Three news sites publish articles on obscure Bethel document – without contacting Bethel.
By Abby Petersen
An obscure 20-year-old Bethel University committee document made national news on conservative sites in March when a reporter based a story off a Google search and analyzed the document’s suggestion to professors to use gender-inclusive language in academic writing.
The first article, published March 15 by a site called Campus Reform, asserted that Bethel is “eschewing masculine terminology, despite the Bible consistently referring to humans as ‘man’ or ‘mankind.’” Campus Reform calls itself “America’s #1 site for college news” in its mission, and is a project of the Leadership Institute, which has a landing page that reads, “Training conservative activists, students and leaders since 1979.”
The document in question, “Language is a Powerful Tool,” was written in 1997 by a College of Arts and Sciences faculty committee known as the Family and Gender Equity Committee. The document encourages faculty when writing scholarly works to avoid demeaning language, avoid masculine terms when referring to all people and to avoid terms that stereotype people. Although the document is not currently used by Bethel, Director of Communications Suzanne McInroy affirms the elements expressed in the document reflect Bethel’s values and exist in the faculty handbook.
Campus Reform investigative reporter Amber Athey said she came across the story through a simple Google search for gender-neutral language guides. The document came up and the story was born.
“(Campus Reform) covers liberal bias and abuse on college campuses, so we report on free speech issues, issues where conservative students might be treated unfairly by administrators or professors … anything that proves that campuses have been overwhelmingly leftist,” Athey told The Clarion.
Athey said she believed she had contacted Bethel while writing the article, but couldn’t remember – Athey typically writes one or two stories a day. McInroy said Bethel was not contacted.
Two days after Athey’s article, The Daily Caller published “The Bible Fails ‘Inclusive Language’ Standards At Evangelical College” March 17, and The Washington Times published “Baptist university in Minn. urges students, faculty to eschew ‘mankind,’ use gender-inclusive words” the same day.
“Obviously, Bethel University’s guidance for using inclusive language in ‘documents and publications and in worship experiences’ runs into considerable difficulty in any encounter with the Bible, the collected sacred texts of Christianity,” The Daily Caller education editor Eric Owens wrote.
“This document seems at odds with the way the entire Bible is set up,” Owens told The Clarion.
The Washington Times states in its “about us” page that it has a “valued conservative commentary.” The Daily Caller writes that its decisions on news coverage are decided only by their journalists.
Neither Owens nor The Washington Times contacted Bethel for the article.
“(If the reporters had contacted me) I would have explained more about the document,” McInroy said. The document is true of Bethel’s values, but it is also 20 years old.
This is not the first time Bethel’s gender policies appeared in online news. In 2015, a nonprofit news service for the LGBT community published a piece listing eight Minnesota colleges who bar openly LGBT students from admission, including Bethel. According to the article, Bethel can legally deny LGBT students but still receive federal student aid.
Bethel’s office of communications and marketing found out about the Campus Reform article from social media. Bethel received calls from concerned donors after the articles were published who thought Bethel was “editing the Bible.”
“I think that reading a document from 1997 about inclusive language may look different in 2017,” McInroy said.