Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The End of 'Save OBU'

In response to personnel changes and widespread concern among faculty and alumni, I began the "Save OBU" project in December 2011. I worked pretty hard on the effort for about 8 months. After attending Homecoming in 2012, my writing became relatively less hostile and largely focused on colleges related to other Baptist state conventions and other areas of Southern Baptist life.

I figured that the absence of anger/urgency (and blog posts) gave adequate evidence of my diminishing concern and waning interest in the project. But a number of people have suggested that I write one more post to explain how and why "Save OBU" – at least so far as I am involved – came to an end.

Aren't you worried that OBU is turning fundamentalist? Not really. There is no coordinated effort to turn OBU into a fundamentalist Bible academy. Trust me. I tried to find evidence of such a plot. None exists. Once I learned about what was happening at schools like Shorter, Cedarville, and Brewton-Parker, I realized that OBU's problems were mild by comparison. My early speculations about a worst-case scenario were unfounded.

Why did you stop writing on the Save OBU blog? At first, I hoped that raising public awareness about changes at OBU would prevent other negative developments. By the middle of 2012, however, I began to doubt that my efforts were helping. Strained relations between administrators and faculty needed to heal, and I did not want to stand in the way. I trust that things are better today. Even though I made some mistakes, I hope it was right to speak out when I did. And I hope it was right to stop when I did. Everyone can form their own judgments about that. John Mullen and Jerry Faught moved on. The faculty moved on. The administration moved on. I moved on. I stopped writing because A) I said all I had to say and then some, B) it was no longer helpful, C) it was never my fight in the first place, and D) I no longer wanted to be in a publicly adversarial position against people I did not even know.

Don't you worry that academic freedom is in peril at OBU? Not really. When I attended Homecoming in 2012 – my first time on Bison Hill in a decade – I realized that, while I had focused on the few things I thought had been going wrong, most things about OBU were right. One of my main desires was that professors about whom I cared deeply would find OBU a good (or at least acceptable) place to finish their careers on their own terms. The academic job market is tight, but professors have now had time to seek and find other employment if OBU is no longer a good match. To my knowledge, very few have done that. I am pleased with the caliber of new faculty at OBU. In some cases, I have been very surprised and impressed.

You sowed a lot of division. Aren't you ashamed of yourself? No. Because I thought anonymous complaints would be unhelpful, I was proud to speak publicly as a concerned alumnus. That said, I made a number of mistakes. First, the name "Save OBU" was a bad choice, as it implied an impending disaster that never materialized. Second, while I usually tried to use the term fundamentalist in accordance with its historical meaning, I threw the word around carelessly. At times, I unfairly and inaccurately impugned people's beliefs and motives. Third, I named or referred to people who were understandably upset by things I wrote. Specifically, I apologize to the Reverend Drs. Tawa Anderson, Alan Bandy, and Ishwaran Mudliar – three gentlemen who did absolutely nothing wrong. They accepted faculty appointments and diligently committed themselves to excellence in teaching and learning. In the course of my writing here, I suspect they may have been hurt by things that I or others wrote. I take responsibility for that, and I am sorry. I also apologize to all who were upset because I wrote about their spouses. To those who shared my concerns and supported my efforts, I am sorry if I made the project more about myself than about our mutual commitment to academic freedom and open inquiry in the Christian college setting.

What about the leaders you criticized? In recent months, I have exchanged cordial and conciliatory greetings with the Reverend Drs. David Whitlock, Stan Norman, Mark McClellan, and Anthony Jordan. Each of them was exceedingly gracious. Dr. Whitlock reached out to me on Easter. After corresponding and building trust over many weeks, we spent some time together in June at the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, near my home.

You were pretty anti-SBC before. What do you think of OBU, the BGCO, and the SBC now? From the start, I was interested in broader institutional dynamics. I first began exploring those issues as an OBU undergraduate and have studied them for most of my adult life. That's why I tried to view the struggle between conservatives and moderates at OBU through the lens of the Resurgence/Takeover at the state convention and denominational levels. I was surprised and pleased to find that many prominent Oklahoma Baptists – clergy and lay – want OBU to remain a liberal arts college that values academic freedom and does not enforce doctrinal unanimity through the hiring and tenure process. OBU has excellent trustees, women and (mostly) men who are much likelier to want OBU to remain what it has been than to approve – let alone suggest – a Shorter-like faculty purge. Overall, I was pleased to learn how little OBU was connected to broader SBC politics. But the convention is moving beyond the first post-Takeover/Resurgence generation and its over-zealous leaders' excesses and overreaches. OBU administrators could certainly win more approval from SBC insiders by following Cedarville's path. But there would be a high cost, as faculty, alumni, and other stakeholders have made clear.

What's next for you? I am done being an angry critic. I have found it more effective to befriend Baptist leaders and remind them that moderates are people of good faith and goodwill and that they do not have a monopoly on how to interpret the four fragile freedoms. I often write about religion in public life. A Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, I am writing a dissertation on religious elites in American politics.

Doesn't OBU still need a watchdog? What if something else happens? If other people feel strongly and some egregious violation of OBU's liberal arts heritage occurs, I will turn the blog and the Facebook and Twitter communities over to new leadership. I will not be involved. I have done enough. I tried to advocate for principles I value and for people about whom I care a great deal. I have apologized for mistakes I made and harm I caused. I have sought reconciliation where necessary. At least as far as OBU is concerned, my conscience is clear.

I am grateful to have connected with many old and new friends. I look forward to staying in touch with you in the years to come.

May thy spirit guide thy sons
Keep thy daughters true
Loyal to our alma mater
God bless OBU!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dub Oliver Elected President of Union University

There is huge news this week in the world of Baptist higher education.  Union University in Jackson, TN announced the election of the Reverend Dr. Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver as its 16th president.  Dr. Oliver, currently president of East Texas Baptist University, will succeed David Dockery, who is transitioning to the role of chancellor.

At first glance, this news seems like a win for academic freedom and respectability in Baptist higher education.  Like OBU President David Whitlock and unlike recent Baptist college presidents that have pushed their schools toward fundamentalism (including Shorter's Don Dowless and Cedarville's Thomas White), Dr. Oliver does not hold academic degrees from post-Takeover SBC seminaries.  This alone may be an indication that he has little appetite for fundamentalist encroachment in academic institutions.

Oliver's ETBU is more moderate than Union and most other Baptist colleges.  Along with a handful of schools, ETBU is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.  After the Conservative Resurgence progressed from the national SBC to the state conventions, moderates in two states (Virginia and Texas) successfully resisted the resurgence.  In those states, conservatives formed rival conventions in order to avoid sharing power with moderates.  Today's SBC leaders have a complicated relationship with the BGCT.  The BGCT pours millions of dollars into SBC seminaries and agencies through its Cooperative Program giving.  At the same time, many Texas Baptist congregations contribute to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  The BGCT contributes to organizations that post-Takeover SBC leaders loathe, such as the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty.

While solidly committed to distinctively Baptist Christian higher education and employing only believing Christians as faculty, ETBU is nowhere near conservative enough for today's SBC leaders.  They will not be pleased that Union's new president did not personally intervene to prevent ETBU from hiring a female Bible professor.  They will also not be pleased that at Oliver's former institution, the religion department does not employ a single post-Takeover SBC seminary graduate.  ETBU's religion faculty typically present their research at the mainstream American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature meetings rather than the Evangelical Theological Society's conference.  The fact that Oliver tolerated moderates will not inspire the confidence of certain SBC insiders.  At least he had the good sense to sue the federal government over the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate.

However, Union University is a very different environment than the ETBU that Oliver leaves behind.  Union is widely considered to be the flagship of Baptist state convention-affiliated colleges.  Numerous SBC agency staffers and seminary faculty send their own children to Union.  Like Cedarville, the only female employee in Union's religion department is the secretary.  The exclusively male religion faculty is largely composed of SBC seminary alumni.

