Tuesday, April 23, 2013

SBC President Speaks at OBU --- Significant or Not?

We've often noted the spectacular lack of theological diversity among OBU chapel speakers, especially in recent years.  In Save OBU's realm of concerns, however, chapel has always been a secondary problem.  There are unfortunately much bigger issues at OBU.  Plus, "to the victors go the spoils" --- it's the leadership's prerogative to bring in who they want.  The fundamentalists have their men on Bison Hill now, and there's nothing we can do about it.  Complaining about the exclusion of moderates will do nothing.  This problem will persist until students vote with their feet and simply boycott chapel until some balance is restored.

OBU's all-white, all-male (would God have it any other way?) post-Takeover religion administrators probably congratulate themselves, thinking that having one lady and two black men per semester is going above and beyond in terms of diversity.  They hope no one notices that the dozen so so speakers all represent almost the exact same point on the theological spectrum.  At the fundamentalist end.  Well guess what?  People notice.  And some people expect that a well-rounded Christian education demands more rigor, more diversity of thought, and a faith unafraid of new perspectives because it can withstand the most stringent intellectual scrutiny.

Given the parade of far-right speakers we've heard this spring, I really don't have anything to say about SBC President Fred Luter's sermon yesterday.  What could be more appropriate than a Southern Baptist college hosting the SBC President?  Interestingly, however, I don't think it's happened before at OBU, at least not since before the Takeover.  (Please correct me if I'm wrong.)  We've had past SBC presidents (Bobby Welch in 2007; Tom Elliff in 2010), as well as many famous mega-pastors and the intellectual leaders of the convention (Al Mohler in 2007; David Dockery in 2009).  I don't have the entire chapel archive handy, but you can see all the chapels since 2005 here.

Having the SBC president is symbolic, of course.  But it's worth noting that the president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is much more the public face of the SBC than the convention presidents who come and go every two years.  It was a much bigger deal when Richard Land spoke at OBU in the early 2000s than it would have been if then-SBC President James Merritt had spoken.

We've commented elsewhere about OBU's over-the-top attempt to curry favor with Luter, as well as what it must be like to be the president of the SBC.  Last summer, OBU awarded Luter an honorary doctorate in spite of a complete lack of connections to OBU.  There seems to be an unprecedented effort among top OBU administrators to cozy up to this SBC president.  Judging from the opening part of the chapel sermon, it seems that OBU's Dean of Spiritual Life, the Reverend Dale Griffin, has been the administrator working to secure Luter's appearance.

I just think it's worth remembering that there was a time when OBU made an effort to keep the often-ugly politics of the Southern Baptist Convention as far away from Bison Hill as possible.  In the 1980s, for instance, students were as likely to hear a sermon by someone who opposed the Fundamentalist Takeover as by someone who supported it.

Those days are over.  Today's OBU leadership, though too young to have participated in the Takeover directly, hail it as the best thing that ever happened to the SBC.  By their actions --- and by their silence --- they celebrate people like the Reverend Dr. Tom Elliff, who boasted that he had scraped all the "barnacles and parasites" (referring to moderates) off the Ship of Zion.

Congratulations, Drs. Jordan, Whitlock, Norman, McClellan, and Griffin.  You can now definitively say that you have scraped all the barnacles and parasites off the Raley Chapel pulpit, too.

With no exceptions that I have seen, moderates (let alone liberals --- if you can actually find any in Baptist life) are unwelcome to preach under the new regime.

Given that Luter avoided controversy and preached a well-received sermon, I see no need to be critical.  There have been plenty of questionable chapels this spring --- a Tea Party politician, a Calvinist celebrity preacher on a book tour, and a "pray the gay away" evangelist.

Please take note of a recent Bison story on the process by which chapel speakers are selected.  We'll analyze that article soon enough.  We may even editorialize about it, since editorial content has all but disappeared from The Bison's pages in recent years.  But that's another topic for another day.

Rather than keeping SBC fundamentalism at a distance, as OBU did under President Bob Agee and, to a lesser extent (though it hardly felt like it at the time), under President Mark Brister, the new OBU makes no mistake about where its true loyalties lie.  Hosting the SBC president is icing on the cake.


  1. Oh wow, you weren't kidding about the Bison. I clicked through and I was shocked at how different the Bison is now. The eds page is GONE. I guess instead of having the old spectrum of conservative, moderate, and occasionally liberal views, they chose to have none at all. Better not risk even one non-conservative view creeping in.

  2. As a former editor of the Bison (in the 80s) and journalism major, I'm saddened by the present state of The Bison - as well as most everything else. I attended a chapel last month while on campus and as soon as the students sat down they pulled out their phones and checked out. Seemed like they were conditioned not to listen. Wonder why?

    1. We'll be taking up the issue of student journalism soon. We addressed it preliminarily here: http://saveobu.blogspot.com/2012/02/student-saturday-journalism-at-obu.html

      I would caution people not to be too hard on these student journalists. A lot of it is out of their control. It's just not clear whether we're seeing actual top-down censorship, or the kind of self-censorship that often creeps in when you have an ethos of conformity and authoritarianism.

      The problem is not the quality of the students or of their effort. The problem is one of institutional design, authority, and the apparent lack of editorial freedom. Now, the student editors will tell you (as they have told others) that they have complete and total editorial freedom. But I think there have been enough questionable changes and omissions that a reasonable person could easily conclude there is censorship.

      Again, more on that later. Welcome to the conversation, Lisa!

  3. Haha, whoever wrote this should join the hate group of theology. It looks like there aren't topics in the Bible that are considered sin anymore, since it is the 21st century, of course. We have to have innovative and creative minded people like Rob Bell speak at OBU so we can just "open our minds" to what we read into the Bible. Typical Modern Day Western "theology"...I wonder who you would like to actually come to speak at chapel, hmm. Anyways, I have more important things to do than be on here...like actually lift people up in word and deep. Not tear them down. Thank you and have a nice day.


We invite you to join in the conversation. However, anonymous comments are unwelcome.