Last autumn’s little-noticed firing of Southern Baptist Seminary’s longtime librarian became a modest cause celebre in February after it attracted the attention of the Christian Century magazine. The librarian, Paul Debusman, who was just months away from retirement at the time of his dismissal, was among the last of the seminary staff members who had worked at the school prior to the takeover of its board of trustees by a fundamentalist majority in 1993.
None of the parties to the firing is willing to discuss it for publication, but according to a Century article published February 4, Debusman wrote to Southern Baptist Convention president Tom Elliff in September after a talk delivered at the seminary chapel. Debusman challenged the accuracy of Elliff’s assertion that he, as a conservative, would not have been welcome to speak in the chapel under previous presidents of the school. Debusman’s letter, according to the Century, asserted that SBC presidents were routinely invited to speak at the school and that conservatives and fundamentalists were regularly invited to the campus in a spirit of dialogue.
Elliff sent a copy of the letter to the seminary. He subsequently told Baptist Press that it was his usual practice to forward copies of letters he receives about institutions, without comment, to the institutions spoken of.
According to the Century, Southern Baptist Seminary administrators decided that the letter broke a rule on “constructive relationships” approved by the school’s trustees that directs: “Faculty members and staff of this institution are not to act in ways that are injurious, detrimental to the seminary’s relationship with the denomination, donors, or other constituencies within and without the seminary community.” The school’s vice president Daniel L. Akin came to the library, demanded Debusman’s keys, and told him that he would receive one month’s severance pay. When he returned to his office, he found it locked.
The story received some coverage at the time in the local and Baptist press, but how the contents of Debusman’s letter became known is a mystery. In February, the Christian Century published a story on the firing by Paul Simmons, a former Southern ethics professor who was forced into early retirement in 1993 by the seminary’s previous administration. He indicated that the cause was statements he had made on what he calls “the hot-button issues of homosexuality and abortion. They gave me the choice of acquiescing, keeping quiet, or leaving.” When asked why he wrote the Christian Century article, Simmons replied, “First, because I can. The faculty are bound by what they call the gag rule. Second, because there is so much apathy among the moderates in the SBC—they seem to think that the conservatives will just go away....” He calls the Debusman story “further evidence that the politics of power and coercion have triumphed in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The school’s comment on the Century article noted that no mention was made of the author’s personal interest in the matter and that “the ‘article’ was in no way referenced as an editorial piece.” (In fact, it was listed in the table of contents along with the editor’s piece under the heading “Comments and Reports.”)
None of the principals involved in the firing have much to say about the incident. David Porter, of Southern’s public relations staff, said, “Because this is a personnel issue, we are not allowed to make any comment.” Tom Elliff, who is pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Oklahoma, as well as SBC president, spoke of what he calls “excessive journalistic speculation” about the case. “I have discovered that evolutionary theorists are not alone in producing prodigious speculations from scant and falsely interpreted facts,” he said.
“I had hoped that would all be in the past by now,” said Debusman when called for comment.
Described in Simmon’s piece as “a noncontroversial figure who was able to transcend the acrimony and hostility by believing that there were issues that could overcome the otherwise profound divisions among Southern Baptists,” Debusman said that he continues to hold “a lot of positive feelings for the seminary.”
An Indiana circuit court has dismissed Sister Carmel McEnroy’s breach of contract suit against St. Meinrad School of Theology, St. Meinrad, Indiana. McEnroy, who was a tenured professor of theology at the school, was fired in 1995 after she signed an open letter to Pope John Paul II requesting that conversation on the possible ordination of women be continued.
Judge Wayne A. Roell of the Spencer Circuit Court in Rockport, Indiana, dismissed the case, citing lack of subject matter jurisdiction and accepting the seminary’s argument that the firing was an internal church matter. A federal court dismissed McEnroy’s suit last year for the same reason. McEnroy and her lawyers claim that the firing was a matter of contract violation. McEnroy has appealed both the federal and state rulings.
In an earlier development, the American Association of University Professors censured St. Meinrad. According to the AAUP, the school violated the Statement of Principle on Academic Freedom and Tenure on two counts. First, school officials violated due process by failing to grant McEnroy a hearing. Second, by “dismissing her without demonstrating that her signing of the open letter rendered her unfit to retain her faculty position, the administration violated her academic freedom—specifically her rights as a citizen.”
