Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Review: The Creationist Worldview According to the Bible

This week, we're reviewing a series of essays in the Baptist Messenger by OBU's Whitlock-era religion hires.  You may find the original article for this review here.

Can I be honest for a minute? I'm not even really sure where to begin speaking on this article.

The last two articles were not that bad. Honestly, I disagree with a lot of the implications of what they say and I'm not sure that those implications bode well for a liberal arts university-- but I wasn't grinding my teeth or anything to read them. At least, I understand where they're coming from. And having grown up in a pretty conservative church, I probably would've agreed with them for a lot of my life.

Actually, the most ironic part of the whole story is that if I hadn't gone to OBU, I would probably still agree with them! But I did go to OBU and found a safe place where I could open my mind to new ideas and see that God had created a much bigger world than I had once thought. And that is the freedom that I am trying to protect for future students. Some will still come out on the side of worldview and that's fine. But some will come out like me, and that needs to be fine too.

But when I saw this article, I cringed. The truth is, if this one had never been written, I'm not sure if this series would even exist. The underlying logical assumptions of the article are so flawed, I'm not even sure how to summarize it fairly as I did with the other two.

You'll have to just go read it yourself.

Probably the best thing I can say about this article is that the author chooses to quote the NASB-- which is at least not the sexist ESV. Did you know, the ESV was specifically made as a reaction against the NRSV in order to counter their effort to use gender inclusive language? Now you know. But the author does not choose this favorite version of Reformed thinkers everywhere (granted, he's not going for the gender inclusive NRSV either) to borrow his quotes.

However, since in this article not only God is male but also all humans, I think the point is moot and negated anyway. I just wanted to find maybe something that could be said for the positive.

The article begins by setting up a straw man of "the evolutionists" and explaining that all of "the evolutionists" believe the world came together randomly about 4.5 billion years ago. They say it came from dust, etc. without a creator, but maybe some aliens. In this process, humans came from "'ape' men" and without a maker have "no code of ethics and have no need of eternal salvation."

The author then contrasts this view with the "biblical" view that God made the world from nothing in six days and man [sic] was made from the dust of the earth in order to glorify God.


First of all, not only does the author set up a straw man of evolutionists as though they are all godless heathens or something like that, but it also creates a false dichotomy between Young Earth Creationism and atheism. We'll get more to that later. But first, I want to comment on the use of the term "the evolutionists."

Probably the majority of the OBU science department should be offended that this man is using the term "evolutionist" to imply atheist-- or at least all of the ones I've talked to. Also, probably a fair portion of the Bible professors I had should be offended that he's implying the only "biblical" way to see the world is Young Earth Creationism. But honestly, the part that gets me the most is this lie that people who are not Christians have no sense of ethics. Let's not be ridiculous. Everyone who is not a sociopath knows the difference between right and wrong and I know plenty of people who worship no God and are quite fine to be nice and even to treat their neighbors as they would want to be treated.

If he's basing his "worldview" on the idea that if you're not a Christian you're a terrible person, he's going to be very disappointed when he meets some very kind people who are just not interested in church. -- But I guess, in fairness, I'll give him the point that they most often are not interested in eternal salvation.

So now the options are godless heathen or young earth creationist. And if you don't read the Bible (which, by the way, never says anything anywhere about 4004 BC) and think you know more about the age of the earth than, I don't know, anyone who has ever dedicated their entire life to scientific research, then I guess you are doing it wrong. So, six literal days it is, that's the only way to read it.

But it's time for me to move on.

The rest of the article is not much more than some strings of bible verses taken out of context to "prove" whatever he is saying. It's pretty bland stuff: man [sic] is made to worship God, plants and animals can't, don't worship them either, man [sic] is supposed to be holy, man [sic] is accountable to God. (I hope you're all seeing the pattern. If anyone could let me know what women are supposed to be doing at this point, I'd be pretty grateful.)

God is forever, unchanging, made the world from nothing-- using words and in six days. Man [sic] is made to glorify God. We've all sinned, etc. Thanks to Adam and Eve we can all look forward to a lake of fire... But Jesus came to save us (now we are all called simply, sinners-- at least it's gender neutral?) if we believe in his death and resurrection.

The author then goes back to creation to mention again that all people are made in the image of God, which means reason enough to submit to God. Thus, there is right and wrong (interesting move, his prooftext for that is the 10 commandments. No thoughts, it's just interesting.). So man [sic] is not a "higher animal" and also genocide is wrong.

Finally, since all people are sinful and all people are in God's image (capacity to follow God), we should do missions and proclaim the way of salvation throughout the earth.

Mostly, I end the article confused, wondering how in this brief span of words-- most of which are quoted proof texts-- we managed to hit missions and genocide and also the sinfulness of all humanity. Also, I guess the implication is that everyone who believes in a literal six day creation believes all of this and anyone who doesn't, doesn't believe any of it.

Well, that sort of false dichotomy has no place at a university.

And if that's not enough, at the end of the page he suggests further reading material including a Young Earth Creationist apologetics book where "theologians" talk about "scientific evidence."

Oh, and -- which is the website run by the people who made the Creation museum.

I'm kind of surprised he didn't try to argue it like this. (Oh, it's real.)

Ok. I've been rude, and I'm sorry, but I'm just not sure if there is another appropriate way to respond to such an article.

But on a serious note, I am not saying that you shouldn't be a Young Earth Creationist. I'm saying you should be able to explore the options and decide for yourself which is the most convincing-- that's called learning. If you, like the author of this article, come out with 6 day creation in 4004 BC, then that's great.

But don't say that there's only one way to read that story. And don't think if people disagree with you that they are all godless. That's ridiculous-- and that attitude definitely has no place at a Christian university.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Review: The Importance and Impact of Worldview

This week, we're reviewing a series of essays in the Baptist Messenger by OBU's Whitlock-era religion hires.  You may find the original article for this review here.

Again, this article is a basic introduction to the concept of "Worldview" with a bit more explanation as to what areas a "worldview" covers-- and what material will be covered through the rest of the series. The author begins with a story of three friends on a Safari. Upon seeing the same safari animals, each comes to a different conclusion about the meaning of such a sight. This difference, the author suggests, is due to "worldview." A "worldview" then, is the conceptual lens by which each person makes meaning in her/his world. The author determines the four core questions answered by "worldview" to be: "What is our nature? What is our world? What is our problem? What is our destination?" The author continues to suggest that "worldview" is thus important because it provides the frame by which we all make meaning out of the events of our lives. The author concludes by mentioning that there are many different kinds of worldview, "Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Existentialist, New Age, etc.," and gives some criteria for determining if "someone’s worldview is true—that is, if they see the world the way the world really is?" His suggested criteria include internal consistency, external consistency, and liveability. After reiterating the importance of a worldview which answers fundamental questions, he ends by saying, "It is, therefore, crucial that we examine our worldview, to ensure that we see the world the way God does."

First, the author is quite right to suggest that every person has a "worldview" and that it is the way we all make meaning of our world. I, perhaps, would not use the word "worldview" but the way he defines it, it does the trick. This is very similar to the idea of "thinking theologically" about all things which I introduced yesterday. The point is interesting, then, that the author admits that meaning is created by each person and not picked up objectively from the outside world. This is a very astute observation and bears remembering.

