Between Legalism and Lawlessness: The Hillsdale College-Imprimis Affair

By: Dr. Ted Baehr; ©2000
What happens when your “walk” doesn’t match your “talk”? Dr. Baehr uses the recent allegations against the president of Hillsdale College to show how the cause of Christ is harmed by Christians who don’t act Christ-like.


By now, many conservative and Christian leaders may have recovered from the shock of learning that the president of Hillsdale College in Michigan, George Roche, III, reportedly carried on an affair with his daughter-in-law, Lissa (see the Nov. 29, 1999 issue of U.S. News & World Report). The magazine wrote, “The whole mess started unraveling last month when she (Lissa) died in what police call a self-inflicted shooting.” Lissa Roche was editor of Imprimis, the school’s magazine. In recent years, Imprimis became an important mouthpiece for the neo-conservative movement which strongly supported the lukewarm presidential campaigns of failed candidates George Bush and Bob Dole. Before Lissa Roche’s apparent suicide, her father-in-law divorced his wife of 44 years and married another woman.

Meanwhile, neo-conservative leader William Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues, has resigned from the Presidential Search Committee for Hillsdale, claiming that the college refused to confess to the adultery allegations which biblically bordered on incest. Furthermore, the news media has taken great joy in pointing out that Hillsdale College has refused to take federal funds or allow students to accept government loans because of the school’s commitment to “moral and social instruction.”

All of us at the Christian Film and Television Commission are saddened by these revelations and pray that they are not true. However, they underscore a theme that we have been articulating for quite a while. That is, the opposition of both moralism and law­lessness to Christian redemption.

Friends of ours who have worked behind the scenes for years at Hillsdale have re­ported to us that they sensed an institutional moralistic bias combined with an anti-Christian bigotry. These Hillsdale employees made clear that something was not right in this pur­ported bastion of moralism. Of course, what was not right is that works without faith are dead, while faith-inspired good works and obedience to the law is one of God’s blessings on mankind.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is very clear on this issue. Paul says it is impossible without the redemptive power of Jesus Christ to live under the Law. Eventually, any person who tries to do so will fall short and will need to be rescued by Jesus Christ from the curse of the Law. Such a person must be brought by God’s grace to the point of understanding that he or she needs the grace and forgiveness which can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Recently, a fundraising friend asked us to remove the name “Christian” from the Chris­tian Film and Television Commission so that we would not offend anyone! He believes that, if we just get back to Victorian values, everything will be okay. The truth is quite different, however. (Remember, the lawless 1960s followed the moral 1950s.) Victorian values will only heighten the rebelliousness of sinful man. That is why we need to recognize the re­demptive power of Jesus Christ, who can make us more than conquerors and write his Law upon our heart.

Today, this society–particularly the media–takes strong swipes at the church for being moralistic. They see God as being marginal and look at Him as a big policeman, but society’s view of God is too small. God is “just.” God is “righteous.” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. Even so, the omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence of God is a blessing. It is a blessing because God is all-powerful, powerful enough to come into our lives and give us the ability to be free from the self-destructive tendencies that may have worked to destroy George Roche, III.

Apart from Christ, the Law can only convict us of our sin. With Christ, we can triumph over sin and death. And, only through a Christian perspective can we begin to understand the true foundation of God’s Law, which is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6 and 14).

If there was an anti-Christian undertone at Hillsdale College, then that should have been a red flag that what it was offering was a conservative legalism that was no better than the lawlessness of the liberals. Those who still remember this Truth should never want to remove Christian from their name because it is that Name that makes us more than conquerors in Christ.

George Roche III once wrote, “Honor and virtue are increasingly rare commodities.” He forgot, however, that these ideals do not come from Man, but originate with God. As Paul says, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Father.’” Only Jesus Christ can truly redeem our society and turn around its moral decline. Honor and virtue without Christ is meaningless.

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