Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt’s Web site has been updated to include two honorary degrees in his biographical sketch from schools identified by EthicsDaily.com as diploma mills.
EthicsDaily.com first noted in an editorial June 12 that even though he is routinely introduced as “Dr.” Johnny Hunt, the newly elected SBC president did not earn a doctor’s degree. Baptist Center for Ethics Executive Director Robert Parham cited sources documenting honorary doctorates belonging to Hunt from Covington Theological Seminary, Immanuel Baptist Theological Seminary and Tennessee Temple University, while noting that Hunt’s ministry Web site omitted mention of those degrees.
The EthicsDaily.com editorial made the round of several blogs, and the Washington Post carried a guest column by Parham arguing that Hunt legitimated diploma mills by bearing a doctorate from one, an act which encouraged younger ministers to take educational shortcuts.
An individual saying he works for Hunt posted comments Monday on the Bene Diction blog reporting that Hunt’s Web site had been updated to mention the honorary degrees. Not listing them was an oversight and not an attempt to deceive, the staff member insisted.
“I can understand the argument of whether or not someone with an honorary degree should use whatever title comes with that degree,” one comment said. “I do not think it is right to accuse a man of lying or tarnishing his character because he chooses to do so.”
But Parham said his beef is not with honorary degrees but rather Hunt’s implied endorsement of non-accredited schools like Covington Theological Seminary in Rossville, Ga., and Immanuel Baptist Theological Seminary near Atlanta.
Neither school is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, the primary accrediting body for post-baccalaureate theology schools in the United States and Canada, including all six seminaries operated by the Southern Baptist Convention.
Immanuel Baptist Theological Seminary, which started in a church, is accredited with the American Federation of Christian Colleges and Schools, which is not recognized under Generally Accepted Accrediting Practices.
Degree.net describes the group as one of six Bible school accrediting agencies. Since many Bible schools admit their degrees are not academic in nature, their accreditation has no educational relevance. In general, the Web site says, such schools tend to elevate doctrinal soundness above educational standards.
Some are diploma mills, businesses that make profit by disguising themselves as a college or university and selling fake degrees requiring little or no academic work by students.
Covington Theological Seminary says its accreditation is from the Accrediting Commission International. ACI opened in Beebe, Ark., after Missouri’s attorney general shut down an organization with a similar name there for accrediting an illegal diploma mill.
Hunt isn’t the only conservative religious leader under scrutiny about academic credentials. Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College and the Canada Family Action Coalition, is one of the country’s leading culture warriors in the fight against gay marriage. McVety is also national co-chairman of Christians United For Israel, Canada’s affiliate of an American umbrella organization headed by San Antonio pastor John Hagee.
McVety received his doctorate from California State Christian University. An American extension of Tae Han Theological Seminary and College in Seoul, South Korea, California State Christian University is affiliated with Victory Bible Colleges International. Neither body is listed in a Council for Higher Education Accreditation database of institutions recognized by U.S. accrediting agencies.
A Canadian blogger who identifies as Bene Diction said it is dishonest for Christian leaders to hold fake doctorates from diploma mills.
“I am getting seriously fed up with this ‘lying for Jesus’ mentality,” said Bene Diction. “There is a new president of a major convention in the U.S. running around with fake doctorates, a real Canadian fundamentalist with fake doctorates heading in the back door of the Hill, holding special screenings of what he thinks a movie is and then rushing off to hold an anti-racist rally.”
“I really do not blame people for thinking evangelicals are not worth a hello,” the blogger continued. “It is one thing for the church to be a hospital for sinners, it is quite another to be a petri dish for putrid, self-aggrandizing lies.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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