Friday, February 17, 2012

Faculty Friday: Church Affiliation Politics, Part I

Given how far the SBC has drifted from its moorings since the Fundamentalist Takeover, it should come as no surprise that many of the people who work in Baptist higher education do not worship in Southern Baptist churches.  But in OBU's recent slide toward fundamentalism, it appears that administrators are intent on turning the OBU faculty into an insular, exclusive club that keeps moderates out whenever possible and marginalized in any case.

OBU used to hire professors from across the various Protestant denominational families.  Though the SBC has always claimed the largest slice of OBU professors' church affiliations, many of us have had OBU professors who were Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and United Methodists.  They participated actively in their congregations in Shawnee and elsewhere.  They added valuable diversity and expertise, especially in courses like Western Civ where figures like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and John Wesley loomed large.  To the extent that mainline Protestants are still allowed to teach in OBU classrooms, they are undoubtedly adding immeasurably to students' learning and providing wonderful examples of how to maintain a fearless, intellectually honest faith that can withstand even the most rigorous intellectual scrutiny.

OBU administrators are intent on bringing those days to an end.  In the September 28, 2011 edition of The Bison, one retiring professor lamented that she would never even be hired today.  When I first read her statement, I found it absolutely tragic given her decades of distinguished service to OBU.  But only after consulting with other current faculty did I realize that denominational politics might be the reason why longtime professors believe they would not be hired under the present administration.

After consulting with current faculty, it's clear that the retiring professor was likely referring to the provost's declaration last year that OBU would no longer hire professors who are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the Episcopal Church, ostensibly because these denominations recognize a difference of opinion on gays' and lesbians' rights in society and their place in the life and ministry of the church.  Evidently, this new standard was used to eliminate a member of a local church of one of these traditions from consideration for an adjunct position at OBU.

One faculty member explains,
 Later, under questioning, the provost backtracked, saying he didn't know how that rumor (of a new standard) got started, and that OBU would continue to consider good candidates who happened to be of one of those denominations, although he might well ask them why they "stayed" in the denomination.  We will reserve judgement until we see how he recommends concerning current candidates for faculty positions.
Incidentally, an administrator was quoted in the 9/28/11 Bison article trying to spin the new exclusionary preferences, but basically affirming that prospective hires will be evaluated through these new doctrinal and ideological frameworks.

To my knowledge, religion faculty has always been exclusively Southern Baptist.  This made sense back when Southern Baptist academics were uniformly supportive of academic freedom.  Hiring Southern Baptist pastor-theologians as religion professors meant bringing aboard thoughtful moderates who had received first-rate theological educations.  If we are still hiring only Southern Baptists even after the Fundamentalist Takeover, we are tragically limiting our options to a narrow subset of men who received subpar theological educations at the SBC seminaries.

In the weeks and months to come, we will explore OBU's long and complicated relationship with some of the Baptist churches in Shawnee, two of which are significantly affiliated with the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma.

For now, I simply must respond to this outrageous idea that non-Southern Baptists should have to justify to Stan Norman why they stayed in their denomination.  He truly seems to enjoy being the enforcer, arbiter, and judge.  Frankly, given how far they have fallen from what they used to stand for, I think it's the Southern Baptists who should have to justify why they've "stayed."  Until OBU has a chief academic officer who understands this, OBU's descent into fundamentalism will continue apace.


  1. The profesor you keep referring to that is retiring and would not be hired today is married to the former Director of Missions for Union Baptist Assoc in Norman. I would like to know how you can claim a Seminary grad from a SBC Seminary had a subpar academic training having went to both OBU and SWBTS I have found SWBTS to be overall more challenging and also required reading a lot of differnt perspectives as the required reading in a lot of classes were from both a liberal and conservative persuasion as well as reading neo=orthrodox. In a lot of my classes at OBU especially civ I was bombarded with a liberal mindset and was told how anyone who believed in conservative theology was a idiot. So tell me how you can make your claim that SBC grads are idiots?

