Friday, July 13, 2012

Headline: "Future of OBU Prompts Baptist Group to Form"

The Daily Oklahoman did a nice write-up (text below) that will alert tens of thousands of readers to our struggle!  Here are some quotes from the article:
  • "Saying they fear 'fundamentalists' will take control of Oklahoma Baptist University, some state Baptists who are unhappy with their denomination's leadership are trying a new tactic."
  • "Said two alumni, 'Our concern for the future of OBU has been triggered by the controversial takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention by a few powerful fundamentalist leaders.'"
  • "A proponent added that the group is being formed 'to protect academic freedom at OBU, to uphold historic Baptist principles, to promote full inclusion of Baptists in state convention activities and to promote a free, responsible and fair Baptist press in the state.'"
  • "When asked if he was frustrated, BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Rev. Anthony Jordan said, 'I don't get too frustrated, simply because I care about these people.  I have a desire to do all I can to help them to come along with the rest of Oklahoma Baptists.'"
Not bad, eh?

Well, don't get too excited.

The article "Future of OBU Prompts Baptist Group to Form" ran in 1997.

That's right.  The quotations above and text below are from an article about the formation of a group called Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists.  You may know of the group through the work of its executive director, Rev. Dr. Bruce Prescott.  Bruce has been a leader on theological, social justice, and church/state issues in Oklahoma for almost 15 years.  He's also a prolific blogger who you should follow on Twitter.

But a lot of people may have forgotten that Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists was formed largely over concern for OBU.  Though broadly a response to the Takeover that had, by then, engulfed most state conventions including the BGCO, one major event provided the impetus to get Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists off the ground: In July 1997, Rev. Dr. Bob Agee announced his retirement from the OBU presidency.  Agee, as we have said before, did a masterful job of shielding OBU from the nasty politics of the Takeover.  During his tenure, OBU dramatically increased its reputation for excellence in Christian liberal arts education.  Agee had the trust of the faculty and, equally important for the job, he knew how to play nice with the fundamentalists.  He was a tireless advocate for and vociferous defender of academic freedom, open inquiry, and all the things about liberal arts universities that might make fundamentalist Oklahoma Baptist pastors nervous.  Agee was more than the right person for the job.  To many, it seemed he might be the only person for the job.  Who else could protect OBU from outside interference while still navigating the folkways of Oklahoma churches and the institutional politics of post-Takeover SBC and BGCO life?

Against the backdrop of Agee's retirement was the fact that a prominent fundamentalist from Oklahoma, Rev. Dr. Tom Elliff, had just been elected to his second one-year term as SBC president.  Would the SBC try to meddle in the presidential search?  Could the same BGCO that censured the legendary Joe Ingram be trusted to elect trustees that would find a qualified leader -- rather than a fundamentalist ideologue -- to fill Agee's post?  There was a lot of fear on Bison Hill about these issues, and the fear resonated with Baptists throughout Oklahoma who opposed the Takeover crowd and their tactics.

Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists did, in fact, form in 1997, as the Oklahoman article states.  But while the group has gone on to do absolutely wonderful work on a number of fronts, it has not been active in advocating on behalf of OBU in many years.  Bruce quickly became persona non grata among the BGCO elites, and even a lot of OBU people were pretty tight-lipped around him.  I feared I might have the same problem -- no one at OBU would tell me what's really going on -- but luckily I have earned my sources' confidence by prodigiously guarding their anonymity.  Years ago, Bruce tried to place an ad in a facebook OBU produced for incoming students.  Apparently that went over about as well as if I tried to place an ad for Save OBU in The Bison.  Correctly sensing that his considerable knowledge and talents could be better utilized in important work elsewhere, Bruce has helped make Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists a significant, prophetic advocate for historic Baptist principles.

Sorry to disappoint those of you who thought maybe there was a significant news story about Save OBU.  To this point, we have not sought media attention.  While I want people to know about our struggle, I don't want the world to know what has happened at OBU in recent years.  It's embarrassing. So I'm torn about whether media coverage would help or hurt our cause.

But please do read the 1997 article.  Some of you will recognize many of the names.  Fifteen years later, the challenge is even greater.  But we remain committed.  For now, we are still trying to raise awareness among current students, alumni, and people who may have written off OBU years ago but would be surprised to learn that things were actually going pretty well until Provost Norman got there.  (OBU was ranked #109 in the U.S. by Forbes that year.)  Save OBU has no staff, no budget, and no media consultants.  We are completely dependent on concerned constituents to spread the word to classmates and friends.  If you're new to the site, please take some time to check out the other posts and links.  And please share our blog as widely as possible.

Future of OBU Prompts Baptist Group to Form

The Daily Oklahoman - Monday, November 10, 1997
Author: Pat Gilliland, Religion Editor
Saying they fear "fundamentalists" will take control of Oklahoma Baptist University, some state Baptists who are unhappy with their denomination's leadership are trying a new tactic.

