Monday, February 27, 2012

Some Historical Background

This blog advocates for a split between the BGCO and OBU.
Allow me to present a little history lesson (and a bit of personal story) to explain why.
When I came to OBU I considered myself non-denominational. Now, I happily identify as a Baptist. I know what you’re thinking, “Veronica. Wouldn’t your experience with the ultra-conservative SBC be something that would turn you away from Baptist life?”
The answer is yes.
BUT! My last semester at OBU, two things happened. I decided to go to a Disciples of Christ seminary and I took an internship at a Baptist church in Dallas. This, of course, brought the denominational question back into my life, though I had spent the last four years thinking, “Well if this is Baptist, then certainly not that.” Yet here I was, looking towards a different kind of Baptist church that stood for all the things I thought were important in faith. 
So I asked the most important question yet, “What does it mean to be a Baptist?”
To be a Baptist, historically, means to affirm four freedoms. 
  1. Bible Freedom-- the freedom of each person to interpret the Bible 
  2. Soul Freedom-- the freedom of each person to determine the content of their faith
  3. Church Freedom-- freedom of local churches to govern themselves
  4. Religious Freedom-- belief in the separation of church and state
Thus to be a Baptist is to affirm the infinite worth of the individual. We affirm that every person is capable and responsible to make decisions and that collective bodies are to be independent. We believe that no one holds the entire picture of exactly who God is and each person has something to contribute.
Now, this sounds like the perfect tradition for a university. And, indeed, our Baptist forerunners in Oklahoma did not want an indoctrinating Bible college, but a freedom encouraging, mind growing, liberal arts university. It is perfectly within the Baptist tradition to encourage our young to think on their own, and, as responsible Christians, to give them the tools to blossom and come into their own potential.
But in the 1980’s everything changed. I could go into all the philosophical reasons why I think this change occurred, but for our purposes that is neither here nor there. It is only important that it did indeed happen.
In the 1980’s there was a leadership change and suddenly everyone in charge of the SBC was a fundamentalist. That is when the SBC started doing things like boycotting disney and kicking out all the professors from their seminaries who thought women were ok to teach.
Here is the key. As a Baptist, I feel, of course, that my more moderate ways adhere closer to our historical roots. But, I also know that it is not my job to decide if the fundamentalists are right or wrong. If that’s what they want, let them do it. I believe they are free and capable to make that decision.
Here is the rub. Part of the fundamentalist agenda is to deny the freedom of the individual and crusade for their own understanding of the Bible. From here has flown the many problems of my precious university. This is why professors are being fired for disagreeing with a literalistic interpretation of the Bible. This is why OBU is no longer hiring the promising academics the faculty prefer, but those who support the new fundamentalist agenda.
The problem is not that some people are fundamentalists. The problem is that there seems to be no room for cooperation and dissent within this newly fundamentalist organization.
OBU is always going to be conservative. (It’s in the middle of Oklahoma, for goodness' sake.) This is not an argument to stop being Baptist or evangelical. That voice is an important voice in academia and ought not be stifled. 
But in order to really be a liberal arts university, there must be freedom of thought, freedom of speech, academic freedom, and, above all, the freedom of the individual must be affirmed. These are Baptist values, but they are not fundamentalist values. OBU and the BGCO are heading in different directions-- and it is time they were parted. Neither party has much to gain from being tied to the other.

For more information on the history of the recent changes within the SBC, check out the links on the right side of the page, especially the video made by our friends at the Texas Baptist committed.


  1. I saw these trends in nascent form when I graduated in 2001 and worked in the Alumni Office in 2003. The sheer ugliness of SBC politics is overpowering. At that point, the University's brass had not yet been assimilated, so the University maintained a dynamic tension between its fundamentalist funding sources and its commitment to the liberal arts. But the writing was certainly on the wall.

  2. Great post, Veronica. So far, it's one of my favorites from the Save OBU blog because it highlights something you once said to me: Baptists should be defined by what they stand for (the four freedoms), not what they stand against. Keep up the good work!

  3. Clear and concise post, Veronica. I especially appreciate the precise delineation of what it means to be Baptist, i.e. the four freedoms. Not only does it increase my personal confidence in the movement to save OBU (I'm huge on Context *StrengthsQuest alert*), but it heightens the communal understanding of the validity of our movement as a whole. Raising these issues is a great place from which to launch.

  4. This is a great post, Vern! I appreciate the way you summarized the problems that the fundamentalist agenda poses to OBU. When people ask me about what is going on at OBU, I will surely quote this article.

  5. Re: The Four Freedoms, did you mean separation of church from hate?


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