Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Diversity at OBU: Chapel

When I started creating this post, I was surprised to learn that OBU was not as white as I thought it was. According to the OBU website, OBU is actually only 70% white-- a number much lower than probably most of us expected.

Actually, it turns out that student-wise, OBU is doing pretty well. The US is about 64% white and Oklahoma is at about 66%.  So, good job, OBU. I am pleasantly surprised.

But, perhaps that makes even more tragic my original reason for writing this post. As I have mentioned before, I spent two of my years at OBU serving on Chapel CREW-- the group of students who plans and executes chapel. And the truth is, students do actually have a lot of sway over what happens there-- so that is good.

But students do not have the final say (which is probably also good), and there are other political factors at play in who comes to speak at chapel at OBU.

One of the most interesting are three themed days which were there all four of my years at OBU and  remain on the OBU chapel calendar. One of them I have already mentioned: women in missions and ministry day. The other two are like it African American heritage day and Native American heritage day.

What are the implications of the existence of these days?

First, we had already wondered on this blog why someone like Voddie Baucham was possibly asked to preach at chapel this year. Well, the OBU press release does not say that it is African American Heritage day-- but everyone knows that that day falls on the first chapel of the spring semester. So I guess it doesn't matter that Baucham is well known throughout America for being sexist-- we'll still ask him to preach at OBU because he's black and, well, it's that time of year again.

Or what about the time that a pretty well known man from the area was asked to preach on Native American Heritage day? He made an interesting statement to the tune of, "I don't preach because I'm Native American, I preach because you want me to come." Luckily, he was given a different day to come preach.

All of that to say, it may seem like these measures strengthen diversity. But to me it really seems to highlight something I said in another post: if chapel is supposed to be a place where we are all led into worship, it looks to me like the only people being asked to lead are white men in suits.

It seems like the only reason we can affirm ministers of a different color is because we give them their own day-- but otherwise it's assumed that the best preachers are white. How is 30% of OBU's student population supposed to feel about that?

And if you happen to be neither white nor male, forget it. There's no day for you.

What does all of this have to do with OBU leaving the BGCO?

One of the things I have stressed from the beginning is that BGCO politics are negatively affecting OBU. We all know that the SBC has a pretty terrible history with regards to race. The denomination was founded upon the refusal to reject slavery-- something they later apologized for, in 1995. It seems a little late to me, but maybe I'm just a cynic.

Of course, it's not that surprising from a convention whose seminary president Al Mohler once said about the split between northern and southern baptists, "What Northerners were saying is that ending slavery was more important than spreading the gospel." And that was last December. The original article has since been removed, but in the world of the internet, nothing cam be unsaid.

So with cries of "Don't let culture change the gospel" the convention that currently owns OBU has set up three days a year to make up for past mistakes against minorities. Maybe it's just me but that sounds a lot like saying, "We're not very good at seeing when we are wrong." I can only hope that in 150 years my daughter will be alive to see the SBC apology to women.

Until then, these are the kinds of politics I am tired of seeing dominating my alma mater.


  1. Wow, for once I can truly say I think you're spot on with this one. I don't agree with many of the posts from this blog, but really think you hit this one out of the ballpark. I'd like to see a study done of all the chapel speakers in the last oh say 10 years broken down into race and gender. I almost guarantee that over 90% of all speakers will be white males. OBU, wake up. It's the 21st century. It's time to realize that there is alot of diversity within the Baptist spectrum.

  2. Vern, what are your thoughts on the "Champions of Character" chapels? I've always thought it slightly offensive to have "cool" chapels specifically aimed at athletes, held in the school basketball gym. These are also the only chapels who feature your run-of-the-mill youth minister types (aka NOT old men in suits). Also, they feature worship in the form of a black Christian rapper. Maybe I'm just being hyper-sensitive, but I think if I were an athlete I would feel offended by having my own "special" chapel.

  3. I guess I've never really given it much thought. Honest confession, because I was on CREW and had to go to almost every chapel, I skipped all of the ones that we didn't plan. I'm pretty sure champion of character chapels fall into this category because I don't remember anything like what you're describing. I will say the divide between student athletes and other students is startling at OBU-- not sure why the division is so stark. One of the places this divide is easiest to see is in chapel. So, I could probably entertain arguments either way- and I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt (believe it or not from this blog!), so probably the idea behind it is harmless.

    So that's not really an answer, but it is some random thoughts.

  4. This is one of my favorite posts on Save OBU. It's very well-written and well-researched. Unfortunately, it appears that the Baptist History & Heritage Society has removed Mohler's sentiments from its site, but I found a reprint of an article from a Nashville-based newspaper (The Tennessean) from the United Diaspora, http://www.uniteddiaspora.com/southern-baptists-examine-role-in-slavery.html, that quotes him and gives a lot of context of the Baptist role in American history and slavery. Overall, Veronica, you're a gifted writer.

    Co-researcher and Advocate

  5. I think that you're right on track with this post, (except for the assumption that a split with the BGCO will help the situation). During my last two years at OBU I noticed a definite return to hardline conservatism among our chapel speakers. During my freshman and sophomore years, I usually rather enjoyed chapel as a time to gather with my friends and worship the Lord, and to hear from a good mix of professors, student speakers, leaders in the community, etc. During my junior and senior years, however, almost every speaker was a white male Baptist pastor in a suit. I was especially appalled by a particular speaker who basically told the female students that date rape was always their fault, and that spousal abuse just required more faith to help the woman endure it. (Major, major outcry from the fledging feminist group on campus, a battle of letters in The Bison for several months, and a formal apology from the President resulted).

    Anyway, despite the fact that I agree that there needs to be a big change in the diversity of chapel speakers, I don't think that splitting from the BGCO is going to help. It's more of an Evangelical College Culture thing at work here. I used to be on staff at a denomination-run private Christian school in Tennessee, and their chapel speakers were always white men in suits. (Even in a denomination that historically allowed women to preach). No racial or gender diversity there either. This is a larger problem than the BGCO - it's a problem with the evangelical church at large. Thoughts?

    1. I appreciate your thoughts and I agree with your observation that this is a problem within evangelical culture at large. I dont' think that a split with the BGCO will solve the problem immediately. But I do think that their complete control of the board of trustees as well as tremendous impact in choosing the president, etc, is not helping at all. So, no, I don't see it as a quick-fix solution or even a fix-all solution-- complex problems must necessarily have complex solutions. But I do think it would help the situation not to be controlled by another institution which has historically had these problems and has not dealt with them well.


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