Past is prologue: The 1994 SWBTS Controversy in Orlando, FL

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When Southern Baptists met on June 14-16 during the 1994 Annual Meeting, the dust had not yet settled from the March 9th firing of Southwestern Seminary President Russell Dilday. Having been offered a $400,000 golden parachute to retire, Dilday refused the trustee request and forced a showdown that resulted in his forced termination, a change of the locks on his office doors, and an armed escort into house arrest on the campus of the Fort Worth school.

The move took the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention by surprise. Odd enough, it came five years after an effort to censure Dilday — led by then trustee Chairman Ken Lilly of Ft. Smith, AR — failed to garner sufficient trustee support. The situation was rather frosty going into the 1990s, though one year later it seemed like things were beginning to thaw.  Dilday had apologized for harsh rhetoric, and Texas pastor Jimmy Draper reported from a seminary leaders’ retreat that while both sides had not “always handled things right,” they were willing to “reaffirm a commitment to the Lord and each other.”

The peace didn’t last.

Draper went to Nashville, and Dilday got the axe.

The outcry was loud and swift. From country church deacons to megachurch pastors, the anger intensified as the convention’s annual meeting was fast approaching. Confusion and doubt hung over the future of the school, its accreditation, student enrollment, and the seminary’s financial position. Top donors pulled their support. More than 1,000 students protested on campus. Unlike recent student disciplinary action, none were terminated or had their scholarships revoked for public disagreement with seminary leadership.

Dilday’s actions, trustees alleged, had “brought embarrassment and potential permanent injury to the school.” His management style was one of “arrogance, isolationism, and disdain for authority.”

Dilday had, they accused, “repeatedly criticized the convention and its elected officers and leaders.

More than anything, trustees were angry that student enrollment had declined from more than 5,000 students to just over 4,000.

Today, it’s hovering just above 1,000 FTEs.

Marching toward Orlando, concerns about how the trustees had acted — and the rationale they offered for their actions — began to eclipse concerns about the actual firing itself.

With that history in mind, The Baptist Blogger is pleased to provide a video montage of all motions, debate, parliamentary considerations, and voting results related to SBC messenger efforts to address the trustee actions during the 1994 Orlando convention.

If nothing else, it is interesting to watch the day O.S. Hawkins and Adrian Rogers lined up publicly on opposite sides of a question: