SWBTS Trustee Week

The attention of the SBC has been turned, most fortunately, to the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is evidenced, of course, by no fewer than eight articles in Baptist Press over a seven-day period, unprecedented coverage in the nation’s newspapers, and no small bit of blogging chatter.

There is considerable speculation about the “leaking” of presidential reports to the trustees, and as much conjecture about the maneuvering and manipulation of trustees, bloggers, and seminary administrators alike. I make no pretense of understanding the trustee action(s) of the past week, either the motivation or consequence thereof. I sat in the meetings as an observer, spending most of my time perusing a scholarly periodical of one sort or another, or reading a book.

Before chapel on Tuesday, I sat nearby while Tammi Reed Ledbetter from the SBTexan reassured trustee Dwight McKissic that she “knew his heart,” while cautioning him that “others” meant “harm” to the seminary. Leaning into Dwight McKissic, looking thin and tall and matter-of-fact like Jane Hathaway, Mrs. Ledbetter warned the freshman Texas trustee that others might use him as another weapon with which to attack the school, or its president, Paige Patterson. Dwight, as always, was gracious and forgiving where I would have been insulted and taciturn. The ability to use a trustee – or a reporter for that matter – for political gain in the convention is equally possible for those who support Patterson’s agenda for the convention as it is for those who question it. Nevertheless, I’m sure Southern Baptists are quite competent to judge the degree of journalistic impartiality represented in the past week’s onslaught of Ledbetter contributions to Baptist Press.

I must confess that I watch the orchestration of SWBTS trustee meetings with a jaundiced eye. It is not that I distrust the processes and personalities of trustee oversight. Rather, I know the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and I am inclined to a prime facie skepticism of institutional bureaucracies, especially when I have had the good fortune to smell the foul odor at close range and see the corrupting influence of unchecked power upon men of otherwise charitable dispositions.

I do not trust Paige Patterson to run a denominational institution without careful trustee oversight and transparent accountability before the convention that pays his salary. In fact, I don’t think any man should be allowed to lead an institution without meticulous trustee scrutiny of his spending, his appointments, and his application of trustee policies and/or guidelines. Unlike others, I do not believe that gratitude for a man’s service to the convention requires our denomination to sign blank checks for his endowment aspirations, to “put our hands over our mouths” and acquiesce to his latest agenda for the IMB or NAMB, or to yield the governance of one square inch of denominational property, the articulation of one syllable of our denominational confession of faith, or one thin dime of our denominational assets, regardless of how “conservative” the “resurgence” he led.

I believe that the interests and assets of Southern Baptists are best protected and administered in an environment of transparent trustee governance whereby the authorized boards of convention agencies and institutions are elected to preserve the sacred trust committed unto them by messengers to the annual meeting. I believe that NAMB would have been better served by more careful trustee oversight. I believe that Bob Reccord’s name and testimony would have been spared the unfortunate characterization he received because trustees did too little too late to exercise their prerogatives of governance.

One interesting detail coming out of the trustee meeting is the statement concerning private prayer languages. I’ll not labor the point of my obvious disagreement with this statement’s adoption, except to note the difference between the statement proposed by Paige Patterson, and the final statement that was adopted by trustees.

Patterson’s statement, provided to seminary trustees on Monday for discussion during the closed, informal session, included the following, curiously irrelevant sentence in the final paragraph:

“Southwestern Seminary will continue to advocate the full equality of women and men but will also continue to honor the New Testament teaching that women not hold positions teaching or ruling men in the family or the church of God.”

Yet, the final trustee statement, as reported in Baptist Press, excluded the sentence about women’s roles. I suppose the trustees recognized that Patterson’s insertion of the language concerning women’s roles was more about striking Dwight McKissic, whose church allows women to serve in ministry roles that include public proclamation, than it was about addressing the issue of so-called “Pentecostal/Neo-Charismatic” theological influences in Baptist life. I only wish they would have rejected the statement altogether, though I understand from one seminary trustee that some of them felt in the odd predicament of either “supporting the president” or “siding with bloggers.”

Of considerable interest to me was that none of the stories or press releases about the trustee meeting included an account of the new undergraduate program for Southwestern’s college. For years Southern Baptists have joked about the “Mrs.” degree, a fictitious diploma awarded to single women who find a husband and start having babies before the completion of their theological training. But the joking is over now that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees have approved a major degree concentration in “homemaking.”

I nearly shot Diet Coke out my nose when I heard the recommendation to begin a degree in “homemaking,” not only because it was immediately obvious that there are no limits to the absurdity of such a degree, but because it was actually suggested that four semesters of Greek or Latin will make for a better home. Included in the degree are 7 hours of “Food and Nutrition” courses, complete with a meal preparation laboratory, and 7 hours of “Design and Apparel,” with a clothing construction lab. It stretches the imagination to see how such a degree falls under the umbrella of institutional mission conceived by Southern Baptists for their seminaries. In fact, it seems quite silly.

