Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Survey Says: Rationale, Data, and Methodology

At the peak of my Save OBU activism this spring, I conducted a survey of many Oklahoma Baptist pastors and church staff members.  I intended to analyze the data immediately, but life happened.  My daughter was born April 18, for starters.  Beyond that, things at OBU stabilized somewhat.  We projected that no professors would be victims of ideologically-motivated dismissals.  The provost finally underwent a performance evaluation, which I (wrongly) believed would finally convince President Whitlock it was time for Stan to move on.  Sure, fundamentalism reared its ugly head on occasion in predictable and disappointing ways.  But at least things (arguably) weren't getting worse.

Anyway, I am finally analyzing the survey data.  Last week, I introduced the "Survey Says" series.  After a break reflecting on Reformation Sunday, I wanted to post some information about the survey, how it was conducted, and why it was necessary.  I also want to make the data publicly available.

OBU's relationship with the BGCO is largely open to interpretation.  Some at OBU probably think that the state's pulpits and pews are filled with unthinking backwater fundamentalists.  Some in the pulpits and pews probably think that OBU is filled with left-wing liberals who deny Scripture and espouse secular humanist ideologies.  Both positions are caricatures.  OBU sends preacher boys and choir girls into the churches one day a year.  The religion professors conduct Bible studies in churches and do pulpit supply and interim pastorates.  The president goes to the BGCO meeting and gives a speech.  But the relationship could also be construed as an awkward, amorphous dance.  Would each entity knowing more about what the other does and values foster more closeness or more distance?

OBU wouldn't undertake a project like this - at least not for public consumption - for fear that it would reveal mistrust among clergy and laity in a convention that has become largely fundamentalist as OBU has remained largely moderate.  The BGCO would never publicize attitudes about the BGCO-OBU relationship, because the status quo works well for BGCO elites even though OBU sends fewer and fewer graduates to BGCO pulpits.  If people reflect critically on the relationship for even a moment, they are much more likely to conclude that the convention should loosen its ties, not clamp down on an institution that gets about 20% of the BGCO's Oklahoma Cooperative Program allotment even though it raises over $50 million each year on its own.

By collecting email addresses found at the domain www.bgco.org (here, among other pages), I amassed a list of over 1,000 email addresses.  After eliminating duplicates, I sent out 991 email invitations using Survey Monkey, an online survey tool.  Thirty-one of the emails bounced.  Of the 960 that were received, 137 persons responded to the survey, for a response rate of 14.27%.  Due to my work as a political scientist, I know the scholarly literature on survey design and methodology very well.  Given that there were no incentives for responding and I only sent out two waves of invitations to complete the survey, I'm satisfied with the response rate.  Many of the email addresses were generic (admin@fbc.org, info@firstbaptist.org, etc).  Many of the addresses were to church secretaries who were less likely to have responded (and whose feedback is frankly less valuable than pastors' or program ministers').  Thus the effective response rate was quite satisfactory, perhaps indicative of the issue's salience.

Survey Monkey collected each respondent's IP address and email address when it aggregated all the responses in to an Excel spreadsheet.  But I assured respondents that their participation in the survey would be anonymous.  So I have redacted potentially identifying details from the public data file.  In order to be transparent, I am making that data file available.  I will offer analysis and commentary on the survey results on the blog.  If you want to see the data for yourself, simply email me and I will send you the file.


Q1. What best describes your ministry position?

  • Full-time senior pastor
  • Part-time senior pastor
  • Full-time associate/assistant pastor
  • Part-time associate/assistant pastor
  • Full-time program director (Christian education, youth, music, college, adult, children's director, etc.)
  • Part-time program director (Christian education, youth, music, college, adult, children's director, etc.)
  • Volunteer program director (Christian education, youth, music, college, adult, children's director, etc.)
  • Full-time support staff (Administrator, administrative assistant, ministry area assistant)
  • Part-time support staff (Administrator, administrative assistant, ministry area assistant)
  • Volunteer support staff (Administrator, administrative assistant, ministry area assistant)
  • Campus minister
  • Chaplain
  • Missionary
  • Association staff
  • Convention staff
  • Educator

Q2. If your ministry setting primarily...?
  • A hospital
  • A college campus
  • A local church
  • A community agency
  • A military installation
  • A convention, association, or other denominational office
  • Other (please specify)

