Dustup about Southwestern Seminary and Calvinism

Last week the otherwise catatonic SBC corner of the blogosphere erupted when Wade Burleson wrote that the administration of SWBTS was to purge Calvinistic faculty in the name of economic cutbacks. I received numerous questions via facebook, twitter, email and old-fashioned phone calls about that accusation and the resultant denials and counter-denials it provoked. In response to many requests, I actually drafted a post with my own take on the situation. After seeking counsel from trusted advisors (who were split in their judgment), I decided not to post it. In light of the brouhaha that followed Pastor Burleson’s post, I am glad that I didn’t get involved in the public mudslinging. One brief comment that I sent in a private email in response to a direct question did get posted in a comment thread, but otherwise, I have merely watched, listened, and done a bit of checking on the sources for some of the information that became public.

Out of a desire to clarify what is and is not known about the situation, I offer the following public statements that are most germane to this whole controversy.

First is the public assertion by Wade Burleson on his blog followed by the public refutation of Wade’s assertion by Greg Welty in the comment stream of Wade’s blog. After that is the public response to Welty by Burleson. Finally, I have a few observations at the end.

WADE’S ORIGINAL POST

Yesterday Dr. Paige Patterson met with professors in the theology school at SWBTS and said that the seminary would be letting go the five point Calvinist professors from the seminary, claiming that the lack of funds and the need to reduce faculty as the rationale for the impending releases. Odd, however, was the chosen method of reduction. It was not years of service, nor even the performance of the professors, but rather, administration sought to ascertain just who on the faculty were avowed “tulip” men, and those are the ones being let go. Some of the professors present at the meeting included men who specifically informed administration of their beliefs at the time of their hiring, and they were told at the time their beliefs were not a problem. But it seems Calvinism is a problem to the powers that be at SWBTS. At least one professor from the philosophy department, himself on the brink of release, was present. The professors faced a grilling as to their soteriological belief system. They were asked to declare how many points of Calvinism to which they ascribed, and an even more penetrating series of questions were posed to that unfortunate soul who had the temerity to say “four” or “five” points. Historically, dismissals at SWBTS have taken the backdoor approach of “You have a year to find a job,” but the rough economic environment might speed that process up just a tad for these tulip men. Here’s hoping they can make it through the spring. Of course, it is the perogative of the SWBTS President to release whomsoever he will, but the forced, imminent departure of Calvinists from SWBTS illustrates just how far we have come since ideologues, who can’t handle dissent, have taken charge of the Southern Baptist Convention.

GREG’S RESPONSE

Wade, When I first read your post this evening, I was shocked and horrified. I tried to go to sleep, but here it is after 2am, and I cannot get to sleep. Let me just say it straight: you need to repent of your lies and slanders against Dr. Patterson and SWBTS. Failing that, you need to repent of an extremely bad and ill-timed joke. I’ll let you clarify which it will be. I am a five-point Calvinist and I have taught at SWBTS as elected faculty for six years. It is a privilege for me to work under Dr. Patterson’s leadership. I also know all of the other five-point Calvinists on SWBTS faculty. There was no group meeting of faculty yesterday, in which we were all told we were fired, for our Calvinism or otherwise. That is a lie. No Calvinists have been fired. You talk about “professors present at the meeting”. There was no such meeting yesterday. Or the day before. Or the day before. There is no “forced, imminent departure of Calvinists from SWBTS.” What is your evidence that any Calvinists have in fact been fired? I assure you: if something like this had happened, I would be one of the first to know. And what is this claim that, at this alleged group meeting of faculty yesterday, “At least one professor from the philosophy department, himself on the brink of release, was present”? As far as I know, I am the only five-point Calvinist faculty member in the philosophy department, and again, there was no meeting yesterday in which we were told we were fired. Please, Wade: retract this post, and tell us that you henceforth will repent from posting unsubstantiated rumors. Greg Welty, DPhil Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Religion Assistant Dean, Ethics & Philosophical Studies Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

WADE’S RESPONSE

Greg Welty,

You, my friend, deserve a response. Please hear my heart. Sometimes words over the internet do not convey a sense of compassion, and I feel a great deal of empathy for you.

When I wrote that IMB trustees were out to get Rankin’s job, and Paige Patterson was orchestrating his friends who were IMB trustees to push the tongues policy as a backdoor attempt to fire Rankin, IMB trustee leadership screamed bloody murder. They called me a liar, a slanderer, and sought to remove me from the board. Interestingly enough, the week after the IMB trustees passed the new “doctrinal” policies (November 2005), Dr. Patterson wrote Dr. Rankin an email that suggested Rankin step down since his own trustees had turned against him. I have, on tape, Dr. Tom Hatley telling me trustees were ready to make the motion that the office of the presidency of the IMB be vacated. Fortunately for Rankin (or “unfortunately” depending on your feelings toward him), I became the issue at the IMB and his job was saved. And that is not my opinion, that is what the former chairman of the board told me (and, yes, I have it on tape).