So then, perhaps I do not take issue with the idea of worldview but with the way it is being appropriated. One of our commenters (Thanks, Chris!) astutely pointed out that calling our own particular frame with which we view the world the "Christian Worldview" is simply taking the authority of Christianity and stamping it onto our own set of meaning-making presuppositions. Surely, we derive our worldview in great part from religion-- I'm not saying that the author's worldview is unchristian. But is it the Christian worldview? Are there not many things on which Christians disagree? 

Especially in light of the way the author of the last article insisted that worldview is adopted from the bible, it makes me cautious when anyone speaks of "The Christian worldview" or "The Biblical worldview." Case in point, let us take the example of the animals on the safari. Sure, Christians might all agree that those animals are created by God. But then what? Should we protect them as God's creatures? Or should we care nothing for them because as soon as the earth is destroyed Jesus is coming back?-- Both options come from people with "Christian worldviews" and find their backing in scripture.

So my problem with worldview, with the way it is being used by the authors of these articles, is the way that they turn to worldview to solve all of their problems. It is as if we could just teach everyone the right answers to the four questions of the article, "What is our nature? What is our world? What is our problem? What is our destination?," then we would all know the right answers to everything all the time. (Also, look for the suggested answers to these questions provided by the series in the upcoming articles. Thus far we really only have hints-- but we're getting there.)

But that doesn't really work. First, Christians don't know everything (remember Paul's looking into a mirror dimly), and second, that which we do know, we disagree on. So even if we had all of the completely correct answers to those important questions (we don't), we still probably wouldn't know what to do with them.

The other major problematic implication of this use of worldview is the divisions which it draws between "us and them." There are the people with the "Christian worldview" and there are those with other kinds of worldviews. Ours is true and theirs isn't. End of story.

That is a shockingly different affirmation than the one which I received at OBU which was to "seek God's truth wherever it may be found" and that "all truth is God's truth." Rather, this use of "worldview" presupposes that Christians have the monopoly on truth. I am not saying that we should believe everything we hear-- but I am saying that people who are not Christians are not stupid. And they don't believe what they believe for no good reason.

Again, take the author's example of the animals on the safari. I may not agree with the new age persona he crafts to say there is a "spark of the divine" in the animals just as there is in human beings. But, probably I could learn a lot more about caring for the creation of God in real ways from someone who does believe that than from many Evangelicals. 

And what about the picture he gives of the atheist response, supposed to be characteristic of Richard Dawkins? Fundamentalists might be surprised to find how much they have in common with Dawkins worldview-- i.e. the need for absolute truth based on hard evidence. Granted, they come out on different sides of the equation. But believing there is proof that there is a God and believing that there is proof that there is no God requires many of the same underlying presuppositions.

I guess what I am trying to say is that reducing someone to a "______ worldview" be it Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, New Age, etc. means we cannot take them seriously as people. Because believe it or not, there is as much diversity in each of those movements as there is within Christianity. And each of those people probably has something to teach you.

If we are going to affirm that all people are made in the image of God-- then there is something to learn about God from all people, no matter their worldview.

If OBU really wants to "equip students to engage a diverse world" the way to do it is not to teach them why they are already right and already have all the answers while everyone else is wrong. 

And finally, once they leave Bison Hill and begin to meet people who are different from them, they may find that many different "worldviews" are "liveable." I'm not saying that makes them all worth the same. But I think it's pretty offensive to say that no one can live a bearable life without Christianity. It's the straw-man fallacy. People all over the world spend their whole lives unchristian all the time. And if you think that they are all miserable, what will it do to your faith when you find out that they're not?

So I agree with the author that "worldview" is important. But I am unsure if it can be taught as a definitive set of answers. First, those are answers that we don't have-- and they are answers that are incomplete anyway. If we are truly seeking to be a Liberal Arts University which integrates faith and learning-- that probably means my faith is going to be shaped by that which I learn-- and hopefully I will never stop learning. 

The purpose of education is not to create students with all the answers. The point is to teach students how to learn-- and that God is faithful to us when we seek to find God in the truth. But all of us must be willing to change, because this side of glory, we will never have it figured out completely.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Review: Christian Worldview and Divine Revelation

This week, we're reviewing a series of essays in the Baptist Messenger by OBU's Whitlock-era religion hires.  You may find the original article for this review here.

Unsurprisingly, this article is a pretty straightforward introduction to the concept of a Christian worldview. The author argues that worldview is something which comes from God-- by means of revelation, which he defines as the Bible. A worldview, the author continues to say, is like a pair of glasses. It does not change our surroundings but allows us to see other things clearly, as they really are. Thus, it is important to stand on the truth of scripture as the foundation for our lives. The author gives another image, that of a puzzle. The Bible is like the picture on the box and everyday we put in more pieces as we put together the puzzle. But we have to be careful not to get mixed up with pieces from other puzzles. The author finishes by concluding that our theology determines our worldview and the Bible determines our theology.

As a student of theology, I am encouraged endlessly to "think theologically" about all aspects of life. (It's even something of a joke at Brite, how much of a catchphrase that is.) So that aspect of worldview, I understand. And quite right, as Christians, our theology determines much of how we see the world.

What is interesting to me in this article is that there seems to be only one way to understand scripture, and one type of Christian worldview.

I began to understand more of the author's theology when the second word of the article reminded me that God is indeed male. (For those of you keeping score at home, a masculine pronoun was used for God 10 times in this short 950 word piece.)

For those of you who are convinced that I am a feminist nit-picking because I am left with little else to quibble with, I assure you, that is not the case. First, the implied "worldview" the author seems to be advocating for all Christians follows the usual post-Takeover route to being oppressive to women. (Oh, and look for that pattern throughout the series.) 

Secondly, the use of the masculine pronoun emphasizes something I said yesterday; this is evidence of the echo chamber. Again, as a student of theology, I can tell you that no one is going to publish anything that uses masculine pronouns for God unless they are evangelical. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being evangelical (although I maintain the language is oppressive), I'm just saying that maybe the author is talking only to an increasingly insular subset of Christians.

Further, the author proves to have continued the trend of the post-Takeover 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. In 1963, the BF&M maintained that "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ." But this sentence was removed in the fundamentalist-inspired 2000 revision. Thus, Jesus is no longer the fullness of God's revelation, but God is found in the words on a page.

Don't get me wrong. I have dedicated my entire life to understanding those words on the page. But the Word of God (capital W intended) is Jesus Christ, the Word became flesh. I am not saying that the author would not affirm that Jesus is indeed the fullness of God's self revelation. I am only saying that he presents the only necessary revelation for a worldview to be the Bible.

Suddenly, it is no longer sufficient for Jesus to be the Truth (John 14.6) but we can only stand on the "inspiration, authority, and total truthfulness" of scripture. Now, I'm not disagreeing with any of those things, I'm simply pointing out that pragmatically, it makes a huge difference whether one is standing on Jesus as the Truth or upon affirmation of the words on the page.

The problem with saying there is one Christian worldview and that it is based on scripture is that scripture has been understood so variously throughout our history, that statement is impossible. When someone says, "The bible says...(x, y, z)..." what they really mean is, "My interpretation of the bible is... (x, y, z)..." There is no such thing as objectivity. And so even though the Bible may be inspired and authoritative and totally truthful -- none of us know what it means. 

200 years ago, people (even Southern Baptists) held up the Bible and proclaimed that God did not intend for the races to mix in marriage.

At some point we need to acknowledge that that was our action based on words in our holy book-- and that we messed up. We read it wrong. All of us did. And certainly we haven't figured it out between now and then.

We all see in a mirror dimly, we all know only in part (1 Cor. 13:12).

If the Bible was easy to understand, why would we have seminaries? And why would we have so many denominations? All of those splits have come from different ways of understanding the same words on the page.

So, I am skeptical of an author who claims that the Bible is like glasses that make us see everything else more clearly. Surely, that is my experience sometimes. But so often, I read the Bible and it makes everything more complicated.

I am 100% agreed that all aspects of my life and thought life ought to be put under the lordship of Christ. But I am not sure what that means all of the time, and I don't think that anyone else does either. Last time I checked, all of us had a really old book that didn't come with any other instructions than read it, try your best, and trust God -- because God is faithful.

Claiming that one way of reading that book is authoritative is not the firm foundation we need. 

I like the metaphor of the puzzle. But if the image on the box is God -- that's a box I'm not going to see this side of glory. So I'll just trust that the pieces that fit belong in the picture.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Will the Real Christian Worldview Please Stand Up?

Oftentimes I feel like we talk about the dangers of fundamentalism at our school, but it feels a little like railing against an amoeba. It's hard to find definite things which point to the very real dangers. That's why we try to highlight schools like Shorter University, where no one could say anything until it was much too late.

That's part of the problem! We would like to get our school through the perilous waters of post-Takeover Baptist education unscathed and definitely still accredited. We can't afford to wait until 50+ faculty are stomping away indignantly, and watch as the rest of the school inevitably burns to the ground.

So we continue to try and give this amorphous blob a shape, and continue to proclaim its danger.

But finally, here is a solid glimpse.

Last week, there was an incredibly interesting series in the Baptist Messenger which, for us, was lucky in many ways. There are a few things about this particular Baptist Messenger series I would like to highlight.

This series was a series on Christian worldview, written by 6 guest writers -- 5 of whom are recent additions to the OBU College of Theology and Ministry. It is interesting to me that the ones who are writing essays about Christian worldview are all people who've made it through the new litmus test of hiring questions which has been instituted since the new administration has come to OBU.

Please find the entire series of Baptist Messenger "worldview" essays here.

In the days to come, we will go through these articles and show our readership exactly what kind of education OBU will give in our new post-Takeover fundamentalist world.

But why bother with an obscure series in a statewide Baptist newspaper?

First, it is interesting to me that this series is coming out after Save OBU has recently made more and more contacts with Oklahoma Baptist clergy. What better way to counter anything we've said to them than to show them that the REAL OBU is teaching this fundamentalist diatribe. Coincidence? Probably. But as always, we will continue to show that fundamentalism is not the only version of Christianity, and certainly not the version which makes for a good university.

Second, I have always had a particular problem with the idea of worldview.

I have already mentioned that the descent into fundamentalism is moving OBU further and further out of the realm of relevance and into a smaller and smaller echo-chamber where the only voices all mirror each other. This obsession with worldview is the perfect demonstration of that point. I have only ever heard conservative, evangelical Christians use the language of "worldview." I avoid saying fundamentalists, because I don't know if that is a fair assessment. But it is definitely my experience that the concept is only talked about in circles with extreme familiarity with fundamentalism. It's not a real thing worthy of an academic classroom.

Further, worldview is a sneaky word which allows for the obsession with doctrinal purity to be enforced. Talking about a Christian worldview is to say that there is some normative model for the way that every Christian should think. It means taking non-essentials of the faith and then making them essentials. By saying that it is part of a Christian worldview, one can now take any doctrine, highlight and treasure it, and suddenly those who do not affirm it are not Christians-- or at least do not "view the world" as a good Christian should.

The prevalence of talk about worldview at OBU did not arise until the new administration came. Honestly, I'm not sure I had ever heard the word until they instituted a new Christian worldview class into the curriculum. Granted, I was too old for the changes to affect me, so I don't remember everything perfectly. Long story short, J-term became required for freshmen again my senior year. There were a few classes which were offered for free -- and one of them was a new Christian Worldview course, team taught by the new dean of the (then) School of Christian Service and an outside apologist.

So that's probably a good way to get a ton of students to take that class.

Granted, I didn't take the class. So I can't tell you with any sort of certainty what happened there. I can make a few guesses.

But why guess? Now, the newest members who shape the doctrines of OBU have published a 6-part series which will show me exactly what a Christian Worldview is.

So, what is a Christian Worldview? What are we teaching our students is necessary to believe in order to be a Christian? As we go through this series and reveal what those who are taking OBU in a new direction say, you might be surprised.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Comparing Catholic and Evangelical Higher Education

After leaving OBU, I did a master's at Boston University School of Theology.  I'm now working on a doctorate in political science at Georgetown.  While almost all of my writing at Save OBU has focused on conservative Protestant higher education, I actually have more personal experience with mainline Protestant and Catholic universities.  I've had to do a lot of research to learn about fundamentalist and evangelical colleges, for neither of those have ever been "my" traditions.  Fortunately, I've re-discovered that OBU stands in a proud tradition of Baptist higher education (that fundamentalists are blatantly eroding).  But when it comes to mainline Protestant and Catholic higher education, I can speak more authoritatively from my personal and professional experiences and interests.

I've been thinking about the differences for a while.  But they were on stark display for me Friday as I attended my wife's law school graduation at The Catholic University of America.  The ceremony was held in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.  Every element of the commencement exemplified how masterfully the university integrates faith and learning.  Among law schools, CUA is probably considered relatively more conservative.  Yet my wife, who is not very ideological but is basically a secular liberal, felt quite at home there 99% of the time.  The university is unfailingly true to its religious moorings, yet also serves a diverse constituency that spans the ideological and religious spectrum.

Me with my wife, daughter, and in-laws on the occasion of Cara's law school graduation.

Catholic Higher Education
There are nearly 250 Roman Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S.  They are owned and operated by a variety of dioceses and religious orders.  As with their Protestant counterparts, Catholic colleges vary in how closely they enforce official doctrine; whether administrators, trustees and certain faculty must be Catholic and whether they are clergy or lay; and the degree to which they are known as conservative or liberal.

In a way that Protestants can't quite claim, the Catholic intellectual tradition is impressively comprehensive and ancient.  Though Catholics have certainly been marginalized in certain places and times, their universities seem to have a quiet confidence in the continuity of their tradition across the generations.  Though they face increasing competition from state and nonsectarian private universities, they are generally comfortable with their intentionally Catholic identity, their role in clergy and lay spiritual formation, and their dual obligations to the Church and to the wider society.

Protestant Higher Education
Like their Catholic counterparts, Protestants' experience in the higher education business have changed along with the relationship between churches and states.  Long before U.S. states founded universities, colonial and early American denominations established institutions to provide education and training for the clergy, the other professions, and eventually a growing stream of undergraduates.  As states became legitimate players in the American collegiate landscape and education shifted definitively from a mostly sacred to a mostly secular purpose, American Protestant universities generally went in one of two directions.  This shift corresponded with how the churches and their institutions responded to the contributions of thinkers like Freud, Marx, Nietzsche and Darwin as well as the advent and dissemination of critical biblical and theological scholarship emanating from European and eventually American universities.  (This history will be well known to many of you.  Others may wish to consult authoritative works such as Sydney Ahlstrom's A Religious History of the American People and George Marsden's The Soul of the University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief.)

