What do creationists want? I know, I know, there are lots of different sorts of creationists out there. As a group, though, I think I found a story that might just articulate some of the fondest hopes and dreams of American creationists. There’s a terrible flaw in the story, and I challenge you to find what it is.
For those of you who are just joining us, I’m working on a history of conservative evangelical and “fundamentalist” colleges and universities. This year, thanks to the munificence of the Spencer Foundation, I’m traveling around to different schools to dig into the history of this network. This week, I’m visiting sunny Biola University in Los Angeles.
Biola University (originally the Bible Institute Of Los Angeles, get it?), in addition to its main job of cranking out missionaries and teachers, also published an influential evangelical magazine, The King’s Business. It was in the November 1967 edition that I found this little gem.
I’ll give you the gist of the article. Then I challenge readers to pick out where this creationist fantasy veers most sharply from reality.
We read the story of Hope, the daughter of a fundamentalist minister. Gathered around the dinner table one night, Hope collapsed into tears. At (public) school that day, she finally confronted her aggressive evolutionist biology teacher, Miss Landon. Hope told her teacher that she didn’t believe in evolution. As she told her parents, “I felt I couldn’t sit there and take it any longer.”
The teacher ridiculed her. “I didn’t suppose,” Miss Landon said in front of the whole class,
anyone living in our enlightened age had such old-fashioned ideas. It surprises me that a person who has had the advantages of a modern educational system can be so narrow-minded. Surely there are not many who believe as you do.
Hope felt humiliated and ashamed. But she stood her ground. At the dinner table, as she sobbed, her father put his hand on her shoulder and said,
huskily, ‘Daughter, it gives us great joy to hear you tell this. Who would have thought that so soon after being saved [two weeks before] you would have an opportunity to witness so boldly to your teacher and classmates?’
Hope felt revived. She prayed hard before going to bed, and felt her dad was right. As a result,
Hope returned to school the next day with a song on her lips as well as in her heart. The Lord Jesus seemed to be walking at her very side and a great peace filled her soul. She felt no fear now of encountering Miss Landon again, even though she might be asked to give further ‘reason for the hope within her.’
Sure enough, the next day her evolution-loving teacher challenged Hope to prove that other students felt the same way. To Miss Landon’s surprise,
Before she had finished speaking, nearly half of the girls were standing. What followed can best be described as an old-fashioned ‘popcorn meeting.’ It seemed that everyone wanted to talk at once. Some were wet-eyed; others, with their arms around Hope, were asking her forgiveness for letting her stand alone. Miss Landon was at a loss to know how to handle the situation. She couldn’t be expected to know, since she had never attended a revival service or been asked to pray for souls under conviction. So she just stood there, helplessly looking on.
Finally it occurred to her that perhaps Hope could handle the group. Hope caught her distressed, appealing look, and in a calm voice said, ‘Let us all kneel in prayer.’
The praying and confessing continued throughout the 40-minute class period and Miss Landon made no effort to stop it. The girls may not have learned any biology that day, but many of them learned to know God in a new and real way.
That’s the story.
Now here’s the challenge: Where is the biggest, most obvious goof in this tale? Where does this creationist dream depart most obviously from the realities of evolution and creationism in American public schools?
Now, before people complain, let me offer a few caveats. First, we all understand that not every creationist hopes to have public schools turn into a “popcorn meeting,” whatever that is. And we know that the hokey tone of this story is more a result of its age than of its creationism. The aw-shucks brand of parenting displayed here would fit in just as well with Ward and June Cleaver as it would with Charles and Grace Fuller.
Given all that, I still assert that this story fails the sniff test. There is one element here that simply screams out “fantasy.”
- No teacher really feels that gung-ho about teaching evolution.
- No student really cares that much about creationism.
- No parents would encourage their kid to publicly preach that way in a public school.
- There would never be that sort of religious revival in a public school.
- A teacher would not likely be that clueless about the religious beliefs of her students.
I’ve got to get back to work now, but I’ll offer my answer soon.