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Novelist says Christian college dumped him because character in book ‘decides to hope instead of pray’

To have an avowed atheist pray ‘seemed…out of character’

My alma mater canceled the hiring of a professor more than 20 years ago because of a “sexually suggestive poem” he wrote.

The president of the Christian college told him his appointment would “compromise the moral and ethical foundation upon which our institution operates.” (They got over it, and now he directs the MFA in Creative Writing program.)

A would-be professor at Olivet Nazarene University recently suffered the same fate, but one of the purported reasons for his rescinded job offer has nothing to do with sex.

The university’s explanation also suggests that the decision was driven by a donor or other influential person, not its own policies.

T.J. Martinson, whose extended family has attended the Christian college 50 miles outside Chicago, wrote in a Facebook post that the administration cited his debut novel as the reason for the rescinded offer.

“The Reign of the Kingfisher” had been published two months before he was offered the assistant professorship in the English department, but the school took another two months to inform him the job was off the table.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Summers allegedly told Martinson that a “constituent” complained to her about portions of the novel, which the Chicago Tribune described as a “crime procedural” about an alternate Chicago that’s crumbling 30 years after a “local superhero” dies mysteriously.

The specific criticism, according to Martinson: some character-appropriate cursing (“I had difficulty envisioning a homicide detective looking at a crime scene and saying ‘goshdarnit'”), a “strong heroine” sex worker like the Bible’s Rahab, a lesbian character (Martinson says his job application made clear he’s an “ally of the LGBTQ+ community”), and an atheist who doesn’t pray.

Wait, what?

One of the more puzzling critiques, relayed to me by Dr. Summers, concerned a character, who, when presented with the option, decides to hope instead of pray. I say its [sic] puzzling for several reasons, chief among them the fact that this particular character is an avowed atheist who, although she does not believe in a god, manages to do good in the world. To have her pray seemed…out of character.

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The pulled offer may have been a blessing in disguise, Martinson wrote: Not only is the university paying him the agreed-upon salary for the upcoming academic year, but now he has a full year to finish his dissertation and his next novel and pursue the job market for modern American literature.

The administration declined to comment on “the specifics of personnel matters” to the Tribune. It simply said the university “has decided not to proceed” with Martinson’s fall appointment. The decision has likely produced some family awkwardness: His father chairs the university’s communication department.

It also did not respond to a more alarming accusation from Martinson, that Summers advised him to spin his unexpected departure as his own choice:

Dr. Summers informed me that I had freedom concerning how I’d like to share this news, suggesting that I could state I had decided to go “in a different direction” so as to, and I’m quoting, “save face.” To this I informed her that I have no face to save; however, she and the rest of the administration does.

The university’s faith tradition could have been cited as grounds to not offer Martinson a job in the first place. He said his application made clear that his “unwavering commitment” to LGBTQ allyship “runs contrary to Nazarene doctrine” (which opposes “same-sex sexual intimacy“).

While the university looked past his views on LGBTQ issues, the Tribune cites the University Life Handbook as possible justification for the rescinded offer. It says that “media productions which produce, promote or feature the violent, the sensual, the pornographic, the profane or the occult … should be avoided.”

Martinson told the newspaper he was baffled by the university’s response to his book: “I never really thought for a moment this is going to ruffle Nazarene feathers.”

The incident is another example of the Streisand Effect: The Tribune says Amazon briefly ran out of copies of his novel after his Facebook post about the rescinded offer.

Read Martinson’s post and Tribune report.

h/t Inside Higher Ed

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.