Saturday, April 20, 2013

What's Going On at Campbellsville University (KY)?

We began the Save OBU project concerned about one university.  But we have seen that dozens of other evangelical colleges have been down some version of our path.  As crazy as this may seem to those who have seen OBU's great liberal arts tradition threatened in recent years, OBU is actually in much better shape than a number of Baptist state convention-affiliated schools, some of which have essentially given up their heritage as liberal arts colleges and become fundamentalist Bible academies, throwing away their histories, their reputations, and perhaps ultimately, their accreditation in the process.

The debacle at Shorter University in Georgia was covered elsewhere, though we definitely spent time agonizing over Shorter's decline here.  Recently, we considered the situation at Cedarville University in Ohio.  Many Southern Baptists are watching with (depending on their perspectives) glee or horror as Louisiana College stumbles along.

No Baptist state convention has been as blatant as Georgia's about its desire to jettison academic freedom and respectability in favor of turning its colleges into fundamentalist Bible academies.  I sense that Tennessee may be next, having already parted ways with Belmont and probably wanting to cast Carson-Newman aside in order to further bolster its flagship school, Union University (and perhaps eventually fund the fledgling Tennessee Temple University).

We haven't assessed the situation in Kentucky, where, in the shadow of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, the state convention has a relationship with a few small liberal arts colleges.  Last fall we noted Georgetown College (KY) President Bill Crouch's retirement.  But we haven't yet offered much analysis on the situation in Kentucky.

That will have to change.

This week, the Kentucky Baptist Convention's executive director, the Reverend Dr. Paul Chitwood, has been dealing with calls to to de-fund Campbellsville University over a tenure decision in the university's theology department.  Chitwood's statement was very diplomatic, calling for patience as facts are investigated:
Recent news that the university will not tenure a popular professor in their school of theology has solicited both an outpouring of support for the professor and swirling accusations about the university. For most Kentucky Baptists, a personnel matter at one of our nine agencies or institutions is a matter that should be handled privately by the administration without interference by the public. 
Claims, however, that CU retains other professors in the school of theology who reject biblical authority and professors in other disciplines who affirm evolution, are difficult for many Kentucky Baptists to swallow. This is especially true when well over $1 million of their missions offerings are helping pay the salaries of those professors every year. 
As I peruse emails I have received calling for the defunding of CU and threatening to defund the Cooperative Program if the KBC does not take action, I understand the concerns but am equally concerned that we do not rush to judgment. I earnestly pray that accusations regarding one institution will not be used to undermine all that Kentucky Baptists support, including the education 16,000 Southern Baptist Convention seminary students and more than 10,000 missionaries and church planters taking the gospel to Kentucky, North America, and the ends of the earth. 
I am, however, genuinely troubled by the testimonies of some current and former CU students. 
Tenuous and fragile are words that describe the relationships between most state conventions and their liberal arts universities. Higher education, by its very nature, requires the kind of academic freedom and exploration that is sometimes difficult to envision being funded by missions offerings. But if academic freedom is no longer afforded to those who hold to “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) and teach a high view of Scripture (2Tim 3:16), the time for church support has clearly passed.
Chitwood, for the moment, still has to try to be fair to the fundamentalist lay and clergy leadership of the convention as well as the college's constituents.  But I suspect that if KBC leaders think seriously and strategically about this issue, they will realize it's time to part ways.

Separation is obviously the better course of action for both entities.  We'll speak to insiders and offer more nuanced perspectives in the weeks to come.  But for the moment, let us hold out OBU's experience with the BGCO as evidence that, if the KBC and its colleges continue their tenuous relationship, the pain and agony far outweigh whatever modest benefits each entity thinks it gets from the other.

Campbellsville students, faculty and alumni: If your beloved university decides to stick it out with the KBC, you can expect doctrinal witch hunts, fundamentalist-inspired meddling in personnel and policy decisions, a precipitous and irreversible decline in reputation and national rankings, and ultimately the end of legitimate liberal arts education on your campus.  In ways visible and invisible, you will see consequential decisions made out of the Baptist Building, not your administrators' offices.  Tears will be shed, careers will be disrupted, and pain will be widely felt.

KBC pastors and laypeople: If your convention decides to "fight for biblical authority," "return to biblical roots," or whatever you want to call your decision to flex your muscle at Campbellsville, you can expect a long and drawn-out battle that will exhaust your resources, divert needed funds from other vital mission and ministry efforts, and frankly distract you from your core mission.

More on this later.  Prayers for all involved.  We've been there.  It hurts.  It's ugly.  Sometimes we can both be most faithful to our missions apart rather than together.  Consider that such a time may now be at hand.


  1. If this is supposed to be about academic freedom, then the college is at fault for not accepting this professor - if the reason was over his biblical theology. You seem to be rather one sided in your analysis...

  2. This analysis is spot on. What is in question is NOT, as some in the SBC have suggested, a debate about teaching or theology. What IS in question is whether a faction within the SBC should be granted tenure when he openly challenges the direction laid out by the Board of Trustees and the President. In this case, the professor has questioned the John 3:16 mission of the institution, and argued for changes that would have compromised the institutions academic integrity and accredidation.

  3. As a ThM student at Campbellsville University (Louisville), I queried a couple of profs about what was going on, hoping to get a straight answer, but everything was left very vague. Please, "anonymous April 29, 2013 at 12:08 PM," can you elaborate on your assertion. This is information that has not been made available elsewhere. How did you come by this info?


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