Editorial: What I learned at Logsdon that will help us all

Logsdon Chapel at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. (Photo by Billy Hathorn / CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia)

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I am a Hardin-Simmons University graduate because of the Logsdon School of Theology.

Logsdon was strictly an undergraduate program, not a seminary, when I started looking for colleges, nor was there a seminary at HSU when I graduated. But it was the reason I looked at HSU to begin with.

In high school, I sensed a call to ministry, specifically ministry among what then was called “at-risk youth.” I wanted to work with gangs. My choices were limited by virtue of that call. You can’t go just anywhere for a degree in ministry. My choices also were limited by virtue of my parents’ strong desire that I attend a Baptist school. Scholarships helped finalize my decision.

Just a month into my freshman year at HSU, I left the ministry major. The spiritual and theological questions I had necessitated that I change majors, but not because Logsdon demanded it. Likewise, nothing in James Shields’ Old Testament Survey course that first semester of my freshman year caused me to have spiritual and theological questions. The problem was mine, not Logsdon’s.

I did, however, keep the ministry minor. I’m ashamed to admit I kept the minor for financial reasons. I didn’t want to give up the scholarships.

Ah, but Logsdon had the last laugh. For one, I eventually did become a minister. For another, as I sat through a handful of ministry classes, I became the Baptist I am today.

My Baptist formation at Logsdon

In Jesse Fletcher’s Baptist Denomination course, I learned what a moderate Baptist is. I knew the more recent history of the Southern Baptist Convention. My father was the president of the New Mexico Baptist Foundation, which brought me into some contact with the Baptist battles of the 1980s. Dr. Fletcher taught me a person doesn’t have to toe the party line to be a Baptist or a follower of Jesus. I respected that.

Larry McGraw’s class on biblical interpretation exposed me to numerous ways of approaching Scripture, not to move me away from believing the Bible, but so I wouldn’t be ignorant and so I could keep up with theological discussion.

Ron Smith’s ethics and world religions courses helped me think through the difficult and deep questions of life, specifically life together.

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All three taught me to think and to think well. None of them moved me any farther away from Jesus and the Bible than I already was. Instead, they gave me the ability to believe the Bible and to find Jesus again.

The shocking news

Just before going to bed on Feb. 7, I saw an email from Hardin-Simmons. HSU doesn’t send emails to its alumni at 9 p.m. on Friday. Something was up.

I read the statement up to: “The Board approved new programs, and it closed other programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels including Logsdon Seminary and its programs.”

It didn’t register, and so I read the paragraph again. No sooner did I get to the period after “Logsdon Seminary” when my phone rang. “Did you see the email from Hardin-Simmons?”

I was shocked. I was shocked late into the night. I communicated with Ken Camp, our managing editor and reporter. I woke up the next morning shocked. Camp sent our questions to leadership at HSU. We waited.

Questions about the Logsdon decision

I’ve had my own questions since the announcement. I’ve wondered about the specifics of the financial situation at Hardin-Simmons, the specifics about those “other programs” that were closed, why only Logsdon was named, why we didn’t know sooner how bad things were and if the rumors were true.

Several have charged the Hardin-Simmons board and administration with religious fundamentalism. To date, such claims have not been substantiated.

Claims of fundamentalism at play in the closing of Logsdon are rooted in recent Baptist history. Logsdon began offering graduate-level classes shortly after Russell Dilday was fired at Southwestern Seminary in 1994—because he failed to support fundamentalist political maneuvering. This was a formative event, the reality, facts and emotion of which are not buried or forgotten by Baptists in Texas and beyond.

Even so, not every decision involving theological education is predicated on fundamentalism. After all, Baptists are known for their pragmatism as much as for their theological and political disputes. We find a method or program that works in one place, and we think it ought to be replicated in every place. For Baptists, truth isn’t just what’s in the Bible; it’s what works.

A decision to close a seminary is a major decision. The complete history of what leads a board to decide to close a seminary may include details other than pragmatic ones, but until such facts can be substantiated, speculating about the cause seems to be entrenching us in the pain of the past.

Struggling to wait for answers

There have been times when I grabbed onto the narrative about supposed or actual fundamentalist motives behind the goings-on in Baptist life. It made sense to me to think that those who took over the SBC in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t change their ways in the 2000s or 2010s. But I never was involved in the deliberations leading to any of those goings-on, and so I didn’t really know the facts.

As a pastor, I learned there are difficult and sometimes agonizing decisions that must be made. As leadership weighs these decisions, they consider the pros and cons, they consider good and bad options, and they agonize over how any decision will affect real people and how any decision will be perceived. Yet, at the end of the day, a decision must be made. And it’s going to hurt.

It’s natural to speculate. We are wired to fill in gaps in information, to seek answers to our questions, especially “why” questions. We are so driven for answers that, despite not having full knowledge of all the facts, we formulate what seem like valid reasons and answers. Without all the facts, we piece together past experience or extrapolate from what we do know. This is natural, but it’s often not helpful.

Would it be helpful for us to know all the facts leading to the decision to close Logsdon Seminary? I think it would. Would it make us feel better? What if it made us feel worse?

There’s a lot I don’t know that I wish I did. I do know trustees and leaders of any institution are tasked with making many unenviable decisions. Our speculating and fanning rumors does not help them make better decisions.

A lesson from loss

Logsdon Seminary is set to close the end of the 2020-21 academic year. The trustees have made their decision. Now, we make ours. We have a choice to live in our pain and grief or to live in hope. We have a choice to live in bitterness or to work to ensure Charles Logsdon’s original intent isn’t filed away with the closure of the seminary named for him.

When I was a kid, all I wanted to be was a fighter pilot. I thought of nothing else. I knew all about every jet fighter deployed by the American and Russian militaries. With my parents’ support, I set my sights on the Air Force Academy.

In 8th grade, I noticed the writing on the chalkboard was getting fuzzy. After enough days of that, I told my parents, and Dad took me to the eye doctor, a friend of his and a member of his Sunday school class. He did all the things eye doctors do during an eye exam. And then he told me I needed glasses. I broke down and sobbed. He thought he did something horribly wrong. When I told him I wanted to be a fighter pilot, he understood my sorrow.

I didn’t go to the Air Force Academy, and I didn’t learn to fly airplanes—of any kind. And that was my choice.

As an adult, I finally realized what I really wanted was to fly. By being so narrowly focused on flying jet fighters, I lost sight of what I really wanted and didn’t learn to fly at all … until I learned to fly hot air balloons.

To everything there is a time

This is a time to grieve. This is a time to validate the pain of losing Logsdon Seminary. Texas will be poorer without Logsdon Seminary. Thinking this does not necessitate villainizing those whose decision it was to close Logsdon.

This is not a time to jump ship. This is not a time to abandon or malign Hardin-Simmons or its leadership. This is a time to find another way to fly.

This is a time to lean in and to strengthen what we say we value—preparing people to engage and to communicate thoughtfully and passionately the good news about Jesus throughout the world. There are many ways we can realize that hope.

If Dr. Fletcher—who skipped class one day to fly a B1 bomber from Dyess Air Force Base to New Mexico and back—taught me anything, he taught me that.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at eric.black@baptiststandard.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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