Abruptly dropped into social media on Friday evening, Feb. 7, was the word that Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, is closing.
The abruptness hit persons differently – however emotional, long term, up close and personal the relationship has been.
Logsdon Seminary began as a regional response to the need for Baptist theological education in West Texas.
The seminary found itself in the accreditation track of the Association of Theological Schools. The accreditation standards, as well as the faculty gathered, gave impetus to a regional school becoming international in impact.
Most of the early faculty came from four of the six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries: Southern, Southwestern, New Orleans and Midwestern.
I was invited to join the faculty to be the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics. Eventually, there were four of us on that faculty who had earned doctorates in Christian ethics. None of the other Baptist schools could make such a claim.
The faculty could cover the waterfront of theological education. I was asked to lead courses not only in Christian ethics but also in evangelism and spiritual formation.
One should take notice of a decline in applied/practical theology courses in most faith-based schools.
One person described the Logsdon Seminary faculty as a group of thoroughbreds who worked like draft horses. The metaphor communicated clearly in West Texas.
The Logsdon faculty contributed to the university and beyond in ways that were out of proportion to their numbers.
They wrote books, articles, led conferences in regional, national and international contexts, but most importantly engaged in local congregational efforts as interim pastors, teachers and study leaders.
They served on the major university committees, some serving as university faculty presidents. When something needed to be done across the university, the Logsdon faculty was sought out to give leadership.
During one of the Logsdon accreditation reviews, the university president at the time told that group that Logsdon was the moral compass of the university, a dynamic felt across the university.
The faculty was a team preparing students to be able to go anywhere in the world, informed and formed in biblical, theological and ethical ways to be substantive representatives of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
We taught students content, yes, but more importantly how to think about the content.
Logsdon Seminary received its share of critiques. We were called the “liberal” Texas seminary.
The criticisms came from those identified as propositionalist theologians/pastors. That is, those who took Scripture out of context, interpreted Scripture as leverage for position, for judging others.
“Liberal,” was and is an ad hominem attack from those who have a narrow comfort zone for anything different from them and their partisan group.
They usually fail at the test of going into all the world if that means going beyond their own understandings of money, sex, power and complexions.
Financial reasons have been given for the closing of Logsdon. Faith-based private schools live on thin margins, and administrators of those schools admit the business plan is broken. More information beyond the Friday HSU information is promised.
Still, the abruptness and lack of more details have given rise to a wave of speculation across social media.
With this wave among the texts, Facebook posts, emails and phone calls are questions that will continue to be raised until some more substantive rational is given about the Logsdon closing.
For example, questions like these:
- Why was there no more detail earlier about the closing?
- Why were alums, former faculty and friends of Logsdon not contacted about the financial needs of Logsdon, how they might help alleviate the pressure?
- Without any more information than has been brought forward, doesn’t this look just like the “takeover” brought upon Southern Baptist Convention agencies and institutions?
- In fact, doesn’t the closed door, last-minute partial trustee group meeting resemble closely the process put into place that eventuated in the firing of Russell Dilday, who was president of Southwestern Seminary?
- How does the phrase in the press release “to position Hardin-Simmons favorably in an increasingly competitive marketplace” match with the founding document put together mostly by James Simmons that the purpose of the school is (1) To bring young men and women to Christ; (2) To teach them of Christ; and (3) To train them for the service of Christ? Those statements don’t connect.
The social media communications have expressed sadness, disbelief, frustration and anger. It dawned on me that these express the stages of grief as outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Indeed, persons are experiencing loss.
There has been denial – “I can’t believe the news.”
There has been anger – texts and Facebook posts that can be categorized as rants.
There has been bargaining – comments, letters written to the HSU trustee board and administration to rethink the decision.
There has been depression – social media posts, texts and phone calls that reflect despair.
So far, acceptance, Kubler-Ross’ last stage, has been few and far between. But acceptance can be slow in coming, sometimes only as we finally become too exhausted to experience any other stage of grief.
These stages do not move in sequence. These stages run in on one another, then moving on to another stage. And, the stages reappear months and years later after the death of a family member or friend. One unexpected association triggers the stages all over again.
I have suggested to students over the years that experiencing loss in whatever form may well have the most to do with shaping who we are and who we are becoming.
I suggest now to those former and current students, former and current faculty and friends of Logsdon to embrace the loss, the grief.
Use the energy in these stages toward extending the ministerial grace, love and power they learned by being associated with Logsdon Seminary to others.
Calling has always been highly articulated at Logsdon. Discernment and clarification were given priority.
As you have been mentored by faculty, and faculty as you have had students who have been some of your best teachers, go and teach others in other contexts about calling, ministry and how Christian institutions should operate.
Bill Tillman has spent 40 years working in Baptist institutions, with the Christian Life Commission, SBC; at Southwestern Seminary, with the BGCT as Director of Theological Education, and on faculty at Logsdon Seminary, Hardin-Simmons University. Currently he is the Coordinator for the Center for Congregational Ethics.