Mission Dignity for Southwestern Seminary faculty and staff

(UPDATED 3/8/17 @9:10AM; Footnote 8 added)

March 7, 2018

Dr. O.S. Hawkins
Guidestone Financial Resources
2401 Cedar Springs Road
Dallas, TX 75021-1498

Dear Dr. Hawkins:

Congratulations on the 100th birthday of Guidestone Financial Resources and your two decades of service as president and chief executive officer of the nation’s largest Christian-screened mutual fund family. I look forward to celebrating these significant milestones at the coming annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas later this year.

Recent published reports deriving from the financial straits presently faced by your alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, give rise to my present inquiry. It has come to my attention that the enrollment of Cooperative Program supported students – that is, students endorsed by and planning to serve Southern Baptist churches – has declined at Southwestern.

Ostensibly, the reason for the loss of Southern Baptist students at Southwestern is due to a “much heavier emphasis on personal evangelism.”[1] According to the seminary president, this “emphasis on personal evangelism” has dissuaded prospective Southern Baptist seminarians from pursuing theological education and pastoral training at the school. Despite this enrollment decline, however, the seminary president has pledged that “until such time as our future pastors show an interest in evangelism,” the seminary will continue pursuing non-Southern Baptist student enrollment.

The syllogism evident in the president’s report to the 2017 convention is thus: (1) Southwestern Seminary has placed a heavy emphasis on personal evangelism; (2) future Southern Baptist pastors do not support this emphasis and will not enroll at the school; and; and (3) the loss of these Southern Baptist students results in lost Cooperative Program support for the seminary. [2]

This loss of revenue has hit the school hard. [3] According to a recent report, the seminary administration has been forced into three rounds of lay offs. In November 2017 alone, the seminary announced additional cuts of 30 fulltime staff.[4] Furthermore, the seminary has been forced to reduce the number of breakfast options on campus, cut the Copy Center hours in half, decrease the seminary fleet of vehicles, and not fill vacant positions.[5] Fortunately, the seminary has received generous support from a handful of donors to construct a new Baptist Heritage Center on campus, complete with living quarters for the seminary’s president and his wife upon retirement.[6]

It has also come to my attention that in recent years the seminary president has authorized cuts to faculty retirement benefits and reduced matching employer contributions to faculty annuities.[7] These reports are troubling, nor does it seem that seminary trustees have made provision for the retirement of long-time faculty and staff on par with the generous provisions made to the current seminary president.

Indeed, I am not aware of any donor(s) who might have arisen to pay for the construction of faculty retirement homes on campus, though it is certain these men and women would similarly benefit from proximal access to campus research libraries, zero property tax burden, dedicated personal research and domestic staff, and other emoluments promised to the seminary’s current president upon retirement. Their sacrifice on behalf of the Gospel is no less significant, nor is their service less noble. Their personal financial burdens, in fact, are more pronounced. And their ability to use seminary resources to identify, solicit, and facilitate multi million-dollar tax-exempt contributions to ensure their own retirement comforts is limited.

For this reason, and given the impressive track record that Guidestone has had under your leadership through Mission:Dignity[8] to help retired Southern Baptist ministers, workers, and their widows with extra money needed for housing, food and vital medications, I write to inquire if your organization has considered establishing a similar endowment to assist seminary professors – particularly those suffering hardships and reduced retirement benefits at Southwestern Seminary – so that they may continue their service to Southern Baptists, even in retirement?

Thank you for your time and consideration. I would hate to think that Southwestern Seminary’s “heavy emphasis on evangelism” would intensify the present and future financial burdens on faculty retiring from lifelong service at one of the convention’s seminaries. I stand ready to assist in any way possible as Guidestone considers a way to supplement the cuts to Southwestern faculty retirement benefits ordered by the seminary’s president and ensure a place for them to live comfortably — on campus if possible — well into the future.

Until then,

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 11.11.32 AM

Benjamin S. Cole

CC:      Kevin Ueckert, SWBTS Trustee Chairman

[1] See published report of Paige Patterson to the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention, 2017 SBC Annual, page 236ff, accessed online at http://www.sbcec.org/bor/2017/2017SBCAnnual.pdf

[2] It is unclear at the present time if Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, LA, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, all of which have experienced increased enrollment of Cooperative Program funded students, have minimized their emphasis on personal evangelism, thus resulting in increased numbers of Southern Baptist students.

[3] This is not the first time Southwestern Seminary’s president has been alerted to intense financial strains because enrollment has not kept pace with the growth of expenditures. See also https://baptistblog.files.wordpress.com/2007/03/sebts-finanles.pdf

[4] See report at http://sbcvoices.com/southwestern-seminary-cuts-10-of-their-full-time-positions/

[5] See news release at https://swbts.edu/news/releases/southwestern-seminary-preserves-investment-family/

[6] See http://www.sbcthisweek.com/patterson-discusses-retirement-plans/

[7] For instance, Southwestern Seminary reported to the Southern Baptist Convention that it had “suspended” employer contributions to the Guidestone-managed retirement accounts of faculty and full-time seminary employees beginning in January 2009. See page 403 at http://www.sbcec.org/bor/2010/2010SBCAnnual.pdf

[8] According to the 2017 annual report of Guidestone Financial Resources, all proceeds from the sale of O.S. Hawkins’s books — published by Thomas Nelson and sold at both online and traditional bookstores around the country — benefit Mission:Dignity. See page 161 at http://www.sbcec.org/bor/2017/2017SBCAnnual.pdf.