Thursday, November 29, 2012

Student Protest Culture - A Heartwarming Story

As everyone knows, OBU is about the most conformist, authoritarian college out there.  Protesting is definitely NOT part of the student culture.  That's why even very minor things like op-eds and satirical ads in the student newspaper, an underground newsletter, and persistent questioning of the administration seem like heroic acts.

This will come as news to many alumni/ae in their 50s-70s, who attended OBU at a time when students actually protested and this was seen as normal behavior from awakening moral consciences, not as offensive deviations from some Bible-academy norm of conformist behavior.  For instance, OBU men once joined women on the steps of WMU Dorm to protest the women's curfew.  (At one time, women had a curfew and men did not -- ain't the double standard grand?)  Another time, students protested a policy whereby men were allowed to smoke and women were not.  Many alumni/ae of this era remember The Pluralist, the "Heresy Papers," and a never-ending pushback against fundamentalist pastors around the state who chimed in incessantly with their bizarre concerns about godless, liberal OBU.

Today, I want to share a story about another Christian college in another time.  We are not trying to incite a protest (yet), but rather to show that it's okay and even good to stand up for what is right even when it seems to go against the wishes of your parents, your pastor, or you college administrators.  OBU students -- especially those who attend now or attended since the Fundamentalist Takeover -- probably still need to know that this is okay.

The context is a sermon I heard online recently by a pastor in Oklahoma City.  The pastor, Robin, tells a story he heard about his father, Robert, shortly after Robert died last winter (obituary here).  When Robin was a boy, Robert was teaching at Harding College (now Harding University), a Church of Christ college in Searcy, Arkansas.  In the late 1950s, the college president had secured donations from many wealthy donors who happened to be racist, as the president himself was.  Yet students' consciences were awakening to the injustice of this policy on their campus.  One student, who traveled by bus to Little Rock to witness the integration of Central High School, returned to Harding with a passion to integrate the campus.  Students turned to the Rev. Dr. Robert Meyers, an English professor and Church of Christ minister, who drafted a petition that eventually garnered a large majority of Harding students' signatures.  The president told the students that they just didn't get it -- that they should trust their elders, who know how the world works and why things must be the way they are.  Eventually the integration movement died down.  Ironically enough, Harding became the first private college in Arkansas to integrate -- in 1963 and in response to economic pressures, not moral righteousness.  But it truly is a heartwarming story, and the preacher, Robin, tells it beautifully as he recalls his father's moral clarity and heroic activism on race -- a "distinction which God has not made" (the title of the sermon, which you should watch below).

(Side note: The preaching from the pulpit of this particular church is almost always expository in nature. This just happens to be a sermon which uses a lengthy illustration.)

The parallels to OBU's present troubles should be obvious, though they are imperfect.  I certainly don't want to suggest that a few unethical administrative blunders are as morally reprehensible as a policy of systematically excluding qualified students of color from attending a university.  But I do think that, in years to come, students and alumni will look back on this time in history and ask, "How did they think it was right or Christian to deny faculty contract rights, to hire on the basis of ideology above all else, and to unilaterally change the direction of entire departments without collective buy-in?" We certainly look back at those old-school donors and racist college presidents as morally blinded by their own bizarre, unchristian ideology.  But remember, those were the people who were widely honored in their day.  They went to church every Sunday, and yet they were so wrong.

Being in a place of wealth, power, or authority does not make you right.  And being a young person, a student, or someone with a growing moral awareness even without extensive worldly knowledge does not automatically make you wrong or unable to raise your voice.

I am becoming convinced that if history will record OBU's recent problems as a minor blip rather than a dramatic turning point, it will be because students raised their voices in protest.  External forces such as alumni, no matter how ancient and profound our love for OBU is, cannot effect much change on the course of an institution -- especially one where authoritarianism and unilateralism are accepted without much challenge.  Eventually students are going to have to learn exactly what happened, why it was wrong, and what they expect from their beloved OBU in the future.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Kinder, Gentler Save OBU?

This has been a big week for us! In terms of site traffic, it's been our biggest week ever -- even bigger than when Veronica took up the issue of gender and when I wrote about the process (or lack thereof) by which OBU's newest religion professor came to Bison Hill.  In addition to high alumni and faculty interest, more and more students are reading the blog and educating themselves at what has happened over the past few years at OBU.

