Monday, May 13, 2019

Stained Glass and Shoddy History

Being on sabbatical has brought me blissful isolation from most things ongoing in the SBC. If it is big enough to hit my Google News feed, however, then it pops up into my field of view in the morning. Some of the news that comes my way is encouraging. Some of it is downright dismal. Most of the dismal news has been baseball-related, but for this unsavory tidbit ("Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Displays Stained-Glass Windows Recently Removed from Southwestern Seminary") the only connection to baseball I could discern was my imagination of what a Paul Goldschmidt line drive would do to a stained-glass window.

From the article:

At Liberty University’s Baccalaureate Service on Friday night, President Jerry Falwell made a bold statement to the Southern Baptist Convention when he displayed two stained-glass windows that were recently removed from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel. The windows feature Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, and Dr. Jerry Vines, who delivered the Baccalaureate address.

The two windows were part of a larger collection that honored the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches. Installed only a few years ago, the Falwell window was made possible by financial contributions from Liberty University.

President Falwell said that “unfortunately, a new generation has taken the Convention away from those values in many ways.” He said the windows have been “removed by the new regime.”

The first SBC Annual Meeting I ever attended was in St Louis, MO, in 1987. I attended the convention meeting with my pastor. I was seventeen years old. I voted for Adrian Rogers. Dr. Jerry Vines was elected to serve as president the very next year.

I care about the Conservative Resurgence.

So, because I care about the Conservative Resurgence, I would like to make a few observations about what Falwell has said, and about the general mood of the convention regarding the Conservative Resurgence.

Stop Saying the Stained-Glass Windows Honor the Conservative Resurgence

The stained-glass windows at SWBTS are not a collection of windows "honoring the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches." Period. Full stop.

Rick Warren had a stained-glass window at the SWBTS chapel. Where was he during the Conservative Resurgence? Nowhere I know. Search in vain for his name in any history of the Conservative Resurgence.

Frank Page had a stained-glass window at the SWBTS chapel. Where was he during the Conservative Resurgence? For this one, I actually DO know. I've had a lot of people talk to me about his window in light of his ending, but we ought to talk about his beginning. He was getting a Ph.D. in ethics at SWBTS under T.B. Maston, writing a dissertation friendly to the idea of women pastors. Frank Page was not friendly to the Conservative Resurgence.

By the way, I don't mean to take cheap shots at Dr. Page here. He claimed to have changed his position later. I 100% take him at his word for that. I'm just trying to lead us to do good history, not to attack anyone.

Speaking of that, let's talk about Jerry Falwell. Jerry Falwell was a leader in America. He was a leader in conservative politics. Jerry Falwell was not a "[leader] of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches." Jerry Falwell wasn't a Southern Baptist at the time. His church wasn't a Southern Baptist church at the time. He never served on any SBC committee or board during the Resurgence. He never presided over any SBC Annual Meeting. I do not deny that there is perhaps some way that the things that Jerry Falwell was doing were intertwined with the things that the ACTUAL leaders of the SBC Conservative Resurgence were doing, but there is a difference, if you wish to do careful history, between leading a movement on the one hand and leading some other related movement on the other hand.

Of course, the one way that my observation about Falwell would NOT be true is if you can't see any difference between Falwell's Moral Majority political movement on the one hand and the ecclesiological movement that was the Conservative Resurgence on the other hand. But if you can't see any difference between them, then you need to get some new spectacles. They were friendly to one another, but they were not the same thing.

Dr. Jerry Vines, on the other hand, WAS a leader of the Conservative Resurgence. As were many of the people depicted in the windows. But the three that I've mentioned are not the only people depicted in the windows who will not be mentioned in any serious history of the Conservative Resurgence.

So, to recap, the window collection includes (a) some real leaders of the SBC Conservative Resurgence, (b) a man who was AWOL during the SBC Conservative Resurgence, (c) a man who was, by any fair measure, on the other side during the SBC Conservative Resurgence, and (d) a man who wasn't even a Southern Baptist during the SBC Conservative Resurgence. These are not stained-glass windows honoring leaders of the Conservative Resurgence.

