Showing posts with label Historic Baptist Freedoms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Historic Baptist Freedoms. Show all posts

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Happy Reformation Sunday!

I'm still working on the public data release of our OK Baptist pastor/church staff survey.  As Hurricane Sandy bears down on me and all my East Coast heathen and liberal friends, maybe I'll have some time to finish that project.  Look for a blog post on poll data and methodology by Tuesday.

Today, along with hundreds of millions of Protestants throughout the world, I'm thinking about the Protestant Reformation, which many churches remember on the last Sunday in October.  I'll share a few links and then reflect a bit on how the Reformation relates to our efforts at protecting academic freedom at OBU.

First, I want to point you to a very high-quality series of documentaries produced by the BBC.  Historian (and now Member of Parliament) Tristram Hunt does a masterful job explaining the causes and consequences of the "Protestant Revolution" in these videos.  Definitely worth watching.

Also, I can't help but share  a few links to recordings of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," known as the Battle Hymn of the Reformation.  Diane Bish, who for over 20 years played the magnificent 117-rank Ruffatti organ at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL (of D. James Kennedy fame), has a really powerful organ arrangement.  Never underestimate the musical talents of fundamentalists!  Most would be surprised to hear this, but I absolutely love the Bill Gathier Vocal Band, for instance.

And, if you prefer "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" in the original German, this choral and organ recording is pretty spectacular!

Now, all Protestants would like to think they are the inheritors of the original reformers' dreams and ideals.  His virulent anti-Semitism and bizarre hatred of the Epistle of James notwithstanding, Luther was a tremendously important figure whose ideas changed the church and the world.  Aside from clarifying sola scriptura and sola fide, we can thank the Reformation for many hallmarks of Protestantism, including anti-authoritarianism and the priesthood of the believer.

In OBU's case, I don't think supporters and opponents of the recent changes are on different sides of the sola scriptura and sola fide issues.  But when it comes to some of the other distinctives of Protestant thought, it seems we have two differing opinions.  One side is clearly more comfortable embodying some semblance of the authoritarianism that the reformers stood against.  Baptists have historically been the most fiercely independent and anti-authoritarian people.  The most extreme element of the new SBC (finally embodied on Bison Hill in the provost's and certain deans' offices) is surely a departure from that distinguished tradition.

I could go on, but I hope the point is clear enough.  We are all Protestants, and brothers and sisters in a shared tradition that we all honor this day and every day.  But in a sense, the 495 years since 1517 have been an ongoing history of reforming and re-reforming corrupt structures and practices in the church and the world.  Surely the SBC conservatives interpret their resurgence in that light (though many faithful Baptists disagree).

Those of us who demand a renewed commitment to academic freedom and ethical administrative practices at OBU can't automatically claim the mantle of Luther.  But we do insist on the right and duty to stand against practices within a religious institution that have become corrupted.  In recognition of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14), we see misguided practices and cannot help but say, "This is just wrong."  In the face of unjust oppression against our friends, colleagues, and teachers, and in sorrow over the manifold consequent disservices done to OBU students, we cry out with Luther in his timeless words from 1521:
Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 2): Resistance Was Futile

Part 2 – In this post, we continue the story of the fundamentalist take-over of the IMB, specifically the decision to require all missionaries to sign in affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. We will see the consequences, and we will see just how honest Rankin was about the rationale and consequences of this move.
Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 3): Politics Over Purpose
Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 4): Gender, Missions, and OBU

Now of course it’s not a bad idea to have general standards of doctrine for those who are employed by the IMB and sent across the world for the purpose of sharing their beliefs. However, these individuals already go through a litany of other procedures during the process to become missionaries with the IMB: documenting their own life journeys, writing confessions of faith, multiple interviews, training, etc. Not only that, but the requirement to sign any document like the one affirming the 2000 BF&M did not exist until 2002. Former IMB president Keith Parks (1981-1992) explained how Rankin’s policy is different from previous precedent. Parks told the Baptist Standard that, “Previously, SBC missionaries were asked in the interview process if they were in ‘substantial agreement’ with the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message.”

Now missionaries are being asked to sign in affirmation of the document. Furthermore, they are also being asked, Rankin told the Baptist Standard, to conduct their ministry work “‘in accordance with’ the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.”

Tom Daniel, a former IMB missionary who refused to sign the 2000 BF&M wrote this:

In the Spring of 2002, the International Mission Board asked personnel to respond to 2 related issues: belief consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message; and signing an affidavit binding one's future ministry to its contents. The issues differ, as one is related to content of BFM and the other is related to freedom to interpret the leadership of the Holy Spirit (whether according to the whole counsel of God or the SBC-approved statement of faith).

The more I learn about this, I’m not only upset but baffled by this change in policy. These devoted missionaries already go through a litany of application and confirmation procedures, take leaps of faith to devote their lives to ministry, and many of them put their lives at risk. Why in addition ask our missionaries to sign the 2000 BF&M when their selection process is already so careful, intimate, and involved? Many missionaries, especially now in the day of the church-planting movement, are themselves pastors of international churches – so how can they be required to affirm this confession when no pastors stateside are? Rankin could argue all he wanted that this new policy was not a doctrinal litmus test for the IMB’s missionaries in an effort to further the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. However, the effect of the policy is still to actualize the controversial 2000 BF&M with all its political baggage in the ministries of each of these missionaries and at the same time to purify the IMB from missionaries who do not conform to the fundamentalist-crafted creed-like document.

