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!

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