by Richard Vara
Texas Baptists fired the shot heard around the 15.8 million-member Southern Baptist Convention in October when they voted to redirect $4.3 million away from the national convention’s six seminaries and to three schools in their home state. By overwhelming hand vote, messengers (delegates) to the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas in Corpus Christi, Texas, approved a new formula that would reallocate $5.3 million that was going to the national convention for the seminaries.
The new formula caps national giving at $1 million. The bulk of the $1 million, about $750,000, is expected to go to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, a school with strong roots in the state. The remaining $4.3 million would be distributed to three unofficial Texas schools: Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary in Waco; Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology in Abilene; Texas; and Hispanic Baptist Theological School in San Antonio.
It is the latest round in a bitter twenty-one year war between denominational conservatives and moderates over the nature and interpretation of the Bible. Conservatives control the national convention’s agencies and seminaries.
The “conservative resurgence’’ began in 1979 when conservatives won the presidency of the national convention. While the president’s office is primarily titular, he appoints members to a committee that in turn names trustees of agency and seminary boards. Continual conservative wins of the presidency resulted in total control of the boards where conservative policies and personnel were put in place.
But moderates control several of the thirty-eight state conventions, and the largest is the Texas convention with 2.7 million members and nearly 6,000 churches. The two denominational factions have clashed on several fronts including the state and nature of theological education.
“It is very disturbing for you to find out the denomination is changing the way you do doctrine,” said the Reverend Robert Campbell, Houston pastor and chair of a sixteen-member state committee that examined the national convention’s seminaries. In addition to Southwestern, the study committee visited Golden Gate Seminary in Mill Valley, California; Midwestern Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri; New Orleans Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana; Southeastern Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina; and Southern Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.
The seminary study committee cited, among other findings, trustee interference in classroom content and the inappropriate addition of undergraduate studies at what are supposed to be graduate level schools. Campbell cited Southeastern, Southern and New Orleans seminaries. “That puts them in competition with all the state Baptist schools,” Campbell said.
The committee also charged that the seminaries were enforcing “creedalism” or requiring strict adherence to the newly revised denominational doctrinal statement, the Baptist Faith and Message. It charged that faculty, students, and employees could not question any aspect of the statement. “Thus the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message is elevated to inerrant status,” the report said.
Seminary presidents said the Texas funding action was serious but not a surprise. “The eventual action by the BGCT was lamentable, but it was not a shock,” said R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Seminary. The Texas action will cost the Kentucky seminary nearly $1 million dollars or six percent of its revenues.
William O. Crews, Jr., president of Golden Gate Seminary, said the cost to his school was about $500,000. But to a school whose budget is $7 million, it was “a significant loss.”
The school has acted to lay off four administrative staff members. “It has not affected the faculty or student services, but primarily support and administrative staff,” Crews said.
The greater damage is to trust and cooperation, according to Crews. “It is not so much about the money as it is about the apparent dissolution of a partnership we have enjoyed across many, many years,” Crews said.
Mohler said his school is considering several budget actions but, like other seminary presidents, is awaiting action from the national convention’s executive committee which oversees policies and business. The executive committee will meet in February at the national convention’s offices in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I think there is no doubt the executive committee will favor assisting the seminaries and doing everything they can to make sure we receive the funding we need. That’s the bottom line,” Mohler said.
Both Mohler and Crews were critical of the Texas committee’s review of their schools. “Their minds were made up, their questions superficial,” Mohler said. “They were driven by an agenda. They came with that agenda, and they left with that agenda,’’ he said. “They were uninterested in all the basic educational, academic, and institutional questions that would normally be a part of such a review.”
Campbell disagreed, saying the committee members began work last March not even sure they would write a report. He said all the meetings with the seminaries were cordial. “But there was an arrogance that said several times, ‘This is the way it is; you can take it or leave it.’ And what they meant by ‘leave’ was you can leave the convention,” Campbell said.
