22 July 2014

Here's What's Going on at Campbellsville University

Around the Kentucky Baptist Convention right now, many pastors and church folks must be wondering what is going on at Campbellsville University.  In a flurry of recent activity, the school and leadership of the KBC have fired competing statements of the conflict at one another and into the public for consumption.  In the end I believe many good Baptists are scratching their heads in bewilderment, wondering what has happened.  Like Georgetown did in 2005, it appears that Campbellsville now desires to walk away from its long-standing relationship with Kentucky Baptist churches.  Why?

As they say, there is always two sides to a story.  However, logically, there can only be one story that aligns with the truth of the matter.  The problem is that most people do not have enough information to discern confidently that truth.  What often happens is good people often take sides based on the relationships and allegiances they already possess. 

The reason for this post is to bring another voice to the discussion.  But the voice in this case is not simply one that is parroting his chosen camp; this voice is the one of one who has been part of the pivotal meetings and discussions that have brought us to this point with Campbellsville under Dr. Michael Carter's leadership.  Therefore, if you are on the outside wondering what to think, then I offer you my voice as you gather information.  I suppose you don't have to believe me, but I have no dog in this fight.  I have nothing against Dr. Carter personally.  But I do have a huge problem with the letter he sent out addressed to "Kentucky Baptists" dated July 16.  It deserves a reply because of its false statements. 

I desire nothing more than for my congregation and others within the KBC who are out of the loop on this to hear from one who has been in the loop.  Furthermore, I have a clear conscience in sharing this.  I have no formal commitment to any kind of confidentiality.  We all appreciate transparency, so let me be transparent on behalf of those involved.

From 2010-13 I served on the Mission Board of the KBC, serving on the Agency and Institution Committee - the last year as its chair.  In April of 2013 the news hit the blogosphere that a professor at CU, Dr. Jarvis Williams, who had been promoted just the previous year, would not be granted tenure or have his contract renewed.  In other words, he was being let go.  Of course, as the news began to spread, the view began to circulate that Dr. William's personal conservative and theologically Reformed views were at the heart of his dismissal.

Dr. Paul Chitwood, Executive Director of the KBC, took a proactive stance and requested that a small delegation from the KBC could meet with Dr. Carter and some CU board members.  His reason for this request was essentially two-fold.  First, he wanted to gain assurance that conservative scholarship was still welcome at CU.  Second, he wanted to put the fire out before it swelled.  Therefore, his actions were on behalf of the churches of the KBC and for the best interest of CU itself.  So, on April 29, on the Campus of CU, we met.  Again, I emphasize, I was there.

From the beginning of the meeting Dr. Carter was defensive.  He felt that he was being inappropriately called in on the proverbial carpet by the KBC leadership.  Overall, the conversation was civil and helpful.  However, Dr. Carter did let slip his more moderate views in regards to Scripture and his dislike for Calvinism.  In the end, we felt that CU had given us assurances that Dr. William's dismissal was not about his conservative theological views, but were more of a personal nature.  The KBC representatives took Dr. Carter at his word and we felt the matter was settled and that we could give a good report to the Mission Board the next week.

At the Mission Board meeting on May 6-7 I had the privilege as the chair of the Agencies and Institutions Committee to stand before the entire board and give a report on the CU matter.  By this time everyone anxiously awaited an update on what was happening.  I tried to lighten the mood of the room with some humor and then told the group that the relationship between CU and the KBC was good, which was an honest assessment at the time.  KBC leadership was satisfied with the dialogue that had taken place and we wanted the churches to know that all was well.

What we didn't know then, that has become clear now, is that Dr. Carter took the whole Dr. Williams affair badly and personally.  It is obvious now that he began to plan to break the covenant agreement that the KBC and CU has operated relationally through since 1986.  Of course, the relationship CU has with the KBC goes back much further.  In 1938 the school agreed to grant to the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky (now the KBC) the responsibility of the election of trustees in exchange for financial support and a closer cooperating relationship.  The school had first opened its doors in 1907 as the Russell Creek Academy, founded by Baptists of the Russell Creek Baptist Association.  CU was Baptist born and supported from it's inception.     

