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On The Square

How An Atheist Professor Became A Voice For Faith
Q&A with Dr. Mike Adams
Conservative columnist Mike Adams is a native of Mississippi, holds a Ph.D. from Mississippi State, and has served on the faculty at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington (UNCW) since 1993, teaching criminal justice. An atheist and a leftist when he joined the faculty, Adams’ religious and political beliefs shifted significantly over the next decade, even as he won multiple awards for outstanding teaching, earned tenure, and was promoted to associate professor. 

His changing convictions, though, brought him into increasing conflict with administrators and fellow professors, and they eventually denied Dr. Adams a well-earned promotion to the rank of full professor. With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, he filed a successful suit against UNCW to defend his First Amendment right to freely express his beliefs.

What led you to begin questioning your earlier, more leftist attitudes and beliefs?

In 1996, I was down in Ecuador, doing a teaching exchange, and I had an opportunity to go to one of their prisons. It completely changed my perspective on things. [It] started to impact me, in terms of the way I looked at things. The prisoners were fed very badly, beaten, and denied attorneys. I heard stories about how they would [electrically] shock confessions out of people, and actually shoot people. Three hours after walking into the prison, I walked out, and the first thing I saw was a statue of the Virgin Mary, up on a hill above the prison. I actually spoke to the statue, and just said, “I was wrong.” It was a grasping of the moral law—and a recognition that there is an absolute moral authority. Cultural relativism doesn’t make sense. Certain things are just universally wrong.

I really began to see the absurdity of the relativistic worldview, and it lit a fire in me. It took a few years before I actually converted to Christianity and had the political conversion, (but) it became very clear that I wasn’t just moving away from the worldview that they loved in my department … I was actually specifically beginning to embrace labels that they hated. That’s around the time that the real trouble started. 
"I really began to see the absurdity of the relativistic worldview, and it lit a fire in me."

What was the tipping point in your becoming a Christian?

Late in 1999, I had an opportunity to sit down and actually have an interview with a guy on death row—a mentally challenged guy—and he tried to quote John 3:16, and he mangled it a little. I asked him if he’d read the Bible, and he said he had. And I was a little bit ashamed, because I was a tenured professor, and I hadn’t. So I decided to get a copy and read it. And I spent about nine months reading the King James Bible. I picked up some various Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and How Now Shall We Live? by Chuck Colson. (My mother had done some work in Prison Fellowship with him). Absolute best year of my life. I became convinced Christianity was true, and at the end of that journey, I joined a church. 

"I really began to see the absurdity of the relativistic worldview, and it lit a fire in me."

People often say, “You’ve got to love them back to the Lord.” Well, some people need to be argued back, and that was my experience. I just didn’t believe it was true, and wanted to be convinced. I was really impacted by that interview, and it took me a long time to just consider the merits of the faith.

What impact do you see your recent legal win having on Christians at other universities?

(Note: In April, after seven years of litigation, a court ordered UNCW to promote Dr. Adams to full professor and pay him thousands in back pay. In addition, in July, UNCW adopted procedures protecting him from renewed retaliation, and paid his attorneys’ fees.)

img-DrMikeAdams-with-TravisBarhamFirst of all, it shows that professors can speak out on issues of public concern, and integrate that within their work as professors, and not be punished for their viewpoint. But also, it shows that a conservative can stand up and fight—with ADF—and that there is a chance. David can face Goliath and prevail.

If all of the people who are conservative and Christian at public universities were to stand up simultaneously and say, “Yeah, me, too—I’ve had bad experiences—he’s not the only one who believes this way,” they couldn’t target us anymore. So that’s the goal: that people will look at the occasional positive case and decide that they’re going to come forward, and that our numbers will grow. 

What gives you hope, as you wade back into the struggle for academic freedom each day?

It’s a dangerous question, because if we sit here and say, “Well, what is it going to take to win?”—we might get discouraged. I think it was Reagan who used to say that tyranny is always a generation away. We have to realize that the battle to defeat tyranny actually never ends. 

Once you realize that, you can say, “Okay, I’m no longer focused on winning and stamping out evil forever. I’m interested in the next battle. And maybe I’ll influence other people to join in something that is good and edifying and intrinsically meaningful.” That is an awesome thing to be a part of, and so I’d ask people to be careful about looking all the way to the goal post. Just always be moving in a forward direction. It’s intrinsically joyful—it really is.

What impact do you see ADF having on the struggle for religious and academic freedom?

I’m very optimistic about what ADF is going to be able to accomplish. ADF has been doing great things for a long time, but I think their best days are in the very near future. 

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