Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 1

Feminism at OBU Series
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 1
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 2

Editor's Note: Thanks to the literally thousands of you who read guest writer Sarah Jones's recent series on Cedarville University in Ohio.  Today, we welcome OBU alumna Cortney (Pickering) Stone ('02), who is contributing a series on a feminist student organization at OBU in the early 2000s.  As ever, a debate about feminism and Christianity is raging throughout the evangelical blogosphere.  The hot-button issues include biblical perspectives on gender and the relationship of Christian feminism to the feminist movement at large.  Our series will touch on these only tangentially.  But we promise an important --- yet often missing --- perspective: The role of the college experience in forming and nurturing feminist attitudes.  Please join me in welcoming Cortney as she shares her experiences and wisdom.

Back in November, Jacob posted about the history of student protests at OBU. After reading that blog entry, I offered to share a story about a protest that occurred when we were both attending OBU. Though he did not remember the protest and my own memories are hazy in places, I will never forget much of what happened. It made a significant impact on my life and my experience at OBU.

I'm originally from a small town in southern Oklahoma and I was raised in a Southern Baptist church. I began attending OBU in the fall of 1998 as a member of one of its largest incoming freshman classes, and I graduated in May 2002. I earned a BA in Humanities and OBU transformed my heart and mind. I still carry quotes and lessons from my favorite professors in my heart even after all these years. I love OBU, and, like Jacob and the others who are a part of the Save OBU community, I am very sad to see things change for the worse at the university.

I am a feminist -- someone who pursues justice and equality. OBU -- of all places -- nurtured my feminism. There were many students and professors who were also feminists, though many openly rejected the label in spite of holding to feminist ideals. I befriended several other young women who were feminists, and we realized that OBU had plenty of issues with gender equality and almost no one was openly addressing those issues. In 2001, we decided to form a women's issues group. I don't remember exactly how it all came together, but I believe our women's history course is to blame!

With administrative permission, we established an official on-campus organization called FAIR. The name wasn't an acronym. It was just a succinct way to explain our vision: equality, justice, and ensuring that things were fair for men and women at OBU. In the process of forming the group, we discovered that we weren't the first women's issues organization on campus. There had been many others throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. None of them had lasted longer than a few years.  Feminism clearly wasn't dead at OBU. It was cyclical.

We avoided calling FAIR a "feminist" group because the label was a red flag for many at OBU. Our purpose was to address women's issues on campus: not low-hanging fruit like the casual sexism of TWIRP Week or the patriarchal lyrics of the Alma Mater Hymn, but difficult issues such as needing more female chapel speakers, more female faculty members (especially tenured professors), equal pay for faculty members, confronting on-campus discrimination, and so forth. (Click here for several Save OBU posts on gender issues at OBU.) We were also concerned with topics of interest and issues that went beyond OBU's boundaries, such as conditions for women in Afghanistan under the Taliban. We wanted to inform students about women's concerns and improve conditions for women at OBU and beyond.

Things went very well for our small group for many months. We lived out our purpose and received some support from students and faculty. No one openly opposed what we were doing or saying. 

Then, only a few months before I graduated, our group had to face its biggest challenge. I'll tell that story here next week.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Center Cannot Hold

Cedarville University Series
Part 1 - Cedarville: A Very Brief Introduction
Part 2 - The Worst are Filled with Passionate Intensity
Part 3 - Things Fall Apart
Part 4 - The Center Cannot Hold

On Saturday, the Board of Trustees ruled in favor of Carl Ruby’s forced resignation and the elimination of the philosophy major. Trustees Chris Williamson and Bill Rudd have resigned from the Board in protest of this ruling. At the moment, Michael Loftis remains on the Board, but Provost John Gredy has announced that the university is conducting an internal review about his failure to investigate sexual abuse allegations at ABWE, and an official statement will be released when the review is complete. Donn Ketcham, the pedophiliac missionary doctor responsible for the abuse, still held an honorary doctorate from the University as of last week; that doctorate has been officially revoked. 

As far as we know, there is also no investigation into the sexual abuse of male students by retired professors Ed Spencer and David Robey.

The Board of Trustees and the Cedarvilly faculty also
voted unanimously to approve the following doctrinal statement:
“We believe in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writings, embracing all matters which the biblical authors address, and believe that they are of supreme and final authority in faith and life. This unwavering commitment to the Word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ binds together our past and present and must shape our future so that we might be a beacon for, and not a pale reflection of, the world around us.”
These decisions are the result of a fraught weekend that witnessed frantic final appeals for justice and transparency by concerned alumni and students. With few exceptions, these appeals were not well received. Dr. Robert Sumner, trustee emeritus, authored a long-winded reply to my own email to the Board. In it, he bragged of his fundamentalist credentials and his continued influence on the board, and accused me of not understanding what ‘fundamentalism’ really means.

When I explained that I did in fact understand what fundamentalism means, and that I had chosen to reject it specifically because I understood it, Dr. Sumner told me that he hoped my parents died before they found out about my decision.

If Sumner’s email to me is any indication of Cedarville’s future trajectory, then it is likely that Cedarville University will continue to sacrifice academic freedom in favor of Biblical literalism. The faction steering this shift do not see this as a substantive change in the university’s character. According to Robert Sumner, Cedarville has always been a fundamentalist institution; he wrote of its former presidents in heroic terms and expected that heroism to be shared by students and recent alumni. Here, the generation gap is most glaring. I, and the majority of my class, did not choose Cedarville for its fundamentalist reputation. Mentions of Cedarville’s former presidents largely met with apathy, when these mentions were made at all.

The well-organized opposition to the administration’s decisions ought to demonstrate how little support exists for a fundamentalist university. We organized to defend the robustly evangelical university we actually encountered, not the politicized, reductionist vision of men like Robert Sumner.

Last week, thousands of Christians flocked to the annual
Justice Conference, held in Philadelphia this year. The Justice Conference is true to its name: its emphasis is social justice, particularly economic and racial justice. This year, speakers included Shane Claiborne, once decried by fundamentalists as being ‘too liberal’ to speak on the campus of Cedarville University. Despite this history a delegation of Cedarville students attended the conference. A Cedarville professor who accompanied them reported the average age of all conference attendees to be no more than 27. Robert Sumner, Lorne Scharnberg and their fellow ideologues have already lost the war. They have lost my generation.

Dr. Carl Ruby cared deeply about social justice. Dr. David Mills and his colleague Dr. Shawn Graves combined their own concern for social justice with serious philosophical enquiry. That’s why petitions to reinstate them received over 2000 signatures combined. And as long as fundamentalists associate that same passion for justice with doctrinal heresy, they doom themselves to failure. This controversy at Cedarville is America’s culture war in microcosm. It’s a one-sided affair, waged by fundamentalists against the rest of the world. Academic freedom, transparency and even simple compassion are collateral damage in their crusade to control the definition of Christian identity in the 21st century.