Union is not a fundamentalist university.  It is a strong, thriving, growing institution.  There is no evidence to suggest that it is on the same trajectory as Cedarville and Shorter, let alone Baptist colleges that are in danger of losing their accreditation.  Like Bob Agee, a former Union administrator who was president of OBU from 1982 to 1998 , David Dockery masterfully earned and kept the trust of two forces in Baptist higher education that, since the Conservative Resurgence, are increasingly at odds with one another.  These tensions will continue to exist at OBU, Union, and many other universities.  I wrote about the two competing forces in my last post:
First, there is a majority among the trustees, faculty, and alumni that wants [the school] to remain academically strong, respected, and rigorous (while, of course, being true to its Baptist heritage).  At the same time, there is a powerful force within Southern Baptist life today that wants doctrinal conformity, is more trustful of authoritarian leadership, and is less tolerant of dissenting perspectives (while also desiring, if possible, academic respectability).
Hiring a president who has never studied or worked in a post-Takeover Southern Baptist institution is a big step for Union.  It proves that Union is ultimately run out of Jackson, not out of Brentwood, Nashville, Louisville, or anywhere else.  Though a few SBC leaders have tweeted out congratulatory messages to Dr. Oliver today, it seems reasonable to assume that some would have preferred a more fundamentalist-friendly president at Union.

Oliver's inauguration service at ETBU in 2009 included greetings and blessings from friends at Baylor and Carson-Newman.  That alone is enough to make today's Southern Baptist power brokers wary.  Presumably his installation service at Union will be more SBC-centric.  The dynamics of relating to the Tennessee Baptist Convention will be different than how Oliver's ETBU relates to the BGCT.  But ultimately Union's trustees have the responsibility to protect and defend Dr. Oliver's stewardship of the institution when he finds himself opposed to forces that would erode academic freedom and encroach upon fragile Baptist freedoms.

Deservedly, Dr. Oliver will begin his tenure with reservoirs of trust and goodwill from both "sides."  He will have an inestimable ally and confidant in Chancellor David Dockery.  There will be plenty of time in years to come to speculate about the role of the Union presidency in the Baptist battles.  For now, it is enough to congratulate Dub Oliver and wish him our best.  Remembering that his election was unanimous, let us be unanimous in our prayers for him for Union, and for all the Baptist institutions we so dearly love.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Changes Coming for Save OBU

Happy 2014 to each of you!

As you may have noticed, the Save OBU effort has slowed considerably over the past 8 months. We got off to a fast start in late 2011 and made our biggest impact in the period from January 2012 to May 2013.  I wrote more than 200 blog posts during that time, and a handful of thoughtful of writers contributed dozens more.  Our blog reached tens of thousands of people and our Facebook and Twitter communities were active.

Lately, things have been quieter.  The primary reason is that (as far as I know) there is less evidence of fundamentalist encroachment at OBU today than there was in 2010 and 2011.  I claim no credit, of course.  I'm just glad that OBU administrators and trustees have wisely chosen to avoid the path of Baptist colleges like Shorter and Cedarville, where newly-empowered presidents forced out dozens of faculty members.

The time has come for new leadership to emerge in our movement.  I was never the right person to lead this effort.  I am too far away.  I am too liberal.  I have never been a Southern Baptist.  My particular background made it difficult to be a credible spokesman for the overwhelming majority of Save OBU supporters -- conservative-to-moderate alumni who value academic freedom at OBU.  I am grateful for the opportunity to publicly stand up for the things I love about my alma mater.  I am proud to have put my name to this effort.  For a while, I tried my very best.  I hope it made a difference.  But I obviously do not have the time or inclination to carry this movement forward.  There are surely people "closer to home" that will do a better job standing up for academic freedom at OBU the next time it comes under attack (a question of when, not if).

Later this month, I plan to feature some guest blog posts that will emphasize the role a Christian college like OBU can and should play in forming a vital piety and authentic spirituality that is true to the best of the Baptist tradition.  Beginning immediately, I call on all of our supporters to be in prayer and discernment about the future of "Save OBU."  (The name should probably change -- I'm not sure the implication that OBU needs to be saved from something is helpful at this point.)

I can share some of my own reflections on what I have learned through this process and offer some ideas about the future.  But I hesitate to say too much -- you have heard enough of me.

There are so many great things happening at OBU.  I want to make sure I acknowledge that.  All I have ever criticized were a handful of policy and personnel decisions that implied an unmistakable break with the parts of OBU's heritage that make it great.  Aside from those few decisions (and their implications), I have great pride and confidence in OBU.  The university has two trajectories that are going to be in tension with one another.  First, there is a majority among the trustees, faculty, and alumni that wants OBU to remain academically strong, respected, and rigorous (while, of course, being true to its Baptist heritage).  At the same time, there is a powerful force within Southern Baptist life today that wants doctrinal conformity, is more trustful of authoritarian leadership, and is less tolerant of dissenting perspectives (while also wanting, if possible, academic respectability).  These two forces will continue to collide.  Those of us who cherish the norms and values that made OBU a first-rate Christian liberal arts university have already lost enough.  We need a strong voice to hopefully ensure that we do not lose even more.

If you wish to confer with me about how you think we should move forward, please contact me.  My email address is my first initial and last name at gmail dot com.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ergun Caner is Brewton-Parker College's New President

The big news in Baptist higher education (such as it is) this week comes from rural South Georgia, where trustees of the fledgling Brewton-Parker College unanimously elected a new fundamentalist president. If B-PC rings a bell to our Oklahoma friends who may not know much about Georgia Baptist life, it may be because we've written about Brewton-Parker here before.

As usual, Associated Baptist Press has a solid write-up:
Caner, 48, comes to the post in Mount Vernon, GA from Arlington Baptist College in Texas, where he served as provost and academic dean since 2011.  Before that, Caner was the dean of the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, VA, named by the school's founder, Jerry Falwell, in 2004. 
Controversy arose in 2010, when bloggers questioned written descriptions of Caner's academic credentials and apparent embellishments in recorded versions of his "Jihad to Jesus" testimony popular with evangelical audiences in the aftermath of 9/11.
That rustling of paper you hear is the faculty of Brewton-Parker dusting off and updating their CVs.

Caner's election signals that B-PC and the Georgia Baptist Convention continue to believe that unassuming moderate, competent administrators are not the way forward.  Instead, their strategy is to double down on fundamentalism and controversy in a naive hope that somehow there will be enough GBC cash and new revenues from fundamentalists willing to send their children to nominally accredited Bible colleges.

As many people know, the Reverend Dr. Ergun Caner may be the most controversial intellectual in the Southern Baptist Convention -- and that's saying something!  His bizarre statements are well known and have been widely reported elsewhere.  Far from being a liability to future employment, it seems that Caner's lies and delusions actually make him a more competitive applicant for a leadership position in Southern Baptist institutional life.

I do know that a veteran college administrator who has extensive experience within and outside Baptist higher education never had an opportunity to be considered for the position because, although this person is a principled conservative with a high view of Scripture, he is just not conservative enough for today's fundamentalist Georgia Baptist Convention.

It looks like the GBC's executive director, the Reverend Dr. Robert White, did not have to personally intervene to get his man.  The fundamentalist majority on the B-PC Board of Trustees could be trusted to deliver a yes-man no matter who it chose.

Caner's brother, the Reverend Dr. Emir Caner, is president of Truett-McConnell College, which is also affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention.  Unfortunately for all you other Baptist colleges out there, it looks like there are no more formerly jihadist Caner brothers to lead you into the future.

From an OBU perspective, I must say that Caner makes OBU's president, provost, and religion dean look fantastic!  Hopefully, fundamentalist encroachment at OBU is all in the past.  But in the fraternity of Southern Baptist-affiliated college presidents, I fear there is always pressure on members to one-up each other and prove his fundamentalist bona fides.  Therefore, please pray that OBU leaders never perceive that God is calling them to out-Caner Caner.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cedarville's Only Female Religion Prof Resigns

As the new administration of the Reverend Dr. Thomas White flexes its muscles at Cedarville University, the school's only female religion professor is the latest casualty of the Ohio college's fundamentalist takeover.

News of the separation appeared in the November 21 edition of the Cedars newspaper:
Bible professor Joy Fagan is resigning from Cedarville after two decades of service to the university. Her last day is Dec. 20. 
“The why is tricky,” she said. “Every administration has the right to take the university in a particular direction, and every faculty and staff member has the responsibility to determine if they are a good fit for that direction.” 
Fagan said she believes she is no longer a good fit for the university, particularly because of her role as a woman teaching in the Bible department 
“I also believe that when God closes doors, he opens doors,” she said.
Evidently, Prof. Fagan graciously resigned rather than forcing the godly administrators to get their hands dirty and actually go through the lengthy formal, contractual, and/or legal procedures involved in firing a tenured professor.

Two observations:

First, Fagan is not a theologian or a Bible scholar.  Her expertise is in the area of Christian education, which I have noticed is one way fundamentalist Bible academies sometimes justify the presence of a female teacher to people who complain that a college classroom is no place for a woman.  Not that it would be okay, but it might be easier to understand why the White administration would want to get rid of a woman who was teaching theology or biblical studies.  But apparently even a woman teaching Christian is unacceptably liberal and unbiblical at today's Cedarville.

Second, I am continually impressed by the Cedarville college newspaper's reporting.  The OBU student newspaper has almost completely ignored the controversial actions of the David Whitlock administration at OBU.  The Bison never spilled one drop of ink about the forced dismissals of religion faculty in 2010 and 2011.  By contrast, the Cedars newspaper has done a much better job covering the controversy at Cedarville.  I have long suspected that The Bison is censored.  And I'm certain that President White and his deputies at Cedarville will silence, or at least cripple, the Cedars very soon.

OBU administrators wisely and strategically did their firings in the late summer, when people were least likely to be paying attention.  But can you imagine what a difference it may have made if the student newspaper had done actual reporting and editorializing about the firings once school resumed in August or September?  Student awareness of the controversial takeover OBU's new administrators plotted was kept at a minimum because of The Bison's almost complete silence.  That is a fact we all have to live with.  I think the administration silenced the paper.  The White Administration will silence Cedarville's paper.  It's what these people do.

Very soon, the only woman left on the Cedarville Biblical and Theological Studies web page will the the secretary.  Which, they believe, is how it should be.  Maybe one day soon they'll fire the secretary so she can spend more time cooking, cleaning, ironing her husband's shirts, and running the carpool -- as God clearly intends.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Four Faculty Inducted into Hall of Fame at Homecoming Chapel

Last weekend, hundreds of alumni descended on Shawnee to celebrate Homecoming on Bison Hill. Among the throngs were many of my friends from OBU. I went to Homecoming last year, capping a year of sustained activism, listening, learning and blogging about my alma mater's deliberate and decisive rejection of the relatively more moderate faculty and administrators who throughout the 20th century turned OBU into a first-rate Christian liberal arts university.

This year, with my work and child care responsibilities, it was simply not possible for me to travel from Washington to attend.

I was glad to see the list of four professors emeritus/a (living and deceased) who were inducted into the Faculty Hall of Fame during the Homecoming Chapel service on Saturday morning.

I'm grateful to the administrators who assisted in making the presentations, especially those for whom it must have been particularly painful and difficult to smile and say nice things about professors they would do everything in their power to avoid hiring at OBU today.

Professor Opal Frazier Craig taught speech at OBU during the Raley, Scales, and Cothen years.  A former student noted that Craig's influence "still permeates pulpits around the globe."  Professor Craig taught students to "converse from the stage or the pulpit in a manner that would persuade rather than preach."  Imagine how disappointed certain people must be to learn that a woman taught hundreds of men (and a few women) a thing or two about preaching!

