The tactics of conservative fundamentalists were unfamiliar to me in 1994 as a first-year graduate student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
By the end of my first year, I was no longer unfamiliar.
In the spring of that year, seminary trustees arrived on campus, which always brought worry and consternation to both faculty and students.
The rumors in the halls and classrooms were consistent: Conservative fundamentalists were out to fire esteemed and long-termed president, Russell H. Dilday.
After assuring worried faculty and students they were not going to dismiss Dilday, the very next day they let the hatchet fall. Counting the votes prior to the meeting, conservative fundamentalists realized the time was right to strike.
Dilday was fired, the locks of his office door were changed, and he was escorted from the meeting room to the presidential house. He would not be allowed back on campus.
That was 26 years ago.
After his departure and my graduation from Southwestern (I stayed because Dilday told me to stay), I began working alongside my fellow pastors and colleagues to make certain conservative fundamentalists would not gain control of Texas Baptist institutions, agencies, associations and the beloved state convention.
Standing upon the principles of Baptist freedoms, Texas Baptists seized the opportunity to combat conservative fundamentalists who were seeking to acquire and control the Baptist movement.
Organizations like Texas Baptists Committed worked closely with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) to thwart a takeover from conservative fundamentalists.
Texas Baptists stood for the four fragile freedoms: Bible freedom, soul freedom, church freedom and religious freedom. They believed in the priesthood of all believers and the autonomy of the local church.
This tireless work to fend off conservative fundamentalists paid off for several decades. Unfortunately, it appears the Texas winds have changed.
Conservative Baptists, claiming to be “moderates” theologically, are inching ever closer to acting like the conservative fundamentalists of old.
Last week in Abilene, Texas, the Baptist Standard reported that trustees at Hardin-Simmons University voted to close Logsdon Seminary with President Eric Bruntmyer calling the school “financially weak.”
Last year at the BGCT annual meeting, EthicsDaily was told that a group of west Texas pastors were considering a motion to defund Logsdon because the seminary was thought to be too liberal.
They apparently withdrew the motion out of conscience or decided another not-so-public tactic was needed. Either way, the motion was not presented.
Speaking directly with Texas Baptist leaders and Logsdon staff, those close to the seminary felt as though the seminary was safe from defunding or closure. Then, last week happened.
The decision to close Logsdon was made with an announcement sent out late Friday night, Feb. 7. While university trustees and President Bruntmyer argue that the closure was part of a larger financial crisis and restructuring, there seems to be more to the story.
In a rebuttal to Bruntmyer’s stated purpose for the seminary’s closure, the former dean of Logsdon, Don Williford, responded, “Mr. Bruntmyer accused Logsdon Seminary and Logsdon (LSTUG) faculty of being liberal.”
Williford continued, “Mr. Bruntmyer specifically mentioned a meeting he and several Trustees attended in Lubbock, hosted by Dr. David Hardage, Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. In addition to Dr. Hardage, three pastors participated in the meeting: Howie Batson, Pastor, FBC Amarillo; Bobby Dagnel, Pastor, FBC Lubbock; and Darin Wood, Pastor, FBC Midland. These four individuals accused Logsdon Seminary of promoting LGBTQ individuals, homosexuals in particular, to serve in leadership positions in Texas Baptist churches. Mr. Bruntmyer told the faculty and other individuals and groups in different settings that these pastors said they would no longer send students from their churches to Hardin-Simmons because Logsdon had become so liberal.”
More so, Williford makes the case that Bruntmyer was not fully candid when presenting the financial reality of Logsdon Seminary, specifically with regard to the school’s multiple endowments and the allocations of those funds.
If Williford is correct, then Bruntmyer and the trustees should be held accountable for misleading students, alumni and the public.
Actions like we have seen in Abilene this week reveal a troubling trend emerging across the Texas Baptist landscape.
Texas Baptist leaders and pastors seem to be re-establishing relations with conservative fundamentalists from the Southern Baptist Convention while distancing themselves from more moderate to progressive Baptists.
For example, in recent years Texas Baptist leaders have spoken in chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is the same Southwestern that fired Dilday and is controlled by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the very convention that tried to take over the BGCT for decades.
Also, the Texas SBC seminary is currently working closely with the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.
As Texas Baptist leaders appear to be moving the state convention closer in line with the SBC, at the same time, they have distanced themselves from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and their churches.
CBF opened their hiring policies in 2017 to include the potential employment of LGBTQ personnel for certain positions.
More and more CBF churches are opening their memberships to LGBTQ persons, a decision both the BGCT and SBC leaders consider as an endorsement of sin.
The BGCT has traditionally withdrawn fellowship from churches that are welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ members, officiate same-sex marriages and/or ordain clergy who are gay or lesbian.
More recently, the BGCT ceased associating with Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas and First Baptist Church in Austin because of their affirmation of LGBTQ people.
Because more moderate and progressive Baptist churches welcome and affirm LGBTQ persons and advocate more vocally for social justice issues, conservative Baptists grow more uncomfortable with that direction.
It appears that Texas Baptists are aligning with the conservative fundamentalists they once opposed.
Why does all of this matter? What’s happening in Texas Baptist life might be a microcosm for the rest of the country.
Texas is one of the largest U.S. states, both geographically and by population. While Texas has traditionally been a solid conservative state, both religiously and politically, the winds of change are sweeping across the Lone Star State.
As emerging generations become less religious, they are also becoming more politically moderate to liberal. Even those remaining religious lean further to the left than previous generations.
In addition to emerging generations, minorities in Texas are growing at a rapid pace with Hispanic, Asian and African American populations gaining on their white counterparts.
In fact, The Atlantic magazine asked an interesting question in 2018. Could Texas turn blue politically?
The trend of a declining white conservative male dominance in Texas indicates one truth: The winds of change threaten the status quo for white conservatives who have controlled the state’s religious and political institutions for decades.
If there is one certainty history has taught, it is that white patriarchal dominance, either blatant or disguised, will not hand over control without pushing back.
White patriarchal dominance will not give way without opposition. People or institutions who cannot be controlled are a threat and must be obliterated.
Something strange is blowing across the Lone Star State these days. What’s in the wind is yet to be determined; however, the rest of the country should keep careful watch.
Will productive change sweep through like a warm spring zephyr or will the creaking doors of progress slam shut? Only the future will tell.
Until then, let’s remember Bob Dylan, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”