Dean Harold Attridge responds to attacks on YDS values
In response to an article in the conservative publication The American Spectator deriding Yale Divinity School, Dean Harold Attridge has issued a statement calling the article an example of “political rhetoric” that abandons “any pretense to reasonable discourse.”
The article, written by Jeffrey Lord, a former Reagan White House political director, was published Sept. 27 on the magazine’s web site and was written in response to an interview in the September Notes from the Quad with Chris Coons ’92 M.A.R., ’92 J.D., a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Delaware.
In that interview, Coons speaks about “values that were honed” while he was a YDS student, which Lord then uses to attack Coons after disparaging YDS faculty and courses, including a course on the history of witchcraft.
Attridge said the courses and faculty attacked in The American Spectator article explore important aspects of religious history or “engage in serious consideration of important contemporary issues and perspectives on religion and society.” Any suggestion that YDS has moved to the fringes of the Christian tradition, Attridge asserted, could not be “further from the truth.”
“It is regrettable that principled discourse about important issues of the day can be so easily sidetracked by partisan rhetoric,” Attridge noted. “Political commentators should aspire to a higher standard.”
The complete text of Dean Attridge’s statement follows:
The current political season has seen a barrage of attacks that disregard truth and abandon any pretense to reasonable discourse. One such attack recently involved accusations about Yale Divinity School, alleging that it teaches witchcraft and has moved to fringes of the Christian tradition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like all accredited theological schools, Yale Divinity School has a curriculum for Master of Divinity students that grounds them in Bible, theology, church history, pastoral practices and the context in which churches now work. Our motto of “Faith and Intellect: Preparing Leaders for Church and World” encapsulates our commitment to providing excellent classical theological education in the context of a vital worshipping community. That community celebrates the spectrum of Christian traditions from throughout the world while welcoming students and faculty from other faith traditions as well.
The suggestion that witchcraft has a significant place in the life of the Divinity School is, to say the least, curious. The course highlighted in a recent article in The American Spectator was “Witchcraft & Witch-hunting in Early Modern Europe & America,” a specialized seminar that examines the phenomena of witchcraft in various cultures and especially in colonial America. The course was taught by a seasoned historian of early American Christianity, eminently qualified to discuss what happened in the Salem witch trials and their cultural background. Other courses and faculty targeted in the article engage in serious consideration of important contemporary issues and perspectives on religion and society. Tackling those issues and perspectives, even when they are problematic from the viewpoint of many Christians, is necessary to prepare our students for leadership in an increasingly complex world.
It is regrettable that principled discourse about important issues of the day can be so easily sidetracked by partisan rhetoric. Political commentators should aspire to a higher standard.