Collegian staff report
Neil Anderson, an Asbury professor of biblical and theological studies, has come under fire for comments made on his personal Twitter account, and both he and Asbury President Sandra Gray have issued official responses.
In online statements originally reported to LEX18 by former Asbury student Michael Grout, a fifth-generation Asburian, Anderson refers to participants of the Women’s March on Jan. 21 as “pigs wallowing in the mud,” and called singer Miley Cyrus a “tramp.” He also said of Barbara Streisand, “It’s a good time to get your nose fixed.” His Twitter account has since been deactivated.
“I realize now that with the new social media, if one participates, one gives up a private life to a certain extent,” said Anderson in the statement released to the Collegian. “Therefore, I am willing to offer a public written apology for the content of the tweets in question.”
“I realize now that with the new social media, if one participates, one gives up a private life to a certain extent.”
President Gray’s statement reinforces a previous official response by the university.
“Asbury has always been, and continues to be, a community that prioritizes love and grace,” she said. “While we value lively discussion and vigorous engagement with ideas, our deepest values demand that we always speak, and act, with the love of Jesus. Asbury is a safe place for the most difficult conversations; but we want to do that in a way that honors our Lord and gives Him the glory. It’s never okay for Christians to say things that are mean-spirited, harmful, detrimental…and we will always call those people into accountability at Asbury. This doesn’t devalue our free-speech rights, but as Christians there are ways to express our convictions in a God-honoring way.”
“During difficult times — and sometimes through very complex and emotional issues — there is one quote I turn to often,” she said. “Written by E. Stanley Jones, a 1907 Asbury graduate, it holds a place of honor at the entry of our Hughes Auditorium: ‘Here we enter a fellowship. Sometimes we will agree to differ; always we will resolve to love, and unite to serve.’”
On the Asbury website, under social media policy, it states that “employees, in all institutional roles, need to follow the same behavioral standards online as they would in real life.” The policy dictates that “the same laws, professional expectations, and Asbury University community standards and policies for interacting with students, parents, alumni, donors, media and other University constituents apply in social mediums as in the real world. The university’s current employee policies — including those found in the staff and faculty handbooks apply to employee use of social media, as do local, state and federal laws.”
The faculty handbook gives policy on community members’ speech that reads, “Lying, dishonesty, gossip, slander, profanity and vulgarity (including crude language) are expressly prohibited in Scripture. Such speech is not helpful for building others up and should be avoided.”
Brad Johnson, Asbury’s director of marketing and communications, echoes the university’s social media policy in his official statement.
“Asbury University strongly supports its students, faculty, staff and alumni in having the freedom to express their thoughts and opinions in a public forum, but also has had a social media policy in place for years that stipulates one must make certain the views expressed on personal sites cannot be construed as being those of the University,” he said. “All of the tweets in question were made on a personal site, Asbury repudiates them and they do not reflect views of the University. Discussions with the employee have occurred and are on-going.”
The administration declined to comment further on disciplinary action due to its departmental policy of not disclosing personnel matters.
“We also ask for justice on behalf of ourselves and the rest of those in our community who were threatened and insulted.”
Before the release of Gray’s statement, an online petition entitled “#NotMyAsbury” was pushing for Asbury’s administration to release another statement further condemning Anderson’s comments. The website, profneilanderson.com, provides 39 screenshots of additional instances where Anderson posted controversial remarks, including a retweet of a photo featuring a black man waving a Confederate flag, captioned “HAPPY 4th OF JULY LETS TAKE IT BACK!”
“We are not asking that this man be fired,” a statement on the website reads. “We are not asking that he be fined. In fact, we ask that he be shown grace. We also ask for justice on behalf of ourselves and the rest of those in our community who were threatened and insulted.”
“We are all human and we all say things we regret,” Grout said to the Collegian. “This last year so much unnecessary negative rhetoric has sprouted up and I don’t believe spewing back negative is the right answer, but I do believe holding people accountable and trying to reach out in a positive, peaceful way is something we need to do more.”
Going forward, Johnson says this incident will impact the university’s policies.
“I wrote vast portions of the social media policy that exists now,” he said, “and am always looking for places to improve it. I’m hoping recent experiences can help to do just that.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly indicated that Asbury’s official statement “condoned” instead of “condemned” Anderson’s post.