Earlier I promised to make a motion in San Antonio regarding professorial salaries. Now I want to take a little time to explain why. It is my understanding (and my earnest hope) that we take good care of our missionaries. Indeed, in defense of the Cooperative Program I have heard people say that the dependable and comparatively generous support that we supply to our missionaries is the envy of scores of self-funding missionaries around the world who learn the discipline of fervent prayer while staring at the mailbox each month awaiting the hoped-for support checks from US churches and individuals. I cannot verify this concept first-hand, but let me genuinely say from the bottom of my heart that things ought to be that way. If we do not take good care of our missionaries, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. It is my understanding (and my earnest hope) that we take good care of our denominational executives in every nook and cranny of Southern Baptist life. Some try to stoke the unrighteous fires of envy and provoke us to jealousy over the generosity of Southern Baptists toward those who give so much to lead our entities, but I am not among them. I am not privy to all of the details of SBC executive compensation, but I support high salaries for our leaders. If we do not take good care of our executives, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We do not take good care of our seminary professors, and for that, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. I am trying to rectify that situation. In doing so, I offer the following points, some to show why I have come to this conclusion, and others in rebuttal to anticipated objections:
- The vast host of our pastors are endebted in some way or another to a seminary professor. I'm guessing that something you use in a sermon, something you do in your church, some point of theology that is precious to you—somewhere in your ministry one can discern the impact of a professor in a seminary, if God favored you with the opportunity to go to seminary.
- All of the other categories mentioned above depend upon seminary professors. Our missions boards depend upon our seminaries for some of the credentials and qualifications for missionary service. Our executives are largely the product of our seminaries. The funding of seminaries was not a part of the original raison d'être of the SBC, but the convention came pretty quickly to realize how vital a seminary was to SBC missions endeavors.
- It is much more expensive to become qualified to be a seminary professor than to be anything else in Southern Baptist life. My expenses were greater because I pastored a church some distance away from the seminary (making my commute longer and making me take longer to finish), but I can account for $50,000 of expenses related to my doctorate. That's not counting the MDiv expenses, BA expenses, etc. Many of our future professors will get a degree for less, but I have given you a figure to take into consideration, anyway.
- Seminary professors are laboring in accountability to the Southern Baptist people. Some notice should be taken and reward should be given for a sector of employees who have admirably turned things around since 1979. I'm not saying that all is perfect at our seminaries, but the amount of progress is spectacular. Southern Baptists have nobly and ably wielded the stick, but it is time to locate that carrot.
- Yes, I am qualified to serve as a professor, have had opportunities to serve as a professor, and do currently teach adjunctively for SWBTS. No, that doesn't mean that I'm trying to feather my own bed. God has called me to be a pastor. I became aware of that calling when I was eleven. It was a dramatic and powerful experience of calling. It is going to take a pretty clear word from God to get me into anything else. Furthermore, the legacy of the pastor-theologian is a compelling one for me. I do not anticipate that I will ever be a faculty member at any of our seminaries. I see myself as just the person to lead this campaign. I am close enough to the situation to see the need, yet just far enough away to carry the need to the Southern Baptist people without appearing self-serving. Most of those who know about the problem feel that it would be inappropriate for them to say anything. I do not feel thusly constrained. By the way, my adjunct salary is quite modest, and I'm not at all certain that it would be affected by my motion.
- This problem cannot be laid at the feet of seminary administration or the boards of trustees. The problem is endemic to all of our seminaries. It has existed for a century. Thus, nothing specific to any one seminary, any one administration, or any board of trustees can tenably be alleged as the cause. I am convinced that they are doing the best they can with what they have.
- Special campaigns are not the answer. If you are raising money for a building, you can name every room, foyer, and alcove for a donor. I remember Dr. Hemphill saying about the Leadership Development Center at SWBTS, "If you see anything around here without a name on it, we'll be glad to talk with you about putting one there." People will give to put their names on structures. On the other hand, even if you endow a chair (raise money to pay a professor), you can only reasonably attach one name to that project. People just don't give for that sort of thing. Also, since this problem affects multiple seminaries, campaigns at individual seminaries will not address the problem effectively or equitably.
- Letting seminary professors supplement their income with interim pastorates is not the answer. Some of our professors are called to teach, not to preach. Nobody is more supportive than I am of a tight connection between seminary and church. But I am also supportive of those whom God has gifted for academia and called to teach. Either these denominational servants are at a serious pecuniary disadvantage, or some church in the vicinity of a seminary winds up with someone whom God intended to do other things besides preach. Neither scenario is a good solution.