In February of 2002, Rankin had told the press that it was only “pure speculation” that missionaries who refused to sign it would be terminated. But Rankin turned their speculation into reality (which he and the IMB board of trustees probably intended from the outset). The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) recognized the new policy for what it was, even creating a transition fund to help support missionaries who might lose their jobs because they could not sign it.

A year and four months later, the IMB then issued a May 5, 2003 deadline for missionaries to affirm the BF&M, according to a 2003 Christianity Today article from that month.

Tragically, missionaries were indeed terminated for their refusal to sign in affirmation of the 2000 BF&M. Christianity Today reported that by May 2003 thirteen missionaries had been fired and thirty missionaries had resigned or retired early. These numbers would rise.

Rankin’s response was brutal: “These missionaries are supported by Southern Baptist churches and should at least be willing to conduct their work in basic agreement with what Southern Baptists confess they believe.” Really? Is the 2000 BF&M really what all churches who freely affiliate with the SBC and who send funds to support missionaries “confess they believe”? Such a proposition is preposterous. The BF&M in any version has never a rallying point or a unifying creed for SBC churches. And far from being a document solely highlighting Baptist distinctive and beliefs, the 2000 BF&M was a controversial document to begin with which, as noted previously, the Baptist General Convention of Texas had actually rejected altogether.

Many of these terminated or resigned missionaries raised poignant and legitimate questions to Rankin and his of the board of trustees, such as:

§  How can the elite group of people at a convention of who crafted the 2000 BF&M claim to represent all Southern Baptists? Furthermore, how can that one document be the measure of our devotion to missions and common Baptist ideals?
§  Are not our consciences free before God and not subject to human beings?
§  How can they ask us to sign a document written by humans and revised already three times in the lifetime of some of these missionaries?
§  What gives SBC powerfuls the notion that they can use us as pawns in their political games?

Rankin wrote one missionary couple, the Dixons, that they were being terminated. He wrote that it was because of their “unwillingness to be accountable to Southern Baptists who send and support.” The Dixons responded in an open letter:  “Does the Holy Spirit Himself act always ‘in accordance with and not contrary to the current Baptist Faith and Message?’…We need only witness events in China to discover that He does not: women serving as pastors, evangelists, church planters!”  You can read the rest of their open response to Rankin here: You also can find a list of the missionaries who were terminated or resigned early and read more of their stories, including open letters to Rankin and IMB trustees here [1].

Those missionaries who have signed in affirmation of the 2000 BF&M of course should not be judged. They acted as their consciences and faith permitted.

 I also respect the right of fundamentalists to hold their beliefs – but not their militancy. I think I understand their beliefs and where they’re coming from. But fundamentalism, similar to the 2000 BF&M itself, was constructed in terms of very American issues, a century old knee-jerk reaction to liberal theology and the perceived threat of modernism. As a missionary couple who refused to sign it noted, the BF&M is “culturally biased” and “culturally constructed” document! Many missionaries wanted to know how they can be expected to sign, much less conduct their future ministries according to such a document.

 But the militancy of leaders like those in the IMB lust after conformity and drive them to push for doctrinal rigidity especially in what should be non-essentials. This ideological warfare against traditional Baptist freedoms and against moderates (and really against even non-fundamentalist conservatives too) must stop.

What do these tragic bits of recent history have to do with us? I think the connections are drawn easily enough by our readership – those same militant leaders are gaining increasing control over OBU. As we’ve seen in the last couple years at OBU and through the documentation of this blog, this ideological warfare against non-fundamentalists is not merely a distant threat. It’s knocking down the doors on Bison Hill, which is why we’re trying to learn from history and be an advocate for OBU excellence before it’s too late for academic freedom and liberal arts high education.

For additional reading about this event, scroll to the bottom of this page for a list of articles.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 1): A Tragic History

In this series, I will take us through a story documenting the conservative resurgence/fundamentalist takeover of SBC missions. As a story these posts are not intended to stand alone, so I hope you will stick with me this week and follow along.

In 2002, then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board (IMB) Jerry Rankin sent a letter to all IMB missionaries worldwide (some 5,100 individuals at that time) “requesting” they sign a document. What was this document and to what did it ask missionaries to commit? Why were missionaries being asked to sign it? Was it really a request? What would the consequences be of signing it or not signing it? And what do these decade-old events have to do with OBU now in 2012?

  In the next several posts we’re going to look at the history of this event and its consequences. During my research, I’ve discovered these events to be yet another tragic chapter in the development of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. I hope you’ll bear with me through these next posts through which we will see what the actions taken in January 2002 and forward by Rankin and the IMB have to do with our effort to Save OBU.

