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.

12 thoughts on “Louisville’s Ghosts: Pt. 3

  1. During the course of about a year each and every librarian save NOBTS (I believe) for the SBC Seminaries moved;
    Berry Driver from SWBTS to SBTS
    Craig Kubic from MWBTS to SWBTS
    Shawn Madden SEBTS out
    Kelly Campbell (GGTS) out to Columbia Theological Seminary
    Bruce Kisling SBTS out to University of Louisville

    1. (I love the moniker “conanlibrarian”! Very funny.) I can only speak to two of these moves and one more you didn’t mention, and believe they were either coincidental to the others, or launched the SBC Library version of a 15-Puzzle.

      In any event, it was triggered simply by the retirement of the head librarian at the Ekstrom Library at the University of Louisville. Mr. Keisling accepted their offer to work in a part of the city closer to his home, and suddenly that opened the top library slot at Southern Seminary in L’ville. The powers that be at Southern checked to see if Berry Driver was interested in a change of scenery, and he accepted, allowing Berry and his wife to both be closer to their aging parents.

      Incidentally, SBTS former Archivist Jason Fowler had been asked to take the Circulation Librarian position at SBTS when the previous Circ Librarian moved away. Jason was succeeded as Archivist by Dr. Adam Winters. Jason was in this new position only a few months before Bruce Keisling left; then shortly after Dr. Driver came to SBTS, the head librarian position at Southeastern Seminary opened up. Jason was offered that position and took it, giving him and his wife an opportunity to move back home to the Carolinas and their folks.

      Bruce Keisling, Berry Driver, Jason Fowler, Adam Winters, Chris Fenner (also in the Archives) and many others here at Southern Seminary’s Boyce Centennial Library are a joy to work with, are patient and consummate professionals, loyal staff, warm friends, deeply sincere and humble followers of our King and Savior, and in some cases very busy and brilliant faculty members.

      I know this first hand, I have been here as the Bookbinder and Conservator for nine years, and for two years now I also occupy one of the open windows style offices on the 2nd floor, in my “book hospital”, having been moved from another part of the building. I have been in the ministry 31 years, and can testify to no finer group of Christian people than our team here.

      1. So I’m starting to think there needs to be a sitcom about college/seminary Librarians now… whoever knew there was such a network and excitement in the Library!

  2. Your assessment of Dr. Driver is correct. I had several contacts with him as a student at SBTS, and he was very kind and very classy. As much as he had to do with teaching classes and administrating a library at a school very focused on research, he was most concerned that people love Jesus deeply.

  3. Dr Driver was very kind and gracious to me and all my friends during our mutual time at SWBTS. A tremendous man and excellent librarian.

  4. You state . . .
    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.

    The answer to this is that we allowed things which should have been closely and prayerfully monitored to be on autopilot. We all believed that entrusting that couple (and a few others who we believe in) was God’s work. We believed in the need to save SBC and its institutions from the liberals. We believed both Patterson and Pressler were the route by which restoration was to be achieved. While there was some truth to this, it was indeed much overstated. The real problem, however, was in putting the reformation on auto pilot. We gave way too much power to too few, and blindly followed them way beyond the needed correction. When the reformation turned into a power grab, we were blind and arrogant from our efforts to save God’s work. May God forgive us our blind arrogance and may God save and restore the once Great SBC.

    When I was a pastor in SBC church I could walk over to the fundamentalist churches and be welcomed (they might think I was too liberal, but they would welcome me because they knew we preached Gospel and Salvation in Christ). I could also walk over the ministerial alliance (mainline Protestant) churches. They would welcome me (they might think I was too conservative and too much emphasized Gospel and Salvation, but they would welcome me because SBC churches were known for loving people). Since that time, after the “convervative resurgence,” we lost the balance; we became just another one of the fundamentalists. And American Christianity has suffered becuase it needed the SBC churches as the one group which was neither mainstream and fundamentalist. The SCB distinctive was Gospel and Salvation in Christ. I weep because SBC churches lost Gospel and Salvation in Christ (some still have it, but we are no longer known by this as our distinctive mission). We sold our birthright for a little, temporary political power.

    1. Tim, thank you very much for your tremendous analysis. You articulated but I have been trying to put into words for years. I too weep at the blind arrogance, political power focused leaders and the sad decline they led of the once great conservative Gospel and Salvation in Christ focused denomination. Praying for restoration and healing.

  5. Al Mohler will be speaking here next week .. at the ALSBOM Annual Meeting. Shall I pass along congrats for having a good staff?

  6. Tim Adkison there were plenty of conservatives pointing out Patterson’s excesses from the late 70s on. We at the IMB saw his distortions and lies and warned others but people were so intent on fighting liberalism they didn’t care about the collateral damage. Some knew the truth but were afraid they would not be asked to speak at a pastors conference or get to be a trustee so they went along. Ron West

  7. Ron, your description of those who would not speak against the Patterson/Pressler machine due to fear that “they would” not be asked to speak at a pastors conferences or get to be trustees” is a deeply sad commentary on the corrupt personal motivations if those, (dare I say it?) cowards? They will also answer to Christ in the day of Matthew 7:21-23:
    “21 ¶ Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
    22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
    23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
    Selfish motivation =corruption =Iniquity.
    God have mercy. Those who are still so worried about the temporal stuff and false vanities of this world must repent and ask God to forgive them for sowing hatred, sowing discord among Christ’s followers, and bring great shame to Jesus’ name and hindering God’s will of LOVE. Praying for true SELFLESS, sacrificial service to be renewed among the “professional clergy”.
    Many are beginning to say “professional clergy” are unneccessary…

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