Thursday, December 22, 2011

OBU Trustees, May I Have This Dance?

In October, the OBU Board of Trustees voted to end the reactionary ban on dancing. When I read that news, I was filled with hope. Not because I care about dancing -- I don't. Rather, it made me realize that OBU trustees are reasonable people. They are trying their best to serve an institution they care about. They are not self-consciously part of a reactionary, fundamentalist crusade.

The trustees recognized that the ban on dancing had long outlived its usefulness. While dancing may have been a flashpoint for Baptist morality in an earlier era, it is no longer relevant today. And besides, OBU students have been dancing at "functions" for decades. They simply aligned policy with reality.

For the first time in a long time, the trustees completed an action that, even in a small way, made OBU less fundamentalist, not more.  And, significantly, the trustees and administration did something that might not have been in line with BGCO elites' preferences.  So I really must commend both the trustees and the administration for their courageous policy change.  As other personnel and policy changes clearly reflect, it's often impossible to defy the BGCO's wishes to make OBU into a more fundamentalist institution.  So any time the trustees and administration can act strategically together, all the while providing cover for one another, to move OBU forward rather than backward, we absolutely must applaud them.

Whereas I had once assumed that the trustees must be Anthony Jordan's hand-picked foot soldiers in the battle to make OBU a fundamentalist Bible academy, after I read about the dancing policy, I decided that I am going to give the trustees the benefit of the doubt.

The power arrangement, as best I understand it, is that the trustees technically hold the power, but they are essentially the BGCO's rubber stamp, since the BGCO elects them. The BGCO would never put more than a few, if any, moderates on any board. Unfortunately, the trustees do not elect their own successors, as is the case at many of the Baptist schools that have broken free from their state conventions. Rather, the state convention elects a new class of trustees each year.  I am going to do some research to determine whether the trustees' action on the dancing policy ruffled any feathers at this fall's BGCO annual meeting.  If anyone has specific knowledge on this issue, please let me know.

As long as the convention wants to control OBU, it can and will. Once the Save OBU movement gains traction, the BGCO will just begin taking even greater care to elect OBU trustees who are fundamentalists and who envision a fundamentalist future for OBU. With or without the Save OBU movement, things are going to get worse before they get better (if they ever do).  But the trustees' recent action is both noteworthy and praiseworthy, and inspires great confidence that the trustees are independent actors who, when they are at their best, are not beholden to BGCO reactionaries, but rather to OBU and its future.

At the end of the day, OBU trustees are individuals of autonomy and conscience. If they are true Baptists, they know this and they know that their conscience is not bound by any convention or individual. Their only loyalty is to the betterment of OBU. The idea of a split will probably strike some of them as strange at first. But they above all people will be in a position to see just how bad the OBU-BGCO relationship really is for all involved. I believe that one day, that plain truth will inspire them to let each entity flourish on its own, without the burdensome constraints each presently imposes on the other.

Until then, thanks to the trustees, at least there will be dancing!

1 comment:

  1. I am not sure about how all of that policy mumbo jumbo works, but from where I stand, it seems like the lifting of the ban on dancing has a lot to do with the new dean of students. And from what I could tell you from my time at OBU it always seemed like the old dean of students (retired May 2011) was the person most adamantly against the dancing rule. But I agree this is obviously a policy change in the right direction.


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