But today, I informed the Board of Trustees that alumni would not surrender. We will continue to speak out against fundamentalism. We still wait for answers about Michael Loftis, Dave Robey and Ed Spencer. And I wait, too, for answers about the assault that irrevocably changed my life.

In the meantime, I recall the Cedarville Admissions team’s promise to all freshmen: that at Cedarville University, you become part of a family. You gain ‘friends for life.’ And that is not a lie. My Cedarville family is motley: intelligent and impassioned, compassionate and curious. Its members are truly my friends for life. For this much I give thanks, and I keep the faith, in humanity if not in God.

Editor's Note: Thanks to our guest blogger, Cedarville University alumna Sarah Jones.  Sarah had complete editorial control over the series and we thank her for her thoughtful, passionate writing.  Article titles are derived from ‘TheSecond Coming’ by William Butler Yeats. On behalf of the entire Save OBU community, I warmly welcome to you our little corner of the web. Check out other parts of the site and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  See especially our recent post asking, in light of problems at many member institutions: Where is the CCCU?!  Over the past 15 months as we've documented fundamentalist encroachment at Oklahoma Baptist University, we've learned that some of our peer institutions have it far worse. Our thoughts and prayers are with each of you. Please join us in standing for academic freedom and ethical administration in evangelical higher education.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tim Tebow, FBC Dallas, and Evangelical Extremism

As longtime readers know (and hopefully appreciate), Save OBU is completely uninterested in secular politics and "culture wars."  This is a bit of a challenge for me personally because I essentially work in the culture war and politics business.  I'm writing a doctoral dissertation on evangelicals' contraception attitudes. Though at Save OBU my interest in Southern Baptist institutional life is primarily centered on higher education, I am constantly exposed to SBC/evangelical elites and other thought leaders who appear at least as interested in worldly politics as in the Kingdom God sent Jesus to proclaim.  It's true that most Save OBU supporters are culturally and theologically conservative, but I've learned that we have a lot of moderates and maybe even a few liberals in our ranks.  For the sake of unity, I've tried to steer clear of politics and culture wars.

Given all that, it would seem that New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow's announcement Thursday that he will not speak as scheduled at First Baptist Church of Dallas in April is irrelevant to our cause.  But on reflection, I do think the episode is indicative of something we talk about here all the time: SBC elites' ever-increasing fundamentalism and extremism.

As the story unfolded Thursday, three things struck me.  First, FBC's response to Tebow's cancellation was tacky, passive-aggressive, and reflected poorly on the church.  Second, the whole affair says a lot more about FBC's pastor, the Rev. Dr. Robert Jeffress, than it does about Tim Tebow.  Jeffress has a long history of controversial statements.  Tebow, on the other hand, has a long history of living his faith joyfully and publicly under intense scrutiny.  But what struck me most was seeing not one but several news headlines proclaiming that Tebow had cancelled an appearance at the "controversial First Baptist Church of Dallas."

For those who missed the story, you can find Tebow's announcement here, the church's press release here, and a partial compendium of Dr. Jeffress's statements here.

Given his record of provocative public statements, most notably about both major party presidential candidates in 2012 but apparently also about Catholicism, it's unsurprising and unremarkable that Dr. Jeffress would be labeled controversial. But FBC Dallas itself?  Isn't that a little unfair?  It got me thinking.

First of all, I thought Tebow was very classy to phone Dr. Jeffress in advance of announcing his decision publicly and to acknowledge "the faithful members of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas."  Culturally, institutionally, and politically, it's undeniable that the congregation has moved somewhat to the right along with its pastors, the alternative Baptist state convention in Texas, and the entire Southern Baptist Convention's leadership.  Of course, the disappearance of moderates and others who rejected having their religion conflated with a political party has also pushed the median member further to the right.

But let's face the facts.  The people of FBC have always been conservative.  Before and after the Takeover, FBC Dallas was a (if not the) flagship church of the SBC.  Its longtime pastor, the Rev. Dr. W. A. Criswell, was a typical fundamentalist who preached inerrancy and premillennial dispensationalism.  (He was also lukewarm at best toward racial integration until it was no longer socially palatable to be racist.)  But just as no one could have called FBC controversial, few would have considered Dr. Criswell to be a controversial preacher.

So what has changed?

The legion of SBC elites who unleashed a storm of criticism on Tebow would have you believe that the media are at fault --- that they have forced Christians out of the public square, intimidated Tebow into bowing out, and labeled every conservative "controversial" or worse.  Even the Rev. Rick Warren, who should know better, joined the whine-fest.  But this is total and complete nonsense.  I remain utterly baffled that the majority religion in the freest nation on earth can sustain an imaginary persecution complex.

The First Baptist Church of Dallas wasn't controversial 50 years ago because its pastor wasn't controversial.  Southern Baptists weren't controversial because their seminary presidents and agency heads didn't double as political party operatives.  Baptists pretty much abided by the centuries-old consensus on what it meant to be Baptist.  And the evangelical impulse to engage the culture (contrasted with fundamentalists' separatism and obnoxiousness) was generally in line with that historic consensus.

If FBC Dallas is controversial today, it's because Dr. Jeffress is controversial -- not because the congregation or the media or anything else has changed.

You see, Dr. Criswell may not have supported George Romney for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination, but he didn't publicly call him an unchristian, Hell-bound cult member, as Jeffress did when speaking about Mitt Romney.  And Criswell certainly didn't suggest that George Romney's religion disqualified him from public office.  Criswell did not like LBJ or Jimmy Carter, but he didn't say that they were paving the way for the antichrist, as Jeffress said about President Obama.  Like so many of today's SBC leaders, Dr. Jeffress wants to retain evangelicals' cultural engagement but has embraced the worst aspects of fundamentalism: anti-intellectualism, a completely delusional persecution complex, and a tone that seems to be deliberately as offensive and obnoxious as possible.

Even more obnoxious than FBC's angry and rude press release was Jeffress's pathetic attempt to force Tebow into his crazy camp:
"There doesn't seem to be any daylight between what we believe," Jeffress said, noting that Tebow is a member of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.  "He simply attributed it to needing to stay away from controversy."
Tell you what, Dr. Jeffress.  Let's let Tebow speak for himself regarding whether he believes, like you, that homosexuality leads to pedophilia or that the president is paving the way for the reign of the antichrist.

Personally, I'm ambivalent about Tim Tebow.  It occurs to me that people who flaunt their religiosity "have received their reward in full" (Matthew 6).  But I can't possibly know Tebow's heart and whether or not his motivation is "to be seen of men."  Either way, I admire his faithfulness, work ethic, and apparent humility of spirit.  One of my first dates with my bride, Cara, was a Florida Gators game in 2008, Tebow's junior season.  My brother and sister-in-law saw some of Tebow's (or God's, depending on how you look at it) spectacular performances in Denver late in the 2011 season.