I’m sure that the preacher boys of Southwestern Seminary will be ever so grateful that their wives have been taught sewing and cooking and child-rearing and ironing and baking and dusting by the highly credentialed faculty charged with so noble an academic assignment. And I’m sure that the wafting wind of cookies and pies, along with the soft hum of Singer sewing machines will make the campus of Southwestern Seminary a much more inviting place. But I’m equally sure that Southern Baptists have never envisioned their Cooperative Program dollars being spent to subsidize courses on the proper techniques for wearing aprons or frosting muffins or hanging drapes or serving tea and scones and clotted cream.

A seminary degree in cookie-baking is about as useful as an M.Div. in automotive repair, if you ask me. Nevertheless, SWBTS has to do something to pull out of the enrollment slide that has marked the early Patterson tenure if they are going to reach the president’s goal of 6000 students by 2010. By reading the seminary press releases, however, it doesn’t appear that they intend to market the degree with much visibility. How many girls, if any, will jump at the chance to translate The Iliad while ironing pantaloons and icing petit fours might surprise the churches of the convention who entrust Southwestern Seminary with the heavy task of robust theological preparation.

Now all of that aside, I must admit how much I enjoyed the excellent chapel sermon that Patterson preached on Tuesday. The seminary president is, without a doubt, one of the finest preachers in the country. His simple outline, coupled with his rich exposition and moving appeal, reminded me how much I love to hear Patterson preach. I remember well those days back at Southeastern when Patterson, full of emotion, would appeal for students to surrender their lives to the task of foreign missions. Inevitably, young couples with children — sometimes infants — would make their way down the aisle to surrender to the call. On those occasions, Patterson’s usual jolly countenance would turn to a frown. His eyes would water and his face would redden. Burying his head in his hands, Patterson would cry at the sight of their sacrifice and obedience. Seeing him like that would usually get me to crying too, and until this day there is a soft place in my heart for missionaries who follow God’s call to foreign fields of service.

On Tuesday, it wasn’t the appeal to serve the Lord overseas that brought tears to Patterson’s eyes and a choking break to his voice. It was, rather, the recitation of hymns about intimacy with the Lord in prayer that moved the heart of the man. Watching him there, from the highest point in the balcony, I thought to myself.

With a Bible in his hand, and a tear running down his cheek, the president of Southwestern Seminary was able to put aside all the conflicts, all the schemes and strategies, and for half an hour he stood before men bearing a word from God to lift their souls to the sublime. It is there, behind that pulpit, that Patterson is at his best. The sincerity in his voice and the earnest expression on his face eclipse all the denominational politicking, and for a moment, a complex man with a simple faith yields to the better angels of his nature.

Southwestern Seminary trustees have their work cut out for them. Patterson once told me in his Wake Forest office that “all power in heaven and earth had been given unto him.” He prefers a monarchy over an oligarchy, and he will take as much power as the trustees will surrender. In this, he is not alone, for such is the tendency of all those with similar office.

Blogging may be regarded by some as a damn curse, but if the medium has served to open up the governance of SBC institutions to greater scrutiny, then it is also part blessing. How long the influence of blogging will continue is anybody’s guess. For now, it is clear that trustees read the blogs, and are much more careful in the execution of their fiduciary responsibilities to protect the interests of the Southern Baptist Convention. That, I suggest, is never a bad thing.

15 thoughts on “SWBTS Trustee Week

  1. Hey Ben, one wonders, not that it is any of my business in the long run – that concerning some of the obvious negative comments you have made here of late concerning the SBTC and some of her leadership – do you intend on remaining a part of the SBTC in the future?

  2. Jack, I don’t recall making any negative comments about SBTC or her leadership? Maybe I’ve overlooked something. To answer your question, however…individuals do not partner with SBTC. Churches partner with SBTC. The church I serve is in partnership with SBTC. The decision to continue any ministry partnership is a matter for congregational decision, not pastoral directive. I have heard no hint from our members that they desire to disassociate from our fellow inerrantists at SBTC.

  3. Guess I’ll call the registrar back and cancel my request for an application form.

    Can you hear it now? Pastor’s Wife #1 talking to Pastor’s Wife #2.

    Pastor’s Wife #1 (newlywed) – I really love my husband and enjoy cooking for him all the recipes my mom taught me. Sometimes his mom sends me recipes of his favorite foods too. He has a certain way he likes his shirts ironed … but I finally have the knack for it.

    Pastor’s Wife #2 (a few more years down the road) – Oh, you are one of those non-seminary wives? My dear, I’ll pray for you. I have found that my years of study on homemaking at seminary really was the only way to go. Sure, you can pick up a few things along the way … but a pastor really deserves a wife that is seminary trained. Just as a church deserves a pastor that is seminary trained.

    Pastor’s Wife #1 (confused) – you have to go to seminary to learn how to be a wife? Well, I guess I could check with my husband and see what he thinks. He hasn’t really complained about anything as yet.

