Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday School: Things Can Get Worse

A Word to New Visitors and Supporters
Welcome, friends!  According to our internal analytics, there's a good chance you're new to the Save OBU website.  In the past week, we have had hundreds of first-time visitors.  Web traffic in Shawnee will spike dramatically as students return for the beginning of the spring semester on Monday.  When we introduced Save OBU in December, students were studying for finals and most have been away from Bison Hill for the past 5 weeks.  Unless the administration has blocked this website, students will have access to weeks' worth of information this blog has presented.  Their legitimate questions and concerns have been rebuffed before, but a critical mass is building.

In the coming months, administrators will have to decide which vision of OBU they support and where their loyalties lie.  They can cast their lots with the fundamentalists who control the BGCO (and the $2.5 million in annual funding they provide in exchange for dismissing moderate professors, gutting core curriculum areas, ignoring faculty norms, etc).  Or, they can side with the students, parents, faculty, and alumni who believe in academic freedom, open inquiry, and OBU's proud liberal arts heritage.  It is already becoming obvious that the two visions for OBU are not compatible.  As Christ himself says, "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24).  During that time, students can begin a real conversation on campus about the nature and future of OBU.  We are confident they will conclude that all the recent negative changes are an affront to, not an embodiment of, OBU's true nature.

Sunday School Feature
In previous weeks, we have devoted Sundays to telling stories of some fine Baptist schools that have ended their relationships with their state conventions (William Jewell College, Stetson University, and Furman University).  Without exception, these universities have flourished since they rid themselves of fundamentalist control.  Likewise, the state conventions are much better off, being relieved of a significant financial burden and able to dramatically expand other, more fruitful, ministry and mission opportunities.  The splits were painful, but they became necessary as the state conventions came under fundamentalist control over the past three decades.

For most of that time, OBU has managed to walk the fine line between the needs of its academic constituency and the demands of BGCO leaders.  But in recent years, the fundamentalist elites began demanding radical changes on Bison Hill.  Administrators can no longer protect each side's interests.  It's not the administrators' faults.  Rather, they are in an impossible situation.  Ultimately, they will have to make a choice.  If you've been paying even scant attention to the changes on Bison Hill these past two years, you probably believe they have already made the choice to side with the fundamentalists.  But one of the reasons Save OBU exists is to publicly show administrators that students, parents, alumni, and faculty are ready to raise an army to support them if they courageously stand up to the BGCO's agenda.

In the three cases linked above, presidents and trustees sided with the schools' true constituencies (students, parents, alumni, faculty) and true values (academic freedom, soul competency, liberty of the conscience).  They resisted the fundamentalists' agenda for their beloved institutions.  There are other Baptist schools that have done likewise and achieved greatness (e.g. Mercer, Baylor, and Wake Forest).

But we need to realistically assess where we are in this fight.  In addition to dreaming about what might be possible if we end fundamentalist control, we need to prepare for the nightmare of remaining under it.  Frankly, the nightmare scenario seems more likely at this point.

This link lists the 56 Southern Baptist colleges.  More precisely, 51 of them are affiliated with state conventions that maintain cooperative relationships with the SBC.  Five of them are undergraduate programs at SBC seminaries.  Fortunately, OBU is generally believed to be one of the best Baptist schools in America (though remember that many of the best schools have already left their state conventions).  But many of the schools on it shows what a nightmare scenario might look like.

We've already looked briefly at the disastrous consequences of fundamentalism at Louisiana College and Shorter University.  These schools have experienced faculty departures by the dozens, horrible governance problems, and financial difficulties.  Continuing accreditation looks doubtful.  We probably need to look more closely at these cases, as well as other avowedly fundamentalist schools.  In addition, we need to examine the cases of schools where the academic constituency declined to fight (or fought unsuccessfully) against fundamentalist takeover factions.

For years, OBU was in the fortunate position of being able to maintain the status quo even in the throes of the Fundamentalist Takeover.  But that is no longer possible.  If we do nothing, the fundamentalists are going to lead OBU off a cliff.  We will become another nominally-accredited fundamentalist Bible academy, one of many in Baptist life.  If we fight, at least OBU has a chance to survive as a leading Christian liberal arts college.  As one retired professor wisely noted, "We might lose this struggle, but it's not one I would want to lose easily."

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