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.