When Patterson told all the female professors at SWBTS that their “jobs were safe,” when he became President of SWBTS, everyone relaxed. That is, until Dr. Sheri Klouda was informed that she “needed to look elsewhere” for a job because she was a “woman in a position reserved for a man.” Sheri Klouda lost her job – she was never offered another “permanent” position on the faculty at SWBTS. She would have accepted it had it been offered because of her husband’s health and her daughter’s education in the metroplex. I did not know about her situation until after she was gone. Again, I was called every name in the book. People questioned my integrity. Baptist Identity people said I was lying about Sheri Klouda.

Ask Sheri Kouda what she thinks of Wade Burleson. Ask Sheri Klouda what her husband and daughter think of Wade Burleson. I think you may find that they believe the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth was told by Wade Burleson. And, Sheri may very well tell you that her daughter’s faith in Southern Baptists was restored through the help they received through our church.

Now, Greg, you are wondering whether what I write may or may not be true? I would suggest that if you felt confident that I was untruthful, you would have slept like a baby.

If Calvinists at SWBTS are not released in order to reduce the number of faculty, then I would suggest that maybe you have me to thank for letting intentions be known. If, as has been indicated, people like you are released, don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Either way, rest assured that I do not write what I write in a vacuum. I’ve been around the block in terms of this blog, and everything I write is done intentionally, to wake people up to what is happening in the SBC.

And, what is happening, is a purging of anyone who is not in agreement with a particular ecclesiological, soteriological, and eshcatological viewpoint.

The day of dissent for Southern Baptists is over, unless more people like myself challenges leadership.

MY OBSERVATIONS

1. Wade has published an unsubstantiated (and, according to Greg Welty, false) report. Whether you love Wade Burleson or hate him (and it seems that there are many in both camps) it must be admitted that he has not been shy about exposing wrongs (as he judges them) that have been committed by leaders in the SBC. He has often substantiated his claims that, at first, appeared to be unfounded. I hope that he will do the same with this one and, if anything he has written is proven to be false, that he will acknowledge that.

2. Wade’s assertion about SWBTS’s plan to purge Calvinist faculty, though fantastic, was not beyond belief, due to the climate that has been created over the issue of Calvinism by some in the SBC over the last few years. It is too bad that this kind of tale could not be laughed at and judged as highly improbable, if not impossible, on its face. This should be a wake-up call to those on both sides of this doctrinal divide who seem intent on marginalizing those who disagree with them. It will be a glorious day when those extreme voices are largely ignored and the widespread, default response to such a report is, “No way.”

3. Greg’s response to Wade plainly denies specific details of what was written. Granting that Greg, who is in a position to know, has a good grasp of the facts and has accurately represented them, it is still possible that much of the substance of Wade’s post is also accurate. If the kinds of conversations that Wade describes took place with individual faculty members (rather than in a “group meeting of faculty”) then that will inevitably be made known at some point.

4. Wade’s response to Greg leaves me wishing he had been more specific. He did not respond to the particular charges that he has trafficked in falsehood. Further, he has articulated it in such a way that some people will see him vindicated no matter what happens at SWBTS. If Greg and others are not fired, they will have Wade to thank because he thwarted the intentions of the administration even if he had to resort to telling untruths to do so. If Greg and other Calvinists are fired, then they must admit that Wade tried to warn them that it was coming, even if he had to resort to telling untruths in order to do so. This strikes me as disingenuous at best.

4. The legitimate concerns that Wade has raised over the last few years will suffer because of this kind of gratuitous assertion that does not plainly respond to a direct, simple refutation and call for repentance. A right cause wrongly maintained suffers setback at the hands of its friends.

5. Is there any truth to the concerns that Wade has raised? I don’t know. Time will tell. At this point, all we really know is that Wade believes that the events he has described actually took place. He has not told us why he believes that. We also know that Greg, who is on the scene and who teaches philosophy at the seminary believes that the events Wade described did not happen. He bases his beliefs on the fact that he is there, and would know if such things occurred.

6. What is certainly needed is prayer by all those who are concerned about these matters. Economic challenges are causing organizations–Christian and otherwise–to cut back. Our seminaries are not immune. Hard decisions must be made by administrators in the face of financial shortfalls. Good people will suffer as a result. This is inevitable. It need not be malicious and should be a call to prayer for all of God’s people who are aware of such situations.