New Ulm, Minnesota. You may know it as the Gateway to Mankato, or the Polka Capital of the Nation (hometown of the legendary polka band Harold Loeffelmacher and the Six Fat Dutchmen, as well as accordion virtuoso Whoopee John Wilfahrt). But there’s more to this town of 13,594 good citizens than The Jolly Lumberjack Polka.
New Ulm is also the home of Martin Luther College, where eighty educators teach some eight hundred students to be deliberately and willfully stupid. College faculty recently discouraged students from participating in the New Ulm Actor’s Community Theatre’s production of Inherit the Wind. The faculty expressed concerns about “perceptions that could be formed by some constituents due to the material portrayed in the play.”
If you’re not familiar with the play (or the brilliant 1960 film adaptation starring Spencer Tracy), it’s loosely based on the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial, in which a Tennessee high school teacher was put on trial for illegally teaching evolution in a state-funded school. That’s right, it used to be illegal to teach evolution in some states. Essentially, the play is about the conflict between religious faith and freedom of thought. The title, appropriately, comes from Proverbs 11:29.
He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind:and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.
Martin Luther College ain’t having any of that freedom of thought business, no sir. Nor any of that evolution foolishness. The college is owned and operated by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and WELS Lutherans are pretty strict about creation. The WELS website states:
The Bible and Lutherans teach that at the beginning of time God created heaven and earth and all creatures. He did this in six days. He spoke his almighty word to create all things. He made everything out of nothing.
That isn’t any more stupid than other creation myths (though I’m rather partial to the ones that involve turtles; I like turtles). And hey, it’s their college and they can believe what they want and teach what they want, right?
But it seems rather cowardly of them to discourage their students from participating in a play that discusses some pretty important issues. It doesn’t speak well of their ministry if they’re afraid for it to be challenged — not in court, like in the play, but by a play put on by a community theater in a town of fewer than 40,000 people. It shows a distinct lack of faith in their students if they’re afraid that acting in a play (or working on the production crew) will cause them to form ‘perceptions.’
The college’s Vice President in charge of Student Affairs put it best:
“This is a ministerial school. People employing our students need confidence about their views.”
Heaven forbid their students might start to think for themselves — then Lutherans who aren’t afraid to talk about faith and evolution wouldn’t engender confidence in their flock.
That, right there, is stupid piled on top of stupid. I really don’t care if they choose not to believe in evolution; they have a right to be ignorant. What bothers me is that this is exactly the sort of thinking that leads to extremism. It’s the sort of closed-minded thinking that leads to abstinence ‘education’ in schools, and rejection of vaccines, and government shutdowns. Be stupid yourself if you want, but surely it’s a sin (if sin exists) to force other folks to be stupid too.
Let me leave you with these words of wisdom from Whoopee John Wilfahrt…
Polka, baby, polka.