional and economic prosperity and future by cultivating deep-pocket donors and famously successful alumni.
Generally, here in this life even, we get what we deserve. Gordon-Conwell is now desperately at work among its alumni trying to explain that the complete loss of enrollments they have been suffering is a win-win situation because it’s allowed them to go through serious reappraisal. And what a happy thing! Their reappraisal has revealed to them a wonderful opportunity in this present moment which they have decided to seize: namely, selling their campus and renting buildings closer to downtown Boston.
Some naysayers thought loss of students was bad-bad, but creative planning and excellent foresight has led them to announce that the only change that’s needed is to sell their large beautiful campus and live off that money—not student tuition. Nice thing about selling your home is you no longer need children to fill that home, and you can live off the proceeds.
What Gordon-Conwell has not reappraised is their gagging of God’s Word and words concerning sexuality.
But how could they? It’s their patrimony. Their raison d’être.
Forget the Word of God. Forget the Apostolic commands. Forget God’s silly order of creation.
We be woke.