One strand of Protestantism -- we'll call it liberal -- largely acceded to the changing times and more or less tried to make its peace with modern science, history, and the Enlightenment.  While I believe in many cases this criticism is overstated, a lot of people feel that this strand of Protestantism's universities have essentially abandoned their religious character (except for their generally outstanding networks of seminaries and divinity schools).

On the other hand, you have conservative Protestants.  As opposed to Catholic intellectuals (who largely accepted modernity) and mainline Protestants (who largely made their peace with it), fundamentalist intellectuals (such as they were) resisted the tide of modernity that swept across American life.  Marginalized from mainstream institutions that they had come to fear and loathe anyway, fundamentalists retreated to form their own networks of Bible colleges where they could disseminate fundamentalist dogma without the fear of secular or even liberal Protestant influences.

In actuality, it was at least partly out of this milieu that OBU was founded.  And if OBU had remained in that insular, fundamentalist world, we would really have no objections to the provost's meddling.  But since OBU, like a number of evangelical institutions, eventually reacted against both secularism and anti-intellectual fundamentalism and embodied an authentically Baptist and quite distinctive brand of Christian higher education, we are fighting to restore that noble legacy.

Opportunities for OBU
While (white) evangelicals have found common cause with (white) Catholic conservatives in the political realm, the theological differences are, in most places, still quite stark.  Yet I do believe conservative Protestants could learn some things from Catholic universities.

Let's start with administration and governance.  To my knowledge, most Catholic universities require their trustees to be Catholic.  For diocesan schools, there may be geographic requirements as well.  Even so, these schools are increasingly turning to laymen rather than just the clergy to lead them.  Requiring trustees to be Catholic is not the same as requiring them to be Baptist.  It would make a lot of sense for schools like OBU to extend trustee leadership positions to non-Baptist Protestants in recognition that the schools serve a broader constituency than Southern Baptists alone.  It seems that some Baptist colleges (though not seminaries) are finally realizing that they do not need clergy or theologians to lead them.  It should come as no surprise that most academic theologians and career pastors lack the specialized skill sets that would serve someone well as a chief executive of a university.

In fact, this is one of the best things OBU has going for it.  By electing David Whitlock president, OBU trustees thankfully sought a business-minded leader and administrator and avoided hiring a hard-core partisan, ideological disciple of the SBC Fundamentalist Takeover.  Hiring someone who had been nurtured for 8+ years (M.Div. and Ph.D.) in a post-Takeover SBC seminary would have almost certainly meant a president who would cheer Provost Norman on in his quest rather than reign him in, as Whitlock has done.  But it would be nice if we could see some denominational and geographic diversity among trustees in recognition that OBU's constituency extends beyond Oklahoma Baptist life.

Another contrast between Catholic and fundamentalist philosophies of higher education is that fundamentalists adopt a very defensive posture toward their doctrinal commitments.  Whereas Catholic universities prize philosophy as a core discipline in the liberal arts and acknowledge the breadth and long history of their theological tradition, fundamentalist schools tend to restrict access to anything but their pre-approved, narrow views.  At OBU, sequestering the religion and philosophy departments within the school of professional ministry preparation keeps the legitimate, academic study of religion ever under the thumb of deans who are loyal BGCO partisans.  Ever a concern at schools like OBU, this dynamic is getting worse with the expansion of apologetics and "worldview" classes that are more overtly doctrinal and devotional.  Students are paying to sit in university classrooms, not Sunday school classrooms, after all.  Increasingly, some within OBU's College of Theology and Ministry appear eager to blur that distinction.

In general, Catholic universities also seem to have worked out a more tenable understanding of reason and revelation.  Today's evangelical apologists, not completely unlike medieval Catholic theologians of old, would have you believe that you can reason your way to faith.  But in today's crowded academy where theology is no longer the "Queen of the Sciences," the new apologists are having a much more difficult time justifying their very existence, let alone the 20th century fundamentalist faith they are trying to defend.  Modern Catholic thinkers, on the other hand, have engaged science and history much more rigorously.  They emphasize the mystical, but not necessarily the supernatural.  And they seem to have found a balance between wanting a faith that can withstand rigorous intellectual scrutiny but finally realizing there is a difference between faith and knowledge.

Along these lines, I'll close with a quotation that Catholic University of America President John Garvey shared at my wife's law school graduation Friday:
Faith -- is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not --
Too slender for the eye
-Emily Dickinson
For al the "ink" we've spilt here at Save OBU on various strands of the conservative Protestant educational tradition, I thought it might be good to at least consider what we might learn from the vast Catholic tradition.  I don't mean to say that all Catholics have a perfect understanding of reason and revelation or that all evangelicals are clueless.  But this is a crucial topic with profound implications for Christian higher education.  I only seek to raise the comparison between education in the Baptist and Catholic traditions.  Surely each has something to learn from the other.

Friday, May 25, 2012

From the Archives: "Why I Do This" Series

Sorry for the late post tonight.  I've been busy with my family celebrating my bride's law school graduation!  It's a pretty remarkable achievement, considering that Cara gave birth to our daughter barely 5 weeks ago.  She excelled on her final exams and graduated with honors.  It's been very sweet to celebrate her accomplishments this week with our friends and parents (who also happen to be first-time grandparents).

During the week of OBU's commencement (when we weren't busy commenting on OBU's decision to honor a leading BGCO/SBC fundamentalist and presenting our letter of congratulations to 2012 OBU graduates), we published a series of posts on why we have invested our time and energy promoting the Save OBU cause.    (Short answer: We do this as an act of love for OBU.)  Veronica explained why she does this and followed later in the week with posts on the need for continuing vigilance as well as a vision for OBU's place and meaning in the wider world.  I also gave a brief reflection on why I've devoted my energy to this effort.

We'll try to keep the blog updated over the long weekend.  But get excited!  Next week promises to expose the problem of encroaching fundamentalism at OBU in the most vivid possible way.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

From the Archives: OBU's Peers Series

When we first started the blog, we thought the experiences of formerly Baptist schools like Stetson, Furman, Wake Forest, and William Jewell would be instructive.  But given the parameters of the BGCO's legal ownership of OBU, it turns out that we're more interested in comparing notes with other state convention-run colleges.

Last month, we posed the question: What schools are OBU's peers?  We looked at nondenominational evangelical colleges, BGCT colleges, and nearby Baptist schools controlled by post-Takeover state conventions.  The best parallel seemed to be Union University in Jackson, TN.  Union is older and larger, but shares much in common with OBU.  Given that Union's president, Dr. David Dockery, is a noted leader in Baptist higher education, we are especially keen to know how Union handles its joint obligations to faculty and students (who need academic freedom and open inquiry) and a fundamentalist-controlled state convention (which prizes doctrinal conformity and absolute control).

