Last weekend, OBU sent a delegation to New Orleans to award SBC President-in-Waiting Fred Luter an honorary Doctor of Divinity. For 30 years after the Takeover, it was not OBU's practice to give out honorary degrees to SBC climbers and elites. Yet in the past month, we have given honorary doctorates to two SBC presidents. If anything, we should be keeping our distance from modern SBC leadership, which has collectively had a disastrous effect on academic freedom and Baptist distinctives over the past 30 years. Yet the David Whitlock Administration seems to be wasting no opportunity to cozy up to SBC elites.
So let's take a look at this prestigious fraternity. Chances are you'll recognize some, if not most, of the names.
Note that some of the events and statements reported below did not take place during that man's tenure as SBC president. Rather, the point is being fundamentalist and obsessive about political control and domination are prerequisites for the job. Being a little crazy usually helps, too. The recent presidents haven't been nearly as bad as the earlier ones. But then again, the first generation presidents did most of the dirty work. Nowadays, all the boards and institutions have already been pretty much destroyed. You can read about most of these guys in this handy online guide: 30 People, 7 Boards, 2 Committees, and 1 News Service Who Screwed Up the Southern Baptist Convention.
Rev. Adrian Rogers, TN (1979-1980)
After several years of planning by Takeover architects, Rogers's election signaled the beginning of the end for moderates in the SBC.
Rev. Bailey Smith, OK (1980-1982)
Tom Elliff's brother-in-law was special indeed. He claimed to know the limits of divine hearing, insisting "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew." Just for kicks, he also quipped, "I don't know why God chose the Jew, they have such funny noses." I really hope Rev. Smith's sister dated a few Jewish guys before she married Tom Elliff.
Rev. Jimmy Draper, TX (1982-1984)
As SBC president, he continued the practice of appointing only fundamentalists to denominational boards and agencies. Later, as president of the Sunday School Board, he purged that organization of moderates through more than 100 early retirements and forced resignations.
Rev. Dr. Charles Stanley, GA (1984-1986)
He wasn't quite as much of a one-man wrecking ball as some of the other early Takeover presidents. But he dutifully appointed only fundamentalists to SBC boards and agencies. Stanley cashed in on his SBC fame and made a boatload of money writing devotional books.
Rev. Adrian Rogers, TN (1986-1988)
Even after his second stint as SBC president, Rogers continued to be active in the Takeover. Regarding his desire to police what SBC seminary professors taught, Rogers said "If we say pickles have souls, they better teach that pickles have souls!" Rogers also advocated that the WMU be "hardwired" into the convention's power structure -- in other words, that the convention strip the power of electing WMU board members from the state WMU organizations. Also, Rogers spearheaded a 1992 meeting where fundamentalists, having taken over the SBC, turned their sights on state conventions. Tellingly, this was shortly before Anthony Jordan and other fundamentalists led the BGCO to censure former Executive Director-Treasurer Joe Ingram for "consorting with moderates."
Rev. Dr. Jerry Vines, FL (1988-1990)
As SBC president, he continued the fundamentalist practice of appointing only like-minded people to SBC boards and agencies. You probably know Vines best for his description of the Prophet Mohammed as a "demon possessed pedophile." When pushed Vines cited a book by (now) Truett-McConnell College President Emir Caner (and his brother Ergun, who was demoted from Liberty University's administration for lying repeatedly about his life story and testimony).
Rev. Dr. Morris Chapman, TX (1990-1992)
Nominated for the SBC presidency by OBU alum Rev. Dr. John Bisagno, an influential pastor who had previously said he was neutral in the controversy. Chapman exemplified the growing hatred of moderates, informing the Baptist World Alliance that the SBC would be pulling out of the international Baptist body because it had admitted the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a member.
Rev. Ed Young, TX (1992-1994)
More of the same. Particularly bad on church-state issues, reflecting the new normal for the SBC. It was on Young's watch that the SBC defunded the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs.
