Oklahoma Baptists

Dear Oklahoma Baptist Clergy and Laypeople,

I'm so grateful you found your way to the Save OBU blog.  Since I am neither an Oklahoman nor a Baptist, let me introduce myself.  My name is Jacob Lupfer, and I'm a 2002 OBU graduate.  I came to OBU in 1999 having grown up in a very religious family and having attended worship and Sunday school every week.  You would think someone like me coming to a Baptist college would be greatly strengthened in the traditional conception of the scriptures and the Christian life.  But you would be wrong.

About six weeks into an Introduction to the Old Testament class my freshman year, I disavowed much of what I had previously believed about the Old Testament: a literal Adam and Eve, a six-day creation, Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the historicity of the Flood, etc.  I eventually learned a great deal about the history of the Bible and its interpretation.  As such, I quickly abandoned literalism.  As a student at OBU, I grew in my love and appreciation of scripture.  But I learned to take the Bible seriously, not literally.  Needless to say, I became much more liberal in my interpretation of scripture.  In my senior theology class, I was happy to receive an A on the paper that synthesized all my newly-acquired unorthodox views.

Now, my experience is not necessarily typical.  Most OBU students enter as fundamentalists and leave as moderate evangelicals.  My childhood indoctrination (Methodist) was thorough, but did not emphasize guilt, fear of hell, or rigid conformity as stringently as what most OBU students grow up with.  So I would be wrong if I told you OBU produces a lot of people like me (though I assure you it produces more than you think).

What does OBU do to students?  Well, the main thing it does is give them space, time, and encouragement to think for themselves.  When that happens, students invariably question long-held beliefs and abandon some of them.  I can't think of a single classmate who left OBU more doctrinally conservative than when they arrived.  Things might be slightly different now that aging moderates on the faculty are being replaced with young conservatives.  But even in spite of more stringent control over curriculum and personnel, OBU has no way of ensuring that students remain committed to what they were taught in Sunday school.

Needless to say, you and I are unlikely allies.  I started the effort to free OBU from BGCO control because I think OBU is much too ideologically rigid and fundamentalist to be a true liberal arts university.  Most Oklahoma Baptists fear that OBU is too liberal.  Your Cooperative Program dollars help subsidize OBU, but the strings attached help ensure that it remains somewhat close to Oklahoma Baptists' ideal poins in terms of ideology and doctrine.  From my perspective, the OBU-BGCO partnership is a bad deal because the modest subsidy (less than 7% of OBU's annual budget) is not worth the cost in terms of dominant BGCO oversight (through the election of trustees and the hiring of ever more conservative administrators and faculty).

But when I thought about the issue from your perspective, I realized that you are getting the worst deal of all!

While most of your state missions and ministries depend exclusively on Cooperative Program support, OBU is sitting atop an $80 million dollar endowment and raises $40 million a year on its own.  You are giving straight out institutional welfare (to the tune of $2.5 million per year, or 17 cents of every CP dollar) to an institution that, compared with other missions and ministries, is flush with cash and has massive dedicated funding streams in the form of alumni donations and tuition payments.

Furthermore, OBU is a terribly inefficient investment.  Precious few souls are saved there because almost everyone who goes there is a Christian to begin with.  The BGCO is no doubt pleased that OBU produces more missionaries for the IMB than other schools in the state.  But a) OBU would produce missionaries even without your subsidy, b) the cost-per-missionary-created is astronomically cheaper at the Baptist Collegiate Ministries you sponsor at other Oklahoma schools and c), most of those missionaries trace their call to missions back to Falls Creek, not OBU.

Another problem is that young men (and yes, women) training for the ministry at OBU are much more likely to attend moderate seminaries such as Baylor and Princeton than ministerial candidates who attended state schools, who are more likely to enter one of the six SBC seminaries.

As for laypeople, there is  an impressive body of data showing that Baptist youth who attend state universities actually emerge more doctrinally conservative than Baptist youth who go on to Baptist colleges.  The reason?  Required courses taught by relatively moderate faculty at Baptist schools afford students the opportunity to think through and reject biblical literalism and other core Baptist doctrinal distinctives.  Their peers at state schools, which tend not to offer religion classes, are nurtured by conservative Baptist student groups and are more likely to survive college with their faith intact.  Yet the BGCO gives OBU more money each year than it gives Baptist Collegiate Ministries at more than 30 Oklahoma colleges and universities combined.

Not only is OBU producing graduates that are uniformly more liberal when they leave than when they arrived, its generous subsidy from the BGCO budget is starving other vital missions and ministry areas of much-needed funding.  While your subsidy no doubt helps, OBU would go on operating (and dancing) even if the BGCO ceased contributing funds.  Most of your other vital mission and ministry areas, however, could not function without Cooperative Program dollars.

Since a) OBU is clearly capable of surviving financially on its own and b) dozens of other CP recipients rely almost exclusively on your funds for support, it makes a lot of sense for Oklahoma Baptists to de-fund OBU.  You could double your BCM funding at every college in Oklahoma (including OBU) and still have a half million dollars left to distribute among fruitful ministry areas.  Conversely, you could use the OBU subsidy to fund as many as 60 missionaries or church planters to go out and preach the gospel to a lost and dying world.

The choice is yours.  It just seems to me that even in spite of BGCO ownership and oversight, you cannot change the fact that students become less conservative during their time at OBU.  Furthermore, if you care more about saving souls than propping up an institution, you have to agree that the money could be much better spent elsewhere.

I urge you to have this conversation in your churches.  Do the research.  Decide whether "We've always done it" is a sufficient justification for writing a $2.5 million check to OBU each year.  Only you have the power to change things.  Baptist Building elites are unwilling to crack down and make OBU as conservative as it could be.  And they are more than willing to continue to spend your hard-earned offering plate dollars to nurse along an institution that, despite their best efforts, they are not able to fully control.

Maybe it's time for OBU and the BGCO to pursue their respective missions independently of one another.

United with you for a better future for the BGCO and for OBU,
Jacob Lupfer
OBU Class of 2002

Get Informed
  • Read the BGCO Financial Plan and see how OBU's $2.5 million annual subsidy is starving other vital ministries and missions of funding.
  • Check out stories about recent alumni who went on to liberal northeastern seminaries and accepted Harvard professorships.  Do you really think these are conservative Baptists?

Get Involved
  • Start a conversation in your church about whether OBU is really the best way to spend CP mission dollars.