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« Faith not helped by political stunts | Main | Playing ‘til the last out »

Don’t be surprised

By John Pierce

A friend keeps me reminded of the old saying: “If you know it’s a snake when you pick it up, don’t be surprised when it bites you.”

That line came to mind when strong reactions followed the news late last week that trustees of now-Shorter University adopted a new doctrinal statement, personal behavior policies and an oath of loyalty to the Georgia Baptist Convention school’s mission. Faculty who fail to affirm and adhere to these new requirements could face termination, President Donald Dowless said according to various media.

Alumni and others took to cyberspace as well as the Rome News-Tribune, in the northwest Georgia town that is home to the school, to express their dismay, anger, opposition and shock. Other voices affirmed the private school’s right to take such actions with some rejoicing in the clearer, narrower definition of “Christian education.”

Most all of these reactions could be anticipated. However, it is hard to imagine that anyone would react to this news with surprise. Despite some alumni telling me (and trying to convince themselves) that nothing has really changed at Shorter, much has changed indeed. And more change is to come.

In 2005, in a split decision, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the Georgia Baptist Convention is the sole member of Shorter College and has the exclusive right to name trustees. Since then, the fundamentalist-controlled GBC has moved to make the school into its own likeness.

Narrow doctrinal creeds, hostility toward churches with female pastors, and condemnation of gay and lesbian persons have been the big motivating factors in the convention for several years now. Only the most buried head would be surprised that a similar agenda of exclusion and control is being manifested in the colleges controlled by the GBC.

Some alumni are wasting their time now asking that the new demands be reconsidered. But those imposing this agenda on Shorter's faculty are powerbrokers with nothing less than 100 percent certainty that they are right. Anything short of complete compliance will find no hearing.

Not everything is a mystery. Fundamentalism is highly predictable. It only moves in one direction: tighter, tighter and tighter.

Only the most foolish observer would expect something else from Georgia Baptist Convention appointed trustees and an all-too-willing accomplice as president. Sadness, yes. Surprise, no. It’s like picking up a snake and then complaining if it bites you.

Rightfully, some voice fear that the recent actions by the administation and trustees will harm the academic reputation of Shorter. But, on the other hand, it can be a time of learning as well. For example, this episode offers great insight into the fundamentalist understanding of sin.

Have a glass of wine at a fine Italian restaurant or show acceptance toward a gay or lesbian person and a faculty member will risk unemployment. Become an egomaniac, however, and there is an increased chance of being chairman of the trustees.

Reader Comments (20)

Reminds me of a statement attributed to Will Campbell. When a church member complained about organized religion, he reportedly said, "That's like a man paying $20 to sleep with a prostitute and then complaining because she's not a virgin..

Oct 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid George

My thoughts precisely. I have always feared snakes and the two-legged kind are by far the worst. For the sake of religious "freedom", our constitutional freedoms are being obliterated. I still question the idea that the school gets no federal money - they have a lot of students on federal financial assistance don't they? If my tax dollars help folks attend the school, then the Constitution ought to apply. So sad; so sad!

Oct 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary Jane Cardwell

Is pointng to the scriptures and affirming tradtional marriage (one man - one woman) condeming people? Is pointing to the scriptures and affirming the unique roles that God designed for men and women harassing women preachers? The answer is no.

Where would we find our churches and institutions if we did not have the conservative resurgence in the SBC in the 80's? The same places some other evangelical churches now find themselves - comprising truth to accomodate a world.

Oct 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSam Nichols

Seems like our denomiiational leaders spend a lot of effort on two things that (as far as I can determine from the Bible) that Jesus never mentioned.

Oct 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd

This is not a surprise. The groundwork for this was laid years ago and several changes have been made along the way, prior to this lifestyle pledge emerging. Ironically, Jesus Himself could not sign the pledge the Shorter University trustees demand of staff and faculty.

Oct 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMalinda

There are plenty of progressive or moderate or liberal "Christian" colleges that Mr. Pierce could tells us about and how their " acceptance" of homosexuals or their lack of clear doctrine or their stance on female leadership has furthered the cause of "Christian" education or the cause of Christ. Instead, he mocks an institution that clearly states their view on various topics. Why not just hold up your preferred institutions and let the ones you do not agree with move forward with God's blessing. Just another unfortunate incident in kindergarten Baptist politics.