This week, both Veronica and I reported on homecoming.  We also discussed last Sunday's Save OBU strategy meeting.  As the BGCO convened in Moore Monday and Tuesday, we wondered whether some within the convention could help OBU stand strong academically.  We also reported on the wreckage at Shorter University in GA, a year after its president declared war on academic freedom and abandoned any pretense of ethical administration.

Many perceptive readers have asked about the subtle change in tone.  This comment was typical of the emails I received:
The sudden change to a more positive tone fascinates me as a (very) casual member of SaveOBU. I am not sure I understand why it is warranted. What has changed? A brief pause in an agenda pursued by a president and provost does not indicate a turnaround, nor does it cancel out the latest professorial appointments. It might be a useful tactic on the part of an advocate or activist to give their quarry a moment of relief before sharpening their attack, or it might be that some direct communication from credible sources confirms that some redress of grievances is forthcoming. Absent of either, I am not sure why SaveOBU has become a cooperative venture.
So I'd like to reiterate my response to that comment and speak a bit more about how to most effectively move forward.

These are all good points. 
What has changed is that the administration has come to an awareness that it severely alienated the faculty with the botched dismissals and bizarre actions of the past few years, especially its attempts to unilaterally re-orient the aims of entire academic divisions. Whatever Whitlock's, Norman's, and McClellan's long-term intentions, people on the ground are satisfied that the triumverate now knows it can't just come in and wreck shop without a lot of blowback. Norman seems to be almost completely neutralized for the time being. Current faculty do not believe the same hostility exists today that was everywhere apparent just a year or two ago. Faculty leaders are open to repairing relations with Whitlock and Norman. They now have a chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which will hopefully provide some legal and other support if another unethical dismissal is attempted, or if the tenure process is used as a weapon. Our feeling (reflected in the comments of current and retired faculty, as well as students and alumni/ae last weekend in Shawnee) is that we could undermine efforts at peace if we are throwing bombs all the time. So there is some consensus that we need to be more of a watchdog and less of an attack dog, at least for now. 
Are we still angry about what happened to John and Jerry? Of course. Are we disappointed that faculty are being shut out of hiring decisions for decanal and certain faculty positions? Yes. The model of trust, academic freedom, and faculty-administrative collaboration that existed at OBU for decades has suffered a severe breach. But many on campus are hopeful that the breach can be repaired. Some people on campus are satisfied that there are pastors in the BGCO (mostly OBU grads) who can be counted on to make sure the board of trustees is not dominated by fundamentalists. And we know that there are a number of people who share our concerns but who reject that BGCO separation is even possible. But both active and retired faculty have said that the existence and persistence of Save OBU has helped make the administration think twice before they pull any of this crap again (although it did not stop them from going full steam ahead with shutting the faculty out of the most recent religion hire, and that is still extremely troubling).
Personally, I am less hopeful. I agree that we're in a lull right now, but at some point, the provost will assert himself again and/or the fundamentalists will ratchet up the pressure on the president. It's in their nature. They can't help themselves. As for the ones who talk out of both sides of their mouths -- saying they champion academic freedom and want OBU to be a legitimate academic institution but still love to play nice with the fundamentalists -- I wouldn't trust them any farther than I could throw them. But that's just my personal view. As someone coordinating a movement, I have to defer to the people on the ground and try to build consensus around how we can help protect OBU most effectively. 
To date, we haven't asked people to write a letter, withhold a donation, dissuade a prospective student, or do anything other than raise awareness about what has happened. For now, there is a consensus that we should continue as a watchdog, build ties with constituents of other institutions who are fighting different versions of this same battle, be a resource for students and alumni who want non-fundamentalist avenues for graduate study and ministry service, and let faculty pursue redress of grievances through their own channels.

In the long term, we'll need get the trustees off the fence and find out whether they are going to be cheerleaders for or defenders against a fundamentalist takeover.  The fact that Stan Norman still has a job makes me think they don't realize how serious the breach of trust between the faculty and the administration has been.  The easiest way forward would have been for the trustees to nudge President Whitlock to tell Stan it's time to move on.  Then Whitlock could have hit the reset button with faculty and maybe we could all be confident that things would be different moving forward.  Instead, the inaction (and even refusal to acknowledge harm/mistakes) sends the signal that the trustees and administration either don't get it or don't care.  Neither attitude inspires much confidence.

Even so, a consensus is emerging around a wait-see attitude.  Faculty seem confident that their junior colleagues will be tenured based on ability and achievement.  We can't imagine that the administration would attempt another unethical dismissal, given the outrage such an action would cause.  The core of OBU is still intact.  And the faculty in fine arts and theology/ministry will just have to endure the current regime, however joyless it may be at times.

