The Curious Case of Anthony LeDonne
Here’s the scenario: a bright young scholar publishes a helpful book that receives praise from several different segments within the academic world of biblical and early Christian studies. The book is devoted to understanding historical Jesus studies from a perspective informed by memory theory. The book is also bolstered by solid research, and is both witty and creative in its interaction with elements of popular culture and contemporary scholarship on the historical Jesus. Then, the school at which that young professor teaches decides the book and its take on Jesus are so scandalous that he must be removed from his academic post….at once! The scholar in question is Prof. Anthony LeDonne. The school in question is Lincoln Christian University, an institution of higher learning “affiliated with independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.” This story has been making rounds in the blogosphere over the past week or so (see here, here, and here), though I am just now getting around to blogging about it. I find this turn of events disappointing and terribly disturbing.
The promise of “academic freedom” is one of the most important and cherished values for anyone pursuing research in an institution of higher education. However, in our field of study the lines often blur. It can sometimes be difficult for scholars working at confessional institutions to pursue an argument where the evidence leads for fear that they will no longer have a job – something this case illustrates all too well. While I pity Lincoln Christian University and its cowering to pressure from what is surely a narrow-minded and Biblically-fundamentalist consituency, I feel the most concern for Anthony. I can only hope that his reputation and considerable abilities as a professor and scholar will not be stained by this dismissal.
I had a chance to meet Anthony last November at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in San Francisco. I was attending a session devoted to another book he had co-edited. During the conference I also picked up the book which led to his dismissal and read it at the beginning of the spring semester. I appreciated the book so much that I contacted him by phone back in February to tell him so. We had a delightful conversation about teaching, writing, popular music, and baseball, and had planned to sit down for coffee at the forthcoming conference that was to be held at LCU. When I received word from Anthony a few weeks back that he had been fired over a certain constituency’s perception of the book’s contents (and presumably, the book’s implications for that constituency’s narrow understanding of “faith” and “history”), I was heartbroken for him and his family.
I don’t need to add to what’s already been said elsewhere on the web. However, as a personal and professional courtesy, I felt compelled to mention this here in an effort to shed further light on the travesty that has taken place. If you are interested in the current state of historical Jesus studies, check out Anthony’s research and don’t let one (very narrow) group’s opinion of his book cause you to form opinions that are unwarranted.