They are stained-glass windows honoring people for whom there existed someone willing to pay money to depict them in a stained-glass window in the chapel, regardless of their relationship (or lack thereof) to the Conservative Resurgence.

These observations are simply factual. Please remember, you can acknowledge these facts (some of which are pretty much indisputable) and still remain hopping-mad at the removal of the stained-glass windows if you like. But fidelity to the ideals of the Conservative Resurgence is absolutely not (as some people seem to think) part-and-parcel with fidelity to these stained-glass windows.

Indeed, to my way of thinking, I've always seen these windows as the worst possible way to try to remember the Conservative Resurgence, even if participation in the project HAD been limited to REAL leaders in the Conservative Resurgence. If I were planning a series of stained-glass windows to honor the Conservative Resurgence, I would have designed windows featuring scenes from the Bible that men like Ralph Elliot thought were pure fiction: the six-day creation of the world, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, the angel preventing Abraham from offering up Isaac.

To my way of thinking, the ONLY people who ever characterized the history of the Conservative Resurgence as a movement to aggrandize and lionize men were the liberals who opposed the Conservative Resurgence. Why on earth should we adopt their narrative? As a supporter of the Conservative Resurgence, I have always understood it to be a battle for the Bible. If we're going to choose stained-glass as the medium for remembering the Conservative Resurgence, wouldn't it be better to depict the Bible in those windows, if we're really trying to remember a "Battle for the Bible"?

At least, that's the way that I see it. If you have a different point of view, then why don't we do this: I won't falsely and maliciously characterize your perspective on the windows, and you don't falsely and maliciously characterize mine. Let's try that out and see if it isn't the Christ-honoring thing to do. Surely anybody who cares about honoring Christian leaders in stained glass ought to care more about honoring Christ in what we say, right?

And if you are one of those who feel differently about it, you have my sympathy. Really, you do. It's embarrassing to have taken down something that was put up to honor you. I'm so sorry. I always knew that if the windows came down, there would be a risk that people I care about would be hurt. Alongside that fear, though, was the fear that if the windows stayed up, someone somewhere might think that look at them and think that they were learning the history of the Conservative Resurgence. Given the seminary's mission as an educational institution, I'm thankful that someone has successfully averted that fate.

Stop Suggesting That Advocacy for Victims of Church Sex Abuse Betrays the Conservative Resurgence

Taking you back for a moment to my seventeen-year-old self in 1987, I supported the Conservative Resurgence because I supported the inerrancy of the scriptures. I went off to Baylor a year later and learned forever how desperately needed the Conservative Resurgence was as I sat in Freshman Old Testament class and listened to Dr. Wally Christian as he derided those who (like me) believed in the truthfulness of the Genesis accounts. A lot changed for me between 1987 (at St Louis) and 1988 (at Baylor).

At Baylor, I came to be acquainted with Schleiermacher and Ritschl and Tillich and Barth. The ideas promoted by these men were, in many ways, the target of the Conservative Resurgence. The more I learned about them and their influence, the more convinced I became that I was right all along in supporting the Conservative Resurgence.

But before I went to Baylor? Back when I was a teenage-preacher in Northeast Arkansas? You could've convinced me that Schleiermacher was a brand of bratwurst. I knew absolutely nothing about German theologians or higher criticism.

But that doesn't mean that I wasn't in the battle.

To seventeen-year-old me, the "Battle for the Bible" was not a battle against the philosophies of Schleiermacher, Ritschl, and Tillich. To me, in my daily life, it was a contest against the philosophies of Bocephus, Cindy Lauper, and Boy George. The people I wanted to see won to Christ—the people around me who were rejecting the truthfulness of the Bible—were rejecting it so that they could get all their rowdy friends to come over tonight or because they just wanna have fun.

The pastor or Sunday School teacher or seminary student who is bedding 15-year-olds left and right is no less at war with the Bible and with the Lord than was Ralph Elliott. They just wanna get rowdy and have some fun, no matter whom it hurts. They have to be defeated, for their own good and for the good of the churches, but most of all, in defense of these victims. May God forgive us for some of the ways that some of them have been treated. As an aside, it is a wicked thing to break people and then blame them for being broken. But I digress.

In any event, there just cannot be a Battle for the Bible that isn't ready to sally forth to war against people like those abusers. There are things that are not really within our power to do to oppose these predators. Our polity is what it is, and I believe that it is biblical and good. By the way, I actually think that if we leaned IN to our polity, it would do more good than leaning out from it would do. Nevertheless, I confess that there are things we cannot do. But I plan to find whatever I can do and prosecute it with extreme prejudice. I do not mind doing battle for the Bible against all foes, whether they be liberal theologians or sexual predators.

An acquaintance with the Continental Theologians came to me later, but the battle between the Bible and worldliness never left me. So, when I do things to try to put an end to sex abuse in SBC churches, I'm not doing it because I'm "woke"; I'm doing it because I'm still a Conservative Resurgence Warrior. That's who I am. That's what I plan to be.

Ten years ago, I didn't care what Wade Burleson thought about it.

Now I don't care what Jerry Falwell, Jr, thinks about it either.

NOTE: I'm still on sabbatical, and I won't ever, in the history of man until Jesus comes back, be looking at these comments. So, I'm turning them off. Thanks for understanding.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

I Found Something I Could Do

At our upcoming Spring Trustee Meeting, I will be bringing a motion to revoke the degree that SWBTS granted to Mark Aderholt. In this post I will explain the rationale behind this action as it is grounded in SWBTS's governing documents and the current state of our laws as I understand them. The motion that I will bring is, of course, just a motion from a solitary trustee. I will not be able to blog about any aspect of how the Board responds to or processes my motion. My purpose in authoring this post is simple: The Southern Baptist Convention has been through a lot of difficulty with regard to past instances of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct. I think that a lot of Southern Baptists wish that they knew something that they could do. I think maybe I found something that I could do, and I'm hoping that you'll be encouraged by that.

The Mark Aderholt Story

If you read the newspaper accounts of his indictment (click here) and of his arrest (click here), you'll be introduced to the broad details of the story of Mark Aderholt. I have invited Anne Marie Miller to share her story with the Academic Administration Committee of the Board of Trustees in our upcoming meeting. Here's what I expect her to tell us.

In 1996-97, Aderholt was a student at SWBTS. In response to Miller's desire to start a See You At The Pole event at her public school, Aderholt initiated a relationship with Miller. He soon led the relationship to become sexual. He was 25. She was 16. Later, when Miller was herself in her 20s, the significance of the age differential became clear to her, and she realized the (criminal) wrong in what Aderholt had done to her. She then told her story for the first time. Aderholt was working for the IMB by then. The IMB investigated the claims, and at the end of their investigation, Aderholt was no longer employed by the IMB. He found employment with the state convention in South Carolina, but no longer. Now he is under indictment for his alleged behavior with Miller.

SWBTS's Governing Documents

The Bylaws of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary explicitly state that, regardless of his or her academic achievements, no student is eligible for graduation if the faculty has reason to question whether the student's conduct or character are unworthy of graduation. This has been an explicitly stated element of the governing documents of SWBTS since, as far as I can tell, the founding of the school.

It is not some forgotten aspect of our Bylaws, either. From time to time down through the years, we have expelled students for violations of the conduct that we expect from SWBTS students. Regardless of their grades or of the number of credit hours that these students had accumulated, they did not receive academic degrees from SWBTS.