    Pastor’s Wife #2 – well, have it your way. But know that I warned you.

    Just a funny little illustration to show that beside all the questions regarding whether a seminary is the appropriate environment for training in homemaking, I can see it setting up yet another hierarchy of what is “acceptable”. Don’t think there won’t be a church or two who doesn’t add this to the requirement for the next pastor search committee. Pastor – seminary trained. Pastor’s wife – seminary trained in homemaking. Perhaps an extreme example … but I wouldn’t be surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

  4. Ben:

    Good post. It reminds me of what I heard of Billy Graham, early in his ministry. When he set up his association, his counselors advised him to be as open as possible. When he started gaining some attention, they advised him to set up a board with directors over whom he had no control, and then to have them set his salary and publish it for all to see.

    That hints at openness and accountability which all such organizations would do well to emulate.

  5. Brilliant post, Ben. I appreciate your willingness to actually speak the truth in love. I am grateful for the leadership of men like you. Don’t let there mind games at SWBTS and SBTC wear at you. You’re a godly leader and some of us appreciate that.

  6. Ben,

    Why do we not have full Accountability/Disclosure in our system of how CP Funds are being used? All of the Churches have full Accountability; our CP Funds seem to float into Thin Air. The misuse of funds are starting to surface with has not been a good witness for the SBC or the Lord. The Seminaries Budgets and all of the Funds used should be open and published for the Churches to see. I think it is time for FULL DISCLOSURE to take place in the SBC, What do you other Bloggers Think?

    In His Name
    Wayne Smith

  7. Nice work, Benjamin.

    I’m frankly at a loss over the homemaker’s degree, especially seeing that many, if not most, pastors wives work outside the home in these days. The entire scenario reminds me of those girls who go through 4 years of undergrad, then add a Master’s to increase their teaching pay, teach for 2 years get married and have kids and quit to stay home. $30k right through the wind chimes.

    Or maybe we’re just preparing for the SBC version of Rachel Ray in which you measure flower and read The Left Behind series at the same time.

    It just seems like another way for students who are already accruing far too much debt to add a little more of it in the name of spirituality. If we had mentoring between the older and younger (as some scripture pretty clearly implies), then all this would be learned during the vastly more important building of deep relationships which is far more profitable than a sheepskin.

  8. I almost quit reading in the middle of your blog thinking this is the same old same old about the trustees, when I glanced down the page and saw “I nearly shot Diet Coke out my nose” I new something good was coming. I had to read this outloud to my wife. She was glad she made me cancel our subscripion the the Alumni magazine. It gave her the creeps to see it in the mailbox.

    Ben, I read your words often because you cut through the crap and tell it like it is. Thanks


  9. That’s well said.

    However, Dr. Patterson was one of the individuals who helped put together the conservative resurgence plan to put trustees in place on all the boards and committees of the SBC. By the time he was offered the presidency of Southwestern Seminary, the board that was in place was made up mostly of people who had his personal stamp of approval to serve there, and who probably wouldn’t have their position on the board without his favor. The convention voted to put those trustees there. My intention is not to be antagonistic or a smart alec here, but I have to ask this question. Where were you when all of that was going on?

    Oh, I can point fingers at myself as well. I just sat back and didn’t really do or say anything, never dreaming that it would go beyond its stated purpose of bringing the denomination back to its historical theological roots. Frankly, in recent years I’ve avoided saying anything or getting involved because I didn’t want to bring that into my work in a local church. Now, here we are.

  10. What with all the AoG members in Alabama, who used to be Baptists, it looks like the Pentecostals have been eating our lunch for years. Might as well prepare seminarians for it, I guess.

  11. I find it sort of incredible that Dr. Dorothy Patterson has issued a “white paper” on the role of women in a e-publication that is meant to instruct pastors and churches. Doesn’t her exposition constitute instruction? Isn’t she instructing men? I get the strategy of having a woman put women in their place. As misguided as that is, that is not the issue. The issue is the irony, and maybe hypocricy, of having a woman write to churches instructing them about how women shouldn’t instruct men! By the way, I’m a man and I found it instructive though I didn’t argee with all her conclusions. Thanks Dorothy

  12. Ben,

    Did you notice the latest release in white papers? The newest is one on the role of women in ministry by none other than Dorothy Patterson. How does that work? I am not an expert, but isn’t she “teaching” the denomination about this?

  13. Regarding the “All power has been given unto me…” remark.

    Even if spoken in jest, there was at least an element of truth in the quip. That’s what would make it funny. Or sad.

    I recall a similar quote myself, in the same location. When asked about the process of electing faculty, wondering how much grilling the sub-Committee on Instruction would give a candidate, the response was, “I could nominate the devil, and the trustees would elect him.”

    Again, there was a touch of jesting, I’m sure. But there was also an element of truth. That’s what made it funny. Or sad.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s