During last summer we were informed that CU had run into a snag with their accrediting agency (SACS) in regards to the Covenant Agreement.  The Covenant Agreement in short arranges that in exchange for the monetary contribution that the churches of Kentucky make through their CP gifts, the Mission Board of the KBC, as representatives of Kentucky Baptists, will have a role in approving trustees for CU.  the Mission Board does not pick the trustees, it simply affirms or rejects ones chosen by CU each year.  This is a reasonable system of accountability for such a relationship.  Dr. Carter also pulled out an obscure Kentucky law dealing with non-profit organizations that he claimed constituted a conflict of interest for the school.  A retired Kentucky Supreme Court justice mediated, and in his statement he made it clear that there was no breach of law.  Furthermore, SACS representatives affirmed there were no issues with the Covenant Agreement. 

The truth is that Dr. Carter himself has created these concerns in his quest to separate CU from the Covenant Agreement and create a self-perpetuating board of trustees.  However, he has schemed to try to lay the blame for such an ending of the relationship at the feet of KBC leadership, in particular Dr. Chitwood.  Anyone on the inside watching this, with eyes to see, can't miss exactly what is happening. 

Now, a year later, Dr. Carter has simply made the move to separate.  But in true form he has to blame the KBC for the move.  Instead of just owning his decision and explaining to all why he thinks it is a good move for the school, he is disseminating false information.  In his letter to Kentucky Baptists dated July 16, he and his Board of Trustees Chair, Joseph Owens, claim that they are protecting CU from "both undue influence and the imposition of theological and doctrinal control."  Of course, the letter gives no specific example of this for good reason.  There are no examples to give.  These accusations are completely unfounded.  I must conclude this is an intentional false witness.  The KBC leadership has no such power and has not at any time in this whole drama attempted to impose any kind of theological agenda on the school.

If the move to separate CU from the KBC is completed, I'm afraid the real loser will be CU itself.  Dr. Carter has not been and will not always be the president. But right now his board is allowing him to set a course direction for CU that Kentucky Baptists overall will not like.  I understand a board's allegiance to their president; however, it should not be a blind allegiance.  Every board member needs to think for himself and herself and hold the president of the school they hold in trust accountable for his actions and words.  If CU separates, it will over time become less Baptist in identity and more liberal theologically.  That will be Dr. Carter's and his current board's legacy. 

In the end, this is a sad and unnecessary development.  My personal assessment is that this whole ordeal has been initiated and driven by one man who became personally offended and has expressed unfounded fears (whether real or feigned) about the school's relationship with Kentucky Baptists through the Covenant Agreement.  I take no joy in pointing this out.  But I believe the truth is important.  If you disagree with me about my assessment, that's fine.  However, if you do, I would ask that you give me one real example of how KBC leadership has attempted to exercise "undue influence" or impose "theological and doctrinal control."  Maybe you know something I don't.  Until someone can show me how this has happened, here I stand with the KBC as a pastor and Kentucky Baptist.

17 July 2014

The Strange World of Military Chaplaincy

Since 2004 I have served as a chaplain in the United States Air Force.  For ten years I have been exposed to our Air Force subculture generally and to its chaplaincy specifically.  All this time, I have served in the roll of the reservist.  However, I've received the same training as active duty and step into the roll fully when on duty.  The greatest challenge as a reservist is staying current on changes and not forgetting what I've already learned.

When I step from my full-time ministry of a pastor into the role of military chaplain, I must concede I enter into a strange land, filled with much greater diversity, different ministerial opportunities, and tensions in regards to my personal faith.

Like many people, my existence has primarily been within homogeneous settings.  Those who I grew up with, have worshipped with, and continue to hang out with today tend to be people relatively like me.  This is not by my intentional design; it's just what naturally happens to most of us.  Air Force chaplaincy affords me the opportunity to exit my homogeneous existence occasionally and enter a strange world of diversity.

Over ten years of reservist duty, in both training and work, I have rubbed shoulders with fellow chaplains who are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, and Protestants from many different denominations.  Diversity like this just doesn't happen in my Southern Baptist pastorate in a small town in eastern Kentucky.  I get to meet real people from different traditions and belief systems, not just the impersonal caricatures of them.  This is a good thing.  It makes me more knowledgeable and discerning about true similarities and irreconcilable differences.  For example, just recently a Jewish Chaplain invited me to her home to a Sabbath meal with her family.  I welcomed the opportunity and had a great evening discussing the Apostle Paul's understanding of the Law with her husband.  This interaction makes me think more deeply and critically about what I believe and why I continue to hold to those beliefs in the face of so many competing beliefs. 

