Liberty University may purchase Northfield campus from current owners Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby's prospective sale/gift to Liberty will be decided at a meeting on March 7*. NMH has promised to protect the grounds of Northfield from any sale that would dishonor the legacy of D.L. Moody. Read article attached for details. Update below.
* UPDATE (March 12, 2012) Today the Boston Globe ran another story about these issues. It can be read here:
* UPDATE (March 8, 2012) As of now, it it is being reported that Hobby Lobby/the Green family is considering proposals between now and April. We will keep this petition open in the meantime.
* UPDATE (March 9, 2012) Today the Board has made a statement which can be found on the NMH website here:
* UPDATE (March 11, 2012) Yesterday the Greenfield Recorder ran a story about these issues. It can be read here:
By DAVID RAINVILLE
NORTHFIELD — Many residents, Northfield Mount Hermon School alumni, and others are concerned to hear the ultra-conservative Liberty University is eyeing the former Northfield campus.
The campus was bought by Hobby Lobby stores in 2009 for $100,000, with the intent of fixing it up and giving it to the CS Lewis Foundation, which would start a college there. Thefoundation fell short of the $5 million required, and Hobby Lobby began searching for other recipients.
Some are worried Liberty has already been chosen for the campus, but Jerry Pattengale, a college administrator hired by campus owner Hobby Lobby Stores, said that’s simply not the case. He said Hobby Lobby’s owners, the Green family, plan to review proposals and make a decision next month. A review of first-round proSee CONCERNS Page A2
■ Concerns: ‘Liberty’s (policies) fly in the face of the ... values of NMH’
From Page A1
posals had been scheduled for March 7, but the Greens decided to put it off until all proposals are in.
Still, Liberty’s staunch conservative values have upset some.
Liberty University was established in Lynchburg, Va. in 1971 with “a vision to train champions for Christ” by the late Jerry Falwell Sr., according to current Liberty president, Jerry Falwell Jr. The school shuns the theory of evolution, teaching that “Human beings were directly created, not evolved, in the very image of God,” according to the school’s doctrinal statement.
Liberty has no plans to bring a full-on satellite campus to Northfield, Ronald Godwin, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs said Friday. He said the college would not want to use the entire campus, but would look to form a consortium, where several organizations would use the campus. Godwin said that Liberty would hold “intensive courses” for online students at the campus, which are condensed full-credit classes lasting up to one week. He said the campus is too far from a major urban center and requires too much upkeep for Liberty to take the entire campus over or run a full-fledged satellite campus there.
Several Northfielders have signed an online letter decrying the school’s views and controversial statements made by its founder, and asking the town to come together to keep Liberty out of Northfield.
“Northfield may find itself dominated by an ultra-conservative political faction that soon could transform the town,” read the letter, penned by residents Nancy and G. John Champoux and their daughter Tess, an NMH alumna, and signed by six other residents.
Jerry Falwell Sr., founder of Liberty University and the Moral Majority, made his conservative views no secret during his life. Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, he blamed homosexuals, pagans, abortionists, feminists and groups like the ACLU and People for the American Way for trying to secularize America, paving the way for the terrorist attacks. This was cited in the letter, and confirmed through several news sources.
“I just don’t wish to have that kind of institution in town,” said resident Joan Deely, who signed the letter that was posted on a community website for Northfield residents.
An online petition to NMH started by Melissa Totten (NMH class of 1976) on March 5 asks the prep school’s board of directors to draft a letter to Hobby Lobby, asking the company not to give the campus to Liberty. The petition has already been signed more than 1,000 times, including the signatures of several NMH alumni.
A letter attached to the petition calls Liberty “an extremist, homophobic, and intellectually narrow institution,” and states that petition supporters “consider the institutional presence of Liberty University on the Northfield campus fundamentally incompatible with the spiritual breadth, academic depth, and community diversity we know and cherish at Northfield Mount Hermon.”
“Falwell’s legacy is the policy agenda that has been handed down to the Christian far right today, to ‘cure’ gays and lesbians, to prohibit all abortions and access to contraceptives, to deny rights to women and people of non-Christian faiths, and to limit the educational parameters of public education, including the banning of books deemed unacceptable,” reads the letter. “These ideas are antithetical to the lessons we learned at Northfield Mount Hermon.”
“Our daughter is an alum. We chose NMH because we liked that it had its own orientation and own values system, but was very open to other ways of thinking,” she said. “(Liberty’s policies) fly in the face of the traditions and values of NMH.”
Deely also doesn’t think Liberty will work well with the town to make sure its needs are met and concerns addressed.
“I feel like we need someone that’s open to a dialogue,” she said. “I don’t think there’s much opportunity for discussion with Liberty.”
Alex Stewart, a former minister and chairman of the committee formed between the CS Lewis College, NMH, and the town, hopes that whoever takes over the campus will work closely with Northfield. Stewart has remained peripherally involved in the campus’ future, and has been on several tours giving groups a bit of history on the town as well as NMH and its founder, 19th century evangelist Dwight L. Moody.
“As this moves forward, I am certain the community will seek every way to work constructively with any college or colleges that come to serve on this campus,” said Stewart.
While some protest the prospect of a Liberty campus in Northfield, Liberty’s Facebook wall is abuzz with enthusiasts as well as current and hopeful students who would love to see the school in some form come to the region. Comments range from excited New Englanders saying they’d attend a nearby campus, to more evangelical remarks that God and a conservative voice are needed badly in the state and the Northeast.
Comments like the latter have Deely concerned.
“When people say Liberty should come to the area because I (and the rest of New England) need help, I find it troubling. That’s not a presence we’re looking forward to having.”
NMH has no say about who that recipient may be.
David Rainville can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 ext. 279
March 4, 2012
Mark H. Chardack ’73
Chair, NMH Board of Trustees
Northfield Mount Hermon
One Lamplighter Way
Mount Hermon, MA 01355
As loyal alumni of Northfield Mount Hermon School and its fundamental traditions of spiritual diversity, expansive learning, and community action, we call on you to lead the board in taking a public stand against the current owners' prospective transfer of the former Northfield campus to Liberty University. While we recognize that the Green family has legal authority to dispose of the campus according to its own preferences, we believe that to deed it to an extremist, homophobic, and intellectually narrow institution (whose founder blamed the September 11, 2001 attacks on insufficient regard to Christianity in the public and private sectors of American life) is inconsistent with the Board's explicit language in the provisions of their agreement with the Green family and Hobby Lobby. Standing by silently as the current owners welcome Liberty University onto the Northfield property fails to honor D. L. Moody's true legacy.
Dwight L. Moody's "great awakening" and his subsequent calling to provide religious education is a strong foundation for the Northfield Mount Hermon community. "The Great Evangelist" had a complex vision and a mission to lead others to conversion experiences and the Christian faith. He was an early proponent of racial, ethnic and religious diversity of the school’s student body, and a forward-thinking leader who believed the school’s responsibility included providing education to those who had no access because they were poor. Today, the school's statement of its "core values" reinforces and extends this pledge to offer students the “…opportunity for demanding and transformative responsibilities and experiences” (www.nmhschool.org/sites/default/files/historical/NMH-CoreValues.pdf). Moreover, those "core values" embrace additional commitments that are diametrically opposed to those of Liberty University and its founder:
• An opportunity for and encouragement of spiritual development through religious traditions, exploration of the human experience, and appreciation of the natural world
• The expectation and practice of egalitarian ideals, especially honesty, civility, hopefulness, curiosity, and tenacity
The school throughout its history has grappled successfully with the tension between its missionary Christian roots and the modernization of both its curriculum and its ambitions for its graduates to serve humanity in a variety of venues, including the secular, with integrity and commitment.
We do not protest here the 2009 sale of the campus, for that transaction – albeit controversial – was accomplished by the NMH Board of Trustees in good faith. We do not judge the Green family's orthodox Christian beliefs, or their desire to build institutions reflecting their own concept of morality. We had reconciled ourselves to the possible arrival of a new college created by the C. S. Lewis Foundation, believing it a relatively compatible intellectual fit (despite the Foundation's stated ambition to prepare more Christian candidates to enter secular university faculties). However, we consider the institutional presence of Liberty University on the Northfield campus fundamentally incompatible with the spiritual breadth, academic depth, and community diversity we know and cherish at Northfield Mount Hermon.
Thus we must register our principled objections to the proposed sale of the former Northfield campus to the institutional and patrilineal inheritors of the extremist, exclusionary, and authoritarian dogma of the Moral Majority in the 1980s and its role in consolidating the far right's political will-to-power through the Christian Coalition as well as its allies and successors. These ambitions in fact have been made explicit for the entire Northeast according to Liberty University Facebook page comments on the sale of the Northfield campus. One comment enthuses: "To have such a light in the dark reaches of the Northeast would be great." (https://www.facebook.com/LibertyUniversity). We call on you – who are responsible for our school's ongoing stewardship – to object.
We graduates of Northfield Mount Hermon School also stand in solidarity with those residents of the town of Northfield dismayed by the prospect of Liberty University arriving to proselytize speciifically in the local community. We do recognize that many residents may welcome the income generated by any new institution. However, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green seems to anticipate an aggressively evangelical role within Northfield itself, telling the Boston Globe, "I would love to see [the new owners] have a local impact and potentially cause people in the area to reconsider what they may believe'' ("Christian owner sought for school," by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Feb. 29, 2012).
It is important to set some context for the specific objections we raise. Liberty University is an outpost of a concerted effort to insert conservative Christian doctrine directly in the American political system. The explicit mission of its founder, Jerry Falwell, was to "save America" from his nightmare vision of a non-sectarian democracy with a Constitutional separation of church and state:
"If we are going to save America and evangelize the world, we cannot accommodate secular philosophies that are diametrically opposed to Christian truth... We need to pull out all the stops to recruit and train 25 million Americans to become informed pro-moral activists whose voices can be heard in the halls of CongressŠ I am convinced that America can be turned around if we will all get serious about the Master's business. It may be late, but it is never too late to do what is right. We need an old-fashioned, God-honoring, Christ-exalting revival to turn American back to God. America can be saved! "(Falwell, Moral Majority Report, September 1984).
In 1971, as NMH first joined its own two schools together, Falwell established Liberty University as the world's largest Christian institution of higher education in Lynchburg, Virginia (now run by his son Jerry Falwell, Jr.). According to the "Doctrinal Statement" posted on its web site, the school not only declares the Christian Bible "inerrant in its originals and authoritative in all matters" and embraces a millenial vision but also rejects scientific examinations of cosmic origins as well as human evolution: "The universe was created in six historical days. Human beings were directly created, not evolved, in the very image of God" (http://www.liberty.edu). These theological statements do not suggest an open educational model. Moreover, Falwell remained throughout his life openly hostile to any form of religious, cultural, and particularly gender diversity.
Falwell even asserted a causal link between such diversity and the Sept. 11, 2001 crisis, maintaining that "God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve:"
"And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen" (quoted in "God Gave US 'What We Deserve," by John F. Harris, Washington Post, Sept. 14, 2001, from appearance on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club," hosted by Pat Robertson).
Although he later apologized for this outrageous statement, he did not retract it. It is hard to imagine such a statement from the mouth of D. L. Moody.
Falwell's legacy is the policy agenda that has been handed down to the Christian far right today, to "cure" gays and lesbians, to prohibit all abortions and access to contraceptives, to deny rights to women and people of non-Christian faiths, and to limit the educational parameters of public education, including the banning of books deemed unacceptable.
These ideas are antithetical to the lessons we learned at Northfield Mount Hermon.
They also are divisive and hateful.
We protest, and we ask you to do the same.
The Green family reportedly will meet on Wednesday, March 7 to consider the first round of proposals submitted by a variety of Christian-based institutions for the former Northfield campus. We urge you to oppose, before that date, Hobby Lobby's transfer of Moody's historic grounds to Falwell's Liberty University.
Melissa Totten ‘76
Jean Riesman ‘75
Dongsok Shin ‘76
Tess Champoux ‘92