Without futher ado, please review our posts in the OBU's Peers series:
Intro: Who's In the Same Boat?
OBU's Peers: Nondenominational Colleges?
OBU's Peers: Nearby Baptist Colleges (Ouachita and Southwest Baptist)?
OBU's Peers: Texas Baptist Colleges?
OBU's Peers: Union University?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

From the Archives: Baptist Freedoms Series

While I was taking a break from the blog during my daughter's first days, Veronica did a great series on the historic Baptist freedoms.  I really think this is one of the most important series we've done.  A lot of my research and writing on the blog has focused on Baptist politics and the plight of various schools.  But Veronica has done a magnificent job anchoring our work in the authentic Baptist tradition -- a tradition with which most post-Takeover Southern Baptist leaders have broken faith.

Proponents of the "conservative resurgence" will not admit it.  In fact, they'll insist that their new direction is not a new direction at all, but rather an important, definitive affirmation of core truths that they believe were somehow in danger of being eroded.  But anyone who has a true understanding of the core Baptist freedoms will have to admit, at the least, that today's SBC has chosen to go in a different direction.  Increasing creedalism, authoritarianism, and a turn from commitments to the liberty of the conscience and the priesthood of the believer are all characteristic of the post-Takeover SBC.

Without further commentary, here are Veroinca's four posts, with an introduction and a conclusion that examines their importance to academia.

Bible Freedom
Soul Freedom
Church Freedom
Religious Freedom

While you're getting caught up on Save OBU happenings, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

From the Archives: Downward Spiral Series

In mid-April, just days before my daughter was born, we did a series of posts on the Georgia Baptist Convention's successful effort at engaging its three colleges in a race toward Bible-academy status and academic irrelevance.  We began and ended with arguments for how Save OBU will have a vital role in preventing the same pathetic fate in Oklahoma Baptist life.

First, we examined the case of Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, GA.  Though never as prominent as Mercer or even Shorter, TMC is newly invigorated with fundamentalist leadership.  Its new president, Emir Caner, was the founding dean of the College at Southwestern, an undergraduate program at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth.  Caner's book Unveiling Islam (coauthored with his brother) was the source of former SBC President and Pastor Emeritus of FBC Jacksonville, FL Jerry Vines's 2002 assertion that the Prophet Mohammed was a "demon-possessed pedophile."  Caner, an adult convert from Islam, is considered a rising star in what remains of Southern Baptist academia.  Caner happily obliged the GBC's desire to institutionalize fundamentalism at TMC, instituting a policy that all faculty sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.  TMC even staged a huge celebration of their descent into creedalism during which Rev. Dr. Paige Patterson, architect of the Fundamentalist Takeover, was the keynote speaker.  Somehow we ran afoul of Caner, though, as evidenced by the fact that he blocked Save OBU from his Twitter feed.  Oh well.  I guess the truth hurts.

Next, we looked at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, GA.  If TMC was willing to accede to fundamentalist designs for the school, BPC has been willing to one-up TMC in every way.  Whereas TMC still has designs of being a legitimate, accredited college, BPC has pretty much given up and become a fundamentalist Bible academy.  There seems to be little evidence that anyone in the GBC or in BPC leadership even cares if the college loses its accreditation, which seems a near certainty at this point.

Our Downward Spiral post on Shorter University in Rome, GA was one of the most widely-read in the Save OBU blog's history.  We've discussed Shorter's situation at length elsewhere, but in this series we discussed the notion that the GBC's direction and the other two schools' willingness to abandon academic freedom and all semblances of legitimacy has made it even more difficult for Shorter.  In the fight for finite GBC funds, these colleges seem to be locked in a race to the bottom.

Moving on from Georgia, we have elsewhere suggested that the race-to-the-bottom dynamic is now at work in Tennessee.  Tennessee Temple University, an Independent Baptist college affiliated with Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga now wants back into the Tennessee Baptist Convention. But the TBC already subsidizes two Baptist colleges, Union University in Jackson and Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City.  TTU's president, Rev. Dr. Steve Echols, has even suggested that by forcing all faculty to sign the Baptist Faith and Message, TTU is "theologically safe," implying that Tennessee's other Baptist schools are not.  We'll keep you posted as this situation develops.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

From the Archives: Diversity at OBU

During the week of April 9, we took a look at diversity (such as it is) at OBU.  There's a bit of a disconnect between OBU's mission to "equip students to engage a diverse world" and the rather spectacular lack of diversity on campus.  We looked at four different categories of diversity, and commented that there is room for improvement if OBU is serious about its stated desire for its graduates to engage a diverse world.

On the theology front, OBU obviously has a commitment to its Baptist heritage.  But that theological heritage is wider and deeper than what passes for orthodoxy in chapel, campus ministry, and OBU religion classrooms.  I went a little off-message during Holy Week with some of my personal theological perspectives.  But Veronica made a strong argument on Easter Monday that OBU should not only tolerate but actually encourage theological diversity, since diversity so clearly characterizes the Protestant theological tradition -- yes, even among Southern Baptists (particularly before the Fundamentalist Takeover).  It's hard to seem serious about "equipping students to engage a diverse world" when you push moderates out, reject brilliant female scholars, hire religion faculty exclusively from the ever more insular world of SBC seminaries, and attempt to enforce rigid fundamentalist doctrinal requirements on faculty hires throughout the rest of the university -- all things Provost Norman has forced, to our detriment, on OBU in the past few years.  I would also submit for his consideration that bringing "Christian apologetics" and "worldview classes" to OBU only makes our own school more insular (if that's even possible) and less able to "equip students to engage a diverse world."

With respect to chapel speakers, Veronica's post speaks for itself.  If you're a SBC or BGCO political climber with a penis and a doctorate from a SBC seminary, your odds of being invited to speak in Raley Chapel are pretty decent.  There are obviously a lot of political considerations involved.  OBU seems to have an interesting little identity politics/affirmative action system in place with Women's Day, Native American Heritage Day, and African American Heritage Day to make sure that students hear from more than just middle-aged white male SBC seminary professors and middle-aged white male SBC seminary-educated large church pastors.  Of course, making chapel compulsory guarantees an audience for our visiting dignitaries.  And I'm sure it pleases the Lord, who according to the Scriptures delights in compelled worship... or something.

Save OBU steers clear of politics and social issues.  But on April 11, Veronica took a look at Soulforce's visit to OBU's campus a street corner near OBU's campus.  Soulforce is an organization committed to ending spiritual violence against God's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered children.  It periodically visits colleges that enforce compulsory heterosexuality, as OBU does.

I contributed a post on race at OBU and in the SBC generally.  This was one of my favorites to research and write.  Take heart, white Baptists.  Sometimes you just have to be able to laugh at yourselves.

Diversity at OBU: Theology
Diversity at OBU: Chapel
Diversity at OBU: Social Issues
Diversity at OBU: Race

Maybe OBU should just drop the line from its mission about "equipping students to engage a diverse world."  But if we're serious about it, we have a long way to go on several fronts.

Plans for the Week and for the Summer

This week, we're taking a break from our usual blogging schedule.  Veronica is taking an intensive weeklong course at Brite.  I have family in town to celebrate my bride's graduation from the Catholic University of America School of Law (and, of course, to shower our month-old newborn daughter with love and attention).

We've covered a lot of ground since Spring Break, our last week off.  Our readership has grown significantly in that timespan.  So this week, we're featuring some highlights from the past two months, since many in our coalition may have missed them the first time around.