Mark Aderholt, however, did receive a degree from SWBTS. This was not because SWBTS came to a different conclusion from the IMB when we investigated Aderholt's relationship with Miller. Rather, we have never conducted any investigation into Aderholt's relationship with Miller. We never received any report of any such relationship. If Aderholt was conducting a sexual relationship with Miller, then Aderholt knew full well that his behavior was grounds for his expulsion. If anything like what Miller claims happened at all, then Aderholt deliberately concealed his behavior from SWBTS in order to avoid expulsion and to obtain, in the end, a SWBTS degree.

The Law of the Land

Educational institutions can legally revoke degrees that have been obtained fraudulently.

Sometimes fraudulently obtaining a degree means submitting a plagiarized thesis or dissertation. But the freedom afforded to educational institutions by American law to revoke degrees is broad. An early case, much quoted in subsequent cases, is Waliga v. Board of Trustees of Kent State University, in which the court stated:

Academic degrees are a university’s certification to the world at large of the recipient’s educational achievement and fulfillment of the institution’s standards. To hold that a university may never withdraw a degree, effectively requires the university to continue making a false certification to the public at large of the accomplishment of persons who in fact lack the very qualifications that are certified. Such a holding would undermine public confidence in the integrity of degrees, call academic standards into question, and harm those who rely on the certification which the degree represents. (emphasis mine)

The court in Waliga made explicit mention not only of the receipient's educational achievement, but also of the institution's standards. The fraudulent receipt of a degree can mean more than academic misconduct. In the 200 case Harwood v. Johns Hopkins University, the court upheld JHU's right to withhold a degree from a student who, after completion of his degree, shot and killed another JHU student. Just one year before, in 1999, the case Dinu v. President and Fellows of Harvard College upheld Harvard's right to withhold a degree from two students who had stolen money from Harvard Student Agencies. Lexington Theological Seminary v. Vance (1979) upheld a religious school's right to withhold a degree from a homosexual student based upon religious convictions, and the cases Goodreau v. Rector and Visitors of University of Virginia (2000) and Yoo v. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2004) affirmed the right of institutions not only to withhold degrees not yet awarded but also to revoke for non-academic misconduct degrees already granted.

If Mark Aderholt obtained his SWBTS degree fraudulently, then SWBTS has the right to revoke that degree. If Mark Aderholt concealed a sexual relationship that he was conducting with Anne Marie Miller, then he obtained his degree only by way of preventing the school from being aware of his behavior. Such a concealment would amount to fraudulently obtaining a degree from SWBTS.

The Only Question

So, the only question is whether things happened as Miller has claimed.

As mentioned before, the International Mission Board previously investigated these claims, and the results of their investigation (as those results have been reported) found that Miller's claims were more credible than Aderholt's denials. Tarrant County has found her claims to be credible enough to arrest Aderholt and indict him.

I find her story to be credible. I believe her.

Certainly, if her story is credible enough to launch a process that ended his employment at the IMB and credible enough to launch a criminal prosecution, it is credible enough for me to launch a process at SWBTS to consider the revocation of Mark Aderholt's degree.

Conclusion

In a December 19, 2018, article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Miller encouraged victims of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct to come forward with their stories. "I think they’ll find a lot of people standing beside them (when they do so)," she said.

Among my other reasons for bringing this motion to our board meeting, I'd like to do my part in helping Miller's prediction come true.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Heritage of SWBTS Continues

Yesterday the Board of Trustees of SWBTS elected Dr. Adam W. Greenway as the ninth president of the seminary (See coverage in Baptist Press here).

The reception of the news has been overwhelmingly positive both across the campus and across the convention. There have, however, been a few expressions of concern. I write today to address them briefly. Although worded in different ways (Southern takeover, Mohler takeover, Calvinistic takeover, etc.), the expressions of concern yield themselves, I believe to analysis that distills them into two basic loci of angst: First, does Greenway's election at SWBTS represent a departure from the historic character of SWBTS in regard to the school's mission and theology. Second, does Greenway's election serve anyone else's interests more than it serves the interests of SWBTS.

