Thursday, December 8, 2011

The BGCO's $2.8 Million Subsidy

What is the price of power?  OBU is a large institution.  It has a $80M endowment and runs an operating budget in excess of $40M a year (~1,600 students paying ~$25,000/yr).  Just under 7% of OBU's budget comes in the form of a $2.8 million subsidy from the BGCO.  A relatively modest ($1,500) tuition increase would make the BGCO's subsidy unnecessary, and OBU would still presumably be a good value according to the publications that rate such things.

For the BGCO, the price of control comes in at $2,800,000.00 per year.  Consider, for a moment, what the convention receives in return for its generous investment.  It gets to elect 100% of OBU's 33 trustees -- all beholden to the convention's agenda and worldview.  The trustees, in turn, hire administrators who must kowtow to Anthony Jordan and the most vocal, wealthy, and powerful SBC churches and pastors in the state.  The convention's leaders get the prestige that comes along with controlling a large institution.  And these Baptist elites get the satisfaction of knowing that they have spent other people's money to ensure that they continue to win an epic ideological battle where the values of education, learning, reason, and the pursuit of truth and knowledge are sacrificed in the name of biblical literalism, fundamentalism, and cultural conservatism.

For their part, Oklahoma Baptists get a raw deal.  Though OBU is conservative, the mere fact that many students do engage their faith on an intellectual level for the first time in their lives means that literally tens of thousands of OBU students have left Bison Hill much less committed to the tenets of evangelical Protestantism than when they arrived.  OBU graduates go to moderate seminaries in much larger proportions than Baptist students who attend state schools.  The reason, I suspect, is that while OBU students are, at least nominally, encouraged to apply intellectual scrutiny to their faith, Baptist students at state schools do not take religion classes and are nurtured in the fundamentalism of their childhood by parachurch organizations and Baptist student unions.  Though perhaps counterintuitive, it is actually an empirical fact that Baptist youth who attend state schools actually emerge much more doctrinally conservative than Baptist youth who attend Baptist colleges (Ammerman 1990, ch. 5).  Even after pouring tens of millions of dollars into OBU over the years, Oklahoma Baptists still worry, with good reason, that their children will go to OBU and shed the fundamentalist faith of their childhood.

This is to say nothing of what the $2,800,000 might otherwise be used to accomplish.  If Oklahoma Baptists care about saving souls, they will find OBU to be a pretty poor mission field, since it is almost completely saturated with baptized Christians.  I'm frankly surprised that Messengers continue to throw cash at OBU when they could use that money to fund 40 or 50 missionaries to preach the gospel to a lost and dying world.  It almost makes me think they care more about the prestige of controlling an institution than all those tormented souls in hell that they could have saved if they had just been more mission-minded.  "But OBU sends so many graduates to the mission field," you say.  True enough, but consider how many of those students would have gone from OBU into missionary vocations anyway, even without the BGCO's subsidy.  And consider that Baptist organizations at state universities also send graduates to the IMB, an impressive feat considering how poorly funded they are compared to OBU.

Oklahoma Baptists should find that their investment is inefficient, ineffective, and frankly contrary to the aims of their churches and the Convention, both of which are fundamentally at odds with the pursuit of reason, truth, and knowledge -- ends toward which a true liberal arts college should be dedicated.

So let's review:

What OBU Gets

  • $2.8 million, or less than 7% of its annual budget
  • But the strings attached are more like shackles, crippling the true aims of a liberal arts education

What Elites in the Baptist Building Get

  • Prestige
  • Power
  • The satisfaction using laypeople's hard-earned tithes and offerings to buy, for a relatively low cost, the suppression of what they vehemently fear and loathe: truth, reason, philosophy, critical biblical scholarship, science, theater and the arts, and objective student journalism (oft censored at OBU)

What Oklahoma Baptists Get

  • Graduates who are less committed to a literal Bible than when they arrived
  • Aspiring ministers who are more likely to attend moderate seminaries and less likely to attend SBC seminaries than aspiring ministers who attended state schools
  • Precious few conversions to Christianity
  • The knowledge that Baptist programs at other universities make due with less funding, fewer souls get saved at Falls Creek, and more unconverted people burn in Hell because their leaders continue to choose to give $2.8 million a year to an institution that already raises ~$40 million a year on its own and has an endowment of more than $80 million.

The Baptist elites are the only real winners here.  It's a bad deal for everyone else.  I need your help expressing to the various constituencies how bad this deal really is.  At a minimum, two things need to happen:

  1. OBU needs to say to the BGCO: "We got this.  Keep your $2.8 million.  But we'll be electing our own trustees from now on, thank you very much."
  2. Baptist clergy, laity, and messengers need to realize that their interests and values are truly not being advanced by subsidizing OBU and that the money would be much better spent elsewhere.

In the end, I believe with all my heart that OBU and the BGCO would each be so much better off if they parted ways as soon as possible.  A hundred years after their partnership was established, it no longer serves the needs of either entity.  In fact, this $2.8 million subsidy and its attendant stipulations detract demonstrably from both organizations' core missions.

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