Q3. Where would you place yourself on the theological spectrum?
  • Fundamentalist (Jerry Falwell)
  • Very conservative (Paige Patterson)
  • Somewhat conservative (Billy Graham)
  • Moderate or middle-of-the-road (Rick Warren)
  • Somewhat liberal (Harry Emerson Fosdick)
  • Very liberal (William Sloane Coffin)
  • Radical (John Shelby Spong)

Q4. The college you attended (undergraduate) was
  • A state/public college or university
  • Oklahoma Baptist University
  • Another Baptist school affiliated with a state convention
  • Another Christian college
  • A non-Christian private college or university
  • I didn't go to college

Q5. The seminary you attended was (if you attended more than one, think of the seminary where you earned your M.Div. or equivalent)
  • I have not graduated from seminary
  • SBTS before the mid 1990s
  • SBTS since the mid 1990s
  • SEBTS before the mid 1990s
  • SEBTS since the mid 1990s
  • GGBTS before the mid 1990s
  • GGBTS since the mid 1990s
  • MBTS before the mid 1990s
  • MBTS since the mid 1990s
  • NOBTS before the mid 1990s
  • NOBTS since the mid 1990s
  • SWBTS before the mid 1990s
  • SWBTS since the mid 1990s
  • A Mainline Protestant seminary (ELCA, Episcopal, PCUSA, UMC, Disciples of Christ, UCC)
  • An American Baptist Convention seminary
  • A Cooperative Baptist Fellowship seminary
  • A non-Baptist evangelical seminary (Fuller, Gordon-Conwell, Asbury, etc.)
  • A fundamentalist Bible academy or seminary
  • Other (please specify)

Q6. In terms of ideology and theological orientation, you think OBU is
  • So outrageously secular I think it's a lost cause
  • Far too liberal
  • Somewhat too liberal
  • About right
  • Somewhat too conservative
  • Far too conservative
  • So outrageously fundamentalist I think it's a lost cause

Q7. Thinking about young people from your church who have gone to OBU over the years, which of the following most closely reflects your experience, observations, and what you've heard?
  • A significant number of students lose their faith at OBU.
  • Many students tend to believe less about the Bible after studying at OBU, but not all.
  • Some students lose their belief in a literal Bible, but most students' faith is strengthened.
  • Generally, students come away with a deeper biblical faith, even if a few drift away.
  • OBU produces graduates who believe very strongly in the inerrant, infalible Word of God.

Q8. The BGCO gives about 18% of its Oklahoma Cooperative Program allocation to OBU. OBU has an annual budget of $53 million.  It raises more than 95% of that on its own, and the BGCO supplies the rest (4.7% this year). Thinking of the BGCO's $2,500,000 annual subsidy to OBU, you think the convention should
  • Send significantly more money to OBU at the expense of other ministry and mission priorities
  • Send somewhat more money to OBU at the expense of other ministry and mission priorities
  • Maintain current subsidy levels
  • Send somewhat less money to OBU and spend more on evangelism, Falls Creek, church planting, and/or collegiate ministries
  • Send significantly less money to OBU and spend more on evangelism, Falls Creed, church planting, and/or collegiate ministries
  • De-fund OBU and spend the $2.5 million on other Oklahoma ministry and mission priorities
  • De-fund OBU and send the $2.5 million to the SBC

Q9. Regarding the BGCO's relationship to OBU (it owns the property and elects the Board of Trustees), which statement most closely matches your opinion?
  • Continue to subsidize OBU and try to force it to become more conservative.
  • The status quo is fine. Continue to subsidize OBU and let it operate pretty much as-is.
  • Continue to subsidize OBU and give the university more autonomy over its affairs.
  • Cut spending and subsidize OBU jointly with the CBFO or another Baptist body.
  • Sever ties with OBU and found/operate another college that is more Bible-based.
  • Sever ties with OBU and get out of the higher education business altogether because it is not our primary mission.
  • Sever ties with OBU and get out of the higher education business altogether because the money is better invested in other ministries and missions.

Q10. Comments about OBU, the BGCO's interest and investment in higher education, or the OBU/BGCO relationship in general.

I look forward in sharing the results of my analysis in the days to come as we look forward to Homecoming November 9-10 in Shawnee and the BGCO's 2012 annual meeting November 12-13 in Moore.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Happy Reformation Sunday!

I'm still working on the public data release of our OK Baptist pastor/church staff survey.  As Hurricane Sandy bears down on me and all my East Coast heathen and liberal friends, maybe I'll have some time to finish that project.  Look for a blog post on poll data and methodology by Tuesday.

