Disturbing Trends at Baptist Colleges (Part 1)

Written by Jon Akin

In the last year, there have been disturbing events surrounding three Baptist state colleges/universities:

Exonerated moderate theology at Carson Newman (CN)

A subcommittee of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) exonerated CN as accountable to Baptist convictions in October of 2012 after a yearlong investigation. This is disturbing for 3 reasons:

First, the report gives the impression that evolutionary theory is taught without being critiqued as incompatible with Baptist convictions. Not one of the professors or students interviewed mentions evolution being critiqued as unbiblical. One might say, “It is being critiqued but that wasn’t mentioned in the report.” That would be a pretty big oversight when communicating with concerned Tennessee Baptists.

Second, the liberal historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, which has been overwhelmingly rejected by Southern Baptists convention-wide, is being taught as one acceptable method among others. One student said, “The professors never pushed liberal theories in class nor did they push conservative theories either. They just presented theories and allowed the student to make their own decision.” This isn’t good enough at a school funded by Cooperative Program (CP) dollars!

Third, this is part of a trend to not hold Tennessee Baptist institutions accountable. A similar investigation in 2005 of both CN and Belmont led to both schools being exonerated, and of Belmont it was said that students were being equipped for service for the Kingdom of God. This is troubling because it is obvious now that Belmont had no desire to be held accountable to Baptist convictions or practices, and yet the appropriate boards did not act. Belmont and the TBC severed ties in 2007 due to Belmont wanting to elect a self-perpetuating trustee board instead of a TBC-elected Board. Belmont will pay the TBC $11 million over the next 40 years. Since that separation, Belmont has publicly and quickly moved away from its Baptist heritage and roots. For example, in 2011 they added “sexual orientation” to the school’s nondiscrimination policy, and this was troubling because President Fisher said this “new policy simply reflects the school’s ‘long-standing practice,’” a long-standing practice that had not been called to account.


The Dismissal of Jarvis Williams at Campbellsville University (CU)

Jarvis Williams contract will not be renewed at CU for theological reasons according to a recent report. Those reasons have not been specified by the administration. This is disturbing because CU continues to affirm moderate/liberal theology while marginalizing faculty who hold to inerrancy. There are professors who reject biblical inerrancy and some who affirm evolution, but a prof who stands firmly within Baptist convictions is not welcome.

This trend has been around a long time. I was on staff at a Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) church when a rep from CU came to pitch the school to the staff. Our Associate Pastor questioned him extensively on CU’s theological convictions. And it was revealed that in terms of the faculty there were few inerrantists, many who affirmed evolutionary theory, many who were pro-choice, and only broadly “evangelical” convictions at the school, but over and over the rep would say “at Campbellsville University we are about kingdom business, so send your kids here.” Our Associate said he never encouraged our families to send their kids there because they go thinking it’s a safe Baptist school and are taught things that confuse and undermine their faith. The rep said things were moving in the “right direction,” but it appears almost a decade later that no change is really taking place.


The Controversy at Louisiana College (LC)

Much is happening at LC. Three professors are being let go for theological reasons. While those reasons have never been stated by the administration, it is alleged that Calvinism is the issue since President Aguillard recently stated that he did not approve of Calvinism being advocated at LC. One of these profs, Ryan Lister, won a student-voted award for professor of the year, only to have the President decide there isn’t going to be an award this year. Add to these the allegation that some student blogs have been blocked on campus and that Aguillard himself endorses non-Baptistic theology.

Also, President Aguillard has come under significant fire for other actions. There are allegations that he intentionally misled administrators and the trustees, unethically and potentially illegally misappropriated funds, and forfeited $55 million in endowment because of this misappropriation. The trustees hired an independent law firm to investigate the allegations and they concluded that the president did act inappropriately. A special subcommittee of the trustees exonerated Aguillard on a split vote (4-3), and then April 30th the full trustee board exonerated him with another split vote (16-13). There are claims that documents exist that cast doubts on the lawfirm’s findings, but those documents will be kept confidential.

Add to this questions about cronyism and conflict of interest with Executive Director Hankins as the only Executive Director who resides as a voting member on a Trustee Board for a state institution. Quite frankly, the situation at LC is a mess and disturbing on so many levels.

Baptist21 will discuss some of these issues at the B21 panel at the SBC in Houston. Register for that event here. Part 2 will offer observations about what these events mean.


Comments 0

  1. This really isn’t that surprising, is it? As the CR continued to gain traction and succeed, didn’t the moderate/liberal wing of the SBC try to make sure they held onto the state conventions and institutions? Or am I misremembering?

    1. They tried, but as the SBC became more conservative, these groups left to form their groups. The Alliance of Baptists, a liberal group left in the mid 1980s, affirms homosexuality and ordains homosexuals into ministry, yet does not uphold the truth of the inerrant word of God. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the moderate breakaway group, while maintaining a “neutral policy” toward homosexuality, is unofficially endorsing such lifestyle and does not uphold biblical inerrancy either.

  2. What’s disturbing about CN is that the TN Baptist Convention is quite conservative. I think, however, they are afraid to engage in a fight. I always felt they should have fought for Belmont. I am tired of these institutions taking money from local churches for decades, and then deciding they no longer want to be held accountable.

    1. I too am concerned about the concern of moderate/liberal indoctrination going on at Carson-Newman and I am an alumnus 2004 and MS 2012. It was during my graduate work there in from 2009 to 2012, that a graduate professor, who also was a religion professor, claimed that “Adam and Eve were mythological creatures and weren’t literal.” Plus, there is an underground LBGT group at CN, which if CN did come out in support of, then the TBC would sever ties almost immediately.

  3. Is it true that Hankins is the only Executive Director on the college boards? What about Georgia? Anyone checked into OK? Is there a reason why Louisiana Baptists (not Hankins) put the executive director on the board? Check it out — could be informative and less gossip like.

  4. Who is the author of this article? Just wondering because I did not see it listed on the page anywhere. I’ve always been taught that if we write anything of criticism, even constructive criticism that we sign our name to it. Therefore, I’d love to know who wrote the article?

  5. Joe,

    I would say yes and no to your question. As Ray mentions, it is surprising in conservative states. And, there are alternative state conventions like the KY Baptist Fellowship.


  6. Mike,

    I wrote the post, and all of our social media messages have said the article is by me. For whatever reason when we posted the admin didn’t put my name on it, but I’ll be happy to sign my name at the bottom of the 2nd post when the series is complete. Hope that helps,


    1. Jon, no need, I was wondering because I am former Kentucky Baptist myself and have worked with CU and some of their students. For the longest time I’ve had a huge burden for our colleges. The SBC has done a great job in reforming the seminaries and we need to do the same with the colleges. This way students are not messed up by the time they get to the seminaries.

      Mostly, I was wondering who you were so I could better understand your background. I’m familiar with you enough to know your background. So we are good to go. Also I have registered for B21 at the SBC so perhaps we can meet in person there if you will be there?

    2. It should be worth noted that Campbellsville University severed ties with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Dr. Michael Carter, the current president of the school, is a former VP of Academic Affairs at Carson-Newman, was at Carson-Newman at the time the TBC withheld funding from CN in 1998-99, over the issue of CN wanting to nominate their own trustees.

  7. I’ve had enough of 14,000 “clubs” deciding what the Bible says about basic theology and 14,000 wise guys trying to out- schmart the other religious uppity – ups . Our ship should take us all off at the same time to arrive at the SAME Destination . The rest can start their own “club” for their own entertainment .

  8. Jimmy,

    just the state cp not national. churches give typically to the state conventions who divvy it up among their institutions before sending to the national convention. hope that helps


  9. Isn’t kinda the hard truth here that there are a number of Baptist colleges and universities across the South that you and your particular type of Baptists have not been able to control and will never be able to control?

    If you were truly concerned about stewardship of those tithes and offerings of conservative brethren, you wouldn’t talk about “reforming” these schools but instead try to get the state convention to simply cut ties.

    Whatever efforts have been made along those lines clearly have not worked.

    But, the days of your kind of conservatives wrestling control of colleges like Carson-Newman and Campbellsville are long gone. Most of these schools are not nearly as dependent on CP dollars as they were in decades past.

    In fact, a Baptist college that truly depends on CP dollars to survive is in all likelihood barely surviving and only one SACs review away from losing accrediation – see Brewton-Parker College of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

    In all seriousness, what about the “We Lost, Time to Move On” mentality? You don’t see moderates doing what consersvatives are doing re: Carson Newman, Campbellsville, etc.

    1. With fear and trepidation, here are a few thoughts in response:

      First, our type of Baptist may have not been able to “control”, or rather “maintain”, our institutions, but we sure can create them. Just about everyone of these schools was started by our “type of Baptist.” This can’t be said of other “types of Baptists.” These schools’ ability to attract students, in large part, now depends heavily on the assumption that they can be trusted when they cannot, just like a lie depends upon the assumption that one can be trusted.

      Second, stewardship talk doesn’t necessitate cutting ties, since we aren’t just stewards of this month’s offering. We are stewards of the countless dollars given throughout the particular schools existence for the original purposes of these colleges. If we cut ties with these schools, rather than reform them, we ignore and insult the investments in the original purposes of these schools made by our forefathers (and mothers). We don’t cut ties for the same reason we wouldn’t cut ties with our home if someone were to try to occupy it – present practices/circumstances don’t negate past investments, no matter how scary the present circumstances might be (I know there’s disagreement over what’s scary and what’s not, but you get my drift).

      Third, can we please stop implying the silly, if not intellectually dishonest, idea that one group of people want to “control” things while the other positions–whatever they might be at the moment–stand for freedom. While it is an effective narrative (after all who wants to wear dark robes, have scary music playing when you enter a room, cause people to be dumb and marry their family members…and, therefore, be in “control”), it is simply a way to manipulate the masses…or “control” the masses… How about we just agree that there are a lot of viewpoints, all of which include controlling, and we just disagree about how things should be controlled.

      Fair enough?

  10. Trad,

    Thank you for your suggestion. I was merely linking to an article where someone raises this question as to why LC and LBC changed a long-standing policy. I will make a correction based on your suggestion. The article states that Louisiana is different b/c the EDT is a voting member of the board. Again, thanks for your comment we will make a correction to reference that from the article.


    1. Thanks — I’m from LA and much of what has been said has contained half truths. There are some disturbing things happening but truth needs to be clarified. I appreciate your attitude and keep talking/blogging!

  11. BDW,

    Thanks for your comment. To be honest, all I was doing in this first part is laying out what has happened. The 2nd part will talk about what this means.

    I think you may be right, and I think, as I will lay out in the 2nd part, that the CP will suffer for this if reform or severed ties don’t happen.

    Also, I don’t think control is the issue; it’s accountability and stewardship. Do we want to continue to fund something we don’t believe in if reform is not possible?

    Finally, a school can be conservative and still be in good standing with SACs.

  12. Jedidiah,

    I can’t speak to the history of all institutions, who created them, who maintained them, etc. But, I do have some connection to SBTS as my grandfather, uncle and father were alums with a total of six degrees between them all. Your “type of Baptist” doesn’t get to have an exclusive claim to the history and founding of that instutition (along with many other Baptist institutions).

    And there are likely individuals at those institutions that you wish not to claim (E.Y. Mullins, Clarence Jordan, Henlee Barnette and up until his wallet opened up, the recently deceased Duke McCall). I’m kidding on the wallet part – but only a little bit.

    I’m not sure what the ability to attract students has to do with anything? In the case of Southern Seminary, that school in particular certainly had the ability to attract students in decades past…

    I need to point out that you brought up the freedom vs. control theme. Who doesn’t like to be in control? But the concept of “controlling” has certainly been central to the history of your movement. While the desire to maintain and control is evident within an movement or constituency in Baptist life, “controlling” has not been the cornerstone of those movements/constituencies.

    I realize that the language and approach of your generation likely differs from previous generations. I think the desire to control is still there – you use the more gentle terms of stewardship and accountability whereas the Patterson-Pressler generation was not so gentle and preferred to employ battle imagery.

    And to Jon’s point, I know that a school can be conservative and be in good standing with SACS. That’s definitely true – no doubt.

    But it is the desire to control that often leads “reforming” schools down a bad path with SACS – whether that “reforming” comes in the way of ousting those with more moderate views or ousting equally conservative academics with differing views (Calvinist vs. Non-Calvinist).

    It’s the desire to control that makes a sizable portion of Baptist Higher Education completely dysfunctional. Growing up in that world, I’ve seen it first-hand from different angles.

    1. Ironically, in 2009/10, CN was slapped with a warning status from SACS over financial issues. The next year, the status was lifted and accreditation was renewed. The financial issues came about during the financial crisis/Great Recession of 2007-08, and the actions of the previous administration of CN, leading up to the no confidence vote and ultimately, James Netherton’s resignation.

  13. Are we trying to do the work of the Holy Spirit by making sure that every one believes exactly the the same way. I thought that God would lead us in our understanding of all things if we ask. I suppose I could be wrong.

  14. Pingback: Ignorance on Calvinism at Louisiana College | Because of Grace

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