Has Save OBU become kinder and gentler?  I don't know.  I hope so.  I always hope we embody the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).  For me, the fact of meeting Provost Norman (very briefly) and having a (very brief) exchange with Dean McClellan may give me pause about speaking in such strong terms about people I don't even know.  But it's nothing personal, and I truly wish them well on their journeys.  I may not know them, but I do know OBU.  And some of their actions have been very out of place at the OBU so many of us have known and loved through all these years.

As a young Methodist boy who saw pastors come and go, I was taught never to say "I was here long before you came here and I'll be here long after you're gone."  That wasn't the right attitude.  But the truth is, there is a tradition of excellence, rigor, academic respectability, and collaborative decision-making that is woven into the fabric of OBU culture.  Two or three administrators can poke holes in that fabric, but they can never tear it asunder.  Time will tell if OBU will be restored to its former greatness in the vital areas where it's been attacked.

The attack days are never fully over.   There are more sad stories to tell and violations to report.  But I think the reorientation from attack dog mode to watchdog mode is wise at the moment.  I am satisfied that it represents a broad consensus of thinking from many quarters.  And I hope we can all move forward together as we stand strong for academic freedom and ethical administration at OBU.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

National Higher Ed Press Covers Shorter Degradation

I've been in touch with Shorter University (GA) alumni for almost a year.  Their situation, as we've repeated, is significantly worse than ours.  They had a hostile state convention pack the trustee board with fundamentalists, and then a new president disregarded academic freedom and institutional norms to purge the college of dozens of faculty and staff.  We've always considered Shorter to be a worst-case scenario for OBU.  But there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful.  While OBU has a president who has to play nice with the fundamentalists and at least two (maybe more) administrators who clearly have no qualms about dramatic policy shifts, we still have some great trustees, as well as higher-ups in the state convention who do not want to see OBU turned into a national joke.

Shorter has not been so lucky.  Their disaffected constituents began mobilizing as soon as the dramatic changes were announced last fall.  They took quite an interest in what we has done, and I believe our blog pre-dates theirs by about three months.  They have also, understandably, pursued a more aggressive media strategy, which we will likewise do if things get worse.

You should definitely follow Shorter constituents' attempts to recover from the wreckage on Facebook and Twitter.  If you follow these issues closely, chances are you've already read some of the news reports.  This week, Inside Higher Education has a lengthy piece on the Shorter situation by noted religious college reporter Libby Nelson.  Last October, after faculty met with trustees for what was billed as a routine meeting,
The trustees told everyone that there would be some additions to contracts for the next academic year -- changes intended to amplify the liberal arts college's Christian mission.  Then the faculty and staff filed out, past the large painting of the Prodigal Son in the hallway.  Within the hour, they received two documents by e-mail.  One was a statement of faith; the other, a list of "lifestyle" expectations. 
Those who wanted to keep their jobs would have to sign both.
One young alum said of Shorter the same thing I have thought of saying about OBU when asked by my friends and colleagues about my alma mater:
He went to a small liberal arts college in the South, the former student now says.  But that college doesn't exist anymore.
You truly should read and consider the entire piece.  And say a prayer of thanksgiving that we have the ability to protect academic freedom and insist on ethical administration at OBU -- before it's too late.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Homecoming (from Veronica)

My dearest Save OBU, I wish I could tell you how nice it was to be back on Bison Hill.

I hadn't been back for a substantial visit since I graduated a year and a half ago, but it still feels very much like home. Now that my husband and I have both moved on to bigger schools with very large campuses, OBU feels quaint-- in a good way.

Since it was not technically one of our homecoming years, Scott and I decided to be informal and skip most of the programming. We did attend the dedication of the Milburn Student Success Center on Friday morning and I must say I am very excited for such a great thing happening at OBU! For those of you who may not follow, the student success center (started Fall '08, my sophomore year) received a HUGE donation and is really blossoming quite quickly. Even in its first few years, I know that the success center was a fantastic resource for many students and so I am very glad that they have the funds to expand! Such excellent news!

After that, we wandered around Owens Hall to see what we could see. I was very glad to meet with a few of my favorite professors. We mostly discussed life, grad school, and the wedding, but I was also glad to hear that things seem to be looking up around Bison hill.

On Saturday we sat with Jacob and watched OBU stomp MCC. (Go Bison!)

And on Sunday (as Jacob has already mentioned) we got to meet with some current students as well as participate in the strategy meeting.