Let me say first of all that I went into this process with a clear procedure in mind for myself: Before I even knew who our candidate would be, I resolved that ANY candidate would be a no-vote from me until he earned my yes-vote. I can say with a clear conscience that Dr. Greenway and our new Provost, Dr. Randy Stinson, received at my hand the most thorough vetting I knew how to give. I asked all of the questions: the polite ones and the rude ones, the sophisticated ones and the blunt ones. If I did not offend them at any point in the past two weeks, it is because they are gracious, not because I didn't try. :-)

Who Is Served by Adam Greenway's Election

Although none of us as of yet can know (less than 24 hours into his administration!), I am hopeful that his election will serve the Kingdom of God, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I believe that he will be successful in attracting new students. I believe that he will be successful in raising funds. I believe that he and Dr. Stinson will successfully build the faculty—and by "build the faculty" I mean build faculty morale, congeniality, effectiveness, and spiritual maturity.

I have served for a decade on the board of our seminary, and nobody there is serving anyone's interests other than those of Southwestern. We would not have risked what we have risked and we would not have subjected ourselves to what we have endured for any other reason. That this board has given such overwhelming and enthusiastic support of Dr. Greenway is evidence that he has convinced us that his election serves the interests of SWBTS above all others.

Whither the SWBTS Heritage?

Dr. Greenway's remarks at the post-election press conference should answer this question far better than I can. He spoke of the heritage of Southwestern in terms that should resonate clearly with all true Southwesterners. He spoke of Carroll and Scarborough, Conner and Garrett, Baker and Estep, Fish and McDowell, Naylor and Vaughan and Tolar. He spoke of a national seminary located in Fort Worth, Texas, that spans the globe and leads the convention.

If he can mobilize the ideas of these men and vector it toward that vision, then I think we can safely say that the future of SWBTS will align well with her heritage.

For my part, I am excited to watch and see what happens.

Conclusion

So, brothers and sisters in the SBC, if you have wondered whether those concerns that I mentioned at the top of this article are valid, permit me to address two groups of us who sometimes harbor such concerns:

There are those of us who leap to such conclusions because, deep down inside, we enjoy doing so. If that is the nature of your heart, then I cannot help you.

There are those of us who fret over such possibilities because our love for SWBTS and our gratitude for what the Lord did for us there is so profoundly deep and has tendrils that reach so inextricably into all that we are and all that we do. We feel a solemn duty and precious calling to protect her from harm. If that is the nature of your heart, then I can honestly say before God that I feel exactly the same way. I can say that I left no question unasked and no possibility unexplored. I can say that I am hopeful today that God has good things in store for SWBTS under the leadership of Dr. Adam W. Greenway.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

