Over one month ago I decided to raise money to try to financially support any dismissed Southern Seminary professor who had his severance withheld because he refused to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). The elders of the church I serve are fully supportive of that effort.
Some confusion has arisen about this effort in recent days that I want to clarify in this article.
Southern Seminary announced budgetary cuts last month that included the dismissal of several faculty and staff members. Like most Southern Baptists, I was saddened by the news. The Covid19 pandemic has resulted in financial difficulties all over. Businesses and educational institutions of all stripes have been forced to make difficult decisions. It makes sense that an entity as large as Southern Seminary would not be immune to the financial impact of these days.
When I read a copy of the “Separation Agreement and Release” I was concerned to see that anyone who signs this document pledges himself not to talk about it, with anyone except his lawyer or accountant. Not even his pastor or his wife. It also requires those who sign it to promise never to “make any public or private statements (whether oral or in writing) that are derogatory or damaging to Southern Seminary, or any of its administration, faculty or staff, except as required in response to a subpoena, court order, or other legal compulsion….”
I can understand why a man would not want to sign such a document. While no one should speak slander or words of malice, as Christian men, we should speak the truth in love. I confirmed that two professors—Drs. Jim Orrick and Russell Fuller—were unwilling to sign the document. I reached out to them and told them of my plans to do what I could to raise money to replace that which was being withheld from them.
Jon Harris (Conversations that Matter) let me know that he was interviewing Dr. Fuller and offered to promote my efforts to raise money for the dismissed professors. Jon took the video that I produced to explain what I was doing and attached it to the end of part 1 of his interview with Dr. Fuller.
Since that time I have fielded several questions about my and Founders Ministries’ “association,” and/or “joint-efforts” with Jon and the “Enemies within the Church” film (with which Jon is involved). There is no such association or joint-effort. Jon’s promotion of my efforts in behalf of Drs. Fuller and Orrick has led some to think I supported his interview with Dr. Fuller or even the larger project. That is an erroneous conclusion to make. Jon interviewed Dr. Fuller for his podcast. I am trying to encourage people to help financially support dismissed professors who will receive no severance for not signing an NDA.
Many have asked me what I think of the interviews that have been released. I have several thoughts but they basically fall into two categories. One, Dr. Fuller has been a respected, senior professor for a long time at a highly respected seminary. If he raises concerns about things he sees being taught at that seminary or about colleagues, then I believe those concerns should be taken seriously by the administration and trustees. Second, it is a serious matter to make a charge of heresy or even theological error against a seminary faculty member. Any such charge should be carefully and rigorously documented. I have concerns on both points. Our church elders, as well as other men whose theological insight I respect, have raised sincere questions about whether Dr. Fuller has publicly marshaled sufficient evidence to sustain all of the charges that he has made. We have had further, gracious dialogue with Dr. Fuller about those matters.
It is no secret that we are in a time of theological, ethical, and cultural turmoil. We need honest, rigorous, and transparent conversations about doctrinal and spiritual issues that threaten to divide us. We do not, however, need automatically to regard those with whom we disagree as enemies. The Lord Jesus has been incredibly patient with me in my errors and folly over the course of my life. Because of that I am unwilling quickly to write off those who name the Name of Christ with me as wolves in sheep’s clothing. I realize that such people exist within the church. Indeed, our Lord warns us about them. But a man must demonstrate that he is such before I will refuse to call him brother.
I encourage you to pray for all of our Christian brothers involved. By God’s grace, we can watch our life and doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16) without biting and devouring one another (Gal. 5:15).
Finally, the Apostle Paul’s warning should be heeded by all who love the gospel: “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing” (1 Tim. 6:3-4).