Today, along with hundreds of millions of Protestants throughout the world, I'm thinking about the Protestant Reformation, which many churches remember on the last Sunday in October.  I'll share a few links and then reflect a bit on how the Reformation relates to our efforts at protecting academic freedom at OBU.

First, I want to point you to a very high-quality series of documentaries produced by the BBC.  Historian (and now Member of Parliament) Tristram Hunt does a masterful job explaining the causes and consequences of the "Protestant Revolution" in these videos.  Definitely worth watching.

Also, I can't help but share  a few links to recordings of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," known as the Battle Hymn of the Reformation.  Diane Bish, who for over 20 years played the magnificent 117-rank Ruffatti organ at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL (of D. James Kennedy fame), has a really powerful organ arrangement.  Never underestimate the musical talents of fundamentalists!  Most would be surprised to hear this, but I absolutely love the Bill Gathier Vocal Band, for instance.

And, if you prefer "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" in the original German, this choral and organ recording is pretty spectacular!

Now, all Protestants would like to think they are the inheritors of the original reformers' dreams and ideals.  His virulent anti-Semitism and bizarre hatred of the Epistle of James notwithstanding, Luther was a tremendously important figure whose ideas changed the church and the world.  Aside from clarifying sola scriptura and sola fide, we can thank the Reformation for many hallmarks of Protestantism, including anti-authoritarianism and the priesthood of the believer.

In OBU's case, I don't think supporters and opponents of the recent changes are on different sides of the sola scriptura and sola fide issues.  But when it comes to some of the other distinctives of Protestant thought, it seems we have two differing opinions.  One side is clearly more comfortable embodying some semblance of the authoritarianism that the reformers stood against.  Baptists have historically been the most fiercely independent and anti-authoritarian people.  The most extreme element of the new SBC (finally embodied on Bison Hill in the provost's and certain deans' offices) is surely a departure from that distinguished tradition.

I could go on, but I hope the point is clear enough.  We are all Protestants, and brothers and sisters in a shared tradition that we all honor this day and every day.  But in a sense, the 495 years since 1517 have been an ongoing history of reforming and re-reforming corrupt structures and practices in the church and the world.  Surely the SBC conservatives interpret their resurgence in that light (though many faithful Baptists disagree).

Those of us who demand a renewed commitment to academic freedom and ethical administrative practices at OBU can't automatically claim the mantle of Luther.  But we do insist on the right and duty to stand against practices within a religious institution that have become corrupted.  In recognition of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14), we see misguided practices and cannot help but say, "This is just wrong."  In the face of unjust oppression against our friends, colleagues, and teachers, and in sorrow over the manifold consequent disservices done to OBU students, we cry out with Luther in his timeless words from 1521:
Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Introducing Our "Survey Says" Series

From the very beginning, Save OBU has been concerned about the OBU-BGCO relationship.  Rather than complain about bad symptoms (unethical dismissals, disregarding faculty norms, cozying up to fundamentalist SBC elites, restricting the sale of mainstream books on campus, etc etc ad nauseam), we want to expose the underlying disease: the BGCO's ownership of and control over OBU.

Both institutions speak in platitudes about the other.  But it's actually a tense, complicated, and ultimately mutually-draining relationship.  As we've shown, vital BGCO missions and ministries are starved for funding so that OBU can get a relatively small welfare check from the Baptist Building that, frankly, it really doesn't need.

Given the size and prominence of OBU, the BGCO actually has shockingly few OBU alumni/ae on its staff and fewer alums than you'd expect in its pulpits.  The relatively moderate character of OBU is no match for today's ever more fundamentalist BGCO.  But OBU, for its part, does need one thing from the BGCO.  No, not money.  OBU raises more than 95% of its annual budget (and 100% of its $80 million endowment) without a shred of assistance from the BGCO.  What OBU needs is students -- many of whom come from BGCO congregations.  I'm not sure OBU administrators realize that even without the BGCO, we can still attract bright students from in- and out-of-state who want a first rate Christian education.  But for better or worse, OBU is a wholly-owned subsidiary, and is prone to whatever whims and shifts occur in BGCO and SBC life.  Until OBU has an independent, self-perpetuating Board of Trustees, none of these problems will ever get solved.  You can treat a symptom here and there, but the disease will remain.

