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Gezork Dismissal

Herbert Gezork moved to the United States from Germany in 1936 to escape Nazism and also to share his Christian beliefs without fear. He found haven at Furman University as an assistant religion teacher. He wasnít aware that, he would face much opposition for his seemingly liberal religious beliefs because he was welcomed and admired by many. Furman students already had a reputation of accusing professors of teaching faulty doctrine. Five professors in 1932 were accused and investigated and although they werenít found guilty it started a trend. One other professor, Edwin McNeil Poteat, who was a former president of the University, was also accused when he returned to teach upon request from the president at the time. Nothing came of the accusations on Poteat, but it set the stage for Gezork. Gezork arrived at Furman in 1937 with a two-year teaching contract. This contract would be cut short because of his dismissal 1938 because of his accused beliefs.

He first came into question during a discussion in which he attempted to interpret a statement of a guest speaker, Gordon Poteat, who was ironically the son of Edwin McNeil Poteat. Poteat was quoted as saying, "If there is a hell, Iím sure that Jesus will be there"(4)! Students were puzzled and Gezork was asked what was meant by Poteatís comment. Gezork suggested that Poteat could have possibly meant that Jesus could be found anywhere there is a human burden. Shortly following this incident, students were again offended about a comment by Gezork, when he stated that the story of Sampson, as told in the Bible, could have possibly been an exaggerated account of historical events. A group of insulted students with the help of J. Dean Crain brought up charges against Gezork and reported them to the Committee on Social and Religious Life. The list of charges included "denial of the Virgin birth, denial of scriptural infallibility, denial of an eternal hell and suspicion about revivals" (5). Gezork felt as though Christianity was a way of life and rather than a dogma. For this reason, Gezork didnít feel that it was essential to believe in things such as the Virgin birth in order to be a Christian. Gezork also believed in presenting every side of the doctrine so that the students could form their own beliefs. He didnít state or present his own beliefs as a way of persuading or guiding students. He commented on the Virgin birth during one of his hearings and stated that he "personally rather believe in the Virgin birth," although he was still wrestling with it (6). Despite his many supporters Gezork was dismissed from Furman in 1938. His dismissal brought about many questions of Furmanís academic reputation. Furman received much criticism about its commitment to academic excellence. As a result of these events the trustees adopted the 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure. This statement gave professors the right to teach without interference. These events changed forever the academic freedoms of professors at Furman and improved its commitment to academic excellence.


Works Cited

Shelly, John C. "The Gezork Incident."Furman Magazine, v.46, issue 1, Spring 2003: pp. 2-9.