On Sunday afternoon, April 1, Dr. Don Dowless released a statement through the Rome News-Tribune. In his statement Dowless addressed an earlier RN-T article regarding the results of a survey sent to full-time faculty by a group named the Committee for Integrity.
In the article Dowless made a number of gross misstatements. Dowless was, in fact, aware of how the survey was conducted and did know how the results of the survey were tabulated. Dowless was clearly aware of the contents of the letter accompanying the survey. Anticipating an objection to the way the survey was conducted, the Committee for Integrity chose to have the letter inform the faculty members that Reed, Martin and Slickman, CPA had mailed the survey forms and letters; enclosed was a self-addressed stamped envelope that was addressed to the firm’s office. Shortly thereafter, the CPA firm received a letter from Shorter’s attorney. Either Dr. Dowless has an attorney that acts without instruction from his client or Dowless knew precisely how the survey was being conducted.
In his statement, Dowless did as the GBC, Nelson Price and Shorter Board of Trustees Chair Joe Frank Harris Jr. are wont to do. He deflected the issues of the survey results entirely and addressed the Board’s desire to return Shorter to its Christian roots.
We strenuously object to the notion that the Shorter Board of Trustees and Dowless needed to return Shorter to anything. Shorter was founded as a Christian school and is today a Christian school. Perhaps Dowless and the board should learn a bit about the institution before they make such rash claims.
When, in 1836, Shorter (then Cherokee Baptist Female Seminary) was founded, it clearly had ties to the Georgia Baptist Convention. The Georgia Baptists, however, did not support the school with enough money to keep it viable. The school was sold to Alfred Shorter and a group of Rome businessmen in 1877. For 25 years, the school operated as a Christian institution until in 1902, it re-affiliated with the GBC. That relationship was short-lived. In 1914, when again, the GBC failed to live up to its financial obligations, Azor Van Hoose removed Shorter from the GBC.
From 1914 to 1958, Shorter remained a Christian school. The Christian ethos was a part of Shorter’s identity – so much so that in