To that point, we wanted to know what people in BGCO churches actually think of the OBU/BGCO relationship.  Rather than making assumptions or trusting the platitudes of each entity's leaders, we decided to ask the people in the churches.

Specifically, we asked church staff -- clergy and lay.  It's beyond certain that staff attitudes will be significantly more conservative than parishioner attitudes -- something scholars of public opinion have learned from elite/mass level public opinion surveys of all kinds.  So bear in mind that, as we report on how little appetite there is among BGCO pastors and church staff for fundamentalist encroachment at OBU, there is undoubtedly even less appetite among the people in the pews.

To all who say "OBU's new direction is just reflecting the views and priorities of Oklahoma Baptists," we expect to shock you with our results, which reveal that Oklahoma Baptists want OBU to have more, not less, autonomy and independence.

Though not a scientific poll (the BGCO would have never assisted us in a survey to find that its agenda for OBU was wildly unpopular), we got enough responses to confidently make inferences about the preferences of BGCO pastors and church staff.

We look forward to presenting these results in the days and weeks to come.

Tomorrow I'll talk about our methodology and make the data publicly available.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fun with Limericks

I'm still crunching numbers on our BGCO pastor survey and making plans for Homecoming Weekend. But in the spirit of fun, I thought I'd pass along a website that offers you a chance to win a copy of Rachel Held Evans's new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  We've reported on the fundamentalist obsession with "biblical womanhood" before.

But in honor of Evans's new book (which LifeWay declined to carry online or in its stores because it undermines everything these people believe about gender roles in religious and family life and renders biblical literalism ridiculous they erroneously believe it won't sell many copies) and the fact that OBU now offers a course on women in ministry, I entered a contest on the website above to try to win a copy of the book.

To enter, all you have to do is submit a limerick.  Ostensibly, it should be about Evans's book, but I came up with something slightly different. Here's my entry:

She went off to a Baptist college
To gain complimentarian knowledge
She was called to be a pastor
And went to seminary faster
Than those fundies would like to acknowledge.

Then I thought maybe some of you in the Save OBU universe might have a clever limerick you'd like to submit in the comments below.  Think of the changes at OBU over the past few years and see if you can come up with a limerick!  I'll publish some of the best ones later in the week.

Here's one I made up just to jump start your creativity:

OBU once taught students to think
If you're gay you must go to a shrink
Now the fundies' safe "knowledge"
Harms our rep as a college
Forbes warns we're beginning to stink.

Or how about this?

OBU is a place that endears
Filling lives with laughter and tears
God's sustained Bison Hill
And I pray that he will
For another six thousand years.

You get the idea...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New Trustee Leadership at OBU Seems Promising

As we mentioned earlier in the week, OBU's Board of Trustees had its fall meeting last Friday.  Among other vital business, the board elected officers for the year:
Board officers for the 2012-13 year were elected at the close of the meeting. They are David Lawrence, Weatherford, Okla., chair; Jarrod Frie, Tulsa, Okla., vice chair; Todd Fisher, Shawnee, Okla. secretary, and Nadine McPherson, Oklahoma City, Okla., treasurer.
We will definitely miss the very fine leadership of Dr. Reagan Bradford, who rotates off the board this year.  He served two years as chair.  During his tenure, longtime Edmond pastor and board vice chair Rev. Dr. Alan Day tragically died.  Bradford also had to contend with the uproar caused by the administration's botched dismissals of two well-respected professors in the College of Theology and Ministry.  With vociferous faculty protests, last fall's alumni petition, and the emergence and growth of Save OBU, Dr. Bradford has certainly contended with many challenges as he guided the trustees.

I frankly don't know a lot about OBU trustee politics.  When I began the Save OBU project, I thought the first order of business would be finding out how the BGCO uses the board to control OBU.  But much to my pleasant surprise, that isn't how things work at all.  In fact, OBU has great trustees who care about the university's growth, success, independence, and continued flourishing.  Unlike the seminaries, whose boards reek of insider SBC politics, and many state convention-run colleges, whose trustees actively abet fundamentalist takeovers of once-proud institutions, OBU's trustees are quite outstanding.

But make no mistake.  The trustee board is the linchpin.  As the architects of the original SBC Takeover well knew, if you control the trustees, you control the institution.  Fortunately, that hasn't happened at OBU yet.

