Don't ask, don't tell, don't speak: Methodists survive at Duke

✔ Fact Checker here.

The continuing relationship between the Methodist Church and Duke University is a myth.

In fact the historical ties were largely a myth too. The university traces its roots to Union Institute, founded in 1838 by Quakers and Methodists. After the Quakers departed, the institute and its successors, including Trinity College, never had substantial financial support from the Methodists, and would have sputtered out if it were not for secular support from Washington Duke and his sons.

Witness Duke Chapel, consecrated as an interdenominational facility, with its first Dean of another faith. Indeed this tradition continues with Dean Wells, who is a Church of England priest, not to mention the imam with his office inside.

Historically the church played no discernible role at all in helping the university respond to one of its greatest challenges: desegregation. In fact Duke -- with its Christian ties -- was a laggard in bringing racial justice.

Methodists at Duke -- unlike Baptists at Wake Forest who spoke up and were pushed out -- have been able to survive only because they kept their mouths shut:

-- The church and its tee-totaling tradition did not stop Duke, which for decades was a dry school with no alcohol at any organized function on campus or off, from changing its policies.

-- The church, try as it might, was unable to stop Duke from declaring the Chapel a university building and thus fully accessible to all, most importantly to members of the community who want blessings for their same-sex unions. Dare I say marriages. A direct contradiction of Methodist doctrine.

-- The church was unable to stop Duke, which once handed a Bible to every graduate, from putting the Holy Books on a table off-stage in case anyone wanted one.

-- The church was unable to stop Duke's Trustees -- in a rare moment of enlightenment --from enacting a Mission Statement to update the Aims of Duke University, a document that does not refer to God at all, and in fact excises from its quotes of James B. Duke his reference to Jesus Christ.


✔✔Today the Methodists accept a falsehood, that they "elect" 24 of 37 members of the Board of Trustees. (You often hear 36 Trustees, many people forgetting that our by-laws add our President).

The alumni also "elect" 12 Trustees, and they at least have been able to restrict those seats to people who actually attended school here. Not so the Methodists, who have had to cede some of their seats when Duke wanted to put others on the board, and over the years, Methodist seats have been occupied by Catholics, a Mormon, Jews and even heathens!

In fact, neither the church nor alumni "elect" our Trustees. While anyone can mail in suggestions, the President has an iron grip on the secretive selection process. The university secretary -- also the right hand man for Brodhead -- keeps a list of possibilities. Guess who screens the list!!

When a vacancy occurs for a full six year term, the executive committee of the Trustees "proposes" to the full board one name for each vacancy. The lemmings agree in a plenary meeting, and ship the "nomination" to either the Church, which has 24 trustees, or the Alumni, who have 12.

Ha. One candidate for each vacancy, no record of anyone's ever objecting and demanding a choice. No record of anyone's being rejected. Not even when a Trustee was convicted of a felony did anyone challenge his second term. As a colleague put it, he's a nice guy.

Do you think a Trustee ever reports back to his electors in the Methodist Church? Never, never. Not even when the Trustee is advanced for a second six year term, there is no review by the electors of his or her record.

In the case of a Trustee who leaves office during his or her six year term, the board itself without the charade of an election, installs a replacement.

And thus the Methodist Church has power over our destiny only in the imagination of its followers.

✔ It's fine for the Chronicle to suggest the Trustees take up the status of the Methodist Church at their October meeting, but there already is a rather busy agenda:

--the administration's mis-handling of the Potti mess and the growing lack of confidence in the investigative process. Not to mention the awkward decision last week that we have "issues" -- which is to say lies -- on this clown's resume but he won't be fired.

-- university finances, shaky, with $71 million in red ink which the current budget disguises with an extra withdrawal from our endowment.

Fact Checker believes the Davidson police case will either be overturned or narrowed. Even the three judge panel that ruled on the case "urged" the state Supreme Court to take the case.

Narrowed by perhaps allowing campus cops to enforce secular laws like the drunk driving statute involved in the case, but not allowing enforcement of religious doctrine, for example attendance at church or dancing on campus. (Don't laugh, some Christian schools persist.)

Overturned by bringing North Carolina law in line with that in 49 other states, which recognize university and private police forces and do not let fancy lawyers raise the issue of separation of church and state when it clearly has nothing to do with their cause.

Busy agenda or not, movement in the Davidson case or not, the Trustees would be wise to bring honesty to the process and re-evaluate the posture of the church.

✔Thanks for reading Fact Checker!!

Footnote: the previous poster makes mention of Mr Brodhead's remarks at the installation of a new Dean of the Divinity School. The only information I have is a quote from the Herald-Sun, which states that Mr. Duke, in forking over the loot, specified that the university's first priority should be education of preachers.

Not quite. Mr. Duke only advised, did not require. And his mention of preachers was in a list that changes Brodhead's meaning: "I advise that the courses at this institution be arranged, first, with special reference to the training of preachers, teachers, lawyers and physicians..."

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