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.