Having been involved in multiple opportunities to volunteer with and work alongside of dozens of Southern Baptist-affiliated missionaries, both overseas and here in the US, I can attest that these are in general courageous and devoted people. Many risk their lives on a daily basis to serve others around the world in places that are hostile or dangerous. All choose to forsake a “normal” American life near to family and friends and a familiar culture. In my experience, my friends who are missionaries, even those who may have doctrinally fundamentalist leanings, seem freer often than Southern Baptists at home from the embattlements of SBC politics – it’s my personal thought that they are more focused on the real center of Christianity, and not as much on peripherals or non-essentials. However, unfortunately they have not been unaffected by these political games nor by the fundamentalist take-over of the SBC, as we will see.

The SBC does not - well, cannot - require autonomous individual churches, associations, or state conventions to adopt the BFM as their statement of faith. Nor do all congregations agree with the statement in its entirety themselves.

Nevertheless, administrators of Southern Baptist missions organizations, specifically the IMB, now require their personnel to sign a document which affirms the 2000 BF&M [1]. But what of traditional Baptist beliefs such as freedom of conscience before God and the priesthood of all believers?

In January of 2002, then IMB president Jerry Rankin wrote a letter “requesting” that all IMB missionaries sign a document affirming the 2000 BF&M. Such a move was unprecedented in IMB policy, as we will explore in the next post. Missionaries were allowed to note points of disagreement with the 2000 BF&M, but were still expected to sign the document. If a missionary noted disagreements, according to Rankin they would be “counseled” by regional IMB leaders. Mark Wingfield (Baptist Standard) summarized the situation concisely in March of 2002:
Rankin recently wrote to IMB missionaries around the world, asking them to sign a statement indicating their agreement with the controversial 2000 Baptist Faith & Message crafted by SBC leadership but rejected by the [Baptist General Convention of Texas] as an un-Baptist creed. Missionaries who do not agree with every part of the SBC's faith statement will be allowed to note areas of disagreement and then will be ‘counseled’ by regional leadership, Rankin has said. While Rankin has not publicly said what will happen to missionaries who do not sign, numerous reports from missionaries on the field indicate they perceive the mandate as threatening their employment (emphasis added).

A month after this new policy’s implementation, Rankin told the press that it was “pure speculation” that those missionaries who do not sign will be fired. The Baptist Standard paraphrased IMB trustee, Rev. Tim McCoy, who said, ‘“employee policies also forbid missionaries from repeatedly advocating views that are contrary to those outlined in the Baptist Faith & Message’” (emphasis added). So, ostensibly, if an IMB missionary believes that women can be ordained ministers and admits as much on multiple occasions, s/he will face consequences. Or, if an IMB missionary simply cannot sign the document to begin with, s/he will also face consequences. However, Rankin and the trustees had not yet publically declared what these consequences would be, even after the policy was implemented. Rankin admitted as of February 2002 that, “‘We haven't talked about the consequences,’ [Rankin] said. ‘We may have to deal with that in the future.’”

Surely they must have something in mind? It is difficult to believe that Rankin and his board never collectively thought through what they will do to missionaries who cannot sign the document before implementing this policy in January.

Rankin further commented that he "hopes no ‘minor detail of disagreement’ would prevent someone called by God from fulfilling his or her missionary assignment…‘To me [Rankin], it is untenable that a person would be disobedient to their call.’”

Rankin’s comments highlight an interesting picture. For Rankin it is “untenable” that missionaries would be “disobedient to their call” to missions, but it is not untenable that they would be disobedient to their God-given conscience and spirit freedom in signing the document. Such is the nature of militant fundamentalism. It’s obvious that Rankin’s comments blatantly demonstrate his hope that some missionaries’ commitment to their divine call to ministry will override their individual consciences and concerns with the 2000 BF&M, in strapping them in their work with a document many will not be able to agree with either in principal or in particular. They were trapped because if they refused to sign, they no longer have the organizational apparatus or funding to support their ministry overseas, effectively grounding them stateside and ending their overseas ministry.

But extreme consequences were just “pure speculation,” right? These missionaries wouldn’t really be terminated from the IMB for conscientiously refusing to sign this document? To do so would be an un-Baptist violation of freedom of conscience, right?

Many missionaries did not feel comforted by Rankin’s words. To Rankin’s and the IMB board of trustees’ chagrin, the Baptist General Convention of Texas was already forming a safety net for missionaries they anticipated would be terminated for not signing or who would resign early rather than violate conscience:
 “More than 60 IMB missionary couples already have indicated to a BGCT missions study committee that they will not sign the faith statement and fear for their jobs. Excerpts from some of their comments were read to [BGCT] Executive Board members [on] Feb. 26 [2002],” Wingfield further reported in February.

