A pioneer in the movement to move Southern Baptist seminaries sharply to the right two decades ago says conservatives shouldn’t fight moderate colleges that want to leave the Baptist fold.
“Candidly, most everything is set in Southern Baptist life,” Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Tuesday in an open forum chapel at the school in Fort Worth, Texas.
“Most of the colleges and universities that have chosen not to move with the conservative movement are not going to move with the conservative movement,” Patterson said. “[There’s] nothing you can do that will do anything but create more hostility and more difficulty.”
Along with Houston layman Paul Pressler, Patterson is recognized as an architect of the “conservative resurgence” aimed at rescuing Southern Baptist Convention seminaries from alleged “liberalism” in the 1980s and 1990s.
While conservatives were successful in gaining control of the six seminaries owned by the SBC, several colleges and universities–such as Baylor, Wake Forest, Furman and Stetson–cut historic ties with Baptist state conventions to avoid a similar fate.
At present the Tennessee Baptist Convention is engaged in struggle with two of its three colleges.
Tennessee Baptists sued Belmont University in Nashville for changing its charter to include non-Baptist trustees.
Recently the convention voted to tighten doctrinal requirements for future trustees, in part an attempt to exert conservative influence over Carson-Newman College in east Tennessee, which is in turmoil over leadership issues.
A trustee subcommittee at Carson-Newman held listening sessions with faculty Wednesday and Friday. Informal reports were that trustees were open and responsive, in marked contrast to a similar process four years ago. It is unclear, though, whether a majority of trustees support the school’s embattled president, James Netherton.
A “Leadership Crisis” statement read to trustees described the Netherton administration as “broken beyond repair” and urged trustees to act quickly before faculty members start departing en masse.
“We also are concerned that without visionary leadership, Carson-Newman’s grand tradition of academic excellence will fall before the onslaught of the forces of fundamentalism in the Tennessee Baptist Convention,” said the statement, posted on a Web site sponsored by Concerned Carson-Newman College Alumni & Friends.
In response to a question broadcast on the Southwestern Seminary Web site, Patterson said conservatives shouldn’t worry about schools that have changed their legal documents to “protect them from the Baptist people actually who founded the colleges and universities and have supported them from coming back into an authoritative position with those colleges and universities.”
“That’s OK,” he said. “People are free to do what they want to and let them go. What God has done graciously to us is Â¡ give us more of the colleges and universities than we ever thought we would have.”
“I thought frankly when we started out that out of the 56 Southern Baptist state-run colleges and universities we wouldn’t get more than four or five of them for the conservative movement,” he continued. “We’ve actually ended up with about 15 of them.”
(That would include one Tennessee Baptist School, Union University in Jackson. It is regarded as the most conservative of the three. Its president, David Dockery, has strong support among the state’s conservatives.)
Cedarville University, a 3,000-student school in southwestern Ohio, was endorsed by the SBC-affiliated State Convention of Baptists in Ohio in 2002. Patterson serves on its board of trustees, alongside Jack Kwok, executive director for Ohio Baptists, and Hayes Wicker, pastor of First Baptist Church in Naples, Fla.
Liberty University was founded in 1971 as an independent fundamentalist Baptist university in Lynchburg, Va., by Thomas Road Baptist Church Pastor Jerry Falwell. The Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia recognized Liberty as a cooperating institution in 1999, and Falwell’s independent church for the first time affiliated with the SBC.
Several prominent Southern Baptist pastors are on Liberty’s board of trustees, and former SBC president Jerry Vines is a past chairman.
Christian Heritage College, now called San Diego Christian College, was brainchild of Tim LaHaye, then pastor of Scott Memorial Baptist Church of San Diego, who went on to author the Left Behind bestseller series.
The college’s current chancellor and pastor of what is now named Shadow Mountain Community Church–but still affiliated with the SBC–is David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Ministries. He is a regular columnist in Baptist Press.
“We didn’t know any of that was going to happen,” Patterson said of the schools, “and God brought them to us.
“So it’s been a wonderful thing, and now all of our seminaries, just about, have a college program also. So we’re ending up very strong, and what we do is we support those that believe every syllable of the word of God and pray for those that don’t–but don’t fight them.”
“There’s no use fighting that battle any further in my estimation,” Patterson said. “The thing to do is keep our own house clean.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.