Campbell said he fully expects the executive committee to make up the shortfall so no one will be hurt by the Texas action.
A big beneficiary of the Texas action is Hispanic Baptist Theological School in San Antonio, Texas. The school will receive about $800,000 to nearly double its current $1 million budget, said President Albert Reyes.
The fifty-three year old school is currently seeking accreditation as a four-year Bible college, and the funding will help upgrade facilities, faculty, and programs, Reyes said.
Reyes cautioned that the Texas action is not automatic: “That the vote was taken and approved is definitely a good sign for us, but it doesn’t take us to the bank, doesn’t provide the funds.”
The 6,000 churches will have to adopt the state convention’s funding formula. Some may choose to send funds to the national convention’s seminaries, undercutting the Texas action. Since budget years for churches vary, it may be a year before state convention officials will know if their plan is successful.
Campbell and other Texas Baptist leaders argue that schools like Hispanic Baptist Theological School need support because the Hispanic population in the state is booming. “Today one in four Texans is Hispanic,” Reyes said. “In thirty years, it will be one in two.” Yet national convention schools are not preparing or prepared for Hispanic evangelization, according to Reyes.
By supporting this school, Texas Baptists are preparing for a new generation of bilingual, bicultural ministers and lay leaders. “It is a new day,” Reyes said. “It is Texas Baptists coming to terms with the mission field they find themselves in.”
Bill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest University Divinity School, points out that alleged liberal teachings at seminaries was what spurred conservatives into organized action in the 1960s and ’70s. Conservatives favor “inerrancy” or the literal biblical truth. Most moderates argue that inerrancy is really a narrow-minded fundamentalism.
Leonard noted that the conservative resurgence has led to the establishment of twelve new Baptist-related schools or departments of study in the past decade, including his, and observed that the Texas action continues a pattern of diffusion and decentralization that continues to defy conservative control. Instead of denominationally controlled education at six seminaries, schools like Truett Seminary, Logsdon School of Theology, and others provide moderate alternatives. “It is a further illustration of the breakdown of the system,” Leonard said.
One in five pastors of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is in an advanced stage of burnout, according to a recent study that minces no words in describing what “advanced” means. “This is not ‘I need a vacation,’ but “I’d quit tomorrow if it wouldn’t screw up my retirement,” according to Alan Klass of Mission Growth Ministries, which ran the Clergy Shortage Study. Klass reports that another one-fifth of clergy are in early and middle stages of career burnout.
The study was precipitated by the realization that the denomination faces a major shortage of clergy. In 1998, the Missouri Synod had 8,635 pastors—down from 9,940 ten years earlier. If the trend continues, by the middle of the next decade, one congregation in three will be without a pastor.
The study included interviews with pastors and seminarians and their wives and children, denominational and seminary leaders, high school students, and others. Anecdotes are abundant and depressing. When seminarians’ wives were asked to list benefits of being in ministry, they came up with five recurring answers. When asked about the drawbacks of being in ministry, they quickly listed twenty-eight. When asked who has been skeptical about their decision to enter seminary, students listed friends and coworkers (24 percent), parents (also 24 percent), wives (10 percent), and college professors (8 percent). Only a quarter replied, “Nobody.” Students at denominational high schools report that they like their pastors, but describe parish ministry “predominantly in terms of misery and grief—for pastors and their children.” And 83 percent report that their pastor has never talked to them about the possibility of their considering full-time church work.
The study listed twenty problems contributing to the clergy shortage (and suggests solutions for each). In first and second place were listed, “people beating on each other” and “mismatching of clergy and congregations.” The study is available online at http://higher-ed.lcms.org/pdf/clergy-shortage-study.pdf .
by Bob Bettson
Lawsuits against the Diocese of Cariboo of the Anglican Church of Canada over abuse in a native residential school may result in the dissolution of the missionary diocese in British Columbia that was founded in 1914. Delegates to the synod of Cariboo diocese voted this past fall to begin a process to wind up operations within a year. However, since the decision the government of Canada has begun negotiations with the national church in a bid to allow the church and its dioceses to continue their work, while ensuring victims of abuse get some compensation.
