University should live up to its commitment to BGCT
Houston Baptist University should live up to its word to the Baptist General Convention of Texas and rescind its “fraternal relationship” with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Historically, HBU has been affiliated with the BGCT, received substantial BGCT funding and allowed the BGCT to elect its trustees. In 2000, HBU trustees amended the university's charter, giving themselves authority to elect 75 percent of the trustees, with the BGCT electing only 25 percent. Their action violated the convention's constitution and created a relationship crisis. The crisis seemed to abate in 2001, when the university and convention affirmed a relationship agreement. In it, HBU pledged to “maintain a unique affiliation with the BGCT by not affiliating or establishing a formal relationship with other denominations, conventions or religious entities.” But last fall, HBU created a “fraternal relationship” with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, which was created to compete with the BGCT. Now, the BGCT Executive Board has affirmed a recommendation from a special study committee that asks the university to rescind its “fraternal relationship” with the SBTC.
|Jesus didn't negotiate for peace with the money-changers in the Temple or the Pharisees who ran Jerusalem. That's because peace-at-any-cost is too costly.|
The Executive Board's May 25 debate over the request to rescind was warm-hearted and cordial. And excruciating. Some members, including a couple of HBU alumni, expressed anguish over the friction between the school and the convention. Others, including one who helped negotiate the 2001 settlement between the convention and university, expressed dismay that HBU would renege on its expressed faithfulness to the BGCT. Still others plaintively pleaded for the convention to give in to the university in the interest of “peace.”
One of the most poignant and ironic speeches came from an HBU alumnus who said he fears the BGCT's request would “drive a wedge” between the convention and the university. Poignant, because anyone who loves an alma mater can feel his pain. Ironic, because he inadvertently acknowledged a danger of fundamentalism, the force that is working to pull HBU away from its longtime companion and benefactor, the BGCT.
Here's the irony: HBU trustees initiated the crisis in 2000 by breaking the BGCT constitution. The BGCT responded in good faith and worked hard to heal the broken relationship. Both parties freely signed off on the agreement that commits HBU to a “unique affiliation” with the BGCT. But the university's trustees succumbed to the seduction of the competing convention and created another relationship, again in violation of their agreement with the BGCT. And now a pastor who loves his school and his convention is left to worry that the convention–not the university–will be accused of “driving a wedge” between them.
Unfortunately, his worry points toward an insidious danger of fundamentalism, a rhetorical deceit that calls up down and black white. Texas Baptists who have observed a quarter-century of convention controversy aren't surprised by this. First, we saw it in lies told about professors and other God-fearing, Jesus-loving, Bible-believing Baptists. We heard the fundamentalists wanted “parity, not purity” in the SBC, then watched everyone who refused to toe the hard party line purged from the convention. More recently, we heard the BGCT was “pulling away” from the SBC, never mind that the BGCT is the one who has worked hard to preserve historic, traditional Baptist beliefs and practices.
Another sad and touching moment occurred when an Executive Board member, acknowledging she had not heard much about these larger Baptist issues in her church, appealed for the BGCT to give in to HBU for the sake of peace. This is a common and noble plea, usually made by people with little knowledge of church history, much less Baptist history. Like others who attempted to appease obsessive adversaries, the SBC seminary presidents and the so-called SBC Peace Committee made ill-fated concessions to fundamentalists, who used them as paving material as they steamrolled their way to domination of the national convention and banishment of all dissenters. So much for peace.
Peace is a worthy goal, and Jesus prayed that his followers would achieve unity. But Jesus didn't negotiate for peace with the money-changers in the Temple or the Pharisees who ran Jerusalem. That's because peace-at-any-cost is too costly.
Critics claim the BGCT is too combative, too ready to engage in conflict. To be sure, conflict for the sake of power and control is unworthy of any Christian. But resistance for the sake of principle, for the preservation of truth, is a sacred honor.
Unfortunately, adversaries–who would like to take over the BGCT and, failing that, BGCT institutions such as HBU–have rejected historic Baptist principles. Left up to them, concepts like soul competency, the priesthood of all believers, local-church autonomy and separation of church and state would cease to exist. So, the BGCT must persevere. That's why it must resist the temptation to give up on a fine school like HBU for the sake of faux peace.
And HBU should restore its promise.