Thankfully, things have been quieter on the fundamentalist encroachment front at OBU than at any time in the past 4 or 5 years. It's hard to undo the harm that has already been done, but perhaps the administration has scaled back its ambitions -- or at least its timetable -- in this regard.
Chapel: An Important Symbol of Where OBU Stands
Unfortunately, one area of campus life that remains as controversial and polarizing as ever is the roster of speakers invited to Raley Chapel. The Wednesday chapel hour is an important representation, in symbol and in fact, of where OBU stands.
For many years, great care was taken to make chapel a unifying experience. Administrators invited speakers who would not tack strongly to the far left or far right. During the SBC's Fundamentalist Takeover years, President Bob Agee avoided embroiling OBU in the controversy. Yet both fundamentalists and moderates regularly gave invited lectures and sermons at OBU. On the rare occasions when politicians were invited to campus, OBU welcomed both Democrats and Republicans.
Those days are over. More than ever before, OBU's religion administrators are dividing the campus community, offending students and faculty, and pushing down a fundamentalist and political agenda with their choice of chapel speakers.
At least some of the time, there has been a student committee to suggest chapel invitees. I don't know if that's still the case, but even if it is, it is completely devoid of moderate representation and/or vetoed altogether.
Given the wide availability of moderate preachers, theologians, historians, evangelists, and other speakers in Baptist life, OBU's wholesale exclusion of them is inexcusable. The BGCO's outsized control over what OBU does is scarcely as evident as in the chapel lineup. Can you imagine the flack President Whitlock would get if OBU had a chapel speaker Anthony Jordan didn't like?
To further prove this point, we may examine past semesters' chapel preachers in the weeks to come. But since a controversial "ex gay" evangelist is speaking in Raley Chapel today, let's take a moment to look at this spring's lineup.
Earlier this spring, Focus on the Family staffer Jackson Dunn came and promoted the idea that Christian college students should get married very young. While there is currently an encouraging public debate about the economic, social, and relational advantages and supposed costs of later marriage, OBU does not need someone pushing early marriage so explicitly. Can't we agree that this idea is already prevalent enough in OBU culture?!
On the political extremism front, OBU welcomed Tea Party politician T.W. Shannon, Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. While a number of staunchly conservative politicians have spoken at OBU in recent years, I cannot even think of the last time a politician with moderate or liberal political views -- Democrat or Republican, fundamentalist or moderate -- spoke at OBU. Gov. Brad Henry, a moderate Democrat, spoke in chapel in 2006.
In March, the Rev. Tulian Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham, brought his book tour to OBU. Tchividjian is a noted Calvinist affiliated with a fundamentalist Presbyterian split-off denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. He followed the Rev. Dr. D. James Kennedy in the pulpit of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida. While somewhat less overtly political than his predecessor, Kennedy and Coral Ridge were long influenced by the most extreme form of Christian theocratic politics, dominionism. Tchividian's sermon was, I'm sure, well received. But it does seem curious that OBU so actively promotes Calvinists' book projects.
Today, an "ex gay" evangelist named Christopher Yuan is speaking. Yuan holds a M.A. in biblical exegesis from Wheaton, an identical credential to many 23 year-old OBU alumni/ae. Yet Yuan is on faculty of the Moody Bible Institute. He has a compelling personal story about how God saved him from his unwanted same-sex attraction. Promoting the "ex gay" movement is now extremely controversial, even among evangelicals. Yuan's invitation is perhaps most alarming off all, given how angry many students, faculty, and alumni will be. While Dunn, Shannon, and Tchividian may come from the far right fringes of evangelical culture and Republican politics, at least their sermons could do no harm. The same may not be true for Yuan, given how many OBU students are gay and struggle mightily with how to come to terms with it, given their church, family, and community background.
Later this month, SBC President Rev. Fred Luter will speak. In retrospect, OBU might rather have invited the Rev. Dr. Russell Moore, president-elect of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Moore, as with Richard Land before him, will be the public face of the SBC even more prominently than the convention presidents who come and go every two years.
Ideally, the Wednesday chapel hour would be a uniting experience for OBU students and faculty. But the current lineup, as with recent ones, indicates a conscious decision to double down on far-right ideology in terms of theology, culture, and politics. It would be one thing if there was some balance. But there is very little. (Tom Terry's address this winter is a notable exception to the complaints registered above.) Instead, chapel is an ever-more divisive and disappointing experience for a large plurality, if not an outright majority, of OBU students and professors.