I want to expand briefly on Veronica's Friday note about summer plans.  As the summertime approaches, we will scale back and retool our blogging efforts, but only a little bit.  We still have posts planned about the fine arts area, some trustee issues, and the results of our recently completed survey of over 100 BGCO pastors and church staff.  But in the summer months, we'll also try some new things.  We want to tell more peoples' OBU stories.  We want to build bridges to concerned constituents of other Baptist institutions.  We will continue to present and defend the Baptist distinctives that stand at the core of what we're trying to accomplish.  And we may try to facilitate some online book reading/discussion groups.  (Let us know if you want to help out:

A lot of people have been asking, "Where do we stand?" and "What can I do?"  OBU is definitely in a better place today than it was nine months ago.  We believe the cumulative effect of vocal faculty opposition, last fall's alumni petition, passionate protests from retirees, and the Save OBU movement has been to put the administration on notice that there will be no fundamentalist takeover at OBU.  We still have trustees and a president who want the best for OBU.  The provost, who had been a one-man Takeover architect, was severely chastened this year, even before a sobering set of job evaluations made it crystal clear that the faculty do not want his meddling -- and many (if not most) do not want him -- at OBU.  Our website statistics indicate that we are not really being read in Thurmond Hall.  But we are being read in the Baptist Building.  We've presented a number of inconvenient truths about the OBU/BGCO relationship.  But some of our hardest-hitting arguments will be hard to make without data that we don't have (i.e., how few BGCO pulpits are filled with OBU ministry grads, how many OBU grads attend non-SBC seminaries, etc).

Here are a few things you can do:
  • Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  This increases our social reach dramatically.
  • Tell your non-fundamentalist friends and classmates about what has gone on at OBU and what Save OBU is doing to stop it.
  • Share the news of Save OBU with friends who are faculty/students/alumni at other Baptist colleges.  Chances are, their schools are experiencing versions of the same problems.
  • Use the link at right to donate $30 via PayPal to fund a Facebook ad campaign.  (These have been extremely effective.)
  • Learn as much as you can about the state of Baptist and evangelical higher education.  Remain in prayer and discernment about how to ensure the best possible future for OBU students and for the university's greatest asset -- its faculty.
Organizationally, we will be convening an advisory board for Save OBU this summer.  Ideally, members should be active laypeople in Oklahoma Baptist churches.  Sadly, I don't think BGCO clergy will have the freedom to be leaders in our effort, although we know from many emails that a number of them share our concerns.  If you would like to help provide leadership in this way, please let us know.  Also, please let us know if you would like to nominate someone for the Save OBU Advisory Board.

Thank you for your continued support.  Most of all, thank you for your love and passion for OBU!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Shorter Univ. Debacle Goes National

Aside from OBU, Shorter University in Rome, GA is the school we've discussed the most extensively here.  Though Shorter has a history of conflict with the Georgia Baptist Convention foreign to the OBU/BGCO relationship and, unlike Oklahoma, Georgia has two marginal Baptist colleges, OBU and Shorter do share some important things in common.  Shorter is in the lower tier in the U.S. News rankings, but this is because it is now categorized among "National Liberal Arts Colleges."  In previous regional rankings, Shorter has ranked commensurately with its very solid reputation.  Like OBU, Shorter has strong roots in its community, it excels in liberal arts undergraduate education, and it has recently seen leadership changes that have led to fundamentalist-inspired changes.

For now, Shorter exemplifies the worst-case scenario for OBU.  Just this month, news spread that more than 50 employees are leaving Shorter because they did not sign up to teach at a fundamentalist Bible academy.  I encourage you to look at the Rome (GA) News-Tribune's coverage of the situation, as well as the Save Our Shorter website.  It's all quite heartbreaking.

People in Baptist higher education have been watching Shorter ever since President Don Dowless announced last fall that all employees (regardless of tenure) must either sign its belief/lifestyle statements or face termination.  As the deadline to decide came in April and the staggering number of departing faculty became known, a few religion reporters picked up the story.  Now, a number of national mainstream media outlets are reporting on the faculty exodus at Shorter.

My own local paper, The Washington Post, printed a Religion News Service report on the issue.  Shorter President Don Dowless's reaction to losing a huge chunk of his faculty was essentially, "Eh:"
Dowless said Friday that some of those who resigned did not state the reason for leaving.
In a Wednesday statement, Dowless said he and the university board recognized there are “strong feelings on both sides” about the new employment rules but the board decided to “reclaim our Christian roots” even if the consequence was a loss of faculty and staff.
“Our University was at a crossroads to either take steps to regain an authentic Christian identity in policy and practice or we would become a Christian University in name only,” he said.
This guy comes off as arrogant and clueless.  Some who resigned did not state a reason?  Are we supposed to believe that they just don't like the weather in North Georgia anymore?  The implication that without these new faith and lifestyle statements, Shorter is abandoning its Christian roots is demonstrably false and highly insulting.  Shorter was in no danger of becoming a Christian university "in name only," especially since the GBC won lawsuits affirming their control and now elects all of Shorter's trustees.  The truth is, in light of this disaster, Shorter is going to become a university in name only.

I can't wait to find out what kind of people Shorter brings in to replace the several dozen lost faculty and staff.  To aid in the task, Dowless has brought in a new administrator to pick up the pieces and help built the fundamentalist Bible academy Shorter is now destined to become.

Thankfully, OBU's president and current trustees will not be persuaded to allow -- let alone foment -- OBU's destruction.  Here again, there are important differences between OBU and Shorter.  Dowless came to Shorter after the GBC had already stacked the board with fundamentalists.  It was the understanding from the beginning of his tenure that he would shepherd along the institution's transformation.  In OBU's case, it's not 100% clear if the dynamic is a difference in degree or kind.

GBC Executive Director Bob White is fully on board with the fundamentalist transformation of the state's Baptist colleges.  It's unclear whether he shares their vision or is simply powerless to stop them.  In any case, OBU President David Whitlock has every opportunity to guard against fundamentalist encroachment at OBU and he has a Board of Trustees (for now) that would back him up.  Many people have suggested to us that the BGCO's own Anthony Jordan would be delighted to see OBU go in a more fundamentalist direction.  But my impression is that he is sensible enough to know that OBU's reputation is important and that losing accreditation is unacceptable.  We'll know more about where the convention stands after the next slate of trustees is elected in November.

Until then, we'll remain ever vigilant.  This month, a national audience is seeing firsthand that fundamentalist control inevitably leads academic institutions toward irrelevance if not destruction.  Hopefully everyone involved will realize that this is NOT what anyone actually wants for our beloved OBU.

Of course, if OBU was not owned and controlled by the post-Takeover BGCO, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Save OBU for the Summer

As I said in the last post, summer is the best time in a university for large unpopular changes. The lack of activity otherwise in the university makes our job at Save OBU doubly important. The Bison is not publishing and the official OBU press release is obviously not going to announce the untimely departure of another professor.

Here's what you can expect from us this summer:

  • More posts on Baptist history and historical Baptist figures
  • More guest posts
  • Recycling old posts so readership can catch up with what has been discussed in these slow months

We would also like to post some more "my OBU story" profiles. If you'd like to contribute with your OBU story, please email (Check out one possible format here.)

We have a few other things in the works, so be sure to check back regularly to keep up with everything going on here! We are excited with progress so far and we look forward to continued growth over the summer.

