Biola University, a conservative Christian college that teaches biblical literalism, has ended a nine-month investigation into the religious beliefs of four Eastern Orthodox staff members and will recommend that their jobs be spared.
The announcement this week by university Provost Sherwood Lingenfelter brought at least a temporary calm to months of tension between evangelicals and Orthodox Christians both on and off the La Mirada campus over whether Orthodox Christians should be employed by the interdenominational university.
Among those whose jobs were reportedly on the line were the Dean of Student Affairs, Father Michael Trigg, who is an Orthodox priest; John Mark Reynolds, director of the university's Torrey Honors Institute; art department Chairman Barry Krammes, and adjunct professor Thomas Llizo.
All are members of St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church in Whittier, where Trigg is senior pastor.
At the height of the controversy, which President Clyde Cook admitted had caused pain on both sides, some evangelicals charged that Orthodox churches do not hew to authentic biblical teaching on salvation and baptism, while an angry Greek Orthodox priest compared the whole affair to an inquisition.
"This in my opinion is a medieval inquisition and a display of ignorance by a university calling itself a Christian university that knows nothing of church history," said the Very Rev. John Bakas, dean of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Los Angeles.
"The credibility and authority and doctrinal value of the Orthodox Church has been around from Day 1 whether they like it or not," Bakas said. "When they read [New Testament books of] Corinthians, Thessalonians and Philippians, those places are not in Antarctica."
The controversy erupted last September when Lingenfelter said questions were raised by some students, alumni, pastors and members of the Board of Trustees.
Aside from possible theological conflicts, Lingenfelter said, many evangelicals have been concerned that the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe and Russia has been discriminating against evangelical missionaries.
Responding to such concerns, Cook directed Lingenfelter to form a faculty task force to examine the beliefs of the four Orthodox members of the faculty and staff to determine if their beliefs were in keeping with the university's doctrinal statement, even though all four had signed that statement when they were originally hired.
The task force issued an 80-page report calling some Orthodox teachings into question, particularly on the issue of salvation and baptism.
Several days later, the four Orthodox staffers were summoned to respond to the task force findings. Their responses have satisfied Lingenfelter and Cook, Lingenfelter said in an interview.
"I came away with a clear sense that not only do the men on our staff support our doctrinal statements," Lingenfelter said, "but the theologians from their churches said Biola's doctrinal statement was not inconsistent with their own doctrinal standing. That really, as far as the president and I are concerned, ends it."
Lingenfelter said that Cook agrees with his recommendation that there is no need for the university to take any further action.
He said such a recommendation would be made later to the Board of Trustees.
Lingenfelter also denied a report published in the student newspaper, the Chimes, which said the jobs of at least two of the four who did not have contracts were on the line.
"No member of our faculty or staff have been dismissed, nor is that imminent," he wrote to the student body.
But in an interview, Father Trigg confirmed statements he had made to the student newspaper that he was left with the impression that he would be dismissed.
"[Lingenfelter] also told Reynolds that after a year he would be given the opportunity to make a choice between Biola and the Orthodox Church. The same thing was made very clear to Barry Krammes," Trigg said. "This is not a figment of my imagination."
Trigg also said that the statement issued Thursday by Cook fell short of his hopes for a clear declaration that faculty, staff and student members of the Orthodox Church who had signed Biola's doctrinal statement should be accepted as full members and colleagues at the school.
In his statement, Cook said only that he would make the task force report and the response of Orthodox staffers available to the Board of Trustees, along with "some pertinent perceptions that I have received." Still, Lingenfelter said the decision would leave some on campus unhappy.
At the same time, he said he hopes to convene a dialogue with Orthodox Christians in June to continue talks on theological issues which may divide them.