God and “man” at Yale

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Required reading for me always includes the Friday Wall Street Journal “Houses of Worship” column. One does not always agree, of course, but this column is consistently interesting and provocative. This week’s column, “Changes at Chapel” (May 20) gently questions (lampoons?) the recent decision at Yale to disengage from the United Church of Christ in order to “strengthen religious and spiritual life on campus.” One may legitimately question whether the UCC has had anything to say for a while (except for its celebrated TV commercial casting aspersions upon the “inclusive” pretensions of the other mainline denominations) but the author of the column, Naomi Schaefer Riley (author of God on the Quad), reminds us of the great days when William Sloane Coffin kept the Yale chaplaincy in the news.

Some may have forgotten that Coffin signed the Hartford Declaration, a document which put forth some claims for traditional Christian doctrine. Riley writes,

“Doctrine, even weakly expressed, signals a seriousness of religious purpose. It honors a religious tradition–even a liberal tradition–and habits of devotion. For religious students these days, the greater alienation comes from a dilution of belief into a vague, “inoffensive” spirituality. (It is hardly surprising that the [Yale] committee used the phrase “spiritual life” in its call for changing the chapel’s identity.)”

If Yale really wants to strengthen religious life, it needs another William Sloane Coffin, another Peter Gomes [Harvard], another Will Willimon [Duke]. It is being said that, after the passing of these preachers, there will be no more of these great figures in our great university pulpits. Let us look to the new chaplain at Duke, Samuel Wells, for hope.

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