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.

1 comment:

  1. FYI: Tom Terry was the quintessential college administrator. He was kind, thoughtful, professional and widely admired on campus. He was part of the enlightened group that made OBU great.


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