Cariboo’s chancellor, Bud Smith, put it bluntly to the synod: “The Diocese of Cariboo is broke. Spiritually we may be yeast, but financially we are toast.” The diocese has drained its entire $350,000 cash reserve over the past three years to pay legal fees to defend itself against fourteen lawsuits, twelve of them launched by the federal government by naming the church as a third party. A government lawyer asked church officials for a list of any “jewelry or art.” Cariboo doesn’t own such treasures, but one church official joked “Maybe we should ask the Sunday school kids to do a lot of painting and send them in.”
The bishop of Cariboo, the Right Reverend James Cruickshank, says that joke was unfortunate because it has been repeated in every story since on his diocese’s plight, which is anything but funny. The bishop will lose his job if the diocese winds up operations. He says he’s not too worried about that prospect. “I’m near retirement. I’ve been ordained for thirty-eight years, and I’ll find something to do.” Cruickshank says one of the largest issues remaining is who owns the churches, the diocese or the congregations. The government has agreed to binding arbitration to decide that issue.
Even if the churches are ruled to be owned by the diocese, it’s doubtful if they are worth much in liquidation. The Diocese of Cariboo straddles the Thompson and Fraser Rivers in interior British Columbia. Its seventeen parishes, with forty-five congregations, are staffed by eleven full-time and thirteen part-time clergy. The average stipend for clergy is $27,000 (Canadian), plus a housing allowance. There are 9,000 Anglicans on parish rolls in the 65,000-square-mile diocese with a population of 300,000. The cathedral is located in the largest town, Kamloops (population 76,000).
Bishop Cruickshank still holds out hope the diocese will survive, although he worries the talks with the federal government may have come “too late” to save Cariboo. In the meantime, the diocese has had to cut two clergy positions. But even the uncertainty hasn’t discouraged clergy from coming to Cariboo. The bishop filled four out of five vacancies despite the looming bankruptcy. In the event the diocese shuts down, the parishes and clergy will be under the care of the metropolitan of British Columbia and the Yukon, the Most Reverend David Crawley. He is also the archbishop of Kootenay, with his see in Kelowna, 152 kilometers (ninety-six miles) from Kamloops.
The Anglican Church of Canada General Synod is also still facing the threat of bankruptcy. The Venerable Jim Boyles, the archdeacon who is the church’s general secretary, says current reserves, which are being used to pay mounting legal bills in defending against lawsuits arising from residential schools, will run out by the end of 2001. So if a settlement isn’t reached with the government on liability, the church could dissolve its national structure and declare bankruptcy. However Boyles is optimistic because of a strong lobbying campaign by church members and clergy directed at politicians during the recent Canadian federal election campaign.
Changes at the Top
Mark Ramseth will leave his post as bishop of the Montana Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to become the third president of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. He has served as bishop since 1992. Ramseth succeeds Dennis A. Anderson, who retired last November.
Ian Chapman will retire from the presidency of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, at the end of June, at which time he will become chancellor. In addition to this new role, he will continue to represent the seminary in its support of the Moscow Theological Seminary (Russia) and the Baptist World Alliance. The school is seeking candidates for his successor.
Philip A. Amerson is now the president of Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California. He had previously served as senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Bloomington, Indiana. Amerson succeeds Robert W. Edgar, who has taken up the post of general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Christ of the U.S.A. in New York.
After eight years, Larry McKinney will leave the presidency of Providence College and Seminary in Otterburne, Manitoba, this spring. He will move to Orlando, Florida, to become the executive director of the Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges. A search is currently in progress for his successor.
The United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia has named Richard J. Wood as its new president. He comes to the United Board from Yale University Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut, where he served as dean. He succeeds David Vikner.