A couple weeks ago, we asked, "What's going on at Campbellsville University?" Last month, Campbellsville, a liberal arts college affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, had its quiet existence disturbed. Reports reverberated throughout the Baptist blogosphere about a professor's contract being non-renewed, ostensibly because he believes every word of the Bible is literally true, even with respect to history, science, geography, etc. -- you know, the whole fundamentalist schtick.
This seemed pretty shocking to us, because at OBU we're used to seeing faculty dismissed, silenced, or sidelined for not being fundamentalist enough. So it seemed like good news! Finally, a Baptist college had the sense and sanity to say, "We take the Bible seriously, not literally. If you believe the earth was created in 6 24-hour days 6,000 years ago, take a hike, fundy!"
But alas, there was more to the story.
For starters, this young professor's fan club (unsurprisingly, he's a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) cried foul and started making noise about all the other profs at Campbellsville who allegedly don't take the Bible literally and manage to hold on to their jobs. They flooded the inbox of KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood, and many started calling on the KBC to de-fund Campbellsville. (Like OBU, the KBC schools receive a tiny percentage of their operating budgets from the convention -- money the convention might spend on evangelism and missions but chooses not to. Instead, the convention directs scarce offering plate dollars to institutions that raise tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue on their own.)
It was about to get ugly.
The Reverend Dr. Paul Chitwood, however, handled the situation masterfully. Please take the time to read his blog updates on the situation here, here, and here. Leaders from Campbellsville and from the KBC came together and re-affirmed their historic partnership.
Since we hadn't heard much noise from the KBC colleges in the cacophony of Baptist college disasters over the past year or so, I (very erroneously) assumed they must be pretty fundamentalist. After all, they are in the shadow of SBTS which has its own undergraduate arm, Boyce College. I had ignorantly assumed that, of necessity, the KBC colleges would be locked into a race with Boyce as to which has the most unforgiving doctrinal litmus tests and which loves the BFM 2000 the most.
I'm amazed at how much freedom Campbellsville profs seem to have. If you teach there, the default assumption seems to be that you are a believing Christian, but one who takes the Bible seriously (and thus not literally). Yet in the spirit of Christian unity, cooperation, and openness, literalists are welcome, too. So you might have a young-earth creationist from time to time. But most profs are evidently moderates. The KBC may not like it, but there seems to be little desire among the fundamentalists to remake the school in their own image. This is a lot like the OBU I remember in my student days.
Today's OBU seems to start from the opposite assumption with respect to faculty: you are (or ought to be) a literalist who believes in young-earth creationism and the historicity of every miracle. But, in the spirit of not being able to fire everybody all at once, we'll let it slide if you are a professing Christian and active church member who happens to erroneously believe that maybe Jonah didn't get swallowed by a fish and perhaps some variant of theistic evolution is more convincing than
flat earth young earth creationism.
We'll look more closely at trustee dynamics at the KBC schools in the weeks to come, as we search for parallels and points of departure with OBU's relationship to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
As legitimate media outlets report on the happenings, we'll share the news articles on our Facebook and Twitter accounts. The SBC's public reliations shop, Baptist Press, unsurprisingly obfuscates the situation. Their writeup quotes Dr. Chitwood as saying, "Everyone who teaches at Campbellsville is a professing Christian and believes God created the world." But notice what Baptist Press says on Twitter: "Ky. convention, college affirm partnership (all Campbellsville profs are Christian creationists)." Lots of people believe God created the world, but would not call themselves creationists. Presumably most Campbellsville profs would fall into this category. (But then again, no one but the most ardent SBC Takeover loyalists have taken Baptist Press seriously since 1990.)
How grateful Campbellsville must be to have a state convention whose senior leadership realizes that while having a few biblical literalists on faculty is important to many in the churches, the academic (and frankly, spiritual) integrity of the college depends on having devoted Christian faculty who take the Bible seriously, not literally.
I hope we have that in Oklahoma. We certainly have some great trustees and some prominent pastors who support OBU's great liberal arts heritage. But after the past four years, it would be nice to have some Kentucky-style assurances that OBU's lurch backward toward fundamentalism is something one or two over-zealous administrators came up with on their own, and not some grand design hatched in the Baptist Building.