It's a rare occasion that a gorgeous, 217-acre college campus is very literally offered up free of charge to a worthy party. Yes, that's right -- an entire higher education facility. The only stipulation is that the receiving group must be Christian in nature. While this is a generous gesture, the property, located in Northfield, Massachusetts, has some residents extremely nervous -- especially considering that Liberty University, an evangelical institution that was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, is one of the prospective candidates ready and willing to move in.
Some people are so nervous about Liberty's potential takeover of the land that a petition against the institution has been launched. In fact, alumni of the Northfield Mount Hermon prep school -- the school that owned the site until 2009 -- are petitioning against the potential Christian owners, alleging that Liberty is "extremist" and "narrow" in its teachings.
The New York Times has more:
More than 1,000 alumni of Northfield Mount Hermon have signed a petition calling Liberty “an extremist, homophobic and intellectually narrow institution” that clashes with the values of D. L. Moody, an evangelist who opened a school for girls on the property, his birthplace, in 1879.
“Whoever comes in there should have views consistent with the legacy of the place,” said John Howley, a Northfield Mount Hermon alumnus and former trustee who signed the petition, which is addressed to the chairman of the school’s board of trustees. He described Moody as a promoter of “big-tent” Christianity. “We don’t want it to go to a place that is not open-minded, not willing to listen to the views of others,” he said.
The petition calls for Northfield Mount Hermon’s trustees to publicly stand against Liberty's potential acquisition of the land. That being said, the school's leaders have proclaimed that they have no say in what Hobby Lobby does with the institution (the prep school is now consolidated at a different location). The former prep school students also write:
Thus we must register our principled objections to the proposed sale of the former Northfield campus to the institutional and patrilineal inheritors of the extremist, exclusionary, and authoritarian dogma of the Moral Majority in the 1980s and its role in consolidating the far right's political will-to-power through the Christian Coalition as well as its allies and successors. These ambitions in fact have been made explicit for the entire Northeast according to Liberty University Facebook page comments on the sale of the Northfield campus. One comment enthuses: "To have such a light in the dark reaches of the Northeast would be great."
The land in question was sold by Northfield to Hobby Lobby, a craft-store chain that is owned by the Green family. While the initial plan was to give the institution to a foundation named after famed Christian writer C.S. Lewis, that plan didn't pan out. The foundation was initially hoping to open a Christian college focused upon the study of books, however a down economy has shelved those plans.
So, the Greens are relying on help from Jerry Pattengale, a college administrator in Indiana, to find a reliable college that has the financial backing to take the property over. Liberty, to the chagrin of some locals, has the ability to manage such a massive campus undertaking. Plus, the Greens already seem to have a connection to the Christian college, as they donated $10.5 million toward the building of a law school at Liberty (they also gave $70 million to Oral Roberts University, another Christian school).
There's no telling which institution will inevitably get the property, but if it is, indeed, Liberty, it's likely that there will be some tensions. After all, the northeast is somewhat less evangelical and more unfamiliar than the south with the values that are held at the conservative school.
(H/T: New York Times)