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.

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