A professor of Hebrew and the Old Testament at Louisiana College has resigned to protest a sermon given in February by a dean at a required chapel service for students. The professor says the dean, Joshua Dara, insulted women in multiple ways that are not Christian or compassionate and that show extreme sexism.
The professor, who was present at the sermon, said that Dara said women were turning themselves into a "crack house" by having multiple sex partners. And Dara encouraged women to "mow your lawn," an apparent reference to their pubic hair. According to the professor and others present, awkward laughter was followed by many women saying they felt they had been demeaned, a topic that carried over into classroom discussions. Russell Meek, the professor who resigned, said he was leaving to protest the failure of the college to criticize Dara and thus offer support to female students. Meek provided email messages about the incident to Inside Higher Ed and also to Bayou Brief, a nonprofit journalism organization that wrote about the situation on Sunday.
The emails show that Meek complained repeatedly to Louisiana officials, telling them about the impact that the sermon had on students. And they show that the college viewed this as a case of "differences in cultural perceptions."
An email to the campus from Norman Miller, chief spokesman for the college, said that "there was never any intent to be insensitive." Miller said that Dara's talk "was evidence of differences in cultural perceptions and nomenclatures." He added, however, that "the highly respected" Dara wanted to offer a response to "those whose sensitivities were transgressed."
Dara's email, sent with Miller's and addressed to students, then said, "I am sorry to hear that some of you were offended by the tone of my preaching at the chapel this week. I am grateful that you brought this issue to my attention and I ask your forgiveness. It was never my intention to cause anyone distress. Next time, I'll be sure to weigh my warped sense of humor against my sense of propriety and choose something that isn't controversial."
Dara did not respond to a voice mail or an email asking for comment. Miller did not respond to email messages seeking comment, or voice mail messages to his office number or a mobile number that the Louisiana president's office said would reach him. He also did not respond to Bayou Brief.
UPDATE: On Wednesday, after this artlcle was published, Louisiana College's lawyer sent the following statement: "The matter at hand involves a former employee, Dr. Russ Meek, who was already disgruntled about other leadership decisions and now has purposefully pursued this issue in an attempt to malign the leadership of Louisiana College. He has erroneously attempted to conflate nationally reported cases of sexual abuse with a comment made by Dr. Joshua Joy Dara during a Louisiana College chapel message. When Dara learned that some in the audience may have been offended, he immediately issued a public apology to the entire campus community. Then on two occasions, Dara personally asked Meek for a private meeting to try and resolve the matter, but Meek refused to meet with Dara. Louisiana College has policies and procedures for filing grievances. To date, no student or employee has filed a complaint in this regard. Louisiana College also has policies and procedures to address sexual harassment/abuse and will take all measures necessary to ensure the safety and welfare of all Louisiana College students and employees."
In a phone interview, Meek said that the sermon wasn't bad because it was controversial or an example of poor use of humor. He said it was a direct attack on female students, coming from a senior administrator at the college.
When Dara spoke, Meek said "my mouth just dropped open. It was shocking." He said female students immediately started asking questions in class about whether the college believed that, if they had had sex, they could not hope to be married and live fulfilling family lives. "The students were very upset," he said.
Dara's sermon at the Baptist college came just days after "Abuse of Faith," a major investigation by The Houston Chronicle and The San-Antonio Express News on hundreds of incidents of sexual misconduct by Southern Baptist pastors, deacons and others. The series documented cases involving 700 victims.
Meek said the series should have prompted soul-searching by Baptist institutions about how their church has treated women. "And then this junk is spewed," he said, in reference to the sermon.
In a letter to Louisiana's president, Rick Brewer, Meek wrote, "Dara delivered a public message in chapel, at the least implicitly endorsed by those who gave him the platform to do so, in which he reduced women to sexual objects and communicated that their value was in how many sexual partners they had. Yes, this is offensive. Yes, this is a false gospel. And yes, this message was delivered publicly as biblical truth … The fruits of misogyny are abuse. Physical, verbal, sexual abuse. Men are told that women are objects for their pleasure. Women are told that their value is in their sexuality and physical appearance. And all this is presented as true. As the Southern Baptist Convention reckons with the current sexual abuse scandal, we must address institutions that foster the teaching and worldview that engenders such abuse."
Meek also wrote, "Let me state this clearly: No woman is a crackhouse. No woman exists for the pleasure of a man. No woman's value is in her physical appearance. The Bible is very clear about this."
Wade Burleson, a pastor and writer, has been blogging and tweeting about the situation at Louisiana College. He posted the following to Twitter as word spread that Meek was leaving the college over its refusal to take action against Dara.
One student who asked not to be identified described being at chapel for the sermon and feeling hurt by the college ever since. In class right after the sermon, the student said "everyone felt uneasy in their own skin" because of what had been said. As for Meek, the student said that he was showing courage, even if it meant the professor would no longer be at the college. "You don't have to die on a hill, but if you pick one to die on, dying on the hill of sexism and misogyny is a good one," the student said.
Some students have also been taking to social media to praise Meek and to say that they felt hurt by the way the college didn't take seriously the way they felt after the sermon.