Safe Spaces at Seminary, or why Karl Barth Would Get Protested Today

Warning: Somewhat snarky, politically incorrect post ahead. Do not read if you are easily upset and or threatened by ideas that conflict with your own!

Karl Barth musket

Karl Barth was fascinated by the American Civil War and was photographed firing a period musket during his tour of America.

If anyone has been paying attention to the news recently, one will have noticed there is a trend on college campuses (and elsewhere) to shut down and drive out any person or opinion that diverges from the postmodern, politically correct orthodoxy of the day. While one might be tempted to think that this only happens in secular places of higher education, sadly enough, even seminaries and divinity schools feel the force of this.

We saw it this in the case of the Catholic theologian Paul Griffiths, who resigned from Duke Divinity School after disciplinary actions were initiated against him when he objected to the usefulness of a two day anti-racism training for faculty.

We saw this when Princeton Seminary reversed its decision to award Tim Keller the Abraham Kuyper Prize in Reformed Theology due to student objections due to his ministry in a denomination that does not ordain women or LGBTQ+  people. (Granted, they did let him come and give some lectures, but they decided not to give anyone the prize).

As I mentioned in my last post, I am currently reading Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology: An Introduction. This book is largely drawn from the lectures he gave on a tour of America in 1962 to various seminaries and Divinity Schools.

As I finished his chapter on the “Spirit,” I came across a footnote that made me laugh out loud.  It reads:

“At the conclusion of his delivery of the fifth lecture on “The Spirit” at (The University of) Chicago and Princeton, Karl Barth added the following: ‘So much as an introduction to evangelical theology. But one thing remains to be added. Allow me to say a little enigmatically and cryptically with the words of the Rebel General, Stonewall Jackson, spoken at the hour of his death: ‘Let us cross the river’–nobody knew whether he meant the Potomac or the Jordan–‘and have a rest in the shade of the trees'” (59, bold added for emphasis).

As I read this, I thought, “Can you imagine the reaction he would receive today if he closed a lecture by quoting a Confederate General?”

Students and faculty today would accuse Barth of being a racist. They would decry this incident as another egregious example of “white privilege” and “white supremacy” and apologies from the seminary would be promptly issued.

The remaining seminaries on his tour would either cancel him and issue statements reaffirming their commitments to inclusivity and condemning anything and everything that could possibly make any person feel “unwelcome” or “excluded.” Those who decided to keep him would need to hire extra security at the event and would have counselors and “safe spaces” on hand for traumatized students and faculty.

Don’t believe me? Look what happened to the professors who were accused of the usual list of mortal sins of “racism, sexism, homophobia, and white supremacy” when they defended so-called “burgeois values”.  (Read: hard work, stable families, education, civic duty, and moderation).

If Karl Barth, a Civil War history buff, would have chosen to end a lecture today with a quote from a Confederate general, all hell would break loose and he, the most influential theologian of the twentieth century, would suffer the ire and outrage of the politically correct crowd.

Never mind that Barth courageously stood up to Hitler and Nazism. Never mind that in his early pastoral career he was pejoratively called the “red pastor” for his socialist leanings and advocacy for the working class in his town. Never mind that he opposed the nuclear arms race and praised Martin Luther King Jr.’s courage. None of this would matter today.

Of course, I know that in all likelihood if Barth was giving this lecture today, he wouldn’t have quoted Stonewall Jackson. He would known that such an act would have serious consequences for him that would drown out whatever else he had to say. Still, it makes me laugh to imagine what would have happened had he done this in today’s climate of hypersensitivity and political correctness run wild.







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