St. Meinrad is one of only half a dozen theological schools ever to have been censured by the AAUP, according to the organization’s Robert Kreiser, who said that censure serves as a red flag to potential employees. McEnroy declares herself “delighted by the acknowledgment of injustice.”
St. Meinrad’s statement in response to the censure read in part: “We are not surprised that the AAUP would have difficulty understanding the special role seminary professors assume in priesthood formation and we are not surprised by their vote of censure. The act of censure by the AAUP will not affect the operation of our school and its programs.”
McEnroy now teaches part-time at Lexington Theological Seminary.
For Future Pastors
The Lilly Endowment has granted the Fund for Theological Education $3 million dollars to attract quality candidates to ministry. “The work [of ministry] requires intelligence, compassion, energy, and love,” said Craig Dykstra, Lilly vice president for religion. “The theological training that prepares you for it is demanding and engaging. To succeed, you’ve got to be both courageous and smart. This grant to FTE is one important way the Lilly Endowment is trying to ensure that a new generation of fine pastors is there to lead congregations and other ministries of the church.” The grant supports six emphases of the fund:
Partnership for Excellence will seek to increase the level of qualification of those entering theological education by putting together a network of denominational leaders, theological schools, undergraduate campus organizations, and multidenominational youth ministry organizations to identify, support, and recruit promising candidates.
Undergraduate Fellows Program will send promising undergraduates to summer conferences on theology and ministry.
Ministry Fellows Program. Theological students will be provided with grants, conferences, seminars, field experience, and mentoring relationships with working pastors.
Doctoral Fellows Program. African American students will be assisted in their pursuit of doctoral studies to prepare them as theological educators.
Dissertation Fellows Program is closely related to the Doctoral Fellows Program: the FTE is working to identify future sources of funding for other minority students.
Consultation on Excellence in Ministry. Leaders with churchly commitments will be recruited to help shape and support FTE programs.
James L. Waits, who is leaving the executive directorship of the Association of Theological Schools in June, will devote himself full-time to the presidency of the Fund for Theological Education. The Fund, which was originally created by gifts from the Rockefeller Foundation, has been affiliated with ATS since 1996 but has been inactive. Waits’s commitment and the Lilly grant enable it to resume its educational activities. The revived FTE will be based in Atlanta.
Ontario = Tyndale
Ontario Bible College/Ontario Theological Seminary has a new name. As of June 1, the school will be called Tyndale College and Seminary.
The change is the end of a process that began even before the school’s president, Brian Stiller, arrived three years ago at a school then teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. “The discussion had been going on at the college level for some time,” according to Stiller. He started the schools’ board on a name search and orchestrated the process, from presenting the reasons for choosing a new name and producing a paper—sent to the schools’ graduates, among others—outlining the characteristics the new name needed, to collecting names, having the faculty evaluate them, and through to a final board vote.
The old name had a number of difficulties, said Stiller. It was “long, awkward, and difficult to build an identity around. It ends up being called OBCOTS, an acronym without meaning or passion.” The use of the word “Ontario” regionalized a school with a global vision. As the schools move toward becoming a Christian university, Stiller saw the need for a name that would unify the schools while symbolizing their biblical and evangelical heritage.
Names floated in the process ranged from the boring to the bizarre, but Stiller said that “Tyndale” emerged early as a front runner. William Tyndale was a sixteenth-century Englishman who, appalled by the ignorance of local clergy while a student at Oxford, is reported to have said, “If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.” In the process of preparing and revising his English translation of the Bible, he was forced into exile, shipwrecked, and finally arrested in Belgium, then strangled and burned at the stake.
The name Tyndale is so closely connected with the Bible, even to the point of martyrdom, “that those who were concerned about the loss of the word ‘Bible’ in the schools’ name understand that we’re still affirming our commitment to the Word,” said Stiller.
On the other hand, “Tyndale is not a name that creates barriers for those of our graduates who go as missionaries or tentmakers to countries whose religious bias might otherwise make visas impossible to obtain.”
