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.