Professors at Carson-Newman College reflect “Christian commitment,” “respect for Scripture” and “integration of Baptist distinctives into the contemporary classroom,” according to a trustee investigation of teaching at the Baptist-affiliated school in east Tennessee.
Last year the Tennessee Baptist Convention called for investigation of what is taught at all three of its colleges. That followed complaints by a Carson-Newman student at the convention’s annual meeting that professors there teach the Bible contains errors and promote evolution by claiming the creation stories in Genesis are figurative and not literal fact.
The TBC ordered its Education Committee to look into teaching at Carson-Newman–as well as at Belmont University in Nashville and Union University in Jackson–and report findings to an Executive Board. Messengers to this year’s annual meeting, scheduled Nov. 15-16 in Clarksville, will decide how to respond to the report.
The report of Carson-Newman trustees, posted on a conservative Web site, found no evidence of un-Christian or non-Baptist teaching at the school in Jefferson City, a small town with about 8,000 residents located 32 miles from Knoxville.
The trustees appointed a special committee to “review the particular issues raised” at last year’s annual meeting and prepare a response adopted by the full board.
Findings include that the religion faculty “affirms the full inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of Scripture.”
The school’s biology teachers, meanwhile, “readily affirm that the God of the Bible is also the Creator.”
“The faculty does not advocate the Theory of Evolution,” the trustees report. “In the one class where macroevolution is extensively discussed, alternative theories, such as creationism, are also presented.”
The trustees claim professors at the college “respect students and their perspectives,” even when they disagree, while pledging to continually look for new ways to be more sensitive to issues that relate to students’ faith.
“In a postmodern culture which argues intellectually against truth, Carson-Newman strives to defend and promote the essential, objective claims of the biblical worldview,” the report concludes. “At the conclusion of this process, we, as trustees of Carson-Newman College, elected by the Tennessee Baptist Convention, are convinced that the faculty of Carson-Newman College are doing Kingdom work.
“They represent the very finest of the Christian liberal arts tradition. Their teaching reflects their Christian commitment, their respect for Scripture, and their integration of Baptist distinctives into the contemporary classroom. We, as Tennessee Baptists, are blessed to have these co-laborers stand beside us as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission.”
The report requests that future questions about internal workings of the college be referred directly to the board of trustees, so that “concerns can be critically examined for fact and substance and complex issues can be considered in a thoughtful and deliberate way. As a result, our Kingdom work will be enhanced, and the good name of Tennessee Baptist institutions will continue to be held in high esteem.”
The student who raised the issue last November criticized the report as “inaccurate and misleading.”
Brady Tarr, a chemistry major who graduated from Carson-Newman last December, disputed findings that the faculty does not advocate evolution and that religion professors believe the Bible is without error.
Tarr charged even the process used to investigate was flawed. “The information presented by the faculty of the biology and religion departments by way of the investigative committee to the Carson-Newman board of trustees was decidedly slanted to appease any ‘investigation’ and make it sound like they were within the parameters of Southern Baptist doctrine, which is not true,” he wrote.
Tarr said, “It broke my heart when I was at Carson-Newman to see unsuspecting students come to Carson-Newman expecting to get a Christian education but instead were turned away from the faith because of what they were taught.”
“If you were taught that the Bible contains many errors and contradictions, would you be more or less inclined to trust and put you faith in what it says?” he asked.
Tarr urged conservative messengers to “pray and consider what action should be taken.”
“Carson-Newman should have understood by the convention’s actions last year, when approximately 95 percent of the messengers were concerned enough to vote to have Carson-Newman investigated, that Tennessee Baptists were serious about holding the college accountable to the word of God and deserved to have an inquiry which heard dissenting voices.”
“It is my prayer that Carson-Newman would become a place that is known as an authentic Christian institution as proved by what is taught instead of what is reported by a committee,” he concluded.
“Please come to this year’s convention prayerfully prepared to act and show Carson-Newman that we as Tennessee Baptists are serious about the biblical standards that a Christian college supported by the Tennessee Baptist Convention must have.”
This isn’t the first time relations between Carson-Newman and Tennessee Baptists have been strained.
In 1998, Carson-Newman amended its charter to allow the board to control the election of trustees. The state convention responded by withholding $2.4 million in funds budgeted for the college and placing them in escrow.
The convention eventually released the funds, with interest, after Carson-Newman’s new president led trustees to reverse the change, allowing the state convention to pick the school’s trustees.
In September the state convention Executive Board rejected another trustee-selection proposal by Belmont University. In addition to choosing its own trustees, Belmont’s board wants to include non-Baptist Christians on their board.
The proposal calls for up to 40 percent of trustees to be non-Southern Baptist Christians. Officials say the change is needed to help recruit students and raise money. Currently all trustees are required to be members of “cooperating” Baptist churches, though not all are from Tennessee.
Belmont and TBC officials have reportedly discussed the impasse. The state convention Executive Board is expected to discuss the matter when it meets Nov. 14.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.