Thanks to all of you, our readers, for your continued support!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Summer in the University

Summer is an interesting time for a university. We have already said that we do not expect dramatic happenings this summer as there have been during the past two.

After all, we have shown that we are vigilant and that there are enough people who care about our movement to keep us informed of what is happening on Bison Hill.

However, this is the summer to keep watching. The last two summers have included dismissals of well-loved, erudite professors. And for those of you keeping score at home, one of those professors has received the W.O. Carver Award for lifetime achievement from the Baptist History and Heritage Society. So while OBU settled this spring for a professor who could hardly manage to have regular lectures during the scheduled class time, people outside our bubble were recognizing those OBU kicked to the curb.  When two top students informed the dean about what a disaster the Baptist History class was, the dean became defensive and rebuffed the students.

But to the point, from an administrative standpoint, summer, when the students are away, is the best time to make big changes, especially if they are going to be unpopular. This is not always necessarily a bad thing -- the best time to make OBU a smoke-free campus was over the summer. But sometimes it is terrible -- as in the case of our two forced dismissals.

All of that to say, we are watching. Our movement has grown tremendously and there are many who are helping to keep us updated. If anything happens this summer, we will be sure to inform our readership.

Thus, as we all take a little bit of break for the summer, be sure to keep checking in. We are going to keep writing about Baptist History, higher education, and especially the current struggles to maintain academic freedom at OBU.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Provost Stan Norman Undergoes Evaluations


We have some very good news to report-- perhaps our first tangible victory. We have had several small victories, don't get me wrong. But this is the first time that we are happy to report a concession from those who wish to pander to the fundamentalists to the side of the reasonable.

When we began this blog, one of the most important issues we kept highlighting was the borderline hostile nature of the current faculty/administration relationship. One of the major problems was that Provost Stan Norman, after taking a job created for him, a creation which involved demoting a longtime favored and loyal (female) administrator, did not have to undergo any sort of faculty evaluation.

But no longer.

David Whitlock finally agreed that Stan Norman would have to undergo evaluation through a process developed by the CCCU. And we are happy to report that the president has kept his word and those reviews have been recently completed.

If I were Stan Norman, I would be terrified.

Because it turns out that he picked the wrong school to come and enforce the fundamentalist agenda. And those opposed have not simply laid down and died. No. We have demanded that he be put through the same accountability as any other administrator-- and now the faculty have spoken.

A faculty member tells us that these reviews will be terrible, just as, I'm sure, we all suspected. As one source puts it,
 "The message on the provost should be loud and clear. If the president doesn't act, he will at least have a sobering set of evaluations to consider, and perhaps both he and his provost will continue to tread softly.  He should know, from the comment sections, that a number of [faculty] want the provost gone."
Very well, indeed. 

Before anything else, let me say I am proud of the faculty for their fearless honesty. It would be easy to cower in the face of the administration who has already fired two beloved colleagues. But honest evaluations are really an issue of justice. If they do not reflect the truth of the situation then there is no hope. So kudos to the brave who stand for all that we here at Save OBU hold dear. It cannot be easy and we cannot do what only you can.

However, I think it would be foolish for us to rejoice too much over this victory. It is indeed our first tangible sign of moving forward, but it does not guarantee any results. Do not think that President Whitlock is going to fire Provost Norman over one bad set of evaluations. First of all, they are best friends. Second, he's already managed to get a job he shouldn't have (as evidenced by his being sent to Union to learn how to be a provost) and stay through two botched dismissals and other needless meddling. What is a little codified unrest?

But as our source says, there is now record of how unhappy everyone is with Norman.

Mostly, this puts the president in a terrible spot. And as much as I have made clear my disdain for the man who does not respect students and has weird temper issues, I do think that perhaps without this particular provost by his side he would be a little more reasonable. 

So now he must choose. How will he navigate the open hostility between his provost and the faculty? We will watch and keep all of our readers informed.

EDIT: 5/21/12 5:55 p.m. Comments have been disabled for this post due to untrue anonymous rumors and accusations.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

50+ Staff to Leave Shorter Over Belief/Lifestyle Statement

Yesterday, we sounded the alarm for Baptists in Tennessee, who are likely to see pressure on Union University and Carson-Newman College to acede to fundamentalism as the unaccredited Tennessee Temple University seeks to secure funding from the Tennessee Baptist Convention.  It's president, Rev. Dr. Steve Echols, has already implied that the other schools are not "theologically safe."  Today, let's return briefly to Georgia, where fundamentalists engineered an all-out race to the bottom among its three convention-run colleges.

Shorter Summary
Shorter University in Rome, GA, a very fine Christian liberal arts college, recently came under fundamentalist control after an unfavorable court decision and a full-on assault from elements within the Georgia Baptist Convention.  Its new trustee and administrative leadership wasted no time in telling faculty and staff that the usual Baptist college norms of academic freedom, tenure, and liberty of the conscience no longer apply.  Last fall, Shorter President Don Dowless sent a letter informing that all staff who choose not to sign various fundamentalist-inspired statements would be fired at the end of this academic year.

We've known for some time that Shorter would suffer massive casualties.  The philosophy department was decimated and all moderate religion professors have already been purged.  (Shorter's Christian Studies department is what OBU's College of Theology and Ministry will look like in 10 years if BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Anthony Jordan and Provost Norman have their way.)  As the year has progressed, faculty and staff across Shorter University have grappled with the decision before them.  Fully two-thirds said they would leave at the end of this year, or as soon as they found another job.

Dozens to Leave
Now, we are learning the extent of the carnage.  At least fifty-six employees are leaving Shorter this summer.  The status of those who seek to stay but refuse to succumb to the university's imposition of creedalism, fundamentalism, and authoritarianism is in some doubt -- but does not look hopeful.  These are not secular liberals.  They are born-again believers who have committed significant parts of their professional lives -- in some cases decades -- to the ideal of Christian liberal arts education.  They simply refuse to subject themselves to distinctly un-Baptist policies.  Former Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Director Charles Wade famously said he would sign every page of the Bible, but not any manmade creed.  Thankfully, dozens of devoted Christian servants apparently think likewise.

Lessons for OBU
The Shorter debacle has received significant press coverage.  People are watching.  I just hope OBU stakeholders are paying attention.  This could absolutely happen here.  Shorter, along with a few Baptist colleges including Union University in Tennessee, is one of the closest parallels to OBU that we can find.

Since the takeover at Shorter was so swift and the consequences have been so dire, it may be a good idea to seek assurances from various OBU leaders that they do not desire the same thing for OBU.  We are certain that no deans and only a few trustees have the appetite for this kind of destruction to visit OBU.  President Whitlock knows where his bread is buttered, but there is only limited evidence that would stand for it, let alone cheerlead and shepherd the process as Dowless did at Shorter.  Remember, Whitlock thankfully was not educated in a post-Takeover SBC seminary and does not seem to be a SBC political climber.  He already has his dream job.

It would be reassuring if Drs. Jordan and Norman would go on record against a Shorter-style purge.  But even if they did, actions speak louder than words and neither has inspired any confidence, to put it mildly.  Norman clearly enjoys using the personnel process to make OBU more fundamentalist, though he is somewhat reigned in now.  And many people have attested to Jordan's desire to remove moderate professors from OBU (particularly in the religion area).  Former President Mark Brister ran afoul of Jordan for not taking out Jordan's targets.


