I am pretty much your standard issue evangelical Christian. Culturally conservative. Orthodox in the essentials of the faith. Jesus really did rise from the dead. He really is the son of God. He really did establish the Christian church. As you can see, standard issue.
I am also pretty much your standard issue American political conservative. Free markets. Strong America in the world. Prominent role for religion in public life. Limited role for the state. Standard issue.
Most of my adult life has taken place with academia in the background. Undergrad at Florida State University. Master's degree at University of Georgia. Law school at University of Houston. I’m currently involved in Ph.D. work at Baylor, which is my first Christian institution and would generally fall in the moderate camp. Most of the time I have felt like a minority and have taken great care to articulate my positions and my reasons for holding them. In the academic world, being a conservative is a little like being a gangsta at the golf course: you start with two strikes against you.
At Baylor the scale is a little more balanced. There on that contested campus in Waco I can find both sympathetic mentors and profs who would just as soon I weren't around. One person who is prominent both on campus and in my program is a liberal Jewish man named Marc Ellis. You might recognize his name. He appears in a new book by David Horowitz as one of "the one hundred and one most dangerous professors in America."
The new book, The Professors, is a Regnery book. Regnery is the flagship conservative publisher. They made their name with authors like William F. Buckley and Whittaker Chambers and have published some great books. If I can go purely by the chapter on Marc Ellis, The Professors isn't one of them.
I haven't taken classes with any other members of the notorious "one hundred and one," but I have spent a semester in Marc Ellis' classroom. Make no mistake. He has a particular point of view. He is generally liberal. He is a Jew who is very critical of Israel and is equally critical of Christianity. Both faiths in certain manifestations, according to Ellis, suffer from "Constantinian" tendencies, which means they take the path of domination and violence rather than love. As you can imagine, I don't share his point of view about everything or probably even most things. My orientation has always been to support Israel and to defend the Christian church reflexively. At the same time, I can see his point. Not being a great student of the history or politics of the Middle East I don't know if he's right about the contemporary situation, but his broader critique is relevant and worth considering.
Being who I am and feeling the way I do, I, like others similarly situated, did not want to take Marc Ellis' class. Nevertheless, we are required to take him in my graduate program. I thought about trying to convince the department chair to exempt me from the requirement. Friends assured me there would be no chance, so I started the class with a big chip on my shoulder.
In the early going, Ellis didn't take a lot of comments or questions from the students in the seminar. Smart move. Many of us were ready to challenge every point and turn the session into a debating society. That's not what Ellis is about. Instead, he seeks to push students outside of their pre-defined ideological territory and get them to engage him on a purely human level. He shares his thoughts, reads a little of his poetry, hands out typed monologues, draws diagrams of history, spends a good bit of time on the I and Thou, and talks a lot about Bob Dylan. In short, he puts himself out there. You can make fun of him. You can dislike him. You can hate him. You can engage him. Your choice. And see, that is sort of the point. This is not a man who is brainwashing students. This is merely a passionate man with whom many of us might disagree passionately.
The result of what he does can be astonishing. I felt space opening up inside of myself where I would be willing to discuss the issues on a personal level rather than as a member of a team trying to win an argument. In an increasingly polarized world of red state v. blue state, liberal v. conservative, believer v. unbeliever, hawk v. dove, and the rest, what Marc Ellis can accomplish in a classroom is valuable not dangerous.
Even as I write this, I know that friends and allies will be tempted to distance themselves from me because I am defending a person from "the other side." But I know wrong when I see it and what David Horowitz has done to Marc Ellis in his book about professors is wrong. Instead of engaging Ellis at any point, Horowitz campaigns rhetorically to convince the reader that this man is not a worthy person. To paraphrase, Horowitz proclaims: He lacks solidarity with his people. Jews don't listen to him. Holocaust deniers like him. He writes for an Arab newspaper. His scholarship is published by the wrong presses.
In addition, the chapter on Ellis is wrong on at least one major point of fact. For example, Horowitz claims Ellis is a "passionate endorser of the 'One-State Solution,' in which Israel will simply be eliminated as a Jewish state and will be enfolded within a larger Palestinian-dominated state." That statement, an important one, is factually incorrect. Ellis favors a two-state solution that maintains a separate Jewish state.
I hate it when I see my friend and mentor Francis Beckwith treated this way by unthinking leftists and advocates of scientism who object to his defense of the philosophical pro-life position or his willingness to consider the constitutional arguments for intelligent design in public education via a nasty mixture of ad hominem attacks and repeated commissions of the genetic fallacy. The spectacle offends my sense of justice.
When I see these tactics turned against Marc Ellis, I still hate it and my sense of justice is equally offended.
[I hasten to remind all readers that I defend Dr. Ellis not as part of some pro-Palestinian program of my own or as my own endorsement of some future two-state plan approved by the U.N. or some other body. I have no such program and as I said above, have always been pro-Israel in my politics. The program I do have is to attack this sort of non-argument argumentation that deals in personalities and alliances rather than the substance of a point of view. I also want to be clear that I have read much of David Horowitz’s work and have enjoyed it, but I think he has attacked Ellis in a way he would find abhorrent if done to him.]