I figured a little Sunday morning introspection can't hurt, so I'll close out the Why Do I Do This series with my own answer to the question.
Veronica's experience has been that people ask, "Why do you spend so much time and effort writing for the Save OBU blog?" I've had very few people ask me that question. Most of my friends and colleagues would be surprised to know I've spent 5 months helping to build a movement to reclaim the mantle of academic freedom at a conservative Christian college in Oklahoma. I'm extremely grateful for all the new friends and contacts I've made from across the generations, but for me Save OBU has been a side project that has hardly any relevance to my vocation and absolutely no interest to my friends or family.
I'm a perplexing case to those who know me, because I grew up religious, earned degrees in religion and theology, spent two years in parish ministry, and yet am not very religious anymore. My mother and dad, who were deeply ambivalent about my decision to go to OBU 13 years ago, tell me they've checked out the blog once or twice. My brother's reaction is typical of most of my friends' assessments of the fundamentalists taking over Baptist higher education: "It's a pretty sad situation, but kind of inevitable. The missions of the church and the university are just too different, as most places have figured out over the last 200 years."
As Veronica's reflection pointed out, on the vast Protestant theological spectrum, fundamentalist Southern Baptists and moderate Southern Baptists are not very far apart. So why am I, who is nowhere close to either camp on the spectrum, splitting hairs about the governance and administration of a Baptist college?
It's a fair question. After some reflection, I've come up with three reasons.
- I ended up at OBU for a reason that had little to do with goodness of fit or adequate reflection. Ultimately I "decided" to go there (because of a girl) and my parents "let" me, but in my case it was never a very good idea. It just kind of happened. I assume a lot of 17 year olds have the same eperience: church influences, family pressures, scholarship opportunities... there a lot of reasons why students "end up" at a college other than a rational calculation about fit, pros, cons, etc. Thankfully, I emerged with a very fine education. In my case, I credit the core curriculum (especially the Western Civ sequence) and the religion department. But I know students in business, fine arts, nursing, teacher education, and elsewhere in the humanities and social science disciplines have the same experience. I just want all students, even those who "ended up" at OBU like I did, to get a first-rate education.
- Like most college students, I was influenced by my professors. Probably more profoundly than most. Not in the sense that many people fear, that students subscribe to professors' ideology uncritically. Quite the opposite, in fact. I realized pretty quickly that I didn't believe the same things about God or the Bible that my professors did. I read the books they assigned, as well as books in the library, and came to understand that the Bible, the idea of God, and the unfolding history of Christian theology were -- while fascinating and compelling to me -- of human rather than divine imagination.
So I can't really say my professors influenced me in the way fundamentalists or moderates hope for. Instead, they inspired me with their love of learning, their genuine care and kindness, and the way they exemplified the best of the scholarly vocation. Though my own life and work took a surprising number of twists and turns in my mid-20s, I finally ended up in a Ph.D. program in 2009. My own scholarship will be in a different field and my teaching will be in a different context. But even now as I work alongside prodigious researchers with Ivy League Ph.D.'s, I am continually drawn back to the ideal of the liberal arts college -- rather than the pages of the top academic journals -- as the place where I want to live out my own scholarly vocation.
It makes me angry that people decided to go after OBU professors. The OBU faculty was doing just fine before the current administration came along and decided to crack down. I find the new obsession with doctrinal conformity, denominational purity, and trying to get rid of certain professors to be unprecedented, unnecessary, and unethical. I want it to stop. I certainly don't think OBU professors need my help. They are perfectly capable of managing their own affairs. But if I can help raise awareness about a disturbing dynamic to a wider constituency, I will do so. I am doing this because I believe in OBU professors and their mission. I have said from the beginning: If they think Save OBU is doing more harm than good, I would happily shut down the blog and drop the subject forever. But none of them has suggested that. So we will continue moving forward.
- I just really can't stand fundamentalism. I think it's a perversion that feeds on ignorance and coercion. If fundamentalists want to have churches, denominations, and even their own "educational" institutions, that's fine. But we shouldn't let them take over institutions that the wider society depends on: local governments, political parties, legitimate schools and colleges, etc. The BGCO wisely got out of the hospital business 30 years ago. If it wants to remain in the higher education business, it needs to look around and observe how most of the rest of American Christendom runs its colleges. Unfortunately, neither the SBC nor most other state conventions provide good examples, as the precipitous decline in the quality, rigor, and respectability of Baptist higher education over the past 20 years so vividly indicates. The good Baptist schools got out while they could, and the rest, almost without exception, are caught in various phases of an ugly downward spiral. We'll win a few battles along the way, but the long-term prospects for an academically viable yet BGCO-controlled OBU remain extremely dim.
Thanks to each of you -- whether OBU students, parents, faculty/staff, retirees, alumni, or friends -- for sharing a part of your journey with me.
Other posts in the Why Do I Do This series:
Why Do I Do This? (Veronica)
Vigilance Is Necessary
The World Is a Mighty Big Place