After being hastily and harshly criticized by evangelicals who had for years been his strongest supporters, Tebow now knows how today's evangelical extremists operate.  When you're useful to them, they praise and respect you.  But when you exercise some independent thought that does not follow their theology or politics to the letter, they throw you out like yesterday's trash.

These are not the people we need running our conventions, our churches, or our universities.  For now, we're stuck with too many of them.  But in the truest Baptist spirit, let's remind the world that they do not speak for us as they wreck the reputations of our once-proud institutions.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Things Fall Apart

Cedarville University Series
Part 1 - Cedarville: A Very Brief Introduction
Part 2 - The Worst are Filled with Passionate Intensity
Part 3 - Things Fall Apart

After the Cedars controversy, I spent a semester overseas. By the time I returned to campus, I’d started dating the son of a high-ranking staff member. Though not a student, he had free access to campus, and eventually got a short-term job at the university due to his father’s connections. That relationship should have been a mere footnote to my Cedarville story, but like so many college relationships, it became abusive. My ex, a recovering drug and alcohol addict, started drinking again, and I became the target for his anger.

Abusive dating relationships aren’t unique to Cedarville. What sets Cedarville apart is its campus culture, defined by events like the one I criticized in my Cedars article. Women are sexualized, but restricted from sexual behavior. They are the gatekeepers of sexual purity, charged with dressing modestly in order to prevent male lust.

So it’s probably no surprise, then, that when my ex’s abuse escalated to attempted rape, one of my first thoughts (after the humiliation and fear) involved the modesty panel I’d criticized. Specifically, I remembered a male classmate’s assertion that women should not wear pajama pants in public, because that made men think about bed, which made them think about sex.

My boyfriend tried to rape me while I was wearing pajamas. And at the time, I couldn’t shake the deep-seated conviction that I’d brought it upon myself.

This isn’t easy to write. I write it because I believe it’s necessary. I write it because I want you to understand why I, and so many others, have spoken so extensively about Carl Ruby’s compassion. It is because his compassion stands in stark contrast to the treatment many of us received at Cedarville. We speak about the philosophy professors, Dr. Mills and his colleague, Dr. Shawn Graves, because they encouraged students to think critically about ethics and faith. Cedarville needs that, too.

In the days that followed the assault, I became severely depressed, but I told no one about the attack. I feared retribution, and for several months, I found the event too traumatic to revisit. I did go to Dr. Ruby and others about different aspects of the abuse. And though my abuser faced no consequences for his actions, he, Dr. Mills and other faculty members who have since moved on from Cedarville deserve credit for showing me the emotional support that helped me move on and begin to heal.

Cedarville’s refusal to punish my abuser alerted me to the depths of the corruption in Cedarville’s administration. When I received word this past fall that a Bible professor had been fired for his interpretation of Genesis, that the philosophy major could be cut, and that Dr. Ruby could lose his job, I credited these decisions to these same deeply rooted failures in leadership. These failures became evident to many when the university officially announced its plans.

The backlash stumbled to life when the university fired Dr. Michael Pahl. The reason: Pahl, a literalist, proved not quite literalist enough to suit Dr. Tom Cornman, the fundamentalist academic vice president. Dr. Cornman had recently authored a then-secret series of white papers that codified the university’s doctrinal position, beyond the statement publicly available on the university’s website.

Dr. Cornman and the provost, Dr. John Gredy, also a fundamentalist, later led the charge to eliminate Cedarville’s philosophy major. Neither publicly stated an ideological motivation behind their decision, but behind the scenes, bias tainted every administrative move.

Last month, Cedars thoroughly documented the flaws in the review and appeal processes as applied to the philosophy program. The rushed review process and the obscured rationale behind it fuelled student and alumni concerns that this signalled an imminent fundamentalist takeover of the university. When Carl Ruby announced his unexpected resignation on January 10th, those fears seemed to be confirmed. The resignation seemed especially suspicious after Christianity Today revealed that Dr. Ruby had already undergone a hearing in the fall, and that Lorne Scharneberg, chairman of the Board of Trustees, denied the hearing ever occurred. After twenty-five years of service to the university, Dr. Ruby was forced to leave campus five days after his public resignation. Conveniently, a non-disclosure agreement forbade him from revealing the true reasons for his departure. The conditions of Dr. Ruby’s resignation have prompted one trustee, Chris Williamson, to publicly call for his reinstatement.

During a topical Town Hall chaired by Dr. Gredy, he and Dr. Cornman misrepresented the true number of students enrolled in philosophy courses at the university, and generally avoided specific student concerns about the philosophy major and Dr. Ruby’s resignation. In the wake of the university’s decisions, petitions to reinstate Dr. Ruby and revive the philosophy program received 1071 and 1170 signatures respectively. Either petition by itself dwarfs an older petition about Hoffeditz’s termination. Combined, they represent a thriving opposition to fundamentalist encroachment at Cedarville University.

That opposition has been bolstered by the revelation that trustee Michael Loftis had been forced to abandon the presidency of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) for failures in leadership. The failure? Although victims first informed Loftis about the activities of a pedophile missionary doctor in 2002, Loftis did not launch any sort of investigation into the crimes until 2011. Loftis remains a trustee and the pedophile, though now dead, still posthumously holds an honorary doctorate from Cedarville.

Loftis is not the only trustee charged with covering up child molestation. Trustee Bill Williams resigned from his position as the superintendent of Worthington Christian Schools in 2008 after it was revealed that he had a hired a known child molester to teach at the school.

To our further dismay, an open letter by Dr. David Olsen, Cedarville graduate and co-founder of Cedarville Out, described the sexual harassment of male students by now retired Professor Ed Spencer, and the sexual harassment and abuse of other male students by former professor, Dr. David Robey. The incidents span decades.

The male victims of Dr. Spencer and Dr. Robey encountered the same cultural obstacles that I did, complicated by the school’s strident homophobia. We had few allies, and reporting the full scale of the abuse seemed impossible. We each found ourselves marginalized by the university’s culture of silence. That culture of silence protects Michael Loftis and Bill Williams. It is responsible for the tactics used to remove Carl Ruby, Michael Pahl, David Mills and Shawn Graves from their positions. It benefits only the fundamentalists who enforce it in order to protect their vision of Cedarville University. Their vision leaves no space for debate or for compassion shown to the marginalized. It does not include justice for gay and lesbian students, or, it seems, for feminist student journalists.

I am 25 years old. I hold a master’s degree from Goldsmiths, University of London, and last month I went public about my assault. My abuser, who also attacked another female student, is currently under investigation by the university. At the moment, there are no investigations into the claims regarding Dr. Spencer and Dr. Robey.

On Thursday evening, we received word that Lorne Scharneberg has confirmed to an alumnus that he intends to return Cedarville to its fundamentalist roots. According to Scharneberg, Carl Ruby and others wanted Cedarville to “become like Wheaton (College)” and that he does not care if this return to fundamentalism results in a drop in enrolment. It is clear that the financial arguments employed by the university to defend its decision to eliminate the philosophy major are entirely facetious, that Carl Ruby’s resignation was forced, and that this fundamentalist faction remains bent on destroying any remaining semblance of academic freedom at the university.

Tomorrow, the board will meet to discuss the elimination of the philosophy major and Carl Ruby’s resignation for the final time. If Scharneberg and his allies succeed, Cedarville University will go the way of Bob Jones University and each of us can forget about our individual campaigns for justice. Please keep the entire Cedarville community in your thoughts and prayers this weekend. On Monday, I’ll report here on the board’s decisions.

Editor's Note: Increasingly, groups from the evangelical and fundamentalist communities are raising awareness about how fundamentalist culture protects abusers and mistreats victims.  I have elsewhere asked where the CCCU is on fundamentalist encroachment at member institutions.  Given the pervasive sexual scandals (and cover-ups), that question seems even more pertinent.  I also want to acknowledge the unkind anonymous comments on Sarah's previous posts.  For obvious reasons, I am disabling comments.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Where is the CCCU!?

Before I begin, let me extend a warm welcome to our hundreds of new readers this week.  Please look around the site and get to know us a bit.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  And please excuse this hastily composed stream-of-consciousness post.

I hate to interrupt guest contributor Sarah Jones's excellent series on Cedarville University.  But as fundamentalist encroachment proceeds apace at a number of evangelical colleges with no sign of letting up, I have to ask, Where is the CCCU?

For the uninitiated, the Council for Conservative Christian Colleges & Universities is a Washington, D.C.-based lobby for a very small subset of Christian colleges.  We've written about the CCCU here before.  Last March, we quoted Gordon College Professor Karl Giberson, who rightly said that some CCCU schools' "lingering attachment to some of the more dubious certainties and habits derived from Fundamentalism" badly hurt their credibility as legitimate academic institutions.  In April, Save OBU Contributing Editor Veronica Risinger  wrote a series on women at OBU.  She prefaced it by looking at women in CCCU schools, which the CCCU strongly implies are the only schools that are "intentionally Christ-centered."  On this score, Veronica noted that only 6% of CCCU institutions have female presidents: "For women who want to lead, the odds are a lot better if your school isn't intentionally Christian."  Finally, in July, I congratulated outgoing CCCU President Paul Corts and welcomed the newly-elected president, Ed Blews.

My interest in academic freedom and ethical administration in Christian higher education began when I heard about failings in those areas at my alma mater (Oklahoma Baptist University) from 2009 to 2011.  But I have been saddened (though not surprised) to learn that the situation is worse -- much worse -- at peer institutions like Shorter, Cedarville, and Louisiana College.  This is without even mentioning other Baptist schools who have apparently made their peace with the new, fundamentalist direction of the post-Takeover SBC such as Union University, Southwest Baptist, and North Greenville University.  And we constituents of institutions related to Baptist state conventions are just beginning to learn about goings-on at colleges related to other, smaller evangelical and pentecostal denominations that comprise a majority of the CCCU's membership.

Now, I suppose the CCCU does not want to meddle in its member institutions' internal affairs.  But unlike accrediting bodies, which must verify colleges' independent governance, the CCCU seems either unconcerned about or uninterested in stopping problematic threats to academic freedom and lapses in ethical administration that occur when fundamentalists take control.

Thank God moderates at OBU still had enough clout to prevent, or at least delay, the new administration from turning it into a fundamentalist Bible academy.  But if we OBU constituents are losing the battle slowly, constituents of Louisiana College, Cedarville, and Shorter are losing the battle swiftly and forcefully.  Will no one in the CCCU stand up for them?

I would think the tide of embarrassing press (Cedarville, Shorter), threats to accreditation (Shorter, Louisiana College) and dramatic declines in national rankings (OBU, maybe others) would get the CCCU's attention.  But I know of no evidence that this is the case.  CCCU President Ed Blews wants to focus on protecting scholarship and loan programs (which is good, I guess, though the wisdom of borrowing heavily to finance a private undergraduate education is debatable).  Blews also wants to protect "religious freedom" (i.e., challenge the so-called HHS Mandate, which is a little strange since the CCCU excludes all Catholic universities as insufficiently Christ-centered).  Of course it's vital for the CCCU to advocate on issues relevant to all its member institutions and I am as confident as anyone that under Blews's leadership, the council will continue to do so very effectively.

But the CCCU needs to realize something.  All is not well.  Sure, there are a handful of mainline-affiliated (literally no more than 15) and a few unaffiliated CCCU schools where academic freedom is secure and denominational politics cannot or will not interfere.  But at many member institutions, faithful Christian scholars and students are suffering.

I know it's a fine line for the CCCU to walk.  After all, the CCCU is a big tent considering its rather precise definition of what constitutes "intentionally Christ-centered."  Its membership includes some very reputable, academically rigorous institutions and some pretty wacky, nominally accredited, and avowedly fundamentalist degree mills.  But at this point, the CCCU's silence is deafening.  One prominent evangelical blogger, noting problems at several institutions (CCCU and otherwise) more eloquently characterized the current collective problem as an "Evangelical Inquisition."

It's well and good that Ed Blews was smiling and joking around with Messiah College President and CCCU Board Chair Kim Phipps at his inauguration last month in Washington.  But it's time to get serious about fundamentalist encroachment and oppose this inquisition.  It recently hit close to home for Dr. Phipps (incidentally one of the handful of female CCCU college presidents), as one of Messiah's professors is under fire for a blog post that challenged unthinking, literal interpretations of Scripture.  The CCCU requires its members to "be supportive of other Christian colleges."  Well, we at OBU, Cedarville, Shorter, Louisiana College and a host of other member institutions need to feel that support.

We need it now more than ever.

P.S. I live in Washington, so I am willing to meet with senior CCCU staff to strategize about how we can all work together to protect academic freedom and ensure ethical administration at our beloved Christian colleges.

P.P.S. The hymn "Forward Through the Ages" was sung at Mr. Blews's inauguration service.  It's one of his favorites and it's one of mine, too.  I hope it calls to mind the unity and determination we need to protect and preserve the traditions and values we hold dear.

1. Forward through the ages, in unbroken line, 
 move the faithful spirits at the call divine; 
 gifts in differing measure, hearts of one accord, 
 manifold the service, one the sure reward. 
 Forward through the ages, in unbroken line, 
 move the faithful spirits at the call divine. 

2. Wider grows the kingdom, reign of love and light; 
 for it we must labor, till our faith is sight. 
 Prophets have proclaimed it, martyrs testified, 
 poets sung its glory, heroes for it died.

