Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Save OBU: Young people taking a stand for Baptist and academic freedom

At Texas Baptists Committed, we try to talk less about the "Baptist battles" than we used to. Most Baptists today, we're told, don't want to hear about what happened in the 1980s and 1990s.

I understand that. We who went through the Baptist battles are battle-weary; we want to turn the page to a new story, hoping that it's a story of peace and harmony.

On the other hand, we're told that those who have come of age since that time aren't interested in history. People and events of 20 and 30 years ago have no meaning for them.

Then, just when we thought we had this younger generation figured out, along comes a story like Save OBU.

In December 2011, Jacob Lupfer - a 2002 graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University - founded a blog he called Save OBU. He explains its purpose, right up there in the masthead:
This blog advocates a new relationship between Oklahoma Baptist University and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. OBU is and will be in decline until it has autonomy and independence from the BGCO.
Jacob got in touch with me shortly after starting Save OBU. He didn't know that I was an OBU grad ('73), but as he was starting his blog he found, on YouTube, our TBC Baptist Briefs videos on the Fundamentalist Takeover of the SBC. After watching them, he emailed me to share his concerns about OBU and let me know about his blog.

Jacob told me that his greatest concern is that the strong liberal arts education that he and his generation - and previous generations, including mine - received at OBU would not be available to future generations; that actions by the Fundamentalist-led BGCO were apparently intended to ultimately remake OBU into a center of rigid indoctrination rather than a center of free and open academic inquiry and learning.

So his first concern was the vitality of an OBU education. But he recognized that OBU's commitment to its Baptist heritage was the key to encouraging an environment of free and open academic inquiry. In turn, an environment that encourages students to question and to think for themselves is more likely to result in students whose faith is authentic and strong.

Just when we started to think we were figuring out this younger generation, they went and turned the tables on us. Some of them obviously do believe that history is relevant to their present and future. Some of them obviously do believe that there are principles worth fighting for, that those principles aren't some dusty, irrelevant shibboleths, but are instead the bedrock of a real and meaningful education.

In just 3 months, Jacob has made connections with a variety of students, alumni, faculty, former faculty, and others who care about this cause. In recent weeks, he has begun adding "contributing editors," recent alumni who share his passion and concern for OBU's future.

Their blog posts - those of Jacob and his contributing editors - are NOT the hysterical rants of a bunch of kids. They are reasoned, researched, and documented articles - both thoughtful and thought-provoking - written by young people who display a passion for Baptist freedom and a seriousness that I am finding more and more to be characteristic of their generation.

Some of these posts tell stories of specific actions allegedly taken by the current OBU administration, under pressure from BGCO leaders, such as the unexplained firings of well-regarded professors; and the administration's disregard of faculty input in making hiring decisions. Some of these posts tell stories from OBU's past and draw contrasts with the stories that are unfolding today. Other posts tell about Baptists of the past who gave of themselves to defend Baptist principles.

All of us wish we could just move on and quit fighting. Many of us are battle-weary. But God never called us to quit. God hasn't called us to ignore injustice and oppression . . . in any form. All you have to do is read the New Testament to know that Christ called his followers to take a stand for freedom and against injustice and oppression. Christ called us to be disciples, not merely fans cheering him on.

There are a lot of positive things going on in Baptist life today. Read the Baptist Standard from week to week, and you'll read inspiring stories about mission and humanitarian efforts being carried out by Baptists all over Texas. Texas Baptists Committed wants to be a part of encouraging those efforts being carried out in Christ's name, all of which are possible because of freedom . . . people free in Christ to share his grace with others.

But freedom rarely, if ever, comes without a price. We are free because others were willing to pay that price. There are still challenges to our Baptist freedom right here in Texas, and Texas Baptists Committed still works to inform about those challenges and defend Baptist freedom.

Sometimes the price is taking a stand against other Baptists who are bent on control and indoctrination. A few young Baptists at Save OBU are willing to take a stand and pay the price.

It's biblical. It's the spirit of Christ. It's Baptist.

(NOTE: For more on the subject of academic freedom, please read the article, "Academic Freedom at Baptist Colleges and Universities," written by David Sallee, a fellow 1973 OBU grad, published in TBC's Baptist Reflections series, October 17, 2008.)

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