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.
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