Rev. Dr. Jim Henry, FL (1994-1996)
The closest thing to a moderate the SBC presidency has seen since the Takeover began in 1979. As far as I know, he has not done or said anything too wacky.
Rev. Dr. Tom Elliff, OK (1996-1998)
Elliff continued the purge and marginalization of moderates. By now, you probably know about his comparison of moderates Baptists to barnacles on a ship. He recently spoke at OBU's commencement. To preserve decorum, the parasites seated on the platform behind him (OBU faculty) applauded politely. He has received two honors from OBU in the past year: the First Annual Herschel H. Hobbs Award for Distinguished Denominational Service and an honorary doctorate. Elliff now leads the SBC's International Mission Board, where liberty of the conscience once existed.
Rev. Dr. Paige Patterson, TX (1998-2000)
As president of Criswell College in the late 1970s, Patterson and Paul Pressler, a Houston judge and Baptist layman, formulated the original Takeover plan. Noting the massive appointive power of the SBC presidency, Patterson and Pressler realized that if a few fundamentalist presidents exclusively appointed fundamentalists to the denomination's boards and agencies, the whole organization would be thoroughly fundamentalist in just a decade or so. They were right.
Rev. Dr. James Merritt, GA (2000-2002)
Although Merritt dutifully exercised his expected post-Takeover duties, some Baptist elites and commentators didn't find him to be extreme enough. Merritt's son, Jonathan, is a popular cultural commentator who is somewhat less reflexively pro-Religious Right than most SBC elites. The prospect of the younger Merritt acceding to his father's pulpit someday horrifies some fundamentalists.
Rev. Dr. Jack Graham, TX (2002-2004)
About what you would expect. Graham oversaw the SBC's withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance. Perhaps most bizarrely, he supported a resolution at the 2004 SBC that called on Southern Baptists to remove their children from public schools.
Rev. Dr. Bobby Welch, FL (2004-2006)
Welch was one of the relatively normal ones. But given how far that goalpost has moved, that's not really saying much. Whereas other past presidents cashed in on their notoriety by writing books, Welch has snagged several plum positions in the SBC and state convention hierarchies.
Rev. Dr. Frank Page, SC (2006-2008)
Like his successors, Page obeyed the post-Takeover playbook and did the requisite Religious Right politicking. And like Welch, he managed to parlay his success into some nice, influential pre-retirement positions. Currently, Dr. Page is president of the SBC's Executive Committee, the powerful body that represents the SBC between its annual meetings.
Rev. Johnny Hunt, GA (2008-2010)
The accuracy of Hunt's resume sparked some controversy around the time of his election. But if legitimizing degree mills is the worst thing contemporary SBC presidents do, then I guess things could be worse. And pretty soon, a lot of once-great Baptist colleges may indeed become degree mills.
Rev. Bryant Wright, GA (2010-2012)
Wright has had the misfortune of presiding over several P.R. blunders, including the SBC name change debate and the fallout from SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land's plagiarized racist comments about Trayvon Martin, a young black man shot to death earlier this year by a white neighborhood watch patrolman. But if recent history is any guide, Wright will find a nice, six-figure pre-retirement retirement at some SBC agency or institution.
Rev. Fred Luter, LA (2012-2014)
So, given the less-than-illustrious history of his 16 most recent predecessors, can you understand why we're a little skeptical about David Whitlock's decision to give Luter an honorary doctorate? Every indication is that Luter will stand firmly in line with the post-Takeover status quo, which has created a horrible environment for what few legitimate Baptist educational institutions remain. Why are we ingratiating ourselves to SBC politicians when there are so many leaders who have stood with integrity for academic freedom and true Baptist distinctives that we could honor?
Note to members of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans: We here at Save OBU sincerely hope this award ceremony did not encroach on your Sunday worship. We realize that Pastor Luter has absolutely no relevant connections to Oklahoma Baptist University other than its administrators' desire to be in the good graces of a powerful figure. But by now you are used to people cozying up to your pastor for no other reason than his position in SBC politics. Sorry for the charade.