Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Joe Ingram: Forgotten BGCO Hero

Earlier this month, we profiled former OBU President Grady C. Cothen, to whom we will return for wisdom about the fundamentalist takeover of Baptist institutions again and again in this effort.  Mr. Cothen became president of the Sunday School Board but retired in the mid-1980s in the midst of fundamentalist SBC leaders meddling with the board's governance.

Here at Save OBU, we have spoken out against the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma for the ways it imposes fundamentalism on OBU.  This imposition has greatly accelerated under the current executive director-treasurer's tenure.  But it was not always that way.  In fact, previous BGCO executives felt little need to intervene in policy and personnel decisions on Bison Hill.

Anyone who has been around Oklahoma Baptist life for any length of time will know the name Joe L. Ingram.  Ingram was universally admired during his long tenure as executive director-treasurer of the BGCO.

After the SBC at the national level was under fundamentalist control, the political campaign to eradicate moderates from positions of power in Baptist life moved to the state conventions.  This history, provided by Dr. Dan Hobbs of the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma, details the fundamentalist takeover of the BGCO.

In response, a number of Oklahoma Baptist clergy and laypeople organized the CBFO organization.  Joe Ingram was among the nationally-known and respected pastors and church musicians on the program at the first CBFO assembly in October 1992.  The new fundamentalist elites who had by then taken control of the BGCO were irate:
In retribution for Joe Ingram’s transgression of "consorting with moderates," the BGCO selected a small committee to meet with their former leader—who was revered throughout his long tenure—to express the Convention’s disappointment and displeasure at the exercise of his Baptist freedom and priesthood. A man of impeccable taste and unimpeachable integrity, Joe Ingram refused to meet with the designated committee.
King Henry IV of Germany, who a year earlier had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church, went to Canossa in Northern Italy in 1077 during the cold of winter to kiss the ring of Pope Gregory VII and beg for the Pope’s forgiveness. Unlike King Henry, Joe Ingram chose integrity over submission. Impressed and grateful for his courage and grace in the face of ecclesiastical persecution, the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma voted unanimously to present Joe Ingram its highest award. Unfortunately, Ingram died shortly after his censure by the BGCO, and the award was presented posthumously to his wife, Jacque Ingram, who subsequently joined the CBFO as a member of its Coordinating Council.
I do not know precisely when OBU renamed its religion department the Joe L. Ingram School of Christian Service.  But I, for one, am proud to have attended a school named for such a courageous leader.  Presumably this honor occurred near the end of Ingram's life or shortly after his death.  This means that the OBU trustees cast a vote in the face of some amount of fundamentalist opposition -- for none of these new Baptist Building elites would have wanted OBU's religion department named after a CBFO supporter.  If anyone has any insight on this era of BGCO-OBU history, please let me know.

As you probably know, the religion department has been reorganized and renamed the Herschel H. Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry.  The recent alumni petition  (which has more than 300 signatories) lists some potentially very serious problems with this move, though I want to emphasize something slightly different.

Eventually Save OBU will talk at length about how absolutely audacious it is for today's fundamentalist leaders to so egregiously misuse the name of a revered Baptist like Hershel Hobbs.  But the main point I want to make today is that finally the BGCO got Joe Ingram's name off the OBU religion department.  Sure, a small extension program (probably of questionable academic rigor) remains under the name Joe L. Ingram School of Christian Studies.  But the fundamentalists who run the Baptist Building today are no doubt thrilled that Ingram -- the courageous leader who dared to defy them -- is no longer the department's namesake.

My final point is a personal one.  When I was a student at OBU from 1999-2002, I never heard anyone talk about these issues.  Are people at OBU afraid to tell the truth about the many negative consequences of the BGCO's stranglehold on Bison Hill?  I hope not.  But it seems to me that the OBU I knew, especially academically, was much more in line with moderate Baptists than the fundamentalists who had by then come to dominate Southern Baptist institutions at both the state and national levels.  We need to face the fact that the vision current BGCO elites have for OBU is not something any of us -- faculty, students, or alumni -- want to be associated with.  Unfortunately, there are no more Joe Ingrams in the Baptist Building.  But today I salute him and urge all of us to stand up for soul competency, liberty of the conscience, academic freedom, the priesthood of the believer, and all the great Baptist distinctives that Ingram and his generation of moderate Baptist leaders espoused.

If we don't, the next departmental organization at OBU will result in the Anthony Jordan College of Literalism and Inerrancy.

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