    1. Not saying they're idiots. Just that since the early 90s when Russell Dilday and Roy Honeycutt were shamefully forced out by the Takeover faction, the quality and rigor of SBC seminaries has gone down the toilet and everyone knows it. It took years for the takeover to be complete, just as it is taking years at OBU. But no objective person denies the inevitable academic decline that has accompanied the fundamentalist takeover.

      I suspect the person to whom you're referring chose SWBTS sometime before the Takeover, back when it was a proud institution. Most people who went to the SBC seminaries in the 70s and 80s describe their experience by saying, "I went to Southern BEFORE..." The meaning is clear enough. Having spoken to dozens of friends and others who went to SWBTS in the past decade, you are literally the first person I've heard suggest that SWBTS was more rigorous than OBU. Some of our supporters who presently attend SWBTS frequently comment on what a joke it is.

      Also, I would LOVE to hear from you what you consider to be "liberal" readings that were assigned to you by SWBTS faculty. I'm sure you guys read a ton of Gordon Kaufman and Karl Rahner.

      It's no wonder that even OBU professors who went to SWBTS have recommend their best students to better seminaries, whether conservative (Baylor), moderate (Princeton, Duke), or liberal (Harvard).

    2. I keep reading your post, Anonymous, and thinking, "Really? Has the quality of OBU instruction slipped *that* much?" I'll give you a pass on the grammar and spelling; we are on the Internet after all, but your argument is lacking in several respects.

      One, I fail to see what the retired faculty member's marital status or what her husband did for a living has to do with her interpretation that under the current denominational/philosophical restrictions on new faculty hires were she to apply for a position at OBU now she would not receive an appointment. Are you providing that information as proof that she doesn't deserve to teach at OBU? Or are you implying that she is in error, simply because her husband has been associated in the past with a group that works with the SBC? Many marriages are interfaith, Anonymous; only in Stan Norman's world would a husband cast off his wife for not worshiping in exactly the same way he does.

      Concerning your comments about the rigor and challenge you find at SWBTS, I'll defer to Mr. Lupfer. But I will point out, you only provide anecdotal evidence, which is naturally colored by your belief system. Which leads me to your last point.

      You join years of moaning students about the evil, liberal western civilization program. Like many before you, you seem to be saying you would rather have been fed the party line in civ and not had to examine and reaffirm (or heaven forfend, adjust) your values and beliefs. Having taken the course and seen the civ curriculum in recent years, the only liberal onslaught you were likely to have been exposed to exists solely in your own bias.

      It's disappointing that OBU is blatantly restricting hiring based on a very limited set of criteria. Not only are they potentially undercutting the quality of faculty available, but most certainly they are creating an echo chamber within which it will be more valued to be 'right' (per the fundamentalist BGCO) than to participate in academic examination of all views with vigor.

    3. Here was my point sir. Mr Lupfer in every post keeps using Dr Cole statement as an example of how the current administration would not hire certain profs. He made the arguement in one paragraph that profs. of a differnt denomination would not be hired then in the very next paragraph used Dr Cole as proof. Apples and oranges sir Dr Cole is married to a Southern Baptist former DOM and has talked about being a member of a SBC church. She cannot be used as an example of denominations. She has had an axe to grind for sometime going back to the 90's. She has in a lot of classes taken shots at SBC leaders I have heard her personally. I do not mind the civ classes have used a lot of what was learned in the textbooks as sermon illustrations what I do mind is when the students sit there and eat up what is being taught and then give those as their arguements of why they believe something as if they thought of it themself. While they do it I think yeah I was in the same lecture I know your arguement.I also have read on the Save OBU Facebook page endorsements of Robin Meyers who does not believe Jesus was the God Man, He was not born of a Virgin did not come to save us from sin but from fear. Is that the direction you all want OBU to go because those statements are heretical?

  2. As a current seminarian, I think there are MANY ways to interpret Jesus' life staying true to the scriptures and the scholars.

    Also, I think Dr. Cole would be REALLY upset if you were to say she is an SBC woman, or to imply that her spouse defines her identity. I am frustrated to hear someone I love very much and respect as a scholar and professor have the ability to define her own perspective taken away from her.

    Also, the problem is not the existence of fundamentalists at OBU but the changes to the quality of education which have taken place.


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