As we celebrate the courage of the five dozen departing Shorter faculty and wish them well in the next stages of their journeys, I want to repeat some lyrics posted by a commenter on the Save Our Shorter blog.  It's a verse from the hymn "God of Grace and God of Glory" by the legendary Protestant minister Harry Emerson Fosdick of New York City's Riverside Church.
Lo, the hosts of evil 'round us
Scorn thy Christ, assail his ways.
Fears and doubts too long have bound us
Free our hearts for work and praise!
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
For the living of these days.
This hymn was sung each year at Shorter's commencement.  I'm sure the fundamentalists abandoned that tradition quickly because Fosdick was such an eloquent advocate of a brand of Protestantism that fundamentalists detest (see the sermon "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?")  As the commenter said, the ex-Shorter employees "are no longer bound by the hosts of evil.  I pray their hearts are now free to work and praise!"  Amen, amen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Baptist College Race to the Bottom Moving to TN

From the earliest days of this blog, we've reported on the Georgia Baptist Convention's assalut on liberal arts education.  While there are a few state conventions that aren't even trying anymore (e.g., Louisiana, Florida), Georgia stands out the worst offender among Baptist conventions that either in pretense or in actuality claim to want to contribute meaningfully to the project of Christian higher education.  With GA's lesser Baptist colleges leaping headlong into fundamentalism, the GBC found the trustees and president it needed to force its flagship school, Shorter University, to join the others in a race to the bottom.

Our situation in Oklahoma is a little different because there is only one Baptist college.  So while it may be true that every dollar OBU gets from the BGCO is a dollar that BCMs, evangelism efforts, and Falls Creek goes without, at least OBU is not competing with other colleges for scarce funds.  In Georgia, Shorter gets about $2 million a year while Brewton-Parker and Truett-McConnell get about $1 million each.  Make no mistake: BPC and TMC would love to get their hands on a bigger piece of the GBC pie, and obviously have no qualms about trashing academic freedom and even respectability in order to do it.  Thus, Shorter is basically forced to do what it must to protect its share.  Unfortunately, Shorter's new president, Don Dowless, has been more than happy to oblige.

With more and more Baptist college presidents and trustees kowtowing to state convention fundamentalists, we're learning how ugly the political game can be.  The Tennessee Baptist Convention seems to have a decent relationship with Union University (which we profiled recently) and Carson-Newman College.  But it looks like things are going to get ugly in the Volunteer State.

The Tennessee Baptist Situation
The TBC is like Oklahoma and most other Baptist state conventions in many respects.  There is no competing fundamentalist convention as in Texas and Virginia.  So, fundamentalists and a few moderates coexist in the TBC, which has offices in suburban Nashville.  The convention sends about 15% of its budget to its two affiliated colleges (a little less than the BGCO sends to OBU).  Carson-Newman and Union get subsidies of $2.5 million apiece from the Cooperative Program.

These allocations grew after Belmont University left the TBC in 2007 following and ugly coup attempt by TBC fundamentalists.  In 2005, Belmont's trustees sought to have more autonomy from the TBC, but the convention rejected their plan and defunded the university, splitting Belmont's subsidy between the other two colleges.  But then the TBC attempted to replace the Belmont board with fundamentalists amenable to ongoing TBC control.  When talks broke down, the TBC demanded the return of every dime of subsidy money it ever gave Belmont -- $58 million.  The school and the convention settled out of court, with the school agreeing to pay back $11 million over 40 years. I guess freedom isn't free.  Belmont maintains a Christian identity, though no longer and exclusively Baptist one.

An Old Newcomer: Tennessee Temple University
Now, another once-crumbling fundamentalist college wants a piece of the TBC pie.  Tennessee Temple University, long an Independent Baptist institution affiliated with Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, wants back into the TBC.  Highland Park has sought to renew its SBC ties in recent years.  One pastor initiated the process of joining the local Baptist Association.  Another pastor continued the effort before he left to become dean of Liberty University's seminary.  The current pastor is a Southwestern Seminary graduate who previously served on staff of the alternative fundamentalist state conventions in Texas and Virginia.  Highland Park is asking Tennessee Baptists to assist in repairing a camp compound (church owned, not TBC owned) that was recently damaged by tornadoes.

Tennessee Temple's new president, Rev. Dr. Steve Echols, came to TTU from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  He shares Highland Park's desire to get a TBC subsidy for Tennessee Temple, and appears willing to throw Union and Carson-Newman under the bus in order to do it:
When Echols assumed leadership at Tennessee Temple, one of his priorities was for the school's trustees to adopt the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. The school's April 30 spring graduation will include a formal ceremony in which all of the faculty sign the Southern Baptist statement of beliefs.  
"So our entire faculty has already agreed to be in line with the Baptist Faith and Message," Echols said. "We still have our belief statements that we've had all along, but we feel like the Baptist Faith and Message is in harmony with that. So I think that speaks pretty strongly. There aren't many schools doing that. We want to say to Southern Baptists, 'This is a safe place to send your students, theologically'" (emphasis mine).
It is unseemly to say the least for Echols to imply that Southern Baptists should send their children to TTU because other Christian colleges -- maybe even other Baptist schools -- aren't "theologically safe."

Leaders, faculty, and students at Carson-Newman and Union need to watch out.  Echols and Tennessee Temple need that Tennessee Baptist subsidy for their fledgling school really badly.  They are going around telling everyone how extra Southern Baptist they are.  Unlike Union and Carson-Newman, they'll never have to worry about academic respectability or accreditation, neither of which it has ever had.

But if the lessons of Georgia are any indication, TTU will have no problem engaging the others in a race to the bottom.  Union and Carson-Newman have enough problems trying to remain viable academic institutions without upsetting the fundamentalists who control the TBC.  The last thing they need is competition from Tennessee Temple.  Depending how vigorously TTU wants to compete for scarce TBC funds, things could get very ugly again in Tennessee.  Just ask our friends in Georgia.

Lessons for OBU
Frankly, I find the Belmont story more interesting and relevant than TTU.  While I would love nothing more than for some fundamentalist college to spring up and woo the BGCO until the convention drops us, I don't see any viable competition.  So at least we can be thankful we aren't in a race to the bottom.

But the Belmont example is instructive.  First, it shows how obsessive fundamentalists are about control.  They don't want to give a penny to anything they can't fully control.  Second, we see that it's also largely about money.  If OBU ever actually got the opportunity to disaffiliate from the BGCO, we would have to pay back huge sums of cash.  In our case, we would also have to buy the buildings and grounds, since the convention owns them.  But the Belmont case illustrates that a reasonable compromise settlement could be reached and that no court would rule that we have to pay back tens of millions of dollars.  Given that OBU has an endowment nearing nine figures that is completely independent of BGCO control, I still say the price of disaffiliating is a bargain to be free from outside coercion and control forever.

Shaking free from the BGCO wouldn't even hurt OBU's endowment as badly as one moderate recession.  And once we expand our constituency beyond Oklahoma Baptist life to the broader spectrum of American evangelicalism, we would eventually bring in many, many new donors.  Academic freedom would be secure.  The BGCO could spend on ministry priorities that are actually consistent with its mission.  Faculty would be better off.  Students would be better off.  Alumni would be better off.  It's a win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win!