The Reverend Dr. Dick Rader was the dean of religion and ministry while I was at OBU.  He died shortly after I graduated in 2002 following a difficult, yearlong battle with cancer.  I remember Rader as a traditional Baptist conservative, but not as a fundamentalist.  I met with him in an "exit interview" process to discuss my plans for graduate study.  During that meeting, he was very gracious and encouraging.  He did not seem distraught that I would be asking OBU religion professors to write letters of recommendation to a seminary that was very different from OBU.  Several recent OBU graduates have reported that their exit interview with the incumbent dean does not go as well as what I experienced.  Some of you will no doubt argue this point, but I won't claim definitively that it would be impossible for Dick Rader to be hired at OBU today.  I'll just say that, if he interviewed for the Hobbs College deanship, there would obviously be candidates who are more in step with today's SBC and BGCO elite leadership.  Dick Rader's experience and wisdom would be rejected in favor of a true believer and foot-soldier in ideological battles he had little interest in waging.  Rader was apolitical, and these days a first-tier candidate has to whole-heartedly endorse the fundamentalist agenda.

After two decades in parish ministry, the Reverend Dr. C. Mack Roark held administrative and teaching positions at OBU over a span of nearly 25 years.  During his tenure, Roark, like all of his School of Christian Service colleagues, frequently taught in Oklahoma Baptist churches and served interim pastorates around the state.  Though there is no reason why he would remember me, Dr. Roark's influence was profound.  He made me want to be a better Bible student, a better Christian, and a better man.  I personally witnessed him gently and patiently teach students who had been taught what to believe about the Bible but who had never been encouraged to study it.  Tragically, Mack Roark would be rejected as an applicant for a position at OBU in favor of a post-Takeover fundamentalist who takes the Bible literally, not seriously.  Due to the unpardonable sin of preaching and teaching in churches affiliated with the moderate Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma, OBU Dean BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Anthony Jordan would personally intervene to block Roark's appointment today.  Sad but true.  As many of you know, Dr. Roark is the epitome of the Christian teacher-scholar-pastor.  I would have loved to have been there to see him receive this honor, as he is one of the best teachers I ever had at any level.

Professor Mary White Johnson taught at OBU for 44 years.  She was part of inaugural faculty for the nursing program.  Johnson received OBU's Meritorious Service Award in 1993.  Having taught from 1953 until her retirement in 1997, Professor Johnson influenced generations of OBU students in the healing arts and sciences.  Now that a long-serving moderate nursing dean has retired, several people have brought personnel concerns in the nursing department to my attention.  I don't want to say more at this time, but one wonders if the new dean, a Tea Party activist, would have much use for old-school moderates like the legendary Professor Johnson.

These professors collectively gave well over a century of service to OBU.  Honoring them was the right thing to do.  I'm sure the ceremony was dignified and without controversy.  But the fact remains that these fine people would face an uphill battle to be hired at OBU today, and that's an understatement.  Why is that the case?  No, really.  Why?  Stop and think about what is so offensive or unchristian about these honorees that would render them unacceptable today.  It's ridiculous!  Are you okay with this?  Are you content knowing that OBU administrators will praise these people out of one side of their mouths, but when no one is looking, do their best to make sure these kinds of people will never be hired again?

If this troubles you, then you understand what Save OBU stands for and why we need to remain strong.  In the end, awards are just plaques hanging on walls.  The real way to honor these professors is to insist that OBU welcome faculty like them in the future as heirs and successors to the distinguished legacies they established during their years of service.  That these honorees would be unwelcome today is a huge problem.  To this alum, it's unacceptable.

Here are a few posts I wrote last year after attending Homecoming 2012:
Saturday morning
Saturday evening
Sunday morning
Sunday evening (recap of our Save OBU meeting)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dr. Ben Carson to Headline 2014 Green & Gold Gala

After taking the controversial step to sue the federal government over the Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain religious institutions cover contraceptives in their group health insurance plans, one might think OBU would lay low in the culture wars for a while.

Instead, administrators have upped the ante with a move that's sure to shock and offend many faculty, students, and alumni.

Today in Broken Arrow, President David Whitlock boasted in his report to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma's annual meeting that OBU has invited Dr. Ben Carson to keynote next year's Green & Gold Gala, a fundraiser for student scholarships.

For those outside the religious right political movement who may not know of him, Ben Carson is a retired neurosurgeon who catapulted to fame for delivering a speech slamming many of President Obama's policies to his face at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year.  After disrespecting the president in the most obnoxious and defiant way possible, Dr. Carson became a Tea Party celebrity.  The Wall Street Journal editorial page urged him to run for president.