Tomorrow, we continue the sad story of how politics and fundamentalism won out over mission priorities and engagement.
[1] The IMB’s domestic counterpart, the North American Mission Board, also now requires all missionaries who receive 100% of their support through NAMB to sign in affirmation of the 2000 BF&M. However, this amounted to only 50 or so personnel, since most NAMB missionaries are also funded through state conventions and local associations who freely affiliate with the SBC. The documentation and journalism mainly covered the events surrounding the IMB, so that’s where we will focus for these posts.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

From the Archives: Baptist Freedoms Series

While I was taking a break from the blog during my daughter's first days, Veronica did a great series on the historic Baptist freedoms.  I really think this is one of the most important series we've done.  A lot of my research and writing on the blog has focused on Baptist politics and the plight of various schools.  But Veronica has done a magnificent job anchoring our work in the authentic Baptist tradition -- a tradition with which most post-Takeover Southern Baptist leaders have broken faith.

Proponents of the "conservative resurgence" will not admit it.  In fact, they'll insist that their new direction is not a new direction at all, but rather an important, definitive affirmation of core truths that they believe were somehow in danger of being eroded.  But anyone who has a true understanding of the core Baptist freedoms will have to admit, at the least, that today's SBC has chosen to go in a different direction.  Increasing creedalism, authoritarianism, and a turn from commitments to the liberty of the conscience and the priesthood of the believer are all characteristic of the post-Takeover SBC.

Without further commentary, here are Veroinca's four posts, with an introduction and a conclusion that examines their importance to academia.

Bible Freedom
Soul Freedom
Church Freedom
Religious Freedom

While you're getting caught up on Save OBU happenings, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Religious Freedom

Again, this freedom may have less to do directly with the academy, but it does help emphasize what kind of people Baptists are.

Various Christians have had various views about the relationship between church and state throughout Christian history, but Baptists have always been a people who have called for separation. In fact, the Baptist founders John Smyth and Thomas Helwys may have been the first to ever call for complete religious liberty for all-- Christian or not. Although at times, we seem to have forgotten these roots as we climb the ladder of political power, we are a people who believe in freedom for all.

This stance, again, comes from the Baptist view of the individual. All people are made free before God and as such are free and responsible for their own religious convictions. It is no one's place to coerce that decision.

After all, for much of their heritage, Baptists were asking for religious freedom as a right they did not have. But they did not ask only for themselves. In 1791, John Leland wrote on the subject,

"Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing."
Baptists have long been a people who empower other with rights and responsibilities, not simply tolerance. As we have long been people who know that Jesus is lord, and not Caesar,  faith is no matter for Caesar to decide, whether for us or against us.

Again, this may not be directly related to our situation at OBU. But it does continue to highlight what kind of people Baptists have been historically.

Baptists are the kind of people who believe that every person-- no matter what they look like, believe, act like, dress like, or think like, is made in the image of God. Every person is just as valuable in God's eyes as we ourselves are-- no matter how different they are from us. We have always petitioned not only for our own freedom, but also for the freedom of all people.

Baptists do not believe in toleration with preference towards some, but in equal rights for all. We need no government or any other body to defend our faith for us.

And above all, we are a people of radical freedom. We will not tolerate any person or institution trying to define for us what faith must mean.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Church Freedom

This post will, of course, have less to do with the academy than the two preceding, but this is also an important Baptist Freedom, so we will still give it an overview in the spirit of determining what kind of people Baptists are.

As I said in the last post on soul freedom, Baptists are individualistic, but that is not the whole story. These individuals are always individuals in community. When choosing to follow Jesus, we also choose to be a part of a community filled with others who have also chosen this path.

Baptists have always been a part of the free church tradition. This means a few things. The local congregation is autonomous. This church is a "gathered church" of those who have joined freely and voluntarily. This depends heavily on the concept of soul freedom-- as each person is both free and responsible to make their own faith decision, it is a decision of each person to be baptized and join the community.

But as Shurden says, this choice of faith should not be equated "with mere intellectual assent to doctrinal ideas... Baptists have been interested in far more than a nod of the head to a certain theology. Baptists want a personal commitment to the Jesus way of living."

Baptists emphasize the local church, but they do not fail to see the importance of the universal church, which encompasses all believers, not only Baptists. For Baptists, these Christians are just as much Christians as we are.

As a "statement of the equality of all believers in determining the mind of Christ," Baptist churches follow congregational government. This means that power is placed in the hands of all members instead of one person or a smaller group of people.

These autonomous churches are free to work together and organize together into conventions, but there is no institution which holds power over the local church.

Baptist churches are free to structure their worship in whatever way they see fit.

Along with freedom of each church comes the recognition of the priesthood of every believer. Baptist's have long affirmed that all ministry belongs to the laity because we are each priests of God's people.

Again, we see that Baptists are people who affirm giving every person the freedom and responsibility to control the most important part of their own lives. In this way, we should be people who affirm education-- allowing each person to become more fully human. We should be people who affirm the difference and importance of difference not only between Baptists but also between the various denominations of Christians.

Never has it been the place of the Baptist to be controlling or authoritarian. These are the kinds of political strangleholds which we must continue to resist.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Soul Freedom

"Soul Freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation of the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government."

Called by many names throughout Baptist history, soul freedom is the affirmation of the infinite value of the individual to God. As Shurden says, "Soul freedom affirms the sacredness of individual choice."

Although their traditional emphasis on the church also shows that individualism is not the whole picture, Baptists are highly individualistic and have worn this sometimes-accusation as a badge of honor. The value of the individual comes from the theological affirmation that every person is created in the image of God, making every person of infinite dignity and worth.

This dignity means that each person is competent to answer for themselves before God-- and not only competent, but responsible to do so. Baptists have long affirmed that every person must make significant choices for themselves and answer Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?"

Baptists affirm the individual over the institutional, believing that access to God is direct for each person. This does not mean, of course, that any human is self-sufficient, but rather that, as Shurden says, "Grace is always individually appropriated...we are saved one by one, person by person, individual by individual." For Baptists, religion and conversion are based on a personal experience of God.

For Baptists, faith is voluntary. We cannot make someone believe, and we definitely cannot make someone love God.

The individuality of faith also proclaims that there is no one conversion story. As Shurden describes, "If faith is personal and individualistic, it will always manifest itself in different shapes and forms and styles." Baptists do not affirm five things one must believe to come to God or a specific path that one must take to God, but only that each person must make their own decision about Jesus.

Soul freedom is the reason behind the Baptist insistence on believer's baptism. One cannot be born into the church, but each person may make a public declaration of their belonging in the community after choosing to follow Christ.

So what does this valuing of individuals mean for the university?

The individual is the business of Baptists  as well as the business of higher education. Each affirms that every person has something to offer, a valuable piece of the picture of the image of God. And if each person is responsible for their own faith and understanding, then it is right to invest as much as we can in each individual in order to assist and prepare them in their decision making.

Baptists should be the first to empower their students and to take them seriously as people. Baptists should be the first to recognize each person's competence to make decisions about the most important things in life.

Baptists should be concerned with the educational investment which is becoming greater and greater for future students. Never again will students spend quite as much money and be shaped in their thinking and habits quite as much as they will in those four years. Thus, Baptists are an excellent choice to take seriously the task of shaping individuals to step up to the plate of human responsibility.

Yet, if Baptists continue down the slippery slope of creedalism, we will lose our distinctive value of the individual to the value of institutionalized ideas. We have already seen how recent changes in OBU and other SBC universities have diminished the capability of individuals to take responsibility for themselves. What decisions need to be made if others are telling me what actions I can and cannot take or what things I can or cannot believe?

It may be safer to control students, but as Baptists, we should take them seriously instead.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bible Freedom

Baptists did not write the bible.

No, indeed, we did not. We inherited it from the larger church and we still share it with them. And as such as the story goes, it would be irresponsible to claim we are the only ones who know what to do with it or what truth comes out of it.

As Shurden breaks it  down, Bible freedom means a few things:

Bible freedom means freedom under the Lordship of Christ.

Historically, Baptists have also affirmed the preeminence of Christ over the words on the page. However, in 2000 (post-takeover) the Baptist Faith and Message was changed from saying Jesus is the "criterion by which the bible is to be interpreted" to "all scripture is a testimony to Christ." This is a small change, except that many of the most political stances which come from the bible have been fought against with the claim-- well, Jesus never said anything about that. But, no longer! For Jesus is no longer the rule, but only the message. Now, we can remake Jesus into whatever message we find in the bible.

The 2000 BF&M also removed the clause on the authority of Jesus, "The sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is Jesus Christ"which is found in the 1963 version.

So there have been some interesting changes to make the current interpretation of the words of the Bible lord, instead of making Jesus lord. This was not the spirit of Bible freedom.

So now, the static words of the page have been exalted over the dynamic presence of Christ, restricting freedom of interpretation. That's why so many institutions which stay affiliated with their convention are going through a sort of doctrinal purging. No longer are we free to interpret, we are stuck in our old understandings and knowing exactly what the bible means already.

Bible freedom means freedom to obey the word.

Something we seem to have forgotten: the word of God is not the Bible. The Word of God is Jesus Christ. But God has certainly promised to speak through the Bible, and through the words on the page, the living and active Word of God may be heard.

That is not to say the Bible is unimportant. By no means. The scriptures testify to Christ, and as such, they are the sole authority for Baptists. (Although, for this idea we probably need to thank Luther more than any of our specific founding forerunners.)

But listen to what Shurden says about the founding Baptists and their understanding of the truth gleaned from the Bible:

"For Baptists, the Bible is and always has been the final authority... the Bible is final, but human understanding of the Bible is never final or complete or finished... Baptists did not begin and apparently did not intend to live out their faith as a static, rigidly fixed, inflexible group of disciples. They did not arrive at The truth in every area of life and then determine to pass it on to succeeding generations. What they arrived at was an attitude of openness to the ongoing study of the Bible..."
He goes on to quote from the 1963 BF&M which discusses a living faith rooted in Jesus who is ever the same. Thus, the authority is Jesus. "A living faith must experience a growing understanding of truth and must be continually interpreted and related to the needs of each new generation."

Yes! That is what Baptists were saying about themselves in 1963! Of course, that statement has been revised in the 2000 BF&M to say, "Our living faith is established on eternal truths," which sounds similar, but is just different enough to sound a lot more like, "We aren't wrong... for eternity."

