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Two Christian college tenured professors have sued their employer after the Tennessee school terminated their contract when they failed to approve the school's recent "clarification" to its statement of faith.
Professor of natural science Stephen Barnett and professor of education and chair of the education department Steven DeGeorge, have filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee-based Bryan College asking that their positions be restored and that the recent "clarification" of the school's statement of faith be declared void. The Bryan College charter bans attempts to modify the statement.
Earlier this year, the Bryan College Board of Trustees approved what it described as a clarification to the document, which in its original state does not mention Adam and Eve, unlike the new language, which affirms their literal existence and states that humanity did not evolve from other species.
Barnett and DeGeorge's lawsuit contends that clarification amounts to changing the statement of faith and consequently violating the charter, The Herland News reports.
The nearly 100-year-old charter's language about the origin of man states that the school believes it was "by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death."
In February, the board of trustees specified that "We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms."
Bryan College attorney, Rosemarie Hill, told The Christian Post on Thursday that "the school made it very clear from the beginning and in the presentation of the contract to the professors that this was a clarification, not an amendment or change" and that the "clarification simply states what item number four has always said."
She declined to comment on whether the fired Bryan College faculty held those assumptions about the school's statement of faith when they took positions at the school.
Following its announcement, the Bryan administration dispersed annual contracts to professors with a notice that faculty were expected to approve not only the existing statement of belief, but also the board's statement on Adam and Eve. The decision sparked outrage among faculty members who issued a 30-2 vote of no confidence for college president Stephen Livesay in March.
Kevin Clauson, the vice chair of the Bryan faculty suggested to Insider Higher Ed, that while the majority of faculty agreed with the convictions of the board's statement, they disagreed with the timing of the announcement, which left little time for dissenting professors to seek new positions.
The Times Free Press reported earlier this month that nine of the college's professors will not be returning in the fall, in what amounts to nearly 20 percent of its faculty. Frustration has not been limited to faculty; students have protested Livesay's actions as well with written letters to members of the board, signed petitions, spoken out on social media, hung posters and wore black arm bands to chapel.
In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Livesay, a graduate of Bob Jones University and who formerly served as faculty member at Liberty University and Belhaven University, defended his actions as necessary "to maintain the historical and current theological position of the college with respect to the origin of man."
The board reaffirmed its decision in April.
According to the lawsuit, Barnett and DeGeorge both signed the statement of faith, though added footnotes explaining that while they agreed with the school's founding article, they dissented from the board's clarification.
"My signature certifies that I accept, without reservation, the Statement of Faith as recorded in the Bryan College Charter. In comliance with the charter, which states, '[…] this platform shall never be changed or amended, but shall constitute the religious position and belief of the institution as long as it shall endure,' I neither affirm nor deny any statement of religious position or belief other that the Statement of Faith," wrote Barnett, according to the lawsuit he filed.
According to Marvin Olasky, the editor-in-chief of the conservative Christian WORLD magazine, "The key debate here concerns the historicity of Adam, created — according to Chapter 2 of Genesis — by God's special formative act."
"Bryan's situation is not unique: Professors at many Christian colleges, often influenced by the BioLogos Foundation, contend that God worked through evolution to produce Adam. Some say there were many Adams, others suggest that God made a spiritual change in one hominid from among a herd, and other theistic evolutionists propose additional theories," he explained last month.
Bryan College is a member of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. Named after the Williams Jennings Bryan, it was founded in the aftermath of the 1925 Scopes Trial "for the purpose of establishing, conducting and perpetuating a university for the higher education of men and women under auspices distinctly Christian and spiritual, as a testimony to the supreme glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Divine inspiration and infallibility of the Bible."
The school has more than 1,700 students enrolled in residential, online and graduate programs.