New Testament professor fired for Orthodox beliefs


ATLANTA — Dr. Jamal-Dominique Hopkins thought his biblically orthodox views would be welcome at the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC). After all, the Atlanta-based seminary teaches gay theology, womanist theology, and liberation theology. But earlier this year, Hopkins found that biblically orthodox theology stretched the school's desire for diversity beyond its limit.

In February, Hopkins invited Dr. Alice Brown-Collins, director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's Black Campus Ministries in the New England Region, to speak to a group of conservative students on campus. Despite its diverse theological teachings, the school's student body comes from the black church, which mostly retains an orthodox interpretation of scripture. After her presentation, Brown-Collins gave one of the students a copy of The Bible and Homosexual Practice by Robert Gagnon.

The next day, Hopkins' department chair grilled him about the meeting, the book and his association with InterVarsity, an evangelical Christian campus ministry. The whole situation violated ITC's code of ethics, which pledges the school's commitment to a diversity that includes sexual orientation, Dr. Margaret Aymer told Hopkins. When he rose to leave, Aymer warned him he had put his job at risk.

Three months later, the school dismissed Hopkins, who has filed a discrimination complaint against ITC with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. ITC discriminated against him for his evangelical beliefs and his sex, Hopkins claims. School administrators also engaged in a deliberate attempt to humiliate him and damage his reputation by changing his students' grades, in violation of school policy, Hopkins said.

School officials did not respond to requests for comment.

ITC, now a coalition of eight historically black seminaries that include Turner Theological Seminary and The Baptist School of Theology, earned its charter in 1958. The school had an ecumenical focus from the beginning, but over time, it's theology became increasingly separated from biblical orthodoxy.

By the time Hopkins arrived in 2008, he was a minority among his colleagues.

"The faculty tends to be very liberal," he said. "But the student body mainly come from the black church, so it's conservative and orthodox. There's tension there."

Despite his adherence to orthodox teachings, school administrators touted Hopkins as the only African-American New Testament theologian with expertise in the Dead Sea Scrolls. They allowed him to teach from textbooks of his choosing and even encouraged his efforts to reach out to conservative students with a weekly spirituality meeting. During the meeting, students prayed together, shared their faith and listened to outside speakers.

Even though Hopkins was the only one of three New Testament professors who didn't advocate for "queer theology," which seeks to redefine Christian teachings about gender and sexuality, he never thought his beliefs might get him fired. He even got a promotion and a raise in the weeks before the meeting that included Brown-Collins' presentation.

After Aymer threatened his job, Hopkins filed a formal grievance with the school. Administrators didn't acknowledge his complaint for two months, during which Aymer continued to write negative reviews of Hopkins. She also tried to make a case against him by calling former colleagues and fellow theologians, Hopkins said. And she told him the orthodox texts he used in his New Testament classes had to go.

"She said none of the books gave the current scholarly view of the New Testament," Hopkins said. "She said I needed more books conducive to womanist theology, post-colonial theology or LGBT theology."

At the end of the semester, when one student emailed Hopkins to ask when his grade would be changed, Hopkins learned administrators had started changing his students' final grades. Ten students, several of whom had gotten F's from Hopkins, ended up with C's, or better. One student's F became an A-.

Changing the grades not only did a disservice to the students and the institution but obviously served to damage the professor's reputation, an act of retaliation, said Joe C. Hopkins, Jamal Hopkins' lawyer and father: "Because of one day, one book, one disagreement, or perceived disagreement, his career can be destroyed with the stroke of a pen, without any thought to the significant contribution he can and has made to theological education."

Dr. Robert Gagnon, whose book started Hopkins' trouble, said the school's response epitomized the intolerance of professors promoting a gay agenda in academia today: "Their end game is not tolerance for homosexualist views but rather the persecution and removal of any who dare think for themselves and question such views. They cannot allow even reasoned discussion or debate."

Hopkins hopes to resolve his dispute with ITC without going to court. But school officials refused to participate in a mediation session requested by the EEOC, which opened an investigation into Hopkins' discrimination claims. ITC also faces an unrelated investigation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools over a lack of compliance with accreditation requirements.

While he waits for an EEOC ruling, Hopkins will work on an initiative to reform theological teaching. During his time at ITC, students told Hopkins they didn't have a voice when it came to the erosion of orthodoxy in their training.

"They want to get a theological education and affirm their Christian faith," he said. "That was the splendid legacy of ITC. But somewhere things changed. I'm really interested in continuing on in that."