Dear Reader Staff:
I read the article about Moody Bible Institute which appeared in the May 26th Reader with some interest. I too have attended MBI. I was a part of that fringe about which Mr. [Mike] Ervin spoke. I was more than just an underground dissident, for I spoke out against some of the duplicity and closed-mindedness which was, is, and will always be a part of MBI.
I could not fault anything Mr. Ervin wrote. As far as I remember, everything was true. But certain things were left out. Yes, everyone there is supposed to be active in their churches at home, nonsmoking, nondrinking, abstaining from sex if unmarried. But is that all negative? I realize it is restrictive, especially to the late-20th-century urban dweller. But, if entered upon willingly, with eyes fully open to the “temptations” which surround us all, this lifestyle would save money (and who doesn’t need money?), help out in the social/volunteer arena, and prevent STDs and heartache. Are those not good things?
I submit that no one forces anyone to get a piece of paper from MBI. I realize parental and societal urges are very strong on some MBI students–especially your typical 18-year-old from small-town mid-America, growing up in a conservative, evangelical church, attending Christian elementary and high schools, living in a closed, Christian-type bubble/community. But given all of that, being thrust into the diverse River North area of Chicago for three to five years should be enough to help 18-year-olds from small-town mid-America to an awareness of the sheer variety of choices open to people. Unwilling MBI students are not forced to continue attending the school. MBI is, unashamedly, a restrictive community of (largely) like-minded people, gathered together for the purpose of training people to lead, teach, help, volunteer, and assist in a multitude of ways, throughout the world. If all organizations started and run, as well as operations funded, assisted and led, by MBI alumni were suddenly erased from the earth, a large hole in what is viewed as “good” would suddenly be felt by many, many people here and abroad.
I have a deep admiration for what has been done by those who went before me at MBI. That does not keep me from being outspoken and derisive about the duplicity and narrowness of the administration. Neither does that lessen the great admiration and friendship I feel towards many of the faculty.
My personal story enters into this, somehow. I was married to a fellow MBI grad. We had two daughters together. After almost 13 years of marriage, we divorced (another item of personal life which is frowned upon at MBI). My ex-husband has custody of my daughters (another tortured and convoluted story which I won’t relate right now). I could tell you things about the evangelical Christian community here in Chicago–about how I am persona non grata and have lost the majority of my “friends”–but that’s not why I wanted to write this letter. I felt that more needed to be said about the positive side of MBI. Sure, there are restrictive rules of conduct there. Sure, it’s easy to slam MBI, especially if you’re really close to it, like the dissidents “Frank” and “Chris.” But consider the great good there as well. Eternal life is the promise which Jesus Christ Himself made to the world; Moody Bible Institute is based on that premise. People can believe it or not, as they wish. But don’t put MBI students or graduates down for attempting to live lives which strive to be upright, decent, and positive.
Elizabeth Recht Jones
Moody Bible Institute, December 1985