Overall, it was a great weekend of old friends and a chance for great family time. It's enough to make you miss living in Shawnee... almost.

To restate some of what Jacob has already said, I feel that this visit was very heartening. Specifically, after speaking with students and professors, my great confidence in the core of OBU remains. The general education classes that make OBU such a fantastic liberal arts university-- such as Civ-- are thriving. I cannot state my happiness that more students will be challenged in these classes as I was as an undergrad.

Of course, our job is not done. There is some rumbling in a few key departments, and we will keep our eyes on it.

But the good news is this: we are established. We are here, and we are not going away. Our goal is not to hate OBU, but to protect her. And we have built the necessary trust and audience in order to be able to do that job well. As we begin to retool our mission, I trust that we will be strong as we move ahead to work with those who make OBU great.

We are loyal to our Alma Mater, and all of the things we were taught that she stands for: Christian tradition, liberal arts, academic excellence, academic freedom, and integrity. I look forward to continuing to explore our role in upholding these virtues on my beloved Bison Hill.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Crazy Idea? The BGCO as a Partner in Saving OBU

Thanks for checking out our posts on OBU Homecoming and the Save OBU strategy sessions (see herehere, and here and here).  We've received well over a thousand hits in the past few days and that number is sure to climb as the BGCO meets in Moore today and tomorrow for its annual missions conference and meeting.

From the beginning, we've been suspicious of the BGCO/OBU relationship.  We've seen state conventions elsewhere absolutely devastate Baptist colleges.  But the truth is, Oklahoma truly is a unique case.  We have a really good OBU Board of Trustees.  We have several very prominent pastors in the state who are strong supporters of OBU's mission as a Christian liberal arts university who do not want to see OBU go down a path to becoming a fundamentalist academy.  And, as we'll report in the days to come, we have a convention of churches whose pastors and laypeople overwhelming oppose radical changes to OBU's purpose and direction.

As more and more pastors learn about the administrative missteps at OBU over the past few years, we hope to engage them as allies rather than adversaries.  This week, we'll report on the new slate of OBU trustees (to be elected tomorrow), as well as OBU President David Whitlock's report to the convention.  As one of OBU's most beloved professors preaches at the convention, we hope messengers -- lay and clergy alike -- will recognize and support the need for all OBU faculty to have protection from predatory dismissals, denial of contractual rights, and being shut out of decisions about how their academic divisions will operate in the future.

On behalf of the entire Save OBU movement, I want to welcome Oklahoma Baptists to the Save OBU family.  While we are confident that OBU's recent troubles will not be repeated indefinitely, we do ask for you to stand with us as a watchdog against fundamentalist encroachment at our beloved university.

God bless OBU!

A Report on the Save OBU Strategy Session

I posted Saturday morning, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon about my wonderful experiences at Homecoming Weekend.  But I felt compelled to return to Bison Hill to continue raising awareness about and pushing back against lapses in ethical administration and suppression of academic freedom at OBU in recent years.  To that end, I convened two strategy meetings today.

The first included retired and active faculty.  For obvious reasons, I am keeping the participants' identities and our deliberations in confidence.

Veronica met with several current students in the GC this afternoon, some who had knowledge of her involvement with Save OBU and, somewhat to my surprise, some of whom had never heard of Save OBU until they saw a poster on campus advertising the meeting.

In the days and weeks to come, Veronica, I, and perhaps other Save OBU leaders will offer some perspectives about what changes will be necessary to be an effective watchdog moving forward.

Veronica ('11) and me ('02) with
Bill Jones ('73) of Texas Baptists Committed.

Some of the items discussed at the public strategy session were:

Mission/purpose.  From the beginning (and frankly since my freshman year at OBU), I have believed that the BGCO's legal stranglehold over OBU (it owns the property and elects the trustees) is, ultimately, the root of all these problems.  Furthermore, separating from the BGCO is the only necessary and sufficient condition to making the problems go away.  But there are a few problems.  First, almost no one (including many people who would otherwise be inclined to support OBU) believes BGCO separation is possible.  And second, while we find BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Rev. Dr. Anthony Jordan's fingerprints on some of the problem issues we've addressed, we do not have a BGCO-elected Board of Trustees that is trying to remake OBU in the image of the post-Takeover SBC.  In fact, we have generally impressive and solid board.  In any event, we have more pressing problems.  We have professors who literally fear for their jobs.  Until the convention proves untrustworthy (e.g., starts packing the board with fundamentalists who want to turn OBU into a mini-Southwestern Seminary), we're inclined to trust that there are still good pastors (including some OBU alumni) who will use their influence in the BGCO nominations process to see that the convention elects trustees that support OBU's mission and respect its traditions.  In short, we'll be backing off the issue of BGCO separation somewhat.

