Louisville’s Ghosts: Pt. 3


Editor’s Note: We have just returned from four days in the wilderness of upstate New York completely unplugged from cellular service or internet access, without electricity or indoor plumbing, in a house build in 1855 and heated by wood stoves. We made it back to civilization just in time to vote in Tuesday’s election. Our publication schedule now resumes.

Originally built in 1959, the library at Southern Seminary cost just short of $2 million to construct. The lead gift for its development came from a generous contribution of the daughter of James Petigru Boyce, the seminary’s first president. On the second floor of the library is a room dedicated to the late Billy Graham, wherein the library’s full- and part-time staff does the yeoman’s work of maintaining the seminary’s vast archival collections.

Before visiting the seminary to review boxes of correspondence in the papers of Wayne Ward — longtime professor of theology at the seminary and distant relative of Southwestern Seminary’s one-time first lady emerita — we contacted the seminary librarian, Dr. Berry Driver, to announce our visit and designate the boxes we hoped to examine.

Unbeknownst to us, the Ward Papers are not held on campus, but rather at a remote storage facility, requiring a week’s advance notice for their retrieval. Our advance notice was less than 3 days, including a weekend.

Yet within hours of our original request, we received confirmation from Dr. Driver that the archival staff would support our research needs in every way. Despite the short notice, the archivist made quick work of retrieving the files we designated, and over the weekend of Oct. 6-7 confirmed the boxes would be available on the following Monday.

On Tuesday morning, Oct. 10, we made our first visit to the archive room where we were greeted politely, given all necessary forms to sign, and reassured of the full support of the library staff while we did our research.

Pause for a moment.

There is little doubt about what we’ve been up to. Over the course of the last several months we’ve been on four seminary campuses, conducted hours upon hours of telephone interviews, visited multiple churches and convention offices, and met in person with dozens of people in an effort to find answers to one great question:

How did the Southern Baptist Convention permit one determined couple to spend denominational resources so lavishly, manipulate its trustee system so blatantly, and deceive its constituency so unabashedly for more than four decades?  And when their “uppence had come,” as Churchill once quipped, it occurred with a force and resolve that no-one could have predicted.

Indeed, when the levees broke, truth came rushing in like a righteous flood.

Back to the point.

It’s been surprising — and promising — to sense the open access to seminary archives at Southern and Southeastern. And as recently as last week, we have been encouraged by efforts on the part of Southwestern Seminary to start removing some its dusty damask curtains and letting the light shine in. Twenty years ago, when Paige Patterson learned from his toady assistant of our digging — with administrative permission mind you — through the archives at Southeastern, he immediately banned our access to the files and demanded us to relinquish copies of documents we’d uncovered.

We refused. And therein begins our unfolding drama of disillusionment, distance, and in the end, determination.

At every turn in Boyce Library, we found the staff most accommodating. And that wasn’t our experience alone.  During the course of our research, several others came into the archives and received the same gracious, efficient, and impartial treatment. It has been said that a fish rots from the head, but integrity rolls down stream. There is little question that the culture of academic excellence and institutional courtesy we observed at Southern is both expected and modeled at the highest levels on the seminary’s campus.

Which brings us to Dr. Berry Driver.

Driver began his tenure at Southern Seminary in Jan. 2014.  Our own season of studies at Southwestern Seminary overlapped Dr. Driver’s tenure by a few months back in 1999 and again in 2003-2004, though our paths never crossed. Mutual friends and colleagues had consistently praised Driver for his stewardship of Southwestern’s libraries and his scholarly distinction in the classroom. We had also heard of his patience and endurance while being straw-bossed by Dorothy Patterson, whose skill identifying, authenticating and procuring artifacts and antiquities for Southwestern is only now becoming apparent.

(Note: For an easy and rather pedestrian, non-scholarly read on the Luther Rice alumna’s purchase of fake Dead Sea Scrolls, click here. The price of the little booklet has dropped dramatically in recent days, though not as precipitously as that of Southwestern’s collection of fraudulent fragments.)

During our visit to Southern Seminary, Dr. Driver stopped in to see how our research was coming along, inquired about our current book project, and generally offered encouragement and continued assistance as we write. But we observed more.

We saw Driver opening doors for students, helping another student whose book kept setting off the alarm (the volume was from another institution), and offering to assist faculty with their research needs. One thing, however, stood out.

The personal office of the Southern Seminary librarian is on the main floor, just to the right as you enter the front doors, and completely visible thanks to glass windows that line the wall. There, in a modest workspace covered with books and assorted things, Berry Driver oversees one of the largest theological libraries in the world. Students, faculty, guests, even little children, can walk by and look in on what he’s doing. In fact, it almost was humorous to think of kids pressing their noses against the glass and staring like they might watch animals at the zoo.

But windows are a good thing in Southern Baptist life. They let the light in, and they let the people see what’s going on, how their Cooperative Program dollars are being spent, and who’s responsible.

Berry Driver is not afraid of transparency. Not in the seminary archives. Not in his own office space. It is our contention that the Southern Baptist Convention is in desperate need of something between aggiornamento and glasnost. The Dean of Libraries at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is setting a good example in both regards.

Editor’s postscript: We apologize in advance for the potential increase in viewing traffic that we might have caused outside the windows of Dr. Driver’s library office.