We welcome to the chair Rev. Dr. David Lawrence, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Weatherford.  The vice chair, Jarrod Frie, is a layperson.  I don't know if this means Frie will acede to the chair.  But while we definitely have some great non-fundamentalist clergy, I tend to think we're definitely safer with a layperson.  For one thing, laypeople don't have as much to lose from not engaging in BGCO politics.

We dodged a bullet in that Rev. Dr. Todd Fisher will not chair the board (unless the BGCO elects him to another 4-year term sometime in the future).  The main reason I say this is that he is an officer on the board of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.  Southern is thoroughly fundamentalist, and it is likely that Fisher sees many of the things SBTS does as normal.  For instance, the seminary tolerates no moderates (let alone liberals), and has a fundamentalist ethos on everything from the Bible to politics to gender roles.  The last thing we need is someone who might be tempted to think it's God's will to make OBU more like a monolithic, extremely homogeneous post-Takeover SBC seminary.  Dr. Fisher, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, states on his blog that you can't be a Christian if you don't believe in a literal Adam and Eve.  Nothing against the man personally, but I'm glad he's too busy with SBTS's board to be an officer on OBU's.

We're lucky to have people who actually believe in God and science chair OBU's board.  Dr. Bradford, a M.D. research physician and Dr. Lawrence is a Ph.D. mathematician who entered the ministry as  a second career.  I can't imagine that either of them are happy about Provost Norman's and Dean McClellen's antics.  In fact, last winter some faculty were hopeful that a group of trustees might try to help President Whitlock realize that Provost Norman should move on.  Our sources never found out whether such a meeting took place.

Let's hope and pray that OBU's trustees stand strong against any further fundamentalist encroachment!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Our Resolution for the 2012 BGCO Annual Meeting

Today is the deadline for Oklahoma Baptist clergy and laypeople to submit resolutions for the convention's consideration.  Fortunately for the BGCO, there is a Resolutions Committee to help make sure that resolutions like ours never see the light of day.  We thought of having someone submit a resolution so that when it got rejected, we could do a big story about it.  But in the end, we didn't want to put anyone in an adversarial position or get their pastor in trouble, especially since our resolution would have most likely been submitted by a member of a church that is dually aligned with the CBFO and the BGCO.

As you might expect, the BGCO already regards these people with suspicion.  Many people have advised me that it's an extraordinarily sensitive subject, and for their benefit I have avoided talking about it even though it is directly relevant to some of the problems at OBU in recent years.  Don't go from preachin' to meddlin', they say.

So don't get too excited.  Save OBU will not, after all, have a resolution at the 2012 convention.  But that's not to say our resolution is controversial in any way.  It's not.  And we fully expect that, if messengers actually had the chance to vote on it, it would pass with at least 80% support.  (Our soon-to-be-released survey reveals that fewer than 20% of Oklahoma pastors and church staff want to forcibly make OBU more fundamentalist.)

The last thing the BGCO wants is to draw attention to the problems with its relationship to OBU.  So the resolutions committee would have no choice but to kill our resolution.  Most of the resolutions are not controversial (at least no by Southern Baptist standards).  "We like puppies," "Apple pie is delicious," and "We are so not gay" are typical.  Here's ours:
We, the messengers of the 2012 Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, meeting at First Baptist Church, Moore, Oklahoma, November 12-13, 2012, affirm the vital importance of academic freedom, independent governance, and ethical administration for the continued flourishing of Oklahoma Baptist University.  To that end, we lament recent policy and personnel changes that have disrupted careers and harmed OBU's academic and professional standing.  We pledge our support for a legitimate university in the best of the distinctively Baptist, unapologetically Christian liberal arts tradition.  There is no desire on the part of this convention to transform OBU into a fundamentalist Bible academy, in which case it would alienate bright students, devoted faculty, generous donors, and accrediting bodies.  We call OBU trustees, administrators, students, and faculty to a new relationship of trust and mutuality in service to the ideals of the fearless quest for knowledge and wisdom, in the name of the one true God who is the Source of all Truth.
Rather than getting serious about addressing issues of fiscal equity and missional efficacy arising out of the BGCO's subsidy of OBU, the convention will discourage people from thinking too much about these problems.  Instead, it will take as given that it should contribute 20% of its Oklahoma Cooperative Program allotment to an institution that raises over $50 million a year on its own and has an endowment approaching 9 figures.  President Whitlock will give a brief report highlighting an enrollment boost, new master's programs, and the football team.  He will omit any information about OBU's decline in national rankings, persistently low faculty morale, or any of the problems caused by his provost, now basically a lame duck.  He will thank the BGCO for its financial support without acknowledging that OBU could get by just fine without it.  If he were pressed (which he won't be), he would insist that there have been no "changes" at OBU, even though OBU's theology dean and newest Bible professor admitted in The Bison that there have been.