Bob Stephenson, a member of First Baptist Church in Norman, said a new group, Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists , will hold its first official meeting Tuesday in Oklahoma City.

Stephenson said that although a steering committee was formed in January to study creation of such a group, OBU President Bob Agee's announcement in July that he will retire next year makes the work of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists more crucial.

In a letter on Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists stationery, OBU graduates Charles Montgomery and Lisa Todd expressed their concern that academic freedom would be stifled at the Shawnee college after Agee retires.

"Our concern for the future of OBU has been triggered by the controversial takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention by a few powerful fundamentalist leaders," they wrote in a letter to OBU alumni.

The letter included an invitation to Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists ' organizational meeting at noon Tuesday at First Baptist Church, 1201 N Robinson, Oklahoma City.

But the Rev. Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said he sees the "new" group as nothing more than a different - and questionable - name for the same people who have been fussing about changes in the denomination for more than 15 years.

Stephenson, Dan Hobbs, Rick McClatchy and other steering committee members also are involved with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, formed earlier this decade by Southern Baptists upset with what they considered the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination.

Jordan also scoffed at concerns about selecting a replacement for Agee.

The committee, which was selected by OBU's board of trustees to search for a new president, is from the mainstream of Oklahoma Baptists, Jordan said.

The new president may have different leadership skills, "but it is unlikely he will be different in his theological commitments," he said.

Jordan said he thinks real "mainstream" Oklahoma Baptists support the traditional avenues of the denomination's leadership, including the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

The annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma will begin tonight and continue through Tuesday at Council Road Baptist Church, 2900 N Council Road in Bethany.

In past years, state Baptist leaders have maintained an image of cooperation and harmony during their annual meeting, even when controversy emerged in other states or on the national level.

Stephenson said the Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists organization would like to challenge the status quo and "hopefully pull the Oklahoma convention back to what we consider its basic Baptist roots."

Stephenson, a member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's national coordinating council, said the experiences of Baptists in other states indicate the need for two organizations to counter the denomination's fundamentalist leadership.

One group is needed for people who don't want to look at the past, he said.

"And then there are those of us who want, not really to retake the Southern Baptist Convention - as far as we're concerned it's gone - but we feel we have a duty: The Baptists of Oklahoma do have a right to know what has happened."

Rick McClatchy, coordinator of the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma (CBFO), agreed.

"Some people will be involved in both organizations, because they like the missions and ministry of the CBFO but are still actively involved BGCO and want (it) to practice Baptist polity and principles," McClatchy said.

"Other people will belong only to the CBFO because they have no desire to be involved any longer in the work or politics of the BGCO."

In their letter to OBU alumni, Montgomery and Todd contend the leadership change in the past 18 years transformed the Southern Baptist Convention from a nonpolitical religious denomination that defended academic freedom and local church autonomy into a "right-wing political organization with little tolerance for dissent."

They said Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists is being formed to protect academic freedom at OBU, to uphold historic Baptist principles, to promote full inclusion of Baptists in state convention activities and to promote a free, responsible and fair Baptist press in the state.

The Rev. Ted Kersh, president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said he, like Jordan, thinks most Oklahoma Baptists would disagree with the new group's position about what is mainstream.

"I think the rest of Oklahoma Baptists are saying, `We don't have time for this; we want to get on with the work,' " Kersh said.

"We're going to stay strongly committed to the word of God. That will never be questioned."

Southern Baptists make up the largest religious denomination in Oklahoma, with about 700,000 members in 1,600 churches.

Stephenson said he thinks Oklahomans who generally don't get care or get involved with denominational politics will regret it if a fundamentalist becomes OBU president.

Stephenson tied some of his concern about OBU to the election of the Rev. Tom Elliff, pastor of Del City First Southern Baptist Church, as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1996 and 1997.

Underlying Stephenson's concern about Elliff's influence is the firing of a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary reference librarian who wrote a personal letter to Elliff questioning the accuracy of statements Elliff made in a speech.

Elliff has said he routinely forwards to the appropriate agencies, including the seminaries, copies of correspondence he receives involving them.

He said he did that with the librarian's letter but did not register any criticism, complaint or offense against the librarian.

Regarding OBU, Stephenson said he thinks the search committee would come up with an acceptable president .

"My concern is that the Southern Baptist Convention leadership will get involved," Stephenson said. "All over the SBC, anytime the fundamentalists have partial control, they find a way to get total control. That's our concern."

Jordan said he thinks the likelihood of a fundamentalist becoming president of OBU is the same as the chance of a liberal.

"Oklahoma Baptists are not fundamentalists. We are conservative."

Jordan said he's not frustrated by the detractors as much as he is saddened.

"I don't get too frustrated, simply because I care about these people. I have a desire to do all I can to help them to come along with the rest of Oklahoma Baptists," Jordan said.

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