Mollie Ziegler Hemingway on why some New England progressives won't tolerate evangelicals. A taste:
Unable to maintain its 217-acre campus and 43 buildings, the board of
Northfield Mount Hermon tried to sell the campus for $20 million in
2005. With no takers and prohibitive annual upkeep costs, the school
sold the property to the Green family of Oklahoma City, owners of the
Hobby Lobby craft stores, for $100,000.
The Greens planned to give the property
to the C.S. Lewis Foundation to launch a college with a Great Books
curriculum. But the foundation's fundraising fell short by the end of
2011 and the Greens began soliciting new proposals. The family does
insist that whoever ultimately takes over the school promote
Christianity in "the tradition of Moody." That has people in Northfield
worried about how well the new neighbors will fit in culturally.
More than 100 interested Christian
groups toured the campus this year. When word got out that the
contenders included Liberty University, founded by the fundamentalist
Rev. Jerry Falwell, some school alumni launched a petition drive arguing
that Liberty was a "homophobic and intellectually narrow institution"
that would be "fundamentally incompatible" with the prep school's
principles. Some residents of Northfield, home to 128 alumni and 60
employees of the school, held meetings to fight the transfer of the
property to Liberty.
After Liberty was ruled out by the
Green family, residents continued to worry. In April, at a meeting of
the Northfield Campus Collaborative—established by the Northfield Board
of Selectmen to improve communication between interested
parties—resident Bruce Kahn "brought up the 'elephant in the room' which
was the concern that an extremist Christian campus might polarize and
upset the peace and tranquility of the town," according to meeting
minutes. Resident Ted Thornton said it is a paradox that "we consider
ourselves tolerant but we won't tolerate intolerance."
Jerry Pattengale, a college administrator and the Green
family's representative tasked with finding a fitting recipient for the
campus, attended the meeting. He suggested that fear of outsiders can be
expressed by liberals as well as conservatives and should be
discouraged by all communities.
By June, Mr. Pattengale narrowed down
the finalists to Grand Canyon University and the domestic missions
agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. Residents expressed concern
about both Southern Baptist doctrines and the impact of the 5,000
students that Grand Canyon proposed to bring to Northfield
In September, the Green family named
Grand Canyon as the recipient of the campus. But five weeks later Grand
Canyon walked away from the gift, citing millions in unanticipated
infrastructure, environmental and other costs. Mr. Pattengale has said
there is another candidate with the means to operate the campus, but
"it's hard to get excited" because the mystery school is as big and
conservative as Liberty University.
At another public meeting earlier this
year—one that included questions about the contenders' views on creation
and same-sex marriage—a Northfield resident argued that "the religious
tradition of the area welcomes people of many faiths, belief or
nonbelief. There is potential conflict with those who follow more
Ironically, Northfield Mt. Hermon was founded by late nineteenth-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody.