Saturday, July 22, 2006

Well, who'da thunk it?

I have friends who attended Baylor University, in Texas. So I knew, years ago (decades? probably) about the struggle between Baylor and the Southern Baptist Convention, when the SBC decided it should control who taught at Baylor, and what was taught. But Baylor was chartered before there was a Southern Baptist Convention, and it said "No thank you" and severed its ties with the Convention.

Now that seems to have turned into a pandemic:

Georgetown [College, a small Baptist liberal arts institution in Kentucky] is among a half-dozen colleges and universities whose ties with state Baptist conventions have been severed in the last four years, part of a broad realignment in which more than a dozen Southern Baptist universities, including Wake Forest and Furman, have ended affiliations over the last two decades. Georgetown’s parting was ultimately amicable. But many have been tense, even bitter.
Why? Very simple:

“The convention itself in its national and state organizations has moved so far to the right that previous diversity on the faculty and among the trustees is no longer possible,’’ said Bill Leonard, dean of the Divinity School at Wake Forest. “More theological control of the curriculum and the faculty has been the result.’’

David W. Key, director of Baptist Studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory, put it more starkly. “The real underlying issue is that fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist form is incompatible with higher education,’’ Professor Key said. “In fundamentalism, you have all the truths. In education, you’re searching for truths.’’
This is directly related to the so-called "crisis" in mainline denominations, the one where "liberal" churches are supposedly losing members because they are "out of touch" with what people want.

The last straw at Georgetown College was a suggestion that the Religion Dept. consider hiring someone who interpreted the Bible literally. How literally?

"You ought to have some professor on your faculty who believes Adam and Eve were the first humans, that they actually existed," Dr. York [then President of the Kentucky Baptist Convention] said.
As the President of the college said: "I sat for 25 years and watched my denomination become much more narrow and, in terms of education, much more interested in indoctrination."

This is sadly ironic, because I remember Baptist evangelical ministers speaking with pride about their preacher sons who planned to get Ph.D.'s from Harvard. They wanted their children to have good educations. They were clearly quite proud of what it said about their children, and didn't seem to fear any diminution of their faith. Sadly, that no longer seems to be the dominant sentiment.

But is it the dominant sentiment in America? Does the majority of people want colleges that simply idocrinate? Or colleges that educate? I know a lot of people who attend Baptist churches; I don't know any of them who are opposed to a good education. This is not strictly an issue for many people beyond college faculties; but it indicates that the simple dichotomy of good "conservative" churches v. bad "liberal" churches really doesn't hold up to scrutiny. The hard-core "conservatives" have less support than they imagine they do. What they've gotten good at is controlling certain institutions, largely through political manipulation. But that reach has its limits. When the Church of Meaning and Belonging begins to ask for sacrifices of its own, it finds out what those limits are. We quickly come back to that issue of the "consent of the governed."

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