As a relatively new movement, Save OBU isn't yet mobilized to affect BGCO processes.  But in the years to come, if things continue to get worse, we'll be ready to effectively advocate for academic freedom, independent governance, and ethical administration.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

As Tuition Rises, Students Pay More and BGCO Pays Less

Last Friday, OBU's trustees met in Shawnee. We may have more to say later as we receive more information. But for now, we want to highlight that, unsurprisingly, the university is raising tuition for 2013-2014:
"OBU's tuition for full-time students will increase 4.95 percent, from $18,894 for the current academic year to $19,830 for the 2013-14 academic year.  The overall costs, which include tuition, fees, room and board, will increase by 4.47 percent, from $26,996 for 2012-13 to $28,202 for 2013-14."
To be clear, we're not protesting the tuition hike.  Presumably it's typical.  And as we all know, OBU is consistently recognized as a "best value" college in national publications.

We just want to point out that the BGCO will continue to provide a smaller and smaller proportion of OBU's annual budget.  In 2011, the convention pledged just under $2.5 million to OBU's support, which accounts for less than 5% of OBU's $53 million annual budget.  Another factor that further erodes the value of the BGCO's subsidy is the fact that enrollment is increasing.  The BGCO's subsidy amounts to about $1,250 per student.

Many people who haven't thought much about the issue probably assume that OBU is financially dependent on the BGCO.  It's not.  As recently as the early 1980s, the convention was providing 25% of OBU's operating funds.  That number has plummeted over the years to less than 5%.  For only slightly more than an average tuition increase, OBU could replace the BGCO's subsidy altogether.

What would OBU get in exchange for saying thanks-but-no-thanks to the convention's annual institutional welfare check?  For one thing, freedom.  OBU could elect its own trustees, and not have to have them elected by the BGCO.  Furthermore, OBU would certainly not continue down the path indicated by recent changes which suggest, among other problems, that being a fundamentalist is now a prerequisite for employment in the school's religion department.

For its part, the convention would instantaneously free up 24% of its annual Oklahoma Cooperative Program allocations for evangelism, church planting, missions, vital ministries, and especially campus ministries at the 3 dozen other Oklahoma colleges.  Those Baptist Collegiate Ministries are solely dependent on the BGCO's meager funding and are not even permitted to petition individual churches for support.

Alumni, please be aware that the BGCO is funding a much tinier fraction of students' education today than when you attended.  Students and parents, as you write checks and sign loan agreements, you can be grateful that the state convention nominally reduces your out-of-pocket expense.  But be aware of what it's going to cost in the long run.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Georgetown College (KY) President to Retire

Over the weekend, Associated Baptist Press reported that Georgetown College President Bill Crouch is retiring after 21 years.  Among Dr. Crouch's many accomplishments at Georgetown are the fact that he never wavered in standing strong for academic freedom and he avoided a painful, fruitless war with the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

We've blogged extensively about Stetson, Furman, William Jewell, Louisiana College, Shorter, Truett-McConnell, Brewton-Parker, Yellowstone, among other evangelical colleges.  But we haven't talked about Georgetown at Save OBU, and it's a shame.  In fact, Georgetown has a lot more in common with OBU than some of the schools we ordinarily consider peers due to geographic proximity.  Like OBU, Georgetown has exemplified the best of the moderate Baptist liberal arts tradition even as it existed in the shadow of a large SBC seminary that has become avowedly fundamentalist since the early 1990s.  Also, Georgetown's path to independence, sustainability, and a bright future as a legitimate institution of Baptist higher education is one we would do well to follow.  Like many evangelical colleges, Georgetown has maintained excellence while upholding its Christian identity even as OBU has fallen in the national rankings.

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

For decades, the state convention trusted and proudly supported the college, a beacon of intellectually honest and academically rigorous Christian higher education.  The nearby SBC seminary served as a natural pipeline for religion faculty and administrators.  Though many state churches were fundamentalist, moderates had a place at the table when it came to college, state convention, and SBC life.  After the Fundamentalist Takeover of the SBC, the college kept on excelling even as the nearby seminary and the state convention moved sharply in the direction of fundamentalism and authoritarianism.  The tenuous partnership continued until the state convention began demanding changes at the college that its faculty, students, and alumni could not in good conscience abide.

