Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. discusses current issues facing the SBC

Friday, June 30, 2006
Baptist Colleges and Baptist Churches — Who Threatens Whom?

The William Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society presented its 2006 “Courage Award” to retiring Mercer University President R. Kirby Godsey. Receiving the award, Dr. Godsey told the society’s members that the “monumental crisis” facing Baptist educational institutions is church control and the intrusion of ecclesiastical authority.

Godsey made his remarks in the course of delivering the society’s Penrose St. Amant Lecture on “The Future of Baptist Higher Education.” According to a report by Marv Knox published by Associated Baptist Press, Godsey declared that “Baptist politics are wreaking havoc on Baptist higher education . . . . Baptist higher education has never been more fragile.”

From the report:

Because of their dependence upon Baptist state conventions, which provide a portion of their budgets and typically elect at least a majority of their trustees, Baptist schools increasingly are being “forced to sacrifice their intellectual integrity to ensure the flow of funds,” he reported. Two Baptist universities have been involved in lawsuits with Baptist state conventions with which they are affiliated, and a suit looms on the horizon for another university and convention, Godsey said.“While Baptist educators and denominational leaders can chart a course of hope that benefits both church and school, “our present course is terrible,” he stressed.

“If they do not create a relationship based on mutual respect, Baptist educators will have to make the choice between being Baptists and being educators,” he added.

Control, and most particularly financial control, breeds difficulty, he said, noting state conventions’ control over funding is being used to “enforce rigid religious orthodoxy.”

Specifically, Godsey warned that schools are threatened by the trustee selection process, making this remarkable statement: “Trustees should not be forced to choose between what’s right for the institution and what’s acceptable to the denomination. … Churches should get out of the business of selecting trustees.” Further: “Trustees are accountable not to a church constituency, but to [the university’s] mission.”

Wait . . . there’s more. Consider this piece of upside-down analysis: “Baptist churches must be free, and Baptist colleges and universities must be free to pursue intellectual freedom,” he explained. “Denominational leaders trying to control educational decisions is no more appropriate than schools seeking to control pulpits.” Well, the churches are funding the schools; the schools are not funding the churches. Denominations and churches have every right and responsibility to hold the institutions they sponsor and fund accountable to their commitments.

Dr. Godsey’s address contained nothing fundamentally new, but it should serve to awaken some Baptists to the two rival visions of education and Christian identity that mark the fault-line of our times. On one hand are those who, like Dr. Godsey, want the churches to fund schools that will feel no basic obligation to the truth claims those churches hold to be precious, non-negotiable, and central. On the other hand are those who believe that any school that claims a Baptist identity and receives Baptist funds should be accountable to Baptist churches through the trustee process.

Mercer University is a clear example of an institution that would represent Dr. Godsey’s vision. That makes sense, given the fact that he is soon to retire after 27 years as the school’s president. The landscape is littered with colleges and universities that long ago abandoned their commitments to Christian truth and accountability to the church.

Dr. Godsey’s lecture is a helpful reminder of how those institutions made their break – and why.

Dr. Godsey is no stranger to theological controversy. He is the author of a book entitled When We Talk About God . . . Let’s Be Honest, in which he denied the infallibility of the Bible, suggested that Jesus did not intend to be worshipped, and argued: “To say that Jesus is God’s word is not to say that Jesus is God’s only word.” [See my article, “When We Talk About Heresy . . . Let’s Be Honest.”]

He told the Whitsitt Society, “You don’t always ask to be courageous. You get pushed into it . . . Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” When it comes to far too many colleges, universities, and seminaries, that horse left the barn a very long time ago.

For coverage from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, CBF News, go here.