Remaining true to Bible freedom not only allows, but encourages diversity. Yes, this is dangerous, but the alternative is to become stagnant and irrelevant unto death "resulting from unbending dogmatism." As Shurden says, "Built into [this approach] is the idea that our understandings of the Bible change... with this birthright of freedom and faithfulness... no Christian communion should be better able to meet the changing challenges of the contemporary world than Baptists."

Although recently Bible freedom has been hidden away under disguised creedalism, it is one of our most precious gifts and should be celebrated-- especially for those looking to prepare the leaders of tomorrow in a Liberal Arts University.

To be a people free to change and respond to the changes of life is to be the exact people of faith who can take seriously both faith and education. I do not need to fear the coming together of my faith and learning because my faith is flexible and will not break. I am free to respond to everything I learn, trusting that God is faithful. Perhaps this is what our founding Baptists had in mind in 1910 when they chose a University over a seminary for their little state.

Bible freedom means freedom from all other authorities.

Believe it or not, Baptists are non-creedal people. That does not mean they reject the ancient creeds of faith, but rather that no document (even the BF&M) is the norm for Baptist beliefs. Only the Bible can be that.

To be sure, Baptists have confessions. But those are expressions of what certain Baptists believed at a certain time. They are in no way normative for the whole of the Baptist church. Even the BF&M is actually titled, "A statement of the Baptist Faith and Message." It is only a statement--  not a creed. Even the 2000 BF&M says that it is not complete or infallible and Baptists should be free to revise it whenever it seems wise or expedient to do so. Further, the BF&M should not "hamper freedom of thought or investigation."

But what has happened? As Shurden puts it, the story usually goes like this. 1) Strong statement of aversion to any creed in favor of freedom. 2) A group arises which calls for strict orthodoxy. 3) This group issues a call for a statement to safeguard orthodoxy. 4) They call for the imposition of such a statement to guarantee orthodoxy. -- Now we are creedal.

This is exactly what happened at the SBC seminaries, post-takeover. Suddenly professors were required to sign documents detailing specific beliefs about gender and other peripheral matters. This is what is happening at Shorter with the lifestyle statement. This is what's happening at OBU with Dr. Norman's crazy ideological barrage of interview questions. It is NOT Baptist, it is fundamentalist.

Thus, if professors at any Baptist institution are asked to sign anything which is not the Bible itself, the institution is no longer acting Baptist.

Finally, Bible freedom means freedom of interpretation.

It is the right and responsibility of each individual to seek and find their own understanding of the Bible.

It does not mean anything goes. Rather it means that the Bible should be taken seriously and our best scholarship should be used to understand it.

It seems to me that a Baptist University is the best place to do that. There, we may seek to learn in order that we may better understand our Holy Book. We may disagree and discuss and come to varying conclusions, but that is the only way to take this most important document seriously.

So letting Dr. Norman, or Anthony Jordan, or the BGCO, or the BF&M, or any other authority interpret the Bible for us is not only against what it means to be educated, it is against what it means to be Baptist. The two ideals go hand in hand. Because we take seriously the rights and freedoms of each individual to come to this book with their own mind and conscience, we must educate them.

If we decide we already knows what it means, we are not only being bad students, we are being bad Baptists.

Sources: Shurden, Walter B. The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms. Macon, Ga.: Smyth & Helwys Pub, 1993.

Friday, March 9, 2012

My OBU Story, Part II: Travelers on a Journey

“We are trav’lers on a journey, fellow pilgrims on the road;
We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.”
—“The Servant Song,”
The Baptist Hymnal (1991), no. 613

In the summer of 2004, I returned to East Texas.  I was twenty years old and two years into my OBU education.  A semester before, I switched from a major in Applied Youth Ministry to a double-major in Philosophy and Religion.  East Texas had changed little, but I had changed in ways I was only beginning to understand—without the tools to negotiate the difference.
I returned home to make peace with that good ol’-time religion, but peace was not to be found. After a summer under the tutelage of the pastor of my youth, I left his church more confused and disenchanted than ever.  As I drove through the empty land of southeastern Oklahoma, its loneliness echoed in my heart.  Frustrated and weary, I quit.  Finding God only in the classroom, I resolved to make my studies my religion.
Like all religion majors, I was required to take Baptist History and Theology, and I was registered for the fall of that year.  No longer believing that I was a Baptist, my only concern was that my distaste would not affect my grade point average.  Instead, I discovered that I had become more of a Baptist than I ever realized.
Presented with a series of Baptist distinctives on the first day of class, I was incredulous.  Historic Baptist commitments to freedom of religious expression, the separation of church and state, the freedom of the conscience, and healthy suspicion of religious and political authority were unknown to me.  I was used to pastors drumming from the pulpit for the invasion of Iraq.  I was used to having petitions to congressmen ready for my signature in the foyer after Sunday sermons.  I was used to hearing that the Lord’s supper was closed and that the consciences of church members should submit to their pastor’s authority.
Yet my incredulity concerning Baptist history soon turned to interest.  Interest became fascination, and fascination passion.  Here was a world unknown to me, a heritage I had not known to claim.  Like the junction of great rivers, Baptist history is broad with tributaries and eddying currents aplenty.  As these streams merge into one, with all their conflict and particularity, a common identity flows forward.  I poured myself into these waters.
            Soon, I realized that the guidance of the philosophy and religion department toward radical honesty in biblical and philosophical inquiry connected me to the historic principles of the Baptist tradition.  I began to understand that the school’s commitment to liberal arts flowed out of the foundational Baptist doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.  Just as all must respond to God with no mediator save Christ, so all must respond to God’s truth.  This rock is the foundation upon which OBU empowered young minds.
Western Civ, Sociology, Psychology, Epistemology, Baptist History and Theology, Ancient Philosophy and Aesthetics, Greek and Hebrew—all these courses became a means of grace, a way of knowing a God that I loved but did not understand.  In the words of Clement of Alexandria, the patron saint of the Christian liberal arts tradition:

“I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear on the truth; so that from geometry, music, grammar, and philosophy itself, he culls what is useful and guards the faith against assault.  And he who brings everything to bear on a right life …this man is an experienced searcher after truth.”

            At OBU I learned both to be a disciple of Christ and a Baptist. I would be remiss not to mention the role that the local church played in the formation of my Baptist identity, but that is a story unto itself.  As a traveler on the road of discipleship, I have found my identity.  I am Baptist, and what is more Baptist than the honest, radical search for God’s truth?

Editor's Note: This beautiful testimony is a sequel to Clayton's previous post.  Other diaries in the My OBU Story series can be found here and here.  If you would like to have your OBU story considered for publication here, you can email us.  We can provide a template or, if you like, you can submit your entry in essay form.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The [Forgotten] Rights of Conscience Inalienable

Early Baptist leader Reverend John Leland (1754-1841) was a key figure in laying the foundation of the four distinctively Baptist freedoms which Veronica recounted in the February 27 blog post. In many of Leland’s writings, especially his 1791 work, The Rights of Conscience Inalienable, he labored to establish specifically the 3rd and 4th freedoms listed: Church Freedom (freedom of local churches to govern themselves) and Religious Freedom (belief in the separation of church and state).
Leland and other Baptist ministers of this time worked tirelessly with founding fathers such as James Madison to ensure the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution and were not satisfied with weak provisions early its construction for the separation of church and state because they feared, justifiably, that government would eventually enact laws in preference to a certain faith, regardless of whether or not that faith was Baptist. Leland was not content unless it was guaranteed that, as Leland stated, “Pagan, Turk, Jew or Christian” would be eligible for any office or government position. (The Rights of Conscience Inalienable)
Rev. Leland is a valuable figure for all of us to remember. His attitude toward the rights of individual conscience was nothing short of magnanimous.  He was the sort of man who courageously wrote: “So when one creed or church prevails over another, being armed with (a coat of mail) law and sword, truth gets no honor by the victory. Whereas if all stand upon one footing, being equally protected by law as citizens (not as saints) and one prevails over another by cool investigation and fair argument, then truth gains honor, and men more firmly believe it than if it was made an essential article of salvation by law.” (Rights)
 He embodied such a spirit and principle of freedom throughout his life, extending this attitude to religious freedoms as well as civic freedoms. The principles Rev. Leland held are based in confidence that truth will win out – therefore in the early Baptist’s convictions, there is no room for fear of intellectual freedom and no room for the exercise of authoritarianism to affect ideological or theological homogeneity. This principle of trust in freedom defines the ideal for a Christian academic institution such as OBU. John Leland was a minister who was confident in the truth of the gospel, as much as he was confident that this gospel required of civil and religious institutions not merely the respect of individual conscience, but the seamless protection thereof.
Leland writes in The Rights of Conscience Inalienable: “It would be sinful for a man to surrender that to man which is to be kept sacred for God. A man’s mind should be always open to conviction, and an honest man will receive that doctrine which appears the best demonstrated.”
Such principles have been forgotten by powerbrokers who are now manhandling OBU and who have affected the fundamentalist takeover of many an academic and religious institution. This forgotten spirit of freedom honors and protects the rights of individual conscience – a beautiful principle by which to construct and operate any Christian university.

During the years of my life and studies at OBU since the arrival of President Whitlock, the phrase “unashamedly Baptist” was used frequently by himself and Provost Norman when addressing the student body and during various occasions of import. No phrase struck me as more ironically used than at this particular time for OBU. These past three years in particular for my alma mater have been devastating. OBU has lost more than two outstanding, passionate, caring professors due to the ideological culling this administration has executed. The shame that comes from these decisions – along with others which Save OBU has begun to recount – burns deeply in my heart and in the hearts of many in the OBU community.
Just like the forgetful servant of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18, many fundamentalist power-holders forgot the grace shown Baptist tradition when founders such as Leland took a stand for individual liberty. Instead of honoring freedom of conscience, they have taken their liberties and, finding power, have turned around and denied those very freedoms to other Baptists, extending this denial now to the faculty and institution of OBU. The allure of power for some elites has co-opted the very core of the Baptist distinctive of freedom of conscience.
Each era presents its unique temptations and difficulties. We can look back to Leland for an example of principled devotion to individual freedom because of the gospel. It is this principle which we must remember today and apply in our struggle to preserve the honest, conscientious pursuit of truth through educational excellence at OBU.
Honest pursuit of knowledge, especially at a distinctively Christian university, comes from the right to pursue a free conscience. Without this right, genuine and healthy Integration of Faith and Learning cannot occur.
We can look backward to remember figures such as John Leland as both inspiration and validation for our cause to save OBU. And when we do, Lord willing, save OBU, one more step will be taken to preserve Baptist life from authoritarianism that fears freedom and denies the rights of individual conscience – an attitude debilitating not only for OBU, but for the cause of the Kingdom of God in today’s world. May OBU continue to yield educated individuals who remember the rights of individual conscience and who are critically engaged and relevant members of their faith, civic, and academic communities.