At last month's Values Voter Summit in Washington (the premier political convention of the most far-right elements of the Republican Party -- even the SBC considers the event too extreme to endorse), Carson was the runner-up in the straw poll for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.  He tied former Senator Rick Santorum with 13% apiece.  Senator Ted Cruz won with 42% of the vote.

In his speech to the Values Voter Summit, Carson made a particularly offensive statement: the health insurance reform law is "the worst thing to happen in this country since slavery."  Translation: The Affordable Care Act is worse than poverty, natural disasters, the Great Depression, segregation, child abuse, and tens of millions of abortions.  To Dr. Carson, the Affordable Care Act is even worse than 9/11.  What an insult!

However much money OBU raises for scholarships, it will pay a hefty fee to Carson.  According to his booking agent, his speaking fee is "over $40,000."  It's probably significantly more than that.  Carson has a remarkable personal story of rising from poverty to become chief of pediatric neurosurgery at one of the world's finest hospitals.  He is a highly sought after speaker.  Even so, Carson's calendar has opened up a bit as he has had to withdraw from several engagements in the wake of offensive comments.

Earlier this year, he withdrew from giving the commencement speech at Johns Hopkins University and from another speech to a medial industry group.  Petitions against Carson circulated after he equated homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality.  Does this reflect the views and values of OBU administrators?  Compared to Dr. Carson, last April's controversial "ex gay" evangelist chapel speaker Christopher Yuan seems downright compassionate!

Last year's inaugural Green & Gold Gala speaker, Tony Dungy, also holds traditional views.  But Dungy has a much more humble and modest persona, and I saw no need to protest his selection.

This year, I hope the OBU community will have a robust discussion about whether a figure as controversial as Dr. Carson truly reflects the consensus values of the OBU community.

When I was at OBU and Bill Clinton was president, I was taught that no matter how much I disliked him or disapproved of his actions, I should respect him and his office.  If a liberal  had so openly and shockingly denounced President George W. Bush to his face, do you think OBU would invite that person to speak?

To try to speak to Tea Partiers who will be glad to hear about Carson speaking at an OBU event and who say, "What's the big deal?" I asked a few liberal friends who the liberal counterpart to Ben Carson would be.  They said, "Imagine a person with political views left of Nancy Pelosi and who is as obnoxious as Michael Moore."  Think about how you would feel if OBU administrators invited such a person to headline the Green & Gold Gala.

Last year's event, by all accounts, avoided culture war politics.  Big sponsors of the gala included businesses, churches, BGCO organizations and affiliates, and a few wealthy individuals.  Next year's gala is sure to be highly politicized.  Aside from whatever comments Dr. Carson makes, it seems likely that Oklahoma political insiders will gobble up tickets and sponsorships for a chance to meet their anti-Obama hero.

I truly don't think they could have come up with a more partisan or divisive speaker if they tried.

At a minimum, whoever selected Carson should be asked whether they agree with his implication that homosexuality is tantamount to pedophilia and bestiality and that Obamacare is worse than 9/11, though I'm a little afraid of the answer.

The event is scheduled for next spring, assuming the keynoter does not make any extremely offensive remarks in the meantime.  Although, it's hard to imagine what comments would disqualify Carson if the things he has already said are acceptable.

In the future, we probably shouldn't let the College Republicans run the university.  Or the College Democrats (if such a thing is even allowed to exist).  I declined to criticize the trustees for acquiescing to President Whitlock's desire to join in a lawsuit against the federal government, since I thought they were simply trying to protect OBU's autonomy and prerogative even though the suit is harmful and offensive to all female employees on the group health insurance plan.  But after this Ben Carson debacle, it would be nice for the trustees to reassure OBU students, employees, and alumni that there are actually some grown-ups in charge on Bison Hill.

[Ed. I am still in complete disbelief that the reports I heard today from Oklahoma Baptist pastors are true.  If any mistakes in reporting were made, I will immediately withdraw this post.]