The three Southern Baptist-oriented theological schools in Texas are facing changes in funding by their sponsoring groups as the state’s Baptist congregations redefine their ties to state and national Baptist associations.
Local Baptist churches are free to affiliate with any combination of their local, state, and national groups. The main Texas Baptist body, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, sends a portion of its funds to the national Southern Baptist Convention, which in turn supports the eight official Southern Baptist theological schools, including Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. It also maintains links with two other Baptist theological schools founded in response to the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, the George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco and the Logsdon School of Theology at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene.
When messengers, as Baptist delegates are called, from the approximately 3,000 churches that make up the BGCT met this summer, they approved (for the required second year in a row) a series of proposals that some see as distancing the BGCT from the SBC. (The Reverend Russell Dilday, professor of homiletics at Truett and former president of Southwestern, points out: “When somebody asks me if we’re divorcing the SBC, I tell them we were never married.”) The state convention is now more involved in the preparation of educational materials, in its own outreach, and in its social service work. Affiliated congregations have more options as to how their money is divided between state and national groups.
The gathering also passed a resolution affirming the “biblical equality” of men and women. This policy statement was a response to the SBC’s endorsement this summer of a declaration that “a wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.” The SBC added the declaration to the “Baptist Faith and Message,” the denomination’s statement of faith to which its leaders and teachers are expected to subscribe. Two faculty members at Southwestern subsequently resigned, attributing their departures to their unwillingness to assent to the statement on male headship. Dr. Scotty Gray, SWBTS’s vice president for academic administration, was not directly available to In Trust but e-mailed a message that “no ‘sign or resign’ ultimatum was ever issued by the administration or trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with regard to the Baptist Faith and Message statement.”
Following the BGCT actions, fundamentalists in the association formed a separate statewide convention, the Southern Baptists of Texas. It is difficult at this stage to guess how much support the new association has. Perhaps 500 churches have joined, but some of them maintain membership in the BGCT as well. Both groups are part of the SBC. Bill Leonard, a Baptist scholar who taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in more peaceable times, wrote in the Christian Century that those “who have watched the twenty-year effort of fundamentalists to control America’s largest Protestant denomination, may spend the next two decades watching it come apart.”
$5.3 Million Bequest
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary has received $5.3 million as the result of planned giving by a supporter who died forty years ago. Harry R. Kendall, chief executive of Washington National Insurance Company, established a trust through provisions in his will. When he died in 1958, Garrett-Evangelical was one of several nonprofit groups designated to receive income from the trust. The United Methodist school, located in Evanston, Illinois, has used the income for several purposes, including the funding of the Harry R. Kendall Chair of New Testament Interpretation, and a program called “The Church and the Black Experience.” The latter program was instituted in 1970 to help the seminary integrate the black experience into the total life of the seminary community.
Under the terms of Kendall’s will, the seminary was to receive income from the trust for forty years. At that point a portion of the principal was to be given to the seminary.
Receipt of the bequest boosts Garrett-Evangelical’s endowment to more than $46 million.
President Neal F. Fisher said, “The Kendall Trust is a living testament to Mr. Kendall’s wish to benefit theological students and support the seminary’s faculty and programs. Long into the future this fund will assist deserving students receive a seminary education and go into the service of church and community.”
The Lilly Endowment announced recipients of more than $55 million in grants to fifty-eight theological schools in North America. The grants represent two programs—one for theological schools to improve their capacity to attract and educate outstanding pastors for local congregations and the other to support outreach programs to high-school students that will give them a sense of vocational choice in the religious context. In the first category, forty-five schools received a total of $53.4 million; in the second, eleven schools received $1.8 million in grants that will enable them to create new programs for high-school youth immediately, and another eleven received planning grants to design more elaborate programs. Nine schools received grants in both programs. “Few issues are more important to Christian churches than the quality of pastoral leadership. If there are to be people of real ability ministering in congregations and parishes in the decades to come, a very aggressive effort needs to be undertaken now to draw even more highly qualified candidates to the ministry and to educate them more appropriately for their ministries,” said Craig Dykstra, the Endowment’s vice president for religion.
The Henry Luce Foundation announced grants for a total of $485,000. These include $225,000 over three years to Andover Newton Theological School (Newton Centre, Massachusetts) to support its Theology and the Arts program; $100,000 over two years to the interfaith Association for Religion and Intellectual Life (New Rochelle, New York) to support a scholars-in-residence program for women; and $160,000 over three years to Auburn Theological Seminary (New York City) for training new administrators of continuing theological education in their leadership roles.
Giving to congregations by their members increased in 1996 as compared to 1995, but the amount contributed for the larger mission of the church declined, according to findings newly published by the research group empty tomb, inc. The researchers, John and Sylvia Ronsvalle, found that the overall decline in congregational giving since 1968 had been arrested and the rate of decline in giving to benevolences beyond the congregation was lower. In 1968 members gave an average of 2.46 percent of their income to support congregational finances; in 1992, this figure was 2.04 percent (the low point for the overall period of the study), and in 1996, it had risen to 2.17 percent. For benevolences, the 1968 figure was 0.66 percent and that of 1996, 0.41 percent. The trends for congregational giving in evangelical and mainline denominations were similar, with congregational giving increasing between 1985 and 1996 among evangelicals and increasing between 1968 and 1996 for mainline denominations. Only future data will determine whether this overall trend is temporary or whether the decline has actually been reversed.
