Just recently, I came across an announcement about a certain scholar called Ronald Hendel, who allowed his membership to SBL lapse.* I’m not going to rehash what others have already said about Hendel’s decision (see here and here and here for incisive summaries), but the gist of it is because he feels that Christians are beginning to take over the organisation; that they are undermining the legitimacy of historical-critical and scientific methods of study; and that they are becoming too evangelistic in their presentations at SBL meetings. Or, to quote his exact words:
I don’t want to belong to a professional society where people want to convert me, and where they hint in their book reviews that I’m going to hell. As a scholar of the humanities—and I might add, as a Jew—I do not feel at home in such a place. What to do? Well, I’ve let my membership in SBL lapse.
Less recently, after 5 years, I made the tough decision not to renew my membership to SBL–i.e. I let it lapse. Why? Was it because I perceived a bias from those who are opposed to Christian perspectives? Was it because I thought those who held such a bias saw people like me as less informed, or less critical, or less scholarly, or (heaven help us) less educated because I am a person of faith? Was it because I saw various groups forming within SBL with which I disagree–either because of what they promote or because of what I perceive them to be doing with their approach? Was it because I thought people were trying to convert me away from my faith? Honestly, none of these reasons prompted my decision, primarily because none of these reasons are valid (in my opinion) to tuck tail and run.
I allowed my member to lapse simply because I am a poor student trying to earn a PhD and trying to pay for it out of pocket. Because my wife is making an enormous sacrifice (i.e. she is the sole bread-winner) by making sure we can live, I simply could and would not justify paying for something I knew we truly could not afford. Moreover, I could and would not justify placing more financial burdens on ourselves just so that I could have SBL on my CV and so that I could attend conferences at a lesser rate.
If money were not an obstacle for us, I would remain firmly within SBL and I would willingly dialogue with those who might have a bias, who might think me ignorant, who might disagree with me, and who are maybe trying to convert me. It is only in such dialogue that true progress and true understanding can take place. Running away because of perceptions that may or may not be true is not wise, regardless of what Shakespeare thinks. So Mr Hendel, with all do respect: yes, your decision to let your membership lapse was a bit cowardly.
UPDATE: see here.
* For those unaware, SBL stands for the ‘Society of Biblical Literature’. For more details, go here.