Reforming academic regalia at Southwestern Seminary

I would not have believed it had I not seen ample evidence to convince me that this report is true. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary celebrated its centenniel convocation yesterday with the faculty wearing black felt cowboy hats instead of the more traditional toppers usually associated with such occasions.

My incredulity stems not from any sense of loyalty to academic tradition or attire. Rather, this just seems too silly for a serious academic institution. It sounds like a stunt.

But, it’s not a stunt, according to Dr. Malcolm Yarnell. He contributed an apologia for the new, western look among the faculty by writing (I am not making this up),

Now, honestly, what is more relevant and dignified in a Texas free church setting: A cowboy’s hat, reflecting our ministry to and identification with our people? Or, a priest’s biretta, indicating we are ontologically superior to our people? Is it not part of our Baptist Reformation heritage to alter mere trappings as we see fit? We are neither in Roman orders nor under Roman custom. We are Southern Baptists, and as free churchmen, we are free to reform our customs and habits as we deem fit.

Certainly, Baptists are free to deviate from traditional regalia in their academic or any other settings. But leaving off for the moment what this new look says to the many Native-Americans in the great state of Texas, I cannot help but wonder why they stopped at the hat, if the desire is genuinely to break with “Roman orders” and “Roman customs?” Why not lose the robes as well?

Spurgeon’s sentiment (in the voice of John Plowman) is shared by many a Baptist:

An ape is ne’er so like an ape
As when he wears a popish cape.

My friend, Wyman Richardson, who alerted me to this development, has written a response that reflects my own attitude. It is worth reading. He closes his thoughts with this summary:

Let’s just call this what it is: “Don’t Mess With Texas” run amuck in what used to be the world’s largest Southern Baptist seminary.

Not that I really care…