Friday, July 15, 2011

Take the Money and Run

The Rockefeller family were never wallflowers when it came to building churches. On the left is the interior of Riverside Church in Manhattan, funded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and built for modernist Baptist preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick. You can easily see how this church reflects the simplicity typical of the Baptist roots of Rockefeller and Fosdick. (Yes, that was sarcasm). To the above right is a picture of the "Rockefeller Chapel" funded by equally Baptist John D. Rockefeller, Sr, who also founded the University of Chicago on which the "chapel" resides.

The Economic Science Association recently had its world meetings at the University of Chicago School of Business, directly across the street from Rockefeller Chapel. One day during a break I decided to wander over and see the chapel. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. The stone carvings above the door had the IHS indicating the chapel's Christian origins. Inside, there was no communion table in sight. The pews were stripped of any Bibles or hymnals. I found it impossible to tell by anything not relating to the original structure that this was in any sense a Christian, must less sacred, space.

Upon moving to the lobby, I noticed a large marble dedicatory building stone, with the following carving:

"The founder of the University of Chicago, John D. Rockefeller, on December 13, 1910, made provision for the erection of this chapel and thus defined its purpose: As the spirit of religion should penetrate and control the university, so that building which represents religion ought to be the central and dominant feature of the university group. Thus it will be proclaimed that the university is dominated by the spirit of religion. All it's departments are inspired by religious feeling, and all its work is directed to the highest ends."

A docent was sitting right next to the tablet, and I asked her: "Do you think this is true?"

She said, "Is what true?"

I said, "What it says on this tablet about the spirit of religion permeating and controlling the University of Chicago."

She said, "Well, that probably true for the divinity school."

I said, "But that's not what it says. It says 'all its departments.' Do you think that if I walked into the Political Science department that they would say that the spirit of religion was permeating and controlling their teaching and research?"

She said, "That's a really good question. No one has ever asked me that before."

It took much less than 101 years for the University of Chicago to be stripped of its Christian moorings. That's a sliver of time that it took for Princeton and others. The process of secularization marches faster and faster. The question is, when will donors such as John D. Rockefeller recognize the corrosive effects of time and modernism and change the way they are stewards of their resources, even when they have the best intentions with respect to making those resources available to the work of the Gospel.

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