My mom and dad divorced when I was six years old, and she remarried when I was thirteen. My new stepfather was deeply loved by his church community, was a zealous evangelist, and a leader in our church. So it makes a lot of sense that there were strict rule in our house about telling other people what happened inside those walls. No one should hear about the explosive temper, beratings, and beatings. If people found out, it would damage his image, his reputation, his standing. And really, that’s what mattered most. Ultimately, church leadership didn’t care, anyway, and they rebuked me for my pleas for help. “Honor your father,” “don’t embarrass your family,” and “keep private things private” are just a few of the things I heard.
Decades later I experienced the same sort of rebukes from the president of Louisiana College when I confronted his abuse of Matthew 18. It didn’t matter that a dean of the school had compared women to crackhouses, advised them to mow their “lawns,” or indicated that their value was in both their physical appearance and their sexuality. What mattered was the school’s reputation. So Brewer emailed students, faculty, and staff to admonish them not to report harassment or abuse through the proper channels. Brewer demanded that I not go public with my criticism (under threat of lawsuits, firing, and a reference to Haman’s gallows), refused to release the video from the chapel, and deleted all videos from chapel that were on YouTube.
Now the school has implemented a social media policy that seems designed to silence criticism from students, faculty, and staff. Violating this policy can result in an employee’s firing or student’s expulsion. Here are some of its highlights:
- Employees and students of the institution who voluntarily choose to work for and/or to attend the institution voluntarily give their informed consent to waive their right to unfettered free speech.
- While the college supports and encourages individual freedom of expression, it also has concerns about . . . Louisiana College’s image.
- Social networking sites may be regularly monitored by a number of sources within LC (e.g., Athletics, Student Development, Information Technology, and Campus Security) or authorized vendors engaged by LC to monitor social media.
- If you participate in certain high-profile student activities, you may be required to provide full access to your personal social media to selected employees of LC or authorized vendors.
- If you discover inappropriate information on the social media site of any LC student, you are required to contact the Dean of Students or other LC administrative staff member.
- Do not comment on matters that could reasonably be expected to be confidential regarding your fellow students or Louisiana College.
- Comments related to LC, its administration, faculty, staff, and events related to LC . . . must be neither inappropriate nor harmful to LC, its employees, or its students, . . . .
- Employees and students should not post or participate in unprofessional communication that could negatively impact Louisiana College’s reputation . . . .
Why should Baptists care about this? First, it is part of a pattern of behavior that seeks to keep people from speaking freely about what is happening at the college. If there is nothing wrong, then why threaten students, faculty, and staff with dire consequences should they say anything negative? And if there’s nothing wrong and someone does make a negative comment, who cares? There is something deeply off when a person or institution goes to such great lengths to silence criticism. I’m reminded of my experiences growing up in an abusive household. I wouldn’t have had anything bad to say if my stepdad wasn’t abusive.
Second, Jesus makes this comment in John’s Gospel: “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.” Yet, Louisiana College, a Baptist institution, aims to keep its goings-on in secret. Why is that? I’m certain the Pharisees would have much rather been criticized in private than in public, and yet Jesus chose instead to confront them openly. And had they not been sinning, they would have had no reason to fear.
Third, can you imagine joining a Christian institution that limits your constitutional right to free speech as an American citizen? In addition to that, can you imagine “voluntarily”—under threat of expulsion or firing—reporting on your friends and neighbors should they violate a policy that limits their free speech? All in the name of protecting the image of that institution? It seems strange to me that a Christian institution would have so much to hide that it forced its members to “voluntarily” restrict their rights and to turn in others who refuse to do so.
Fourth, and most importantly, the Southern Baptist Convention is in the midst of a reckoning with decades of sexual abuse that has been covered up for the benefit of personalities and institutions at the expense of human beings created in God’s image. If a student, faculty, or staff at Louisiana College were to come forward about sexual harassment or abuse (or chapel sermons that degrade and sexualize women), such would certainly damage the reputation of the institution. That’s the argument so often put forth to dissuade victims from speaking out—it will hurt the church, school, etc. Under the college’s social media policy, students and employees can be expelled or fired for speaking openly about such things should they occur. That doesn’t sit right with me, and I’m sure it doesn’t sit right with you, either.
Now is the time for more honesty, more transparency, more openness. Not less. It’s time for Louisiana College to step into the light. It’s time for the powerful to stop implementing policies that silence the powerless. It’s time to care more for humans made in God’s image than for the empires some try to construct. And it’s time for institutions to so honor God that they no longer have to enforce Orwellian surveillance to ensure the purity of their image.
 Brewer denies this was his intent, but the context in which the email was sent and the content of the email indicate otherwise.
Russell L. Meek was Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Louisiana College. He has authored, co-authored, and co-edited several articles, essays, and books and is a regular contributor at For the Church.