- "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.'"
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