Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Baptist Freedoms and the University

So what can we say then? What does this foray into the historical Baptist values say about the current situation in Baptist higher ed?

First, Baptists have always been a people who believe deeply in freedom. It was our founding value-- and not just for ourselves. Baptists believe in freedom because they are convinced that God loves, values, and takes seriously, every single human being that God has ever created. God made us free and it is no person's job to decide to take that away.

Freedom is not something we love because we are American. Freedom is something we love because of who we are convinced that God is.

Second, this freedom comes with deep responsibility. Each person is free because each person is also accountable to God. Freedom and the value of the individual is something we must take with the utmost seriousness if we seek to be true to our roots and good Christians in general.

Finally, it has never been the Baptist way to demand conformity. Freedom leads naturally to diversity. This also is our inheritance. If we take our tradition seriously, then we must be ready to butt heads almost endlessly. There is no authority to which we may appeal to convince our sisters and brothers that they MUST agree with us.

Rather, we begin on the common ground of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and depart from there, each responsible to decide exactly what that means.

This is the kind of person a Baptist is.

And that brings me to a point which Jacob and I have both tried to emphasize from the beginning: the BGCO does not have a monopoly on what it means to be Baptist.

The SBC at large has forgotten the pluralism from which they were born. They have sold their birthright for the "safer" zone of ideological conformity. They have responded to political pressure with authoritarianism.

And what has that meant for their institutions of higher education?

It started with the six SBC seminaries, now shells of their former glory. Southwestern still has one of the largest theological libraries in the US. But if you want to teach there you must ascribe to a very narrow view of several political (and only peripherally theological) issues-- a requirement which has made it a shell of the great center of learning it once was. The rest are the same.

And Jacob showed us that for universities which have maintained ties with their conventions, it has meant refusal to follow rules about tenure and risky dealings with accreditation in the name of doctrinal purity.

But for Baptist universities who have broken ties with their conventions and refused to kowtow to the new authoritarian style of dictating what it means to be Baptist, there has been flourishing.

For OBU, our quality as an institution is dependent on the freedom which is so central to being Baptist. We must have freedom of inquiry and protected academic freedom-- and the diversity which comes when every individual is respected enough to form their own opinions and responsible to God for doing so. As Baptists, these are all things which must be taken seriously.

But the current pattern at OBU is one of disrespect, outright rejection of personnel policies which protect these freedoms, and increasing threat of narrowing the scope of orthodoxy on campus.

The question is whether or not we will take the hard step to remain true to our Baptist identity,  or we will follow the current trend of ideological conservatism aimed at ending our beloved diversity. The latter is indeed "safer" and "easier," but we must be willing to sell our birthright for nothing more than a bowl of soup.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific. Very, very well-written. Good job, Save OBU!

    I had never been able to pinpoint my greatest confusion with all of these issues until reading, "BGCO does not have a monopoly on what it means to be Baptist. The SBC at large has forgotten the pluralism from which they were born... They have responded to political pressure with authoritarianism." Keep the passionate, well-research posts comin'!


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