3. Not alone we conquer, not alone we fall; 
 in each loss or triumph lose or triumph all. 
 Bound by God's far purpose in one living whole,
 move we on together to the shining goal. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Worst are Filled with Passionate Intensity

Cedarville University Series
Part 1 - Cedarville: A Very Brief Introduction
Part 2 - The Worst are Filled with Passionate Intensity
Part 3 - Things Fall Apart
Part 4 - The Center Cannot Hold

In my last post, I explained that a fundamentalist faction of Cedarville’s support base objected to the university’s decision to welcome GLBT activists onto campus as evidence of its turn toward liberalism. Their objections may have been overruled, but they did not fade into obscurity. Instead, they continued to organize themselves around the belief that Dr. Carl Ruby and certain faculty members posed an active threat to Cedarville’s historical identity as a conservative Baptist institution. Their campaign received a boost when the General Association of Regular Baptists (GARBC) decided to end its affiliation with Cedarville in 2006, due to the university’s alleged failure to adhere to its doctrinal standards. According to GARBC, Cedarville had become too liberal, and for fundamentalist alumni, this was evidence enough to begin a more aggressive campaign to ‘reclaim’ the university.

As a student, I had little awareness of the machinations behind the events I witnessed on campus. My parents, former Plymouth Brethren who attended Baptist churches when no local Brethren congregation could be found, had little regard for denominational politics, and so did I. But at Cedarville, the internal political conflicts that plague American Christianity proved inescapable. They disrupted my studies and threatened the careers of my favorite professors. Even the existence of my church, a small urban congregation founded by the same faculty members targeted by the fundamentalists, seemed to be at risk.

The fight, which endures in my memory as one of the most vicious episodes of social conflict that I’ve ever witnessed, focused on Dr. David Mills and Dr. Tim Gombis. By my sophomore year, Dr. David Hoffeditz emerged as one of the most prominent fundamentalist voices on campus. Hoffeditz, a Bible professor, used class time to accuse Dr. Gombis and Dr. Mills (professors of Biblical studies and philosophy respectively) of heresy. The worst sort of heresy, by fundamentalist standards: he accused them of being post-modernists.

I write this article as a recent graduate of Goldsmiths, University of London. My graduate career is focused on political theory, and if I must be called anything at all, I prefer to be called a post-structuralist because I believe the label of ‘post-modernist’ is so commonly misused that it’s now practically meaningless. But according to popular fundamentalist discourse, post-modernism is the philosophical nemesis of orthodox Christianity. According to these fundamentalists, post-modernism denies the possibility of absolute truth and certainty of belief and it is therefore incompatible with Christian faith.

Even by this dubious standard, Dr. Mills and Dr. Gombis are not post-modernists. They were not post-modernists in 2006, when fundamentalist professors incited a group of students to write a letter of concern to the administration. And they were not post-modernists in 2007, when the university finally fired David Hoffeditz and another fundamentalist professor. The accusation seemed absurd to me in my undergraduate days and it’s even more absurd to me now. Both professors certainly questioned traditional conservative positions on economic policy and to an extent, gender roles. But there is nothing reflected in their academic work that supports the claim that either encourages spiritual doubts.

a 2004 paper written by Dr. Mills in response to a lecture on the Emerging Church Movement became a primary point of contention. The Emerging Church has long been a cause of concern for fundamentalists, who view it as a departure from orthodoxy. Though Mills never claimed to belong to the movement, he did not issue a blanket condemnation of it and its adherents, and corrected, briefly, popular misconceptions about post-modernism.

At any other academic institution, this paper would have passed without controversy. At Cedarville, it helped instigate a campaign against Dr. Mills and his colleague, Dr. Gombis, who had also been accused of deviations from orthodoxy. Led by David Hoffeditz, and other fundamentalist faculty members, students, and alumni, the ‘Coalition of the Concerned’ deliberately attacked these ‘liberal’ professors, and cited their employment as evidence of the university’s drift toward theological liberalism.

I was already something of a spiritual exile when I entered Cedarville. Dissatisfied by conservative Christianity’s rigid gender roles and the politicization of the faith, I’d hoped for a different environment at Cedarville. The tactics employed by David Hoffeditz and the students who supported him ravaged that hope. I felt like I no longer had a safe haven. Dr. Mills and Dr. Gombis modelled a faith defined by compassion and intellectual rigor. For many of us, that model had been missing from our experience with Christianity, but we aspired to emulate it once we witnessed it.

Amidst this chaos, the university fired David Hoffeditz and David Mappes, also a fundamentalist, though one less vocal than Hoffeditz. Their supporters claimed that the terminations were ideologically motivated; according to the university, the terminations were merited by Hoffeditz’s personal attacks on other professors. To date, neither side has convinced the other of the rightness of their position. Hoffeditz sued the university for wrongful termination and settled out of court. The American Association of University Professors officially censured the university for failing to adhere to professional standards expected for the severance of a tenured professor.

The current controversies at the university are directly related to this series of events. The university’s reaction to the Coalition of the Concerned and their passionate defense of fundamentalist Christianity seemed, to many, to be proof positive of its liberal drift. Over the next several years, additional controversies over the political views of proposed campus speakers like Shane Claiborne and the perceived liberalism of the student newspaper created a chaotic politically charged campus atmosphere that effectively divided the Cedarville community into liberal and conservative camps.

In the interest of transparency: I wrote for the student newspaper. I’m quite proud of this. I’m equally proud of the fact that my article criticizing a campus event on female modesty goaded the Board of Trustees into demanding that the paper never publish such an opinion again. The fatal criticism? I dared to suggest that a panel of male students, faculty and staff did not have the right to comment on female dress. Perhaps that was a bit too post-modern.

By the time my opinion piece attracted the attention of the Board of Trustees, I was a junior, and the appointments of two fundamentalists to the positions of  provost and academic vice president meant that the university’s administration had become dominated by the fundamentalist faction that controls it now. The Soulforce visit and Hoffeditz’s termination created significant animosity toward Dr. Carl Ruby, Dr. David Mills, and other moderate voices. That animosity, plus  and set the stage for the university’s current farce.

Editor's Note: While the specifics differ, OBU students/faculty/alumni and constituents of other Baptist colleges will no doubt recognize common themes in Sarah's telling of Cedarville's story: Exposure to legal and financial damages for wrongful separation of tenured faculty; exposure to censure from professional organizations and even accrediting bodies; fear (if not outright suppression) of legitimate student journalism; a general and pervasive threat that fundamentalist elements within a Christian university pose to academic freedom and ethical trustee and administrative leadership. Save OBU is committed to building solidarity among people courageously standing against fundamentalist encroachment in Baptist and evangelical higher education.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  Sarah's Cedarville series continues Friday. -j-

Monday, February 18, 2013

Cedarville University: A Very Brief Introduction

Cedarville University Series
Part 1 - Cedarville: A Very Brief Introduction
Part 2 - The Worst are Filled with Passionate Intensity
Part 3 - Things Fall Apart
Part 4 - The Center Cannot Hold

If you read the NewYork Times on Saturday, then you might be aware, superficially at least, that there is a Christian college called Cedarville University in the state of Ohio, and that there are suspicious goings on at this college, orchestrated by a faction of Christian fundamentalists.