The empty tomb study tracks data for twenty-nine denominations that published data in the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. These denominations include 29 million members and comprise over 100,000 of the estimated 350,000 religious congregations in the United States. The study cited two surveys by other groups that indicate that while Americans say religion is important, in practice they are having difficulty integrating religious tenets with their individual ethics and values.
Data tables for this study are available at the empty tomb’s web site, <http://www.emptytomb.org/research.html>.
Changes at the Top
Harvard University Divinity School’s dean, the Reverend Ronald F. Thiemann, has stepped down after thirteen years at the post. He plans to take a year’s sabbatical, then return to the classroom as O’Brian professor of divinity. The school’s endowment has nearly quadrupled to $245 million during his tenure. Thiemann, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is author of several books, including the recently published Religion in Public Life. Harvard president Neil L. Rudenstine will appoint an acting dean to serve through the search process.
Washington Theological Union has elected the Reverend Daniel McLellan, O.F.M., as its second president. McLellan is currently director of the Formation for Ministry Program at the Union. He will succeed the Reverend Vincent deP. Cushing, O.F.M, on July 1, when Cushing steps down after twenty-four years as president.
The Reverend Donald M. Miller assumed the presidency of the Church of God Theological Seminary in September. The former Church of God overseer for the state of Tennessee is a graduate of the Cleveland, Tennessee, school. He is the eighth president in the schools’ twenty-three-year history. His predecessor, the Reverend Cecil B. Knight, has been named president emeritus.
Bishops Ask Comment
Committees of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops are collecting responses to two new draft documents spelling out how two Vatican directives on education are to be implemented in the United States. One of the directives would spell out in greater detail how and when men who have dropped out of or have been dismissed from seminaries might return to priestly training. The other would clarify the hierarchy’s authority over the operations of Catholic universities and colleges. Both drafts were presented as information at the NCCB meeting in November.
The proposed rules affecting seminarians originated in 1996 with a Vatican document, titled “On the Admission to Seminary of Candidates Coming from Other Seminaries or Religious Families,” that called for standards for sharing of information about such applicants. Prior to adoption of the new code of canon law in 1983, former seminarians who wished to reapply were required to secure permission from Rome. The much less stringent requirements of the new code were widely ignored—to bad effect. As the document put it, “The too easy acceptance of ex-religious and ex-seminarians, made without thorough preliminary investigation, is usually the cause of unpleasant surprises and disappointments for ‘indulgent’ bishops and, at the same time, a cause of discomfort for those local ordinaries who are rightly demanding in the selection of their candidates.”
The proposed U.S. norms were drafted by the bishops’ committee on priestly formation. Among the specifics of the draft are a question on seminary applications inquiring whether the applicant has ever before “applied to or been accepted by a seminary, diocese, or religious community.” The applicant is warned that an untruthful answer to the question will result in rejection of his application.
The proposed norms also provide that seminary administrators warn students who withdraw, voluntarily or involuntarily, that they must wait at least two years before reapplying and that the reasons for their withdrawal will be shared in writing and orally with any seminary to which they may later reapply.
All prospective seminary students, says the draft, are to be advised that “no person has a right to be accepted as a candidate for the priesthood or to be ordained.”
The draft standards on the relations between the U.S. bishops and Catholic colleges and universities in this country are the bishops’ most recent effort to respond to Pope John Paul II’s 1990 Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, “Ex Corde Eccelsiae” (“From the Heart of the Church”).
A key passage of the constitution states: “Bishops have a particular responsibility to promote Catholic universities, and especially to promote and assist in the preservation and strengthening of their Catholic identity, including the protection of their Catholic identity in relation to civil authorities. This will be achieved more effectively if close personal and pastoral relationships exist between university and church authorities, characterized by mutual trust, close and consistent cooperation and continuing dialogue.”
An earlier draft of proposed U.S. standards, written by a committee of bishops and college presidents, was approved by the NCCB in 1996, 224 to 6, but rejected by the Vatican. According to Dr. Monika Hellwig, executive director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the Vatican assessment of the draft, on which the committee had worked six years, was: “Nice first draft. Where are the specifics?”
The NCCB committee, chaired by Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua of Philadelphia, went back to work, and completed the new draft just in time for the November meeting.
The committee is now gathering comment on the draft from Catholic colleges and universities. Some faculty and others who are seeing the document for the first time and who don’t know its history have responded with alarm. Points of particular concern include the ownership of institutions, many of which are owned by their own governing boards or by bodies other than the local bishop; the request that theology teachers make a profession of faith; and a provision requiring faculty to display personal and doctrinal integrity. Hellwig believes that the concern is overblown.
“Certainly Catholic colleges maintain their Catholic identity by keeping a certain number of Catholics on staff,” she said. “But there is no truth to the assertion I’ve seen in print that non- Catholic faculty will be subjected to regular lectures on doctrine. And as to integrity, certainly it’s an expectation, but there are some matters of private life it’s simply illegal to look into.
“The U.S. bishops don’t want to govern colleges. They haven’t the expertise or the time. Even the most boneheaded narrow men in Rome don’t want to take over the universities.”