Readers, please accept this invitation to communicate with “Soundings,” either to react to articles in this issue of In Trust or to comment on other issues of concern to leaders in theological education. Feel free to be provocative, but do limit your letters to a maximum of 350 words. All letters are subject to editing. Our e-mail address is <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
As a proud member of the In Trust Advisory Council, I was jolted by the lack of balance in our recent article entitled, “Texas Baptists Ax Seminary Funding.”
While journalistic integrity demands that In Trust give something approaching equal space to both sides, the key accusations of the Baptist General Convention of Texas study committee went unrebutted. Our reporter ignored responses by the affected seminaries and materials in the public record that question the claims of the BGCT committee. This type of reporting is more akin to a press release than to journalism.
Our article notes that the committee cited “trustee interference in classroom content.” But the BGCT report offers no meaningful evidence to support such an accusation today, and our article lacks even a cursory investigation of the matter. Southern Baptist seminaries are confessional schools, and their trustees have the responsibility of ensuring that teaching at them does not violate the statement of faith voluntarily embraced by all faculty.
The article also cites the committee’s reference to “the inappropriate addition of undergraduate studies at what are supposed to be graduate-level schools.” This charge is disingenuous coming from the BGCT. SBC seminaries have granted associate-level degrees for years, and in 1994 Russell Dilday, recent president of the BGCT, signed the Colorado Accord, which acknowledged existing baccalaureate programs and capped SBC funding for those at seventy hours of study. It is disturbing that in this context our reporter ignored what might equally be called the “inappropriate addition” of new graduate ministry studies at SBC-related universities like Baylor and Wake Forest.
To charge that “the seminaries were enforcing ‘creedalism’ or requiring strict adherence to the newly revised denominational doctrinal statement, the Baptist Faith and Message” is just silly. Moderate presidents of the SBC seminaries also oversaw the faculty’s signing of and adherence to the BF&M. This is not new. This is historical practice. That the convention made changes to the statement is not new either. The original statement of 1925 was changed thirty-eight years later in 1963 and again thirty-seven years later in 2000. Adherence to the contemporary statement has been a prerequisite to teaching at Southern Baptist seminaries since 1925.
Our article ignored the committee’s self-contradictory statement, “The removal in the 2000 BF&M of language in the 1963 BF&M Statement stating that Jesus is the ‘criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted’ transforms the new statement of faith to the status of a creed.” Think about it. If that language is the only thing that kept the BF&M from being a creed, then the BF&M 1925 authored by E.Y. Mullins, the New Hampshire Confession, the Abstract of Principles, and all other Baptist statements have all been creeds. In other words, the BGCT argues that all Baptists always have been creedal except for Southern Baptists between 1963 and 2000. That is erroneous and borders on the absurd.
In Trust embarrassingly quotes Bill Leonard as a disinterested outsider. A former history professor under moderate leadership at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Leonard is esteemed by moderate Southern Baptists as a scholarly spokesperson, and he is leading Wake Forest University Divinity School away from historic Baptist theology and from the North Carolina Baptist Convention.
Leonard, who asserted in our article that past liberal teachings at SBC seminaries were only alleged, has opened enrollment in his divinity school to homosexuals and lesbians. Leonard’s doctrine is not allegedly liberal. It is liberal. Even the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship recently resolved that they do not condone homosexuality.
Early in the article, the Texas Baptists’ Campbell is quoted as saying, “It is very disturbing for you to find out the denomination is changing the way you do doctrine.” Campbell should ask Leonard what Southern Baptists historically would have thought doctrinally of Leonard’s position on homosexuals studying for the ministry. Then perhaps Campbell could answer the question, “Who has changed?”
Wake Forest, North Carolina
Waylan Owens, vice president and assistant professor of pastoral ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a member of the In Trust Advisory Council.
Re the cartoon on page two, at first I thought I was seeing things, unless I was missing something?! “‘Them’ used to be such a swinging couple!” Surely a glaring error like that would have been noticed. The irony is that most of the writers in your magazine, which is very good, are very well educated in various Canadian and American seminaries, and should know that: “They used to be such a swinging couple!”
West Vancouver, British Columbia
Jean Lawrence is a member of the Senate of St. Andrew’s Hall.