Military chaplaincy is a unique and strange opportunity.  As a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ I take my ministry of preaching, teaching and pastoral care into a military setting and receive compensation for it from this country's tax payers.  That in itself with today's cultural assumptions is truly strange and unconventional.  Where our society has gradually untangled religion from public money (e.g. public schools), the military still maintains this unique sponsoring of certain personnel for religious purposes.  The military contends that this arrangement doesn't constitute an establishment of religion, but provides military members with a resource for the protection of their rights to the free exercise of religion.

I realize, with my historical perspective, that Christianity in the past has been established in our country in formal and informal ways.  The Founding Fathers intentionally chose not to establish a national church, yet religious convention and assumptions persisted for a long time.  Gradually, the secular foundation they established coupled with the true American "religion" of individualism, forced Christianity out of the public sphere and into the private.  For most of our history those two spheres overlapped in significant ways (e.g. public prayers, displays, traditions, and observances).  Today, those spheres have been almost completely separated.  However, military chaplaincy constitutes a strange exception that has persisted.  Being that it is, the result is a ministry/profession that comes with unique personal tensions for me.        

When I bring my faith in Jesus with me into the chaplaincy I encounter a context that becomes strange for me personally.  From the beginning, I have observed a pervasive tendency within the Air Force chaplaincy towards the generic and universal that cuts directly across my belief in the exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The American motto of e pluribus unum (from many one) appears to me to apply just as easily to religion as it does to the reality of ethnicity in the USAF Chaplain Corps.  Within this unique environment for ministry there is much talk of God, but it's often unclear of who's God.  For example, when a chaplain offers a public prayer at an official function (e.g. retirement ceremony, change of command, dinning in/out, etc.) the expectation is that any reference to God be generic and inclusive.  In other words, the expectation is that a Christian chaplain will not mention the name of Jesus.  Also, when chaplains converse about God in any official capacity, it always begs the question of who's God, especially when a diverse bunch of chaplains gather.  I understand the importance of showing respect to others that do not share my faith tradition, but I must admit that this causes me personal tension since I believe earnestly that there is no other name (Jesus) under heaven by which people must be saved. 

Because of the diversity within the chaplaincy itself and in the broader Air Force, I understand the tendency toward the generic.  However, I find that I have difficulty sometimes personally accommodating it in some settings.  For example, I can't in good conscience leave the name of Jesus out of my public prayers and I won't.  But this has put me at odds with command structures.  Chaplain Corps guidance instructs us to keep the public praying inclusive.  In other words, don't mention Jesus.  At my last base of attachment I shared my personal convictions with my boss (Wing Chaplain) and he decided that I should opt out of offering invocations at official functions. I don't begrudge him in any way.  Under the current guidance, he made the right call.  I just find the situation sad.  In some ways we have become so oversensitive to diversity that we are beginning to infringe on the Christian chaplain's right simply to be himself - particularly the evangelical chaplain.

Another area of tension on the horizon is going to be in regards to the enormous culture shift in attitude and policy making concerning homosexuality.  With the repeals of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and DOMA and the growing number of states making same-gender marriage legal, the obstacles from homosexuals integrating fully into the military have been removed. (It's just a matter of time before we have a federal law in regards to homosexual marriage)  Of course, my endorsing agency (NAMB) explicitly forbids me to counsel or marry homosexual couples, like the vast majority of endorsing agencies.  This is another one of those tensions of military chaplaincy.  Every chaplain is bound by the decisions of his or her endorser while at the same time attempting to work with the guidance of the Chaplain Corps.  Currently, their has been no problem in regards to this.  If a chaplain is forbidden from serving communion or marrying homosexuals, the Air Force respects those convictions.  I hope this will always be the case, but I can see us on a trajectory towards greater tension on this issue, especially when we have homosexual chaplains.  The door is now wide open.  It is inevitable.

I consider it a great privilege to don the uniform and serve my country as a chaplain.  I bring my calling and training as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a unique sub-culture.  I respect completely the military's concern for discipline and good order.  I respect the priority of mission.  But in regards to Christianity in general in our country and within the unique context of military chaplaincy, once held cultural assumptions are rapidly eroding.  I still contemplate occasionally in what directions military chaplaincy may evolve, or if there will be a future for it at all.  As the culture becomes more secular and antagonistic toward biblical Christianity, I ponder the impact ultimately on military chaplaincy.  Regardless of the outcomes, I always want to represent my county well.  But I am constrained by my faith to never let that commitment compromise my allegiance to Jesus.  He alone has authority over my conscience and with the Apostle Paul I have to assert that "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes."                         

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