Oct 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLee

Can't you almost see some of them standing by the tomb on Easter morning saying to Jesus "With all due respect, Sir, shouldn't you send a man to do that?"

Oct 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd

Sam- The same warning about "comprising truth to accommodate the world" was used to support slavery, racial inequality and other social injustices to which the conservative Christian church came to reject only after being pushed there by the rest of society. For once, I'd like to see evangelical Christians be the engine rather than the caboose on basic human rights issues — instead of pulling isolated texts to defend prejudices. There is far more biblical support for slavery than opposition to women ministers or gay and lesbian persons.
And re: the SBC. It's experiencing the internal dissention that is the natural result of fundamentalism's every-narrowing ways — as well as having an awful public relations problem. I find it hard to get a listening ear from non-Christians until I explain that I'm not that kind of Baptist. Thank God!

Oct 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Pierce

Lee- Your diversion tactic is so familiar. But this is about Shorter, not other institutions. Yet Shorter is free to create all the legalism that the controlling Georgia Baptist leadership instructs them to do. Have at it. I was just pointing out that no one should act surprised with Fundamentalists act like Fundamentalists.

Oct 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Pierce

I'm a baptist minister, and graduate of Shorter College. I wrote a letter to the president and trustees expressing my displeasure.

I don't expect anything to change. I am not expecting any response from my writings. Perhaps it was simply an act of dealing with my grief over the loss of a school that I loved. I certainly couldn't sit quietly. Perhaps they get to run the place, and keep it just exactly as they wish. But, they'll get an earful in the process from many of us.

In my education at Shorter, I was taught better than to allow injustice to remain unchallenged.

Oct 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Yaun

John, No one should be surprised. It seems your whole world revolves around affirmation of homosexuals, women in service and what "they"believe that you do not. Are there not many other issues facing the world today?

Nov 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLee

Lee- Fundamentalist Baptists are the ones who've made the big deal out of excluding women ministers and gay/lesbian persons. Not me. Not Jesus.

Nov 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Pierce

Shorter alum Kim Heath Mason offered this response (but was having a technical problem with the posting):

"I've been debating a response for a day now, and Ryan beat me to the punch. I agree with him. No, I don't expect anything to change, maybe some do, but I don't. But regardless of whether or not it will effect change, I'm thankful for those who are openly speaking against this injustice. I should do more. And, I believe that speaking against these changes is part of the grieving process. It's been a long and slow process for me, grieving a little with each step Shorter has taken over the years toward fundamentalism. Shorter was a formational place for me, and I have sadly watched it change over the years. Am I surprised? No. But when a snake bites, you don't ignore it. You must act."

Nov 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Pierce

John, affirm or exclude, everyone has their option and conviction. I've been an active member in CBF churches in VA and NC since 1995 and see these discussions as clearly political/institutional issues. They really center on folks who either have or desire career in an institution, whether it be church, seminary, college, convention,etc and now don't like the way their particular career path is moving. As we move further into a post-denominational world, the focus should be on partnerships to get ministry done, not institution building. SBC had a shift you did not agree with and you had to have your own institution (CBF). CBF has built a institutional framework but continues to diminish and will only get less organized as there is no clear direction and certainly a leadership void coming.

Nov 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLee

Much empathy for Shorter alums who grieve this loss can be found among those of us who lost our beloved theological seminary homes to Fundamentalists. Time does heal. It was obvious that those who remained physically close to seminary campuses or had regular contact with former faculty/staff grieved longer or more slowing due to constant reminders of the loss. But detachment can come eventually.

Nov 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Pierce

Very well said from John Pierce, it is a fact that people really believes in "Time does Heals", which is true, you maybe hurt now but let's see after few months or days, for sure it will lessen.

Rob Nash had great piece in the Sunday Rome News Tribune. You can see the link in SBC Trends of

Nov 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Fox

John, I am so glad that neither your future or that of Baptists Today depends on The Georgia State Convention or the SBC.. I believe your "Don’t be surprised" post is spot on..

Nov 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEd Pettibone

Thank you, John Pierce, for "Don't be surprised". Many of us who are Shorter graduates have been in mourning for several years now since the "takeover". We have written letters, and will voice our opinions whenever possible.

Nov 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoan Hill

Ed- I thank God everyday that I no longer work for the Ga. Baptist Convention, and that Baptists Today is fully autonomous and supported by many wonderful, freedom-loving people.

Nov 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Pierce

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