2016 Proposed Resolution on Sexual Predation in the Southern Baptist Family


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In 2016 I offered this resolution at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. It did not make it out of the committee. It seems highly relevant today. Nothing in here violates our polity or any other aspect of our ecclesiology whatsoever. The resolution respects local church autonomy while recognizing that autonomous churches have the right not to be affiliated with wrongdoing churches.
On Sexual Predation in the Southern Baptist Family
May 17, 2016
Whereas any act of sexual predation is a sin and an abomination, and many acts of sexual predation constitute crimes; and,
Whereas all fifty states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U. S. Virgin Islands have laws requiring certain professionals to report suspected sexual abuse of children, and twenty-seven states specifically require clergy to report suspected sexual abuse of children; and,
Whereas Article XVII of The Baptist Faith & Message expresses our common belief that “it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience [to our civil government] in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God”; and,
Whereas God has commanded us to “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14, NASB); and,
Whereas Article XV of The Baptist Faith & Message expresses our common desire to “oppose…all forms of sexual immorality”; and,
Whereas God has commanded us to address sin on the part of elders, when sufficiently corroborated, with public rebuke and to do so without bias or partiality (1 Timothy 5:19-21); and,
Whereas Article VI of The Baptist Faith & Message affirms our common belief that pastors must be those “qualified by Scripture,” which reminds us that pastors must be “above reproach” and “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2, HCSB); and,
Whereas anecdotal reports of predatory sexual behavior toward both minor and adult members of churches by clergy or church staff are widespread; and,
Whereas woefully common are anecdotal reports of efforts by churches to prevent the reporting of predatory sexual behavior to legal authorities, to hide sexual misconduct from the members of churches, or to forestall the public release of information regarding sexual misconduct on the part of church leaders; and,
Whereas such reports, when they involve churches in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention, damage the Convention’s credibility in its efforts to call to salvation a world full of people who are enslaved to sin and are often involved in destructive sexual practices; and,
Whereas failure to mourn over and take appropriate disciplinary action toward persistent, unrepentant sin is evidence of spiritual arrogance (1 Corinthians 5:2); and,
Whereas the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention has reported to the Convention in 2008 that “The governing documents [of the Convention] in their present form already permit messengers attending any annual meeting to move to withdraw fellowship from any affiliated church for any reason,” and that, “declaring a church not to be in ‘friendly cooperation’ with the Convention would certainly be justified in any specific case where a church intentionally employed a known sexual offender or knowingly placed one in a position of leadership over children or other vulnerable participants in its ministries”; now, therefore, be it
Resolved that we, the messengers of the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, regard any pastor’s involvement in any extramarital sexual relationship to be disqualifying for the office of pastor, and that we further regard any pastor’s involvement in any sexual relationship with any member of his church other than his wife to constitute an abuse of his pastoral authority over the congregant, a betrayal of his pastoral relationship with the entire congregation, and a reproach upon his service in the office of pastor; and be it further
Resolved that we regard such misconduct to be so severe as to warrant action by churches to terminate the employment of pastors who behave thusly and to revoke their ordinations; and be it further
Resolved that churches who knowingly ordain or hire into pastoral office those who behave thusly are churches whose faith and practice do not identify closely with The Baptist Faith & Message as it pertains to pastoral qualifications; and be it further
Resolved that churches who knowingly prevent people from reporting cases of sexual misconduct are churches whose faith and practice do not identify closely with The Baptist Faith & Message as it pertains to the role of God-ordained civil government; and be it further
Resolved that we encourage fellow believers to consider whether churches and parachurch ministries that have demonstrated a pattern of placing sexual predators into positions of influence or intimidating or otherwise silencing victims of sexual predation are unworthy of support or patronage unless they repent; and be it further
Resolved that we humbly call to the attention of the various boards of trustees, state conventions, local associations, and local churches within the Southern Baptist family the degree to which churches and parachurch ministries who willfully enable, tolerate, or cover up sexual misconduct are corrosive to the collective Southern Baptist witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further
Resolved that we affirm a consideration of the highest standard of ethics regarding the prevention and reporting of sexual predation as relevant information when considering “all questions of cooperation among the different entities of the Convention, and among the entities of the Convention and those of other conventions, whether state or national”; and be it further
Resolved that we would benefit greatly from hearing the stories of churches and institutions who have handled well the discovery of sexual misconduct in their congregations; and be it further
Resolved that, recognizing that false accusations of sexual predation do sometimes occur, we affirm thorough investigation by trained investigators working for the proper authorities rather than avoidance or suppression of accusations as the most reliable means to discover both false accusations and valid accusations for what they are; and be it further
Resolved that we commend to those who have acted as sexual predators the way of regeneration for those who are lost, and for all, repentance, spiritual growth, and vigorous accountability in a church family as the only hope for victory over the pernicious snare of sexual temptation; and be it finally
Resolved that we humbly and gently commend the way of apology and repentance to our sister churches and to various parachurch institutions who have failed to handle appropriately the discovery of sexual misconduct in their congregations or institutions.