The name change has been announced with letters to everyone connected to the school, a glossy brochure written by Stiller, a Web site banner and online version of the brochure, cassette tapes of Stiller’s explanation of the change, and an advertising campaign in the Canadian evangelical press. Stiller describes the early response as “unbelievably overwhelming,” with only two letters of concern and two opposing the change.
Changes at the Top
The Reverend Daniel Aleshire is the new director of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. He came to the ATS in 1990 after spending twelve years on the faculty of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. As ATS associate director for accreditation, he oversaw the development of the new ATS accrediting standards that were adopted in 1996. He was named associate executive director that year. Aleshire succeeds James L. Waits, who will head the Fund for Theological Education.
The Reverend Susan B. Thistlethwaite will be the eleventh president of the Chicago Theological Seminary. The theologian has been a faculty member of the United Church of Christ school since 1982. Founded in 1855, CTS is the oldest freestanding institution of higher education in the city of Chicago. Thistlethwaite’s predecessor, Kenneth B. Smith, will retire in June.
The Very Reverend William Rankin is leaving the presidency of the Episcopal Divinity School. He has been at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, school for five years. In June, Rankin will move to San Francisco to become vice president of the United Religions Initiative, an interfaith coalition paralleling the United Nations whose mission is to work toward world peace.
Although the Association of Theological Schools is best known as an accrediting agency, its program areas include resources for theological faculty. Among those resources are research grants, and the ATS has recently announced the latest recipients of two of their grant programs.
The fifth class of Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology will engage in a year of research on their chosen topics before presenting the results to one another at a conference. The recipients and their proposals are:
Susan R. Garrett, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary: “Angels at the Dawn of an Age: Reflections on Biblical Angels and Recent Messengers of the Divine.”
Margaret M. Mitchell, McCormick Theological Seminary: “The Heavenly Trumpet: John Chrysostom’s Interpretation of Paul and His Letters.”
Kathleen J. Greider, Claremont School of Theology: “Meaning and Ministry in Narratives of Mental Illness.”
Larry L. Rasmussen, Union Theological Seminary: “Ecumenical Earth Ethics.”
Don E. Saliers, Candler School of Theology: “Beauty and Holiness Revisited: Liturgical Travail in Contemporary American Culture.”
Susan E. Schreiner, University of Chicago Divinity School: “Are You Alone Wise? The Quest for Certainty in the Era of the Reformation and Its Challenge to the End of Modernity.”
Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, Yale University Divinity School: “A Different God.”
Seventeen faculty members at theological schools make up the second group of recipients of Lilly Theological Research Grants. Eleven of these were named Lilly Faculty Fellows and were given up to $20,000 to support research sabbaticals; six others received up to $5,000. ATS executive director James L. Waits said, “The proposed work of these faculty members demonstrates the breadth and quality of scholarly inquiry in theological institutions today.” The proposed topics range across theological disciplines and include titles such as, “Virtual Un/reality: the Spirituality of Cyberspace,” “The King’s Daughters All Glorious Within: The Legacy of Women Evangelists,” and “Institutional Dimensions of Clergy Ethics.”
Donation to a Dream
A Richmond trucking executive has given $1 million to Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Harwood Cochrane and his wife, Louise, made the gift to the seminary’s “Building the Dream” capital campaign to help fund the new building BTSR moved into last fall. The Cochranes have been members of Richmond’s Tabernacle Baptist Church for more than fifty years and have given to numerous civic and Baptist causes.
Cochrane said he has closely watched the recent turmoil at Southern Baptist seminaries. His concern sparked his interest in BTSR, a moderate Baptist institution that enrolled its first students in the fall of 1991. “The seminary stands for basic Baptist principles of freedom, and it offers the best alternative we have for preparing our future ministers. The seminary has come a long way in only seven years, and Louise and I are pleased to be part of this new, vibrant school that is making a positive difference.”
The school has grown from thirty-two students meeting in space leased from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education to an enrollment of more than 200. In acknowledging the Cochranes’ gift, the school’s president, Tom Graves, said, “Ownership of facilities is a signal of permanence for the seminary.”