Why do you now seem less angry about what has happened at OBU?
We did our best to raise awareness and widen the circle of concern about what happened at OBU early in the Reverend Dr. David Whitlock's presidency. I think we made our point. For some time now, the faculty and administration have been working diligently to restore trust. The last thing we want is to hinder that process in any way.
What do you want?
We want current and future OBU students to have access to opportunities for intellectual and spiritual growth. In many ways, they do. But we fear that the drastic change in orientation, especially in the College of Theology & Ministry, has made those opportunities less likely. We have asked the administration to acknowledge harm done, apologize to those who have been wronged, and give assurances that they will honor institutional norms and run OBU as a Christian liberal arts college, not as a fundamentalist Bible academy.
You criticize a lot. Have you made any mistakes?
Yes, plenty! In my second blog post, way back in December 2011, I got all in a tizzy over OBU hiring someone who wasn't a Ph.D. biologist to teach life science. Somehow, I convinced myself that this meant that OBU was "afraid of science." That said, I suspect the provost is probably afraid of science and will stock the department with young earth creationists at his earliest opportunity. But my blog post was wrong and ignorant, and I'm embarrassed that I published it.
I'm also afraid that an OBU professor found out from this blog that s/he was not the search committee's first choice for a faculty appointment. Though it is 100% true and shows evidence of certain administrators' arrogant (and in this case, sexist) disregard for faculty input in selecting new colleagues, I definitely regret whatever hurt was caused from my blog being the source of that knowledge.
Perhaps it was inevitable in an effort like this, but I probably should not have disclosed anything about my own religiosity, especially where my personal beliefs are unorthodox by contemporary evangelical standards. I did this in a series of blog posts during Holy Week in 2012, and perhaps other times. I am afraid that by not being very religious, I am by definition not the right person to help lead this effort. Maybe this movement would have been more effective if it had been led by someone who was closer to home theologically (and geographically).
I was pretty critical of an op-ed Theology and Ministry Dean Mark McClellan wrote for The Huffington Post. Dean McClellan said that God has the ability to prevent deadly tornadoes but He sometimes chooses to use bad weather to kill people for reasons that are good even if we cannot understand them. I argued for separation of God and weather and said of McClellan, angrily and probably unnecessarily, that "I don't even want to know his God." A lot of Save OBU supporters do believe in a God who has the power to prevent evil but chooses not to. People deal with the problem of evil differently. I happen not to believe like that.
There are probably other things, too. I'm sure our friendly critics will have a list.
Isn't it inevitable that OBU will turn fundamentalist?
Probably. Though I've backed away from calling for OBU's separation from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, I still believe strongly that as long as OBU is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BGCO, it will eventually slide into fundamentalism. Even so, I don't think we should give up without a fight. Frankly, there are a number of people at OBU who, though they may not know it, were and are very dear to me. I hope they can finish their careers or leave on their own terms, and not be fired unjustly like two of their former colleagues were. At a minimum, I hope that when the fundamentalists come for them, they will have had enough time to make a good move, not just a move. That's really what I care about most.
You went to OBU. Why do you care about other Baptist colleges?
We are all fighting different versions of the same battle. Fundamentalists won't tolerate anything they cannot control. They control the SBC seminaries and the undergraduate programs they've added at the seminaries. They see no reason why they can't also control colleges affiliated with Baptist state conventions. So they've brought the fight to us. Too often, state conventions, college administrators and trustees have sold out the colleges' long and proud traditions of academic freedom and rigor in order to please the powerful men of the SBC.
Why should non-Baptist evangelicals care?
As partners in the project of distinctively Christian higher education, we need other evangelicals to support us in our fight against fundamentalist encroachment. They tend not to have problems with fundamentalists and are usually saddened and surprised to learn that fundamentalists come into once-respected Baptist universities and enact their agendas. The fundamentalist encroachment in Baptist colleges has adversely affected overall quality and reputation of Christian higher education in the U.S.
What is your problem with fundamentalists? Don't they have a right to their own schools?
For starters, fundamentalists are very bad interpreters of the Bible, torturing the Scriptures to fit their theological agenda. For evangelicals who love the Bible and take it to seriously to read it literally, fundamentalism is simply a menace to the project of Christian higher education.
Their world is very small. They praise people and institutions that are fundamentalist, whether Baptist or not. And they loathe people and institutions that are moderate, whether Baptist or not. They are relevant only to their own shrinking constituency, and they get huge ovations everywhere they go. So it's impossible for them to understand that outside their very small circle, they are not great men but rather fearful men with a small God. I don't want to say anything too negative about them, because they wear all criticism, no matter how valid, as a badge of honor.
Of course they have a right to their own schools. There are plenty of unaccredited and nominally-accredited fundamentalist Bible academies and seminaries in this country. But they wanted reputable schools, even though their authoritarianism, sexism, and interpretive framework have no place in legitimate higher education. So they took over the seminaries and hatched undergraduate programs at each one. That should be good enough for them. They shouldn't be allowed to march in and take over colleges that state conventions have supported and maintained over the years. These schools built reputations for having academic freedom and a rich liberal arts heritage, and it's tragic that those traditions are being eroded at so many colleges.