Why is this Colorado pastor blogging about a university in Kentucky? Those of you who know me well know that I spent the better part of 15 years in Kentucky, leaving in 2011 to move to Colorado to be the lead pastor at a church. With Kentucky not too far in the rearview mirror, I still love and pray for all the Baptist institutions in the Bluegrass.
Among those institutions stands Campbellsville University. Recently, the university changed its relationship with Kentucky Baptists so it can appoint its own trustees (Baptist or otherwise) and “maintain academic freedom”—breaking a covenant established in 1986. In a letter published to Kentucky Baptists, Campbellsville began by communicating a desire to “protect the mission of the University and to avoid both undue influence and the imposition of theological and doctrinal control.”
The Board of Trustees of Campbellsville University has adopted a revised set of bylaws which gives the Board more flexibility in its relationship with the KBC. Campbellsville University has proposed to the KBC that it enter into a new “partners in ministry” relationship. We have proposed that good-faith discussions be held to forge a relationship that allows CU’s Board of Trustees to select and seat trustees who meet current service requirements set forth by the University, to maintain CU’s academic freedom, and phase out direct Cooperative Program funding from the KBC over a four-year period.
This is a similar path that another former Baptist institution, Georgetown College, cut ties in 2005. A 2006 New York Times article that covered the split between the KBC and Georgetown College seemed to clarify the issue in the first two paragraphs:
The request seemed simple enough to the Rev. Hershael W. York, then the president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He asked Georgetown College, a small Baptist liberal arts institution here, to consider hiring for its religion department someone who would teach a literal interpretation of the Bible.
But to William H. Crouch Jr., the president of Georgetown, it was among the last straws in a struggle that had involved issues like who could be on the board of trustees and whether the college encouraged enough freedom of inquiry to qualify for a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.
“From my point of view, it was about academic freedom. I sat for 25 years and watched my denomination become much more narrow and, in terms of education, much more interested in indoctrination,” Crouch continued.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention (along with the Southern Baptist Convention) hold to a high view of Scripture: its authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency. The phrases “maintain academic freedom” have long been the watchwords of institutions holding to a liberal (literally, a loose) view of Scripture. The plenary (every) verbal (word) inspiration of Scripture is deemed too “narrow” and thus those who hold to this view do not educate but indoctrinate.
Yet, Dr. York asked for a theological conservative. Period. “You ought to have some professor on your faculty who believes Adam and Eve were the first humans, that they actually existed.” But fears abounded: a takeover? Politicizing from conservatives? Will more fundraising come in if we’re non-Baptist?
Having had college students from my former church who attended Georgetown, they would often e-mail me about some of things they learned in their classes. Their concern over the professor undermining or at least questioning the inspiration of Scripture disturbed them no end. And often I would have to help them sort it all out. Having been at a seminary that, at one point, did the very same thing in their classes, I remembered the crisis and how I had to fight through it all.
But many, out of reverence and respect for those ‘learned’ professors, lost their will to fight.
Campbellsville University stated their desire for the future:
We remain committed to the churches of the KBC. CU remains committed to maintaining a Christ-centered mission of Christian higher education as stated in Vision 2025. CU will maintain a Board of Trustees that is 100% Baptist. We will retain a strong Church Relations Council that provides direct input from pastors and church leaders that is predominately Baptist in affiliation. Our commitment is to provide an environment where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is presented to all students and where the transformation of lives in Christ is celebrated and affirmed! That is our history – that is our commitment – and that is our future!
Time will tell what the relationship between the KBC and Campbellsville will entail in the future. Yet, using the phraseology of “imposition of theological and doctrinal control” from Kentucky Baptists sounds eerily similar to Georgetown. Academic freedom and holding to the inspiration and authority of Scripture need not be mutually exclusive. Sadly, in these times that’s exactly what happens.
Pray for the KBC and Campbellsville in the days ahead. The world is watching.