Yeah, I've heard that one before.  We've all lived it.  The people at Georgetown lived it, too.  But they fought back in ways we've been yet unwilling to do.

Wisely, Georgetown and the KBC negotiated an exit strategy.  Georgetown would be allowed to elect its own trustees, and the KBC would phase out its annual subsidy to the college.  Rather than downplay its Baptist heritage, Georgetown has continued in its tradition of unashamedly Baptist Christian higher education.  For the KBC's part, it has been able to allocate funds to a variety of critical mission and ministry priorities rather than add a drop in the bucket to an institution that raises almost all its money on its own.  Students who want a fundamentalist Bible college experience can attend any of the KBC's five colleges, including Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Louisville's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Students flock to Georgetown if they want a serious, rigorous Christian liberal arts education with professors who are free to teach and do not seek to indoctrinate their students.  For a while, the KBC listed Georgetown as a "ministry partner," but today's Baptists don't like to be affiliated with anything they can't control, so even that relationship is about to end, though neither entity really cares anymore.  Both realize they are infinitely better off without the other, just as OBU and the BGCO will immediately realize once they, mercifully, finally sever ties.

If it weren't for the very unfortunate fact that the BGCO literally owns OBU's buildings and grounds, the path of Georgetown's exit from KBC control would be the most ideal path for us to follow.  President Whitlock would cement his place in OBU history as one of our greatest presidents and would have the unending gratitude of generations of faculty, students, and alumni.

Instead, we will continue our awkward little dance with the BGCO, which next month will elect another slate of 8 Anthony Jordan-approved trustees.  Eventually, more professors will be fired, more fundamentalists will be hired, and the quality of our academic programs will gradually erode.  This is not just speculation.  It's exactly what will happen if nothing changes, just as it happened to literally dozens of other state convention-controlled colleges.  Maybe if we boost enrollment, build athletic teams, and add master's programs, few people will notice.  Instead of fully funding ministry, missions, and evangelism, the BGCO will chip in a pittance toward our annual budget, in exchange for controlling the trustee board, dominating presidential selection, and the presumption of control of the institution's direction, mission, and ethos.

Georgetown offers a path forward for us, and Dr. William Crouch deserves credit for leading the college toward a future not only of prosperity and excellence, but also integrity and the very best of the Baptist tradition.  We wish him and his wife, Jan, all the best in their retirement.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fall Update and Plans

Greetings, everyone.  Sorry things have been quiet on the blog lately.  I've been quite busy with my own personal and professional duties (which include a collaboration with Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners on a course for Georgetown undergraduates).  It's actually a good thing: If we're not loudly protesting, then hopefully things are going about as well as can be expected.

In early November, I'll release the results of our BGCO pastor/church staff survey (taken in April).  There is very little appetite among the rank-and-file for a fundamentalist takeover of OBU, and large majorities of people want OBU to have autonomy over its own affairs, without external BGCO or SBC influence.

We should also start talking about Homecoming (Nov. 9-10) and the BGCO Annual Meeting (Nov. 12-13).  My sense is that a combative protest or aggressive media strategy would not be the most fruitful way forward at the moment.  But I know many of us are angry and devastated at the recent changes and I'm open to the consensus of the group.  In any case, it would be smart to coordinate some kind of collective effort, activity, and/or information sharing.

I had hoped for Save OBU to be further along organizationally in advance of the BGCO meeting.  We need to convene an Advisory Board to share the workload and confer legitimacy on the group.  (Right now, Save OBU is easily dismissed --- and mocked --- as a few peoples' online rantings.)  But we're on a long time horizon.  The fundamentalists have mobilized for a long, long battle over the future of OBU.  There's plenty of time to stave off the level of destruction that the Georgia Baptist Convention-controlled colleges have recently experienced.

We saw a huge spike in blog traffic in late August and early September when students and faculty returned to campus.  I haven't been able to keep up with daily postings.  But I'll be ramping up blog activity over the next few weeks.

I'm reading a couple books that I'm sure many of you know well.  One is The Future of Baptist Higher Education, which arose out of a conference on the subject at Baylor in the mid-2000s.  The other is The Future of Christian Higher Education, an edited volume from the late 1990s by Mercer ethicist David Gushee and Union University President David Dockery.

As always, if you have comments, ideas, inside information, or would like to contribute, please let me know!