Perhaps you ignored the story. Perhaps you skimmed it, and thought: this is to be expected, this is why Christian colleges shouldn’t exist.

Perhaps you paid it some attention, and decided to Google the situation. If you did, you’re probably confused. Is Cedarville becoming more conservative, or is it becoming liberal? Did its administrators really fire Carl Ruby, Michael Pahl, and eliminate the philosophy major out of ideological spite? Or is the backlash evidence of a liberal campaign to erode Cedarville’s conservative identity? And how do the firings of two fundamentalist professors in 2008 factor into all of this?

But these questions are the barest introduction to the chaos that threatens to topple the administration of one of the most prominent Christian universities in the US. Recent alumni revelations portray an institution so crippled and corrupted by its on-going identity crisis that it has knowingly sheltered, at last count, five members of faculty and staff guilty of either committing sexual abuse, or of covering it up. These cover ups span decades. The victims are male and female, gay and straight. They are missionary kids, schoolchildren, and Cedarville alumni. Some suffer in public, some in silence. And I am one of them.

In so many ways, Cedarville’s story is my story too. I entered Cedarville in 2006, a scholarship student from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Like most members of my freshman class, I came from an Evangelical family, and had spent my upbringing immersed in Evangelicalism’s infamously insular subculture. I dressed modestly, abstained from alcohol and from sex, and anticipated a university experience that would help me combine deep faith and intellectual enquiry. Unlike most of my classmates, I possessed a political perspective firmly located left of center, and I publicly identified as a feminist. If you are familiar with the political environment at America’s Christian colleges and universities, then you can likely imagine the student body’s reaction.

Even if I’d attended Cedarville during a season of calm, my ‘Cedarville experience’ (to borrow the Admissions teams’ language) would have been marked by ideologically motivated harassment from students, faculty and alumni. That’s not a particularly unusual story, by itself. The same story could be repeated by anyone who’s ever found themselves marginalized by a conservative religious community. Instead, my Cedarville experience is made truly unique by a series of controversies that began during my first semester on campus, and now threaten the integrity of the university’s national reputation.

In fall 2006, I had barely settled into my dorm room when the student body received word that Soulforce, a group of GLBT activists and their straight allies, would arrive in Cedarville to protest the university’s anti-gay admissions policies. Soulforce activists, called Equality Riders, made a national tour of the country’s Christian colleges and universities, and most denied riders access to their campuses. Cedarville, however, welcomed riders onto campus. Along with a group of other students, I acted as a campus guide for Equality riders. I also met a group of openly gay Cedarville alumni. The same alumni founded Cedarville Out, for GLBT and allied alumni, shortly after the Soulforce visit.

As an institution, Cedarville maintained its conservative identity throughout the Soulforce visit. The decision to welcome activists on campus lay primarily with Carl Ruby, the former Vice President for Student Life. If you did read that New York Times article, you’ll recognize that name. After 25 years of service to Cedarville University, Carl Ruby was forced to resign last month. Though Dr. Ruby has consistently adhered to a conservative position on sexual orientation and gay marriage, his compassion for gay students and alumni has been equally consistent. That compassion was first evident to me in his decision to permit Soulforce activists on campus. But it also invited accusations of liberalism. For many alumni, students, and parents, Ruby’s decision constituted capitulation to a radical leftist fringe, and threatened Cedarville’s historical identity as a Baptist institution.

The Soulforce visit marked the beginning of a troublesome season for Cedarville University. In my next posts, I’ll explain Cedarville’s decision to end its historic affiliation with the General Association of Baptists, the firing of two fundamentalist professors, its history of covering up sexual abuse, and the current controversy. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Visit to the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel

This is completely off-topic, but I wanted to share.

Today, my bride attended a girlfriend's bachelorette brunch in Annapolis, MD.  This gave me a great opportunity for a daddy-daughter date with 10 month-old Amelia.  Reminiscent (to me, anyway) of Southern cities like Savannah and Charleston, Annapolis is a very old (colonial-era), picturesque American city.  While strolling through the streets, we walked onto the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy (alma mater of President Jimmy Carter, a well-known Baptist of the pre-Takeover variety).

The academy has an absolutely beautiful chapel, which Amelia and I toured.  (I figure I should do as much of this sightseeing as I can now, before she gets old enough to say, "Dad, this is sooo lame!")  The original structure exists under a spectacular dome.  A nave was added in the 1930s.  Along one side of the nave, 4 stained glass windows depict New Testament scenes relating to seafaring.  Four Old Testament passages are depicted on the other side.  There is a majestic 268-rank pipe organ, but unfortunately I arrived after the service had ended.

Here are some pictures:

 View from the entrance

 One of the transepts

 The vaulted dome

 Standing outside in the cold with Amelia Louise

Looking back to the nave and balcony 

 "And he bagan to teach by the seaside and there was gathered unto him a great multitude so that he entered into a ship." -Saint Mark IV:1

 "What manner of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey him?" -Saint Matthew VII:27

"Come ye after me and I will make you to become fishers of men." -Saint Mark I:17

The U.S. Naval Academy Chapel, Annapolis, MD

This visit was very meaningful to me for two reasons.

First, I had a special friend who was a Navy chaplain in World War II.  On my first Sunday working in parish ministry, I was introduced to the congregation as a graduate of Boston University School of Theology (where I attended after OBU).  As I was greeting worshippers after the service, an old man came up to me and said, "I'm Lloyd Shephard -- B.U. School of Theology class of 1937."  Though parish ministry was a tenuous fit for me (at best) for a number of reasons and I ultimately did not pursue it as a vocation, I developed a great respect for the retired clergy in our congregation.  (Being in Florida, a number of United Methodist pastors from the Northeast and Upper Midwest attended our church in retirement.)  Lloyd was my favorite.  He volunteered at our homeless shelter on cold nights well into his nineties.  He lived on his own in a mobile home until he was 96.  When his eyesight became so bad that he couldn't live alone anymore, he sold his trailer to a neighbor for $1.  Once, when I was reading my BU Theology alumni magazine, I saw Lloyd's name on the list of donors.  I was absolutely stunned at the amount he gave.  I visited him occasionally in an assisted living facility, where he was always listening to classical music or books on tape.  He was nearly blind, so he always asked me to go through his mail.  Since most of the envelopes were direct mail solicitations, I told him it was all junk.  But he asked me to read each one.  Then he asked me to help him write checks to organizations he said he felt his Christian conscience compelling him to support, among them the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

On one visit, Lloyd gave me a silver paten and chalice he used as a Navy chaplain.  After Pearl Harbor, Lloyd took a train from upstate New York to Washington, where he enlisted in the chaplain corps.  The naval officer who did his intake said, "You're not one of those pacifist ministers, are you, Reverend?"  To which Lloyd replied, "Actually, I am.  But these men need a chaplain and I'm here to serve."  I recently found those silver Communion implements (which I never used) and look forward to shipping them to Boston University School of Theology along with a write-up about Lloyd's life and ministry.  Hopefully Lloyd's story will live on through a young seminarian preparing for ministry as a Navy chaplain at his almat mater.  The Rev. Dr. Lloyd F. Shephard died in 2008 at age 99.

