Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. --Matthew 23:23-24 (NRSV)
Shorter University in Rome, GA is a good example of what OBU is likely to become if we continue to be controlled by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Unlike Mercer University in Macon, GA, which split from the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2005 and enjoys an increasing profile, an improving academic reputation, and an expanding mission, Shorter's leaders continue to do the bidding of the ever more fundamentalist Georgia Baptist Convention. OBU is arguably a better university than Shorter. (The GBC has done its best to run Shorter into the ground and U.S. News now considers it a "2nd Tier National Liberal Arts College.") But Shorter and Mercer represent two directions OBU can go. I'm afraid we're well along the path to becoming Oklahoma's version of Shorter College -- declining in academic quality, barely accredited, and increasingly irrelevant.
This fall, Shorter's Board of Trustees made headlines by instituting a "personal lifestyle statement" that all faculty must sign, among other fundamentalist-inspired policy documents. Its president, Don Dowless, correctly notes that Shorter's action, however reactionary and discriminatory, is perfectly legal and does not jeopardize its pending accreditation. Employees have until April 2012 to either sign the statement or be fired.
When people pointed out that a) this will invariably compromise its academic quality and b) it discriminates against specific groups, President Dowless sent out a defensive mass letter claiming that Shorter is within its right as a "Christ-centered institution" and that while he hopes people will sign, the institution is prepared to go on without them if they do not. The statement's signers must affirm that they are not gay and that they will not consume alcohol outside their homes.
(Remind me again what Jesus said about homosexuality.... oh yeah, nothing! Too bad Christ himself could not get a job teaching at Shorter, since he drank wine in public and associated with all kinds of outcasts. Unbelievably, in addition to firing Jesus from its faculty, Shorter wants to send the message that doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8) is nice if you manage to get around to it, but what you do in bed is the main way you express your Christian faith in the world. Talk about neglecting the weightier matters of the law!)
If you ask OBU President David Whitlock if that would ever happen here, he will say, "No, never!" But don't be fooled. If BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Anthony Jordan wakes up one morning and decides OBU employees need to sign a "personal lifestyle statement," President Whitlock will have no choice but to comply. He knows where his bread is buttered. Such a radical act may not be necessary, though, because OBU seems to be doing a good job of remaking the faculty through regular attrition, with occasional unjust firings and forced retirements thrown in for good measure.
But if a few Baptist elites decide they want to accelerate OBU's transformation into a fundamentalist Bible college, what happened at Shorter could absolutely happen at OBU.
In the Shorter case, a few people protested, as this Facebook page indicates. But in the end, the entrenched Baptist elites got their way, as they always do when they own the property, elect the trustees, and enforce their will on their institutions. Until OBU is free from BGCO control, the exact same thing (or worse) could happen on Bison Hill. In fact, I'd say it's not a question of "if," but "when."