Leland’s Self-Written Epitaph:
“Here lies the body of John Leland, who labored 67 years to promote piety and vindicate the civil and religious rights of all men.” (Scarberry 733)

Works Consulted:
Leland, John. “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable.” 1791.
Scarberry, Mark S. (April 2009). "John Leland and James Madison: Religious Influence on the Ratification of the Constitution and on the Proposal of the Bill of Rights." Penn State Law Review 113 (3): 733-800
“The Writings of John Leland,” ed. L.F. Greene. New York:  Arno Press, 1969.

About Caitlin: I graduated from OBU in May, 2011. I lived on campus all four years and loved my time OBU. I remember Bison Hill affectionately, though still with a taste of bitterness left by the destructive decisions made in my years there. Anthropology was my major and my minor was in religion.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Some Historical Background

This blog advocates for a split between the BGCO and OBU.
Allow me to present a little history lesson (and a bit of personal story) to explain why.
When I came to OBU I considered myself non-denominational. Now, I happily identify as a Baptist. I know what you’re thinking, “Veronica. Wouldn’t your experience with the ultra-conservative SBC be something that would turn you away from Baptist life?”
The answer is yes.
BUT! My last semester at OBU, two things happened. I decided to go to a Disciples of Christ seminary and I took an internship at a Baptist church in Dallas. This, of course, brought the denominational question back into my life, though I had spent the last four years thinking, “Well if this is Baptist, then certainly not that.” Yet here I was, looking towards a different kind of Baptist church that stood for all the things I thought were important in faith. 
So I asked the most important question yet, “What does it mean to be a Baptist?”
To be a Baptist, historically, means to affirm four freedoms. 
  1. Bible Freedom-- the freedom of each person to interpret the Bible 
  2. Soul Freedom-- the freedom of each person to determine the content of their faith
  3. Church Freedom-- freedom of local churches to govern themselves
  4. Religious Freedom-- belief in the separation of church and state
Thus to be a Baptist is to affirm the infinite worth of the individual. We affirm that every person is capable and responsible to make decisions and that collective bodies are to be independent. We believe that no one holds the entire picture of exactly who God is and each person has something to contribute.
Now, this sounds like the perfect tradition for a university. And, indeed, our Baptist forerunners in Oklahoma did not want an indoctrinating Bible college, but a freedom encouraging, mind growing, liberal arts university. It is perfectly within the Baptist tradition to encourage our young to think on their own, and, as responsible Christians, to give them the tools to blossom and come into their own potential.
But in the 1980’s everything changed. I could go into all the philosophical reasons why I think this change occurred, but for our purposes that is neither here nor there. It is only important that it did indeed happen.
In the 1980’s there was a leadership change and suddenly everyone in charge of the SBC was a fundamentalist. That is when the SBC started doing things like boycotting disney and kicking out all the professors from their seminaries who thought women were ok to teach.
Here is the key. As a Baptist, I feel, of course, that my more moderate ways adhere closer to our historical roots. But, I also know that it is not my job to decide if the fundamentalists are right or wrong. If that’s what they want, let them do it. I believe they are free and capable to make that decision.
Here is the rub. Part of the fundamentalist agenda is to deny the freedom of the individual and crusade for their own understanding of the Bible. From here has flown the many problems of my precious university. This is why professors are being fired for disagreeing with a literalistic interpretation of the Bible. This is why OBU is no longer hiring the promising academics the faculty prefer, but those who support the new fundamentalist agenda.
The problem is not that some people are fundamentalists. The problem is that there seems to be no room for cooperation and dissent within this newly fundamentalist organization.
OBU is always going to be conservative. (It’s in the middle of Oklahoma, for goodness' sake.) This is not an argument to stop being Baptist or evangelical. That voice is an important voice in academia and ought not be stifled. 
But in order to really be a liberal arts university, there must be freedom of thought, freedom of speech, academic freedom, and, above all, the freedom of the individual must be affirmed. These are Baptist values, but they are not fundamentalist values. OBU and the BGCO are heading in different directions-- and it is time they were parted. Neither party has much to gain from being tied to the other.

For more information on the history of the recent changes within the SBC, check out the links on the right side of the page, especially the video made by our friends at the Texas Baptist committed.