The other reason I was particularly glad to visit the Naval Academy Chapel today is that the Navy Hymn ("Eternal Father, Strong to Save") is one of my favorites.  I have sung it as a lullaby to my daughter many times.  I suspect that hymn has been sung by thousands of midshipmen in that chapel over the years.

Thank you for indulging a somewhat more personal story today.  Tomorrow we begin a series on the recent goings-on at Cedarville University, a Baptist-affiliated college in Ohio.  I'll leave you with a recording of the Navy Hymn.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walkedst on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Finding Parallels In Cedarville's Story

I've mentioned lately that one of our tasks moving forward is to build solidarity with constituents of Baptist and other evangelical colleges that are experiencing fundamentalist incursions.  OBU is not alone.  Some schools are in much worse shape, in fact.  Once-proud institutions have been taken over and are being remade from the inside out in ways that threaten their reputations, their academic freedom and rigor, and even their accreditation.

If you are an OBU alum saddened by recent changes, a faculty member who knows that academic freedom and respectability were more secure before the current administration arrived, or a student who perceives that things at OBU are not as they should be, I hope you know you are not alone.  In 2011, "The Norm" and the alumni petition showed how widespread the concern is.  In 2012, Save OBU explored many of the problems.  We examined the histories of a few Baptist colleges that managed to leave their state conventions rather than succumb to fundamentalism.  We watched Georgia Baptist fundamentalists ruin Shorter University.  But we're just beginning to make common cause with the students, faculty, and alumni of the dozens of other Baptist and evangelical colleges that are facing different versions of the same fight.

Next week, we'll closely analyze the case of Cedarville University in Ohio.  Cedarville's plight has been widely discussed in the evangelical blogosphere.  Today, the New York Times has a story on the school's recent changes:
Even by evangelical standards, nearly everyone at Cedarville is theologically conservative. But some conservatives have a greater willingness to hear dissident views. The departures of William Brown, the president, whose resignation is effective June 30, and of Dr. [Carl] Ruby, who left suddenly last month, are widely viewed as strengthening the hands of the most conservative trustees, fearful of a more open Cedarville.

Cedarville alumna Sarah Jones, a freelance journalists who recently completed a graduate degree in the U.K., accepted my invitation to write a series of blog posts.  Cedarville has a different history than OBU and a different relationship with Baptists.  As we hear of the administrative blunders, trustee politics, and attacks on academic freedom, we can hopefully learn from our friends' experience.

In the coming months, we'll examine the goings-on at Louisiana College, Union University, and other institutions.  But for now, please join me in welcoming Sarah Jones to Save OBU!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

OBU Winter 2013 Trustee Meeting: Joys & Concerns

Now that the spring semester is well underway on Bison Hill, Save OBU will be returning to a more active blogging schedule.  We hope you saw last week's post on Tom Terry's OBU history speech in Raley Chapel.  Also, check out our story about J. Edgar Hoover's visit to OBU in 1938!  We've had a lot of web traffic in recent days, particularly from other evangelical colleges that are contending with fundamentalist encroachment.  Thanks to the friends and supporters who have sent emails, including a member of the Raley family!  And thanks as well to our new Facebook and Twitter followers.

Winter Trustee Meeting
Last Friday, OBU's BGCO-elected Board of Trustees met on campus.  There were no bombshells, and in our case, no news is definitely good news.  The university's P.R. writeup reports a number of exciting happenings around campus, which we celebrate.
We are particularly heartened to learn of an OBU anthropology professor being granted Senior Faculty Status (OBU's version of tenure).  Several insiders had been concerned that some administrator(s) may use the tenure as a weapon again, either against this individual or against the anthropology department.  After all, it's not a huge leap from "Philosophy leads to critical thought which leads away from fundamentalism. so let's get rid of philosophy and replace it with Christian apologetics" to "Anthropology leads to cultural relativism and anyway and all we need to know about other cultures is how to convert them, so let's get rid of anthropology and hire another missionary." So, we celebrate.
A widely-loved and long-serving OBU scientist was granted leave for next academic year to work on research for NASA.  Of course, we celebrate this, too.  But given recent history, we fervently hope there is no effort afoot to purge this scientist.  After all, gravity is just a "theory," and certain other scientific theories have fallen out of favor with some of OBU's newest administrators and faculty...

Moving Forward
While the bleeding seems to have subsided at OBU, at least for the moment, there are more problems elsewhere in evangelical academia than I can keep up with.  (See a brilliantly-titled Patheos blog post, "No one expects and evangelical inquisition.")  I am currently in talks with constituents of several of these institutions to find guest writers who will provide reports for us.  Later this week, I'll introduce an alumna of Cedarville University (OH) who happens to be a freelance journalist.  She's working on an in-depth series on Cedarville's Takeover.  It will be instructive to learn from CU's story and hope we can avoid some of the traps.  And, of course, this will help fulfill our mission to join in solidarity with other evangelicals who value academic freedom and ethical administration.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

J. Edgar Hoover, 1938 OBU Commencement Speaker

In yesterday's post on Tom Terry's recent chapel address, I mentioned that Terry once provided me with archival information on J. Edgar Hoover's visit to OBU in 1938.  I moved recently, and can't find the documents at this moment.  But a number of people have contacted me, curious about OBU's J. Edgar Hoover connection.  So I'll do my best to tell the story.

Unbeknownst to many, the list of OBU's honorary doctorate recipients includes a very famous (or infamous) name: J. Edgar Hoover.  By the time young John Wesley Raley became OBU's president in 1934, young John Edgar Hoover had made a name for himself as the FBI aggressively investigated dissidents and fought gangsters.  Raley had already twice invited Hoover to come to OBU by the time Hoover sent word in the fall of 1937 that he would be able to speak at the 1938 graduation.

With the expected crowds, no venue on OBU's campus would be suitable.  It was decided that the graduation would take place at the newly-completed Shawnee Municipal Auditorium on Bell Street downtown.  In the meantime, 1938 turned out to be a momentous year for OBU.  A new men's choir, called Sangerbund, was formed under the direction of a promising young music professor named Warren M. Angell.  It later became the Bison Glee Club.  The iconic Oval Fountain was a gift to OBU from the Class of 1938.

A native Washingtonian, J. Edgar Hoover took a position with the Justice Department's Alien Enemy Bureau immediately after completing his education.  Later, he worked in intelligence, monitoring suspected radicals (including future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter).  In the early 1920s Hoover moved to the Bureau of Investigation.  In 1924, the Attorney General of the United States made Hoover acting director.  After President Warren Harding's death that year and amid charges that the prior director was involved in a political scandal, President Calvin Coolidge appointed Hoover Director.  The bureau suffered a few embarrassments as high-profile criminals evaded capture or escaped, but in general, the FBI prospered under Hoover.  It brought notorious gangsters to justice and Hoover was widely credited with making federal law enforcement more scientific and professionalized.

