Joseph in Pharaoh’s court
Rusty Benson
Rusty Benson
AFA Journal associate editor

May 2005 – While American universities may proclaim diversity as an exalted value, a recent study shows that the only freedom of thought that really exists on campus is “to believe the dominant political ideology. Other ideologies are marginalized.” (Klein and Western.)

But Phil Mitchell doesn’t need a study to validate what he has experienced for over 20 years.

“The truth is, universities are the most hostile, narrow-minded and intolerant environment in society,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell, 57, is a former history professor at the University of Colorado (CU) and a deeply committed Christian. He was fired from the history department last spring when one of his students objected to having to read Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps, a book about liberal Christianity at the turn of the 20th century. 

After Mitchell’s story hit the media, he was reinstated. However, recently he was told he would no longer be approved to teach history anywhere at the university after Spring, 2006. He is now seeking a teaching post in an environment less hostile to Christians.

Ironically, CU is also the academic home of Ward Churchill, the controversial, America-hating, leftist professor who wrote that those who died in the 9/11 attacks were not innocent victims. Rather, he called them “little Eichmanns,” a reference to Adolph Eichmann, the Nazi bureaucrat who implemented Hitler’s Final Solution.

Churchill’s comments caused two liberal northeastern schools to cancel his speaking engagements and the governor of Colorado to call for his resignation. But in the name of free speech and academic freedom, Churchill received strong support from members of his department. 

He resigned his post as chairman of the ethnic studies department, but remains a tenure track professor at CU at an annual salary of $90,000. 

In the following interview, Mitchell reflects on his life as a follower of Christ in a secular university setting that is increasingly hostile to Christians.

AFAJ: Who is Phil Mitchell?
MITCHELL: I grew up in a wonderful Christian home in Laramie, Wyoming. Mom and Dad loved the Lord and Grace Baptist was the center of our family activities outside the home. 

I attended the University of Wyoming, getting a degree in social studies education. I then went to a little farming community in eastern Colorado and taught English for two years. At the request of two students I started a Bible study. God then granted the most remarkable revival I have ever personally participated in. About half the high school was saved and many, many youth from the surrounding communities.

I had planned all along to go into the ministry, so after the two years I enrolled at Denver Seminary. I served a church while going to school and there I met Nancy, who has become as good a wife as a man can have. 

I then served two churches in California, but we were homesick for Colorado and I also was being led to be “an apostle to the Gentiles.” I felt called to represent Christ in the secular academic community, so we moved back home and I started graduate school in history at CU Boulder. God granted me favor with the faculty and I started teaching almost immediately. For 20 years I felt like Joseph in Pharaoh’s court.

AFAJ: Tell me about your large family.
MITCHELL: When Nancy was 19 years old she felt the Lord wanted her to have a large family. And apparently we do! We have six birth children and three adopted. My daughter told some visitors that we get our children three places – at the hospital, at home and at the airport.

Nancy felt a strong leading from the Lord to adopt children of color. I was hesitant at first, but she went over my head to the Lord!

Then we decided to adopt boys – they are harder to place – and I wanted to adopt from a place of great poverty. So, Stephen came to us from India, arriving when he was 13 months. He is now 17 and taller than I. We then adopted two African-American boys, Josh, 13, and Peter, 9.  

AFAJ: What happened in the classroom that led to your firing?
MITCHELL: It happened last Spring. As I have for many years, I had my students read In His Steps by Charles Sheldon. It’s a story in which a pastor asks his congregation not to make any big decisions without first asking, “What would Jesus do?” 

One of my Jewish students became incensed at this and angrily confronted me for trying to proselytize her. She complained to the department head. Understand that I’ve had many Jewish students read this book and enjoy it thoroughly. But this particular student – who had had no problem with me – had recently seen the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ.  I think her reaction was a result of the emotion created by the film.

AFAJ: Had your superiors ever previously objected to your classes reading the book? 
MITCHELL: No. However, for many years I knew there were certain members of the history department who hated – I mean hated – my Christian faith.

AFAJ: Describe the growing hostility to Christians on campus.
MITCHELL: In my view the hostility toward the Christian faith on college campuses is the result of hostile faculty who see Christianity as a threat to leftist influence. They are right about this.

My students are almost unanimously tolerant, but the hostility [from faculty] is enormous, widespread and mostly unchecked. 

Christian faculty and students face an atmosphere of unremitting anger, prejudice, bigotry and discrimination.

AFAJ: How do they rationalize such obvious hypocrisy? 
MITCHELL: Today’s university faculties are a classic illustration of Ephesians 4:18: “Having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” 

Leftists have always rationalized hypocrisy and oppression. They view themselves as a knowledgeable elite who need to tell the masses – read students in this case – how to think. 

AFAJ: What is it going to take to reestablish some sense of fairness concerning real diversity at American universities
MITCHELL: Our universities are run by tenured faculty for their own benefit. Most will not give up perks and power willingly. The people who pay the bills – legislatures, students and alumni – will have to step in and demand change. The most important change is to end faculty self-governance and demand intellectual diversity. It will take either divine intervention or a nuclear device or both.

AFAJ: What is the most profound thing that you will take away from this?
MITCHELL: Our God is sovereign over the affairs of this world and no man can thwart His will. The academic community, which feels it is so powerful and invincible, will be swept away as though it never existed.

When I spoke to legislators recently I asked them how many could remember thinking that Communism could never be defeated. They all raised their hands. Then I reminded them of William Buckley’s observation that one morning God cleared His throat and Communism was dead.

I have also been reminded that God uses us in His own way and in His own time. Eleven days ago I was as obscure as any college professor on earth. Now my story is known by tens of millions around the world and I am being blessed by the prayers of countless numbers of God’s people.  undefined

For more about this story on the Internet,2933,149901,00.html – Transcript of Mitchell’s interview on The O’Reilly Factor – Profile of Ward Churchill