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The other fundamentalists

The story of Coach Ron Brown shows the real threat to diversity

This special issue of WORLD magazine focuses on the growing disdain many sophisticates in American culture hold for evangelical Christians. The big media in our society, along with higher academia, have habitually over the last six months compared conservative Christians to the radical Taliban. "When you've seen one fundamentalist," these folks tend to say, "you've seen them all."

If you think that overstates the case, you need to hear the story of football coach Ron Brown. An assistant on the staff at the University of Nebraska, Mr. Brown early this year was pursuing the head coaching job at Stanford University in California.

But after traveling to Los Angeles and checking into a hotel there for the scheduled interview process, Mr. Brown got no further than an initial round of questioning. The reason, according to an April 11 story in the Daily Nebraskan: "It soon became apparent his religious views, among other things, were incompatible with Stanford's liberal student body and active gay community."

The newspaper quoted Alan Glenn, Stanford's assistant athletic director of human resources: "[His religion] was definitely something that had to be considered. We're a very diverse community with a diverse alumni. Anything that would stand out that much is something that has to be looked at.... It was one of many variables that was considered."

An aside is important here. Because this issue of WORLD particularly charges journalists and higher academicians with treating evangelical Christians unfairly, it is noteworthy how fairly both the Daily Nebraskan and its staff writer, Veronica Daehn, handled the story. From the headline ("Religious beliefs present hurdles for coach's career") to the closing quote some 52 paragraphs later, the story seems nuanced and even. If anything, the account probably provokes sympathy for Coach Brown. But saying all that simply proves the point, I think: Articles like this one-in substance and tone-are too rare.

At Stanford, there was no evenhandedness at all. In the words of the Daily Nebraskan: "'Wow, it would be really hard for him here,' said Courtney Wooten, a sophomore sociology and studio art major and social director of Stanford's Queer Straight Social and Political Alliance. 'He would be poorly received by the student body in general.'

"For his part, Brown said, 'I don't know the answer to how I would fit in there.... The truth is the truth. I don't believe you compromise any truth for whatever job.'"

Student writer Daehn raised tough issues by deftly posing a number of rhetorical questions:

  • "Does Stanford's view of Brown's religious beliefs as one reason for not hiring him constitute discrimination against Christians? And do Brown's outspoken views on homosexuality constitute discrimination against Stanford's gay students?
  • "Is it ironic that a liberal university devoted to inclusion and diversity would refuse to hire a coach based in part on his Christian belief system?
  • "Have Brown's highly publicized religious views limited his career, effectively trapping him in Lincoln where he has found a comfortable niche for the past 15 years?"

Mr. Brown told the student newspaper he was amazed at Stanford's bluntness. "If I'd been discriminated against for being black, they would've never told me that," he said. "They had no problem telling me it was because of my Christian beliefs."

Besides quoting several homosexual leaders at Stanford, the Daily Nebraskan was careful also to reflect the response of Christian leaders near the two schools. Chris Bubak, Lincoln area director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said that because Christians often hold politically incorrect views on issues such as homosexuality and sex outside of marriage, universities may shy away from them so as not to offend donors, alumni, or future recruits. But Mr. Bubak told the paper that doesn't make it right; he compared it to denying someone a further interview because of his or her sexual orientation.

Many of the responses to the Daily Nebraskan were supportive of Coach Brown. An embarrassing number were as condescending as was Stanford University itself.

The point of the Ron Brown story is that, after seeing one fundamentalist, you haven't by any means seen them all. Some fundamentalists are far more discriminatory and exclusionary than others. And based on the evidence even in the Daily Nebraskan-the journalistic voice of a modern secular university-it's not the Christian fundamentalists who are the real threat to diversity these days.