A May 12, 1938 Baptist Messenger made little mention of Hoover's planned visit, but several of the news clippings Tom Terry sent me indicated that this was a huge event for OBU -- and for the entire state.  (Though note several items of interest on the OBU page of this newspaper.  First, in an article about the OBU debate team, a student named James Ralph Scales is listed having won several debates. Scales followed John Wesley Raley as president of his alma mater and went on to become president of Wake Forest University.  A statue of Scales was unveiled between Shawnee Hall and the library 18 months ago.  Also, note the mention of Porter Routh returning from seminary in Louisville.  Routh was OBU's P.R. director, journalism instructor, faculty advisor for the Bison newspaper, and superintendent of the Bison Press.  This was, of course, long before Baptists stopped believing in objective journalism and Baptist college administrators intimidated and/or ran off talented journalism professors.)

Anyway, Hoover's trip to Oklahoma also included a visit to the FBI's Oklahoma City field office.  On the morning of May 23, 1938, he arrived at OBU to be greeted by President Raley.  To accommodate the crowd, the graduation was held off campus.  Hoover received an honorary LL.D. and gave what amounted to a typical God-and-country commencement address.  The May 26 Baptist Messenger mentioned that Hoover condemned the role of politics in law enforcement.  He also implored the graduates to "show the same pioneering spirit in their fight against crime that the early Oklahomans showed in the building of a great state."  Hoover admonished graduates to follow the Golden Rule and to remember that honesty was needed above all things in a world of doubt and suspicion.

Baptist Messenger (May 26, 1938)

Many newspapers published reports on Hoover's appearance, and the event was broadcast via radio all over Oklahoma.  One account described Hoover as "one of Washington's most eligible bachelors."  Separately, the press noted that Hoover's entourage included Deputy Director Clyde Tolson.  Of course, most people now believe that Hoover was gay and that Tolson (who received the flag draped over Hoover's coffin after it laid in state in the U.S. Capitol, inherited his estate, moved into his house, and was buried a few feet away in the Congressional Cemetery) was his partner.  Thus it may be the case that Hoover and Tolson were among the first gay people at OBU.  But they were certainly not the last, as everyone knows.  At least they were closeted, which is how, then as now, OBU and the BGCO prefer gay people to be.

This would not the the last OBU/Raley family/Justice Department connection.  John Wesley Raley, Jr., who graduated from OBU in the mid-1950s, was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to be United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.

Hoover went on to have a colorful, controversial, and incredibly long tenure as FBI director.  He served under Presidents Coolidge, (Herbert) Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tom Terry Speaks in Raley Chapel

The Spring 2013 chapel lineup is about what you would expect: a conservative Republican politician, the president of the SBC, a former large church pastor and current denominational agency head's wife, a ministry professor, etc.  We're even going to hear from D. James Kennedy's replacement at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL to ensure that we get the requisite dose of Calvinism.

But the Founder's Day Chapel was rightly given to Tom Terry, a longtime OBU administrator and archivist.  Last year's Founder's Day preacher was the Rev. Dr. John Bisagno, a distinguished alum to be sure, but someone who looked the other way as fundamentalists took over the SBC. The year before that, Provost Stan Norman preached the Founder's Day sermon, a rather unfortunate irony.  Bob Agee, President Whitlock, and John Parrish spoke in 2010, 2009, and 2008, respectively.

The invitation to Terry came from David Whitlock directly, and kudos to the president for inviting someone to speak who would not be inclined to support the fundamentalists' vision for a new OBU.  The press release indicated that Terry named a number of key OBU figures over the years who were not there at the beginning, but who were, in a sense, founders in their own right.  Seeing a few names of people who are decidedly not fundamentalists and who oppose (or would have opposed) the fundamentalist encroachment we've seen in recent years, I decided to listen to the address.

Interestingly, Terry noted that before the BGCO accepted Shawnee's offer to donate land and funds for a building, the convention accepted an offer from Oklahoma City.  But the offer came with a condition from the chief benefactor, a Mr. Putnam, that he be allowed to appoint half the trustees.  Of course, the convention declined.

Along with legendary coach Bob Bass, Terry lifted up former athletic director and women's basketball coach David Sallee ('73) as having been instrumental in making OBU compliant with Title IX and expanding opportunities for women's athletics.  As many of you know, Sallee is now president of William Jewell College in Liberty, MO and was a strong advocate for academic freedom and respectability when the fundamentalist Missouri Baptist Convention tried to take over William Jewell.  Terry also told the stories of legendary professors and administrators, including Juanita Milsap, Donald G. Osborn, William E. Neptune, and Mary Kay (Higgenbotham) Parrish.  These dedicated educators helped build OBU into an academically rigorous institution with a reputation for excellence -- a reputation somewhat imperiled by sliding rankings, administrative blunders, and widespread public concern about encroaching fundamentalism in several departments.

I'm not trying to say that Terry gave a rousing defense of the moderate Baptists' accomplishments in Christian higher education or that he slammed the fundamentalists.  It wasn't that kind of speech.  But it does serve to remind us that anyone who tries to imagine OBU as a fundamentalist school DOES NOT have history on his side.  The people who made OBU great are people who were committed to academic rigor, academic freedom, and the integration of learning with a searching, honest faith that sincere Baptists, both fundamentalist and moderate, have held though the years.  There is no way anyone can support faculty purges, fundamentalist-inspired curricular interventions, or the watering down of key subject areas and still claim to be in accordance with the ideals of OBU's founding.

Also, I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth.  Maybe not all of the people mentioned want to go on the record against the problems Save OBU has highlighted.  I was just pleasantly surprised that Terry's address mentioned so many moderates!  It is refreshing to hear some of the true great "founders" praised on Founders' Day.

And it was a wonderful, appropriate way to honor Tom Terry, who in addition to a long administrative career served as interim president in 1982.  We probably won't see OBU historians like Slayden Yarbrough or Jerry Faught in the Raley Chapel pulpit any time soon (and that's a shame).  Tom Terry is and OBU historian of the highest order, and I certainly am thankful for his message.

Fundamentalists did not make OBU great.  They are a threat to OBU's greatness.  Let's not forget that.

P.S. A few years ago, I recalled that J. Edgar Hoover once spoke at OBU.  Curious, I emailed Terry and asked him about the event.  He sent me a large packet of information pertaining to every aspect of Hoover coming to OBU, from President Raley's invitation to local press accounts of the address.  (Maybe I'll write about it sometime, just for fun.)  I don't know Tom Terry personally and I'm sure he has no clue who I am.  But I certainly appreciate him and his service to OBU over many decades.