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SBL Stand on Academic Freedom and LGBT Inclusiveness (Re: Midwest Regional)

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The SBL Midwest Region meeting February 5-7, 2016, is being held at Olivet Nazarene University.  The meeting is held jointly by the SBL Midwest Region, the Middle West branch of the American Oriental Society, and the American Schools of Oriental Research – Midwest. The SBL Midwest Region meeting has been held at Olivet Nazarene every year since at least 2012.

Our concern is with holding an academic conference at Olivet Nazarene.  Over the past decade, and under the current president, Olivet Nazarene has garnered national attention for policies that are, frankly, antithetical to academic inquiry.  Most famously, a biology faculty member, Richard Colling, was censured and then forced out for teaching evolution (and, to be clear, evolution within a Christian, theistic framework); his case was investigated by the AAUP ( and is amply documented online (e.g., “Academic Freedom and Evolution,” Inside Higher Ed.

Certainly, the SBL has in its ranks a number of religiously conservative members, and members who are not at all interested in the academic study of religion. The “big tent’ model that has been vigorously pursued has lumped together those interested in the academic study of ancient religious texts and communities along with those interested in using those same ancient texts for confessional apologetics.  It’s unfortunate and it hampers any claim that the SBL might make on being a true, academic learned society; but it is the state of things.  If the SBL wants to be—and to present itself as—a professional organization of academics, a true learned society, a good step would be in not holding SBL convened meetings at institutions that deny academic freedom.

If a biologist can be forced from his tenured position for stating that the Christian god effected creation in part through the processes of evolution, how can any academic biblical scholar be asked to report honestly on their academic findings regarding the Bible in that atmosphere? How can any learned society have the gall to partner with such an institution?

Furthermore, the SBL choosing to host a conference at Olivet Nazarene implicitly connotes approval for their policies, and explicitly brings respect and prestige to the institution.  This is even more disturbing in light of Olivet Nazarene’s troubled, and publicly documented, history with LGBT students on campus ("Gay issue reignites at ONU". Kankakee Daily Journal. Their official policy of only offering counseling to gay students if that counseling involves “overcoming” their “gayness” is particularly disgraceful ( In effect, the SBL is telling LGBT members in the region that their only opportunity to present their research to fellow Society members outside of the Annual Meeting is at an institution openly hostile toward them. This is even more troubling given that the regional meetings are venues especially open to students, many of them presenting to a scholarly audience for the first time.  What LGBT student wants that already nerve wracking experience to take place in an institutional environment that openly declares them personae non gratae?

Shame on the SBL for affiliating with this kind of institution. 

This abject failure of leadership should be rectified immediately by terminating all official dealings with Olivet Nazarene. If the SBL wants to be taken seriously as an academic learned society, it needs to instate policies about what kinds of institutions it is willing to do business with.

Under no circumstances should the SBL be involved with institutions that deny academic freedom or treat our LGBT siblings with such heinous and hurtful intent.


The undersigned urge the SBL to adopt a policy not to hold official SBL events, or otherwise do business with, institutions that demonstrably undermine or devalue academic freedom.

The undersigned urge the SBL to adopt a policy not to hold official SBL events, or otherwise do business with, institutions that, through deed or policy, discriminate against LGBT persons.






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