Sense about where things stand.  Things seem to have quieted down this year, thankfully.  It's been gratifying to hear from current and retired faculty who believe that Save OBU's advocacy has been instrumental in dissuading the administration from violating faculty contract rights and using ideology as a litmus test.  We have a sense that, at least at the moment, there are no plans afoot to use the tenure process as a weapon to weed out moderates, though we are concerned that offering 5-year contracts rather than senior faculty status is a disappointing trend.  The faculty are pursuing redress of their grievances through their own channels, and we want to let those processes continue without doing damage to them.  We are investigating rumblings in the Fine Arts department, and are still horrified at the abysmal treatment a former chief academic officer has suffered.  Yet in spite of all this, we feel it is more appropriate to be a watchdog than an attack dog.

Building alliances and coalitions.  One surprising blessing has been the connection's we've made.  OBU is back on the radar screen of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists and the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma.  We've shared and received stories from friends at other Baptist-affiliated universities who are fighting their own versions of these same battles.  Alumni/ae of different generations are connecting, networking, and building relationships.  We want to continue this vital work as a sign of our commitment to integrity and excellence in all Baptist institutions.  Unfortunately, integrity and excellence are too often compromised when fundamentalists take over.

Current students.  I had erroneously assumed that most students simply aren't interested in Save OBU.  After speaking with some students yesterday and meeting with students interested in Save OBU today, I now know that most OBU students do not yet know about Save OBU!  So we have our work cut out for us.  Students will need to educate themselves about the issues at stake, but they need to remember that their professors are not yet free to speak openly about what has happened.  Therefore, we now have plans in place to increase students' awareness of what has happened to their university.  Of course, some students will oppose academic freedom and ethical administration, claiming "OBU is a godly school where godly  administrators are hiring godly men to teach godly things."  But we trust that most students will be horrified to learn what has happened.  OBU students have a fierce love for their professors, and we trust that their love will translate into support for Save OBU.

Our message to the president, provost, and certain deans is clear: If you continue to violate the agreed-upon norms of OBU with respect to policy, personnel, or any other matter, we will call you out on it publicly every time.  And when you respect those norms, we are here to support you.

Here is my prayer from our meeting today.  It is also my prayer for OBU moving forward.

Almighty God, we are united before you this day by our overwhelming love and gratitude for this place.  We praise you for the ways each of our lives have been changed and shaped here.  We especially praise you for your ineffable and sublime Truth -- so inscrutable that we can spend a lifetime pursuing it yet so simple that even a child can understand.  We wonder at the world you imagined into being -- the order, the beauty, the randomness, the mystery, all of it.

Yet even as you have given us minds to know, our hardened hearts do not always understand.  We have not always lived up to your purposes for our lives, and we humbly confess our shortcomings.  I especially confess that I have at times been too harsh in criticism and too quick in judgment.  For these and all other transgressions, we plead for forgiveness.

We give you thanks for the great history and traditions of our beloved OBU.  And we pray that her greatest days may yet lie ahead.  In spite of setbacks, problems, and mistakes, we pray that this institution may live up to the highest ideals of its founding.  We pray wisdom, guidance, health, and success for President David Whitlock and for OBU's trustees and administrators.  We pray for the professors, that they might live out their calling as Christian scholars.  We pray for students, that they may be inspired to pursue truth wherever it is to be found -- for all truth is your truth.

Be with us, Lord, as we risk ourselves in faith, hope, and love and engage the life of the mind.  Make us fearless seekers not merely of information, but true wisdom.  Meet us in the gaps in our knowledge and the places where our faith truly seeks understanding.

Finally, O Lord, we pray for the courage, wisdom, grace, and strength to advocate plainly and with conviction for this cause which you yourself have laid upon our hearts.  Be present among us even now, and grant that we may be found to be faithful disciples of your son, the Master Teacher and savior of us all.

We pray all these things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Homecoming: The Morning After (Church & Meeting Prep)

Thanks to the generous hospitality of a friend, I was able to rest well in OKC last night after a long and exciting day of Homecoming activities.  This morning, we attended an early service at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City. Now, Mayflower is not for everyone (though everyone is welcome).  But a lot of people who don't really "fit" in conservative evangelical or fundamentalist Southern/Midwestern U.S. Protestantism have banded together and made Mayflower a unique church.  After speaking to the associate minister afterwards, we were told that Mayflower actually has a number of OBU alumni/ae in its congregation.  The picture doesn't do it justice, but Mayflower has a sparsely appointed (New England/Puritan-style) sanctuary that is quite beautiful in its simplicity.

Mayflower Congregational (UCC) Church of Oklahoma City

How do I say this diplomatically?  Most Save OBU supporters are conservative and moderate evangelicals.  But I think we may have a few liberals.  If you lean toward the liberal end of the spectrum and you live in Central Oklahoma, you should strongly consider making Mayflower your church home.

Back in Shawnee, I was delighted to worship at First Baptist Church for the first time in over 10 years.  As most of you know, Shawnee has a number of great churches, each one with a different flavor and personality yet united in making disciples.  Whereas many downtown churches are struggling (I'm speaking generally, not about Shawnee in particular), FBC is a vibrant congregation.  The music was absolutely spectacular!  One of the hymns used the tune (AZMON) that Methodists use for Charles Wesley's great hymn, "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing," so that was a little weird for me.  My old Methodist heart broke just a little!  A trumpeter blasted out the triumphant melody of "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" before the congregation joined in song.  We also sang "It Is Well with My Soul," which is a favorite of practically everyone.  The choir offered a beautiful adaptation of a psalm as a call to prayer.  A piano quartet(!) performed "How Great Thou Art," which has special meaning for me because it was sung at my grandfather's funeral.  I was so grateful for the opportunity to personally thank two retired OBU music professors for enhancing my OBU experience with glorious music in Raley Chapel on so many occasions.

The Gospel text was from the Sermon on the Mount, and the minister brought an inspiring message that both comforted and challenged me.  Especially as I have been critical of certain OBU policy and personnel changes, I must grapple with Christ's command to "Love your enemies."  I don't think of the new administrators as enemies, but I want to guard my heart carefully and seek divine guidance on how to balance our obligation to stand up for what is right with our imperative to love our enemies.  Let's all pray for one another!

First Baptist Church, Shawnee, OK

For the next few hours, my co-editor Veronica will be in the GC meeting with OBU students who may want to know more about Save OBU.  Remember, many students who were at OBU during the most tumultuous times have graduated in the past two years.  As I spoke with underclassmen yesterday, none of them had any idea about the problems OBU has been having with academic freedom and ethical administration.  It's vitally important that the older students pass this knowledge on to the younger ones, in order that the students can stand up for their professors and defend, where appropriate, against fundamentalist encroachment.

I look forward to meeting with many of you today at 4 in front of the library.  We'll strategize for 90 minutes or so and hopefully re-tool our message and methods for the months and years ahead!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Jacob's Homecoming Adventure

What a day!  I saw some old friends, made some new ones, and got to meet (ever so briefly) Provost Stan Norman and Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry Dean Mark McClellan.  Here's a rundown of the day's events.  There were so many things going on, I couldn't attend them all.  And I forgot to take pictures at the basketball doubleheader, but the women's and men's teams were both victorious in dominating fashion).

I tweeted a couple dozen observations, which you can see here.

I made some awesome Save OBU brochures, but I just didn't have the heart to leaflet the parking lot like the Christian Coalition on the Sunday before Election Day.  A lot of people think any attention is good attention, but I thought it best not to detract from people's affectionate feelings toward OBU.  So now I have a bunch of flyers if anyone wants them!

I attended my frist-ever non-compulsory chapel service.  That's right, I went of my own free will (though OBU's religion department is getting so Calvinist, I don't know if we still believe in free will...)  The alumni chapel service was inspiring!  The music was absolutely sublime, as it always was during my student days.  President Whitlock gave a warm welcome and highlighted the many exciting, wonderful things going on at OBU.  Eight outstanding alumni/ae were honored and three esteemed professors were inaugurated into the OBU Faculty Hall of Fame.  The Rev. Dr. Hance Dilbeck brought a testimony/reflection based on John 15 ("Abide in me and I in you..."), a chapter he was challenged to memorize as a freshman at OBU.  Did I mention that the music was beautiful?!

At a reception honoring the award recipients, a former professor of mine briefly introduced me to the provost.  I just said, "I know I'm not your favorite person in the world, but my best wishes to you."  I said the same thing to Dean McClellan, and we had a brief, honest, and respectful exchange.

My home for 3 years: Agee Residence Center (formerly Brotherhood Dormitory).

On my way to lunch, I paid homage to the late Dr. James Ralph Scales, OBU's ninth president and one of the several that the BGCO has managed to get rid of over the years.  The fundamentalists in the BGCO are frankly more powerful than the OBU faculty.  So there's a natural tendency for OBU presidents to appease the former at the expense of the latter.  But President Scales stook for principle over politics, and I think he is a wonderful example for Baptist college administrators to follow.  President Whitlock doesn't need to look to Jackson, TN (or God forbid Ft. Worth or Louisville) for role models.  He should just look across the Oval at someone a little closer to home:

I actually went to the wrong room for my Class of 2002 luncheon.  I got there and though, "Wow, these people look good."  Then I realized I was at the Class of 2007's luncheon.  My class luncheon was a lot of fun.  My thanks to the organizers, banquet servers, and other staff who made it run smoothly.

It was a pleasure to sit with Save OBU Contributing Editor Veronica Pistone and her husband, Scott, as the Bison basketball teams cruised to victory over Manhattan (NY KS) Christian.  I had worked up quite an appetite, so I naturally drove to Van's Pig Stand.

Now I'm enjoying the hospitality of my new friend, Parker.  And a view of the spectacular new Devon Tower.  To the east are the Bank of America Center (tallest building in OKC from 1931-1971) and the Chase Tower (tallest building in OKC from 1971-2011).

I went to see the good guys at Tobacco Express at NW 63rd and May in Oklahoma City, where I bought a new pipe to commemorate my inspiring and hopefully fruitful trip to Oklahoma!

So that was my day in a nutshell.  I've been critical of certain policy and personnel changes in my writing here.  But let me be clear: 99.5% of what is going on at OBU is absolutely wonderful!  We just believe that the problem areas are actually quite consequential for the mission and character of the institution.

If you're in the area, please meet with Veronica in the lower level GC tomorrow (Sunday, November 11, 2012) to learn more about Save OBU.  And plan on attending our strategy session at 4:00.  We'll meet in front of the library and then proceed to the meeting.

God bless OBU!

[EDIT]: See my posts on Sunday's activities (worship and strategy meetings). Veronica will add her perspective on the meeting by midweek.

Heading Back to Bison Hill After 10 Years

Greetings, friends!  I want to give a quick update before I drive to Shawnee for the day's festivities.

Last night, I had the amazingly good fortune to sit with Rev. Steve Graham on my flight to OKC.  Steve is a native Oklahoman who has returned from an eight year stint with the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta to begin a position as coordinator for the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma.  Steve and his bride were returning from a trip abroad, and we were able to talk and strategize for hours about how conservatives and moderates can resist the worst effects of fundamentalism in Oklahoma Baptist life.

This morning, I'll attend an alumni chapel service in Raley Chapel.  Will I have to scan my ID to verify my attendance!?

My class year (2002) has a reunion lunch today.  I hope to see a few familiar faces.  My face is a lot fatter than it used to be...

Also, there's a basketball doubleheader this afternoon.  My friends and I used to argue about whether or not it was unchristian to yell at the referees.

There's also a musical performance tonight.

I can't wait to see how Bison Hill has changed in appearance over the past decade!

Remember, all who live in the area are invited to two meetings tomorrow.  First, Save OBU contributing editor Veronica (Pistone) Risinger ('11) will be meeting with current students and other people in the student center Sunday afternoon from 1:30 to 3:30.  And we'll convene a Save OBU strategy session at 4:00.  Meet in front of the library, and we'll proceed to an indoor location.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@SaveOBU_Blog) for updates throughout the weekend.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Save OBU Homecoming Schedule *UPDATED*

Just a quick update for all students and alumni/ae who will be in Central Oklahoma this Sunday, November 11...

I arrive in OKC late Friday night, and thus won't be able to come to any of the Friday events.  On Saturday, I look forward to meeting many of you, but after consulting with several different OBU constituencies months ago, we decided against mounting any kind of formal, public protest/demonstration this year.  I don't know if I'd be going to homecoming if it hadn't been for Save OBU, but I'm going because it's my 10th anniversary reunion, not because I want to lead a protest.  If things go downhill, we'll mobilize for actual protests, letter-writing campaigns, demonstrations, etc.

Throughout the weekend, I have some meetings with key people planned, and I'll visit a couple of local churches Sunday morning.

Sunday 1:30-3:30 -- Save OBU contributing editor Veronica (Pistone) Risinger ('11) will be in the lower level GC to meet with students or anyone who may be on campus.  We look forward to hearing your impressions of how things are going this fall, especially now that Provost Norman has been (at least temporarily) neutralized/chastened.

Sunday 4:00-6:00 -- General/open strategy session.  Meet in front of the library at 4, and we'll proceed to an indoor location.

Look forward to meeting everyone!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Saints Day: Honoring Luminaries That Today's SBC/BGCO Would Reject

Today is one of my favorite holy days in the Christian year.  It is also, among Protestants and especially among evangelicals, one of the most neglected.  Usually, churches observe All Saints Day on the Sunday following Nov. 1.  And while the Season after Pentecost drags on through the summer and into the fall, the church year gets more exciting now, beginning last week with Reformation Sunday which I wrote about here.

I especially like to remember people who have died in the past year.  I lost a dear friend, teacher, and mentor in March.  We spent countless afternoons at a local restaurant discussing books, religion, science, politics, and education over fried catfish and sweet tea.  He was a high school physics teacher in his 35th year, just two months from retirement.  He was and is to me an ever-present reminder to do what you love and spend your days and your life engaged in things that are meaningful.

Last year, I made a YouTube video that joins images to a recording of the Choir of King's College, Cambridge singing the great hymn, "For All the Saints Who from Their Labours Rest."  You can watch it here:

I also pause today to remember OBU luminaries who are no longer with us, but whose inheritance we carry as we stand for academic freedom and for excellence in Baptist higher education.  John Wesley Raley and James Ralph Scales were presidents of OBU at a time when Southern Baptist leaders actually honored open inquiry, academic freedom, and excellence in teaching and learning even when it challenged accepted orthodoxies.  They did not see an inherent conflict between faith and knowledge that led them to limit and disdain knowledge that seems at first glance to challenge faith.  They also held many values that would put them completely at odds with today's Baptist leaders, including commitments to the liberty of the conscience and the separation of church and state.

So we may as well just say it.  We walk past a chapel named for Raley and a statue named for Scales every day.  Yet if either was interviewing for a position with the BGCO or any SBC board or agency today, they would be laughed out of the room.  In fact, they probably wouldn't even make it to the interview.  They would have been weeded out because of their beliefs, associations, and politics.

The ruling powers at OBU want you to believe that nothing has changed.  (But we know that's a lie because OBU's newest fundamentalist professor publicly acknowledged that it was those very changes that made his appointment at OBU possible.)  Baptist life has changed dramatically since heroes like Raley and Scales led our beloved OBU.  We were insulated from the disastrous changes until very recently.  We had presidents who knew how to play nice with the fundamentalists, but who still stood up for faculty and for academic freedom.  But now, playing nice isn't good enough.  The fundamentalists want results (aka, moderate professors ousted and replaced exclusively by fundamentalists).  The delicate dance that President Brister performed capably and President Agee performed masterfully is not going to be possible for President Whitlock.  He is going to have to choose.  And frankly, it looks like he's made his choice.

For now, though, it falls to us to honor the legacies of OBU's luminaries from days past.  Because let's be honest, certain people are not upholding those legacies at all.  In fact, some legacies are being deliberately misrepresented.  Today's SBC elites actively turned against thoroughly conservative leaders like Joe Ingram and Herschel Hobbs because, by golly, they just weren't conservative enough.

Don't believe there haven't been changes.  If Herschel Hobbs himself applied for a ministry professorship at OBU, Provost Norman would weed him out before he could even be interviewed.  And even if Hobbs somehow made it through and the committee wanted to hire him, Dean McClellan would veto the faculty's unanimous vote.  For his part, David Whitlock wouldn't lift a finger to stop them.  And Anthony Jordan would be smiling in the Baptist Building because OBU rejected Herschel H. Hobbs.  In practice, OBU rejects him every single day.

And these OBU leaders have the audacity to continually have a lectureship and even an entire academic division named in Hobbs's honor.  It's just wrong.

So it's our privilege and duty -- we who actually honor what their lives accomplished -- to remember these great heroes of the faith and leading lights of Baptist higher education.  I will close with a prayer not from an All Saints liturgy, but from the Christmas Eve Service of Lessons and Carols that the BBC broadcasts every year from the King's College Chapel in Cambridge, UK:
Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom we for evermore are one.  These prayers and praises let us humbly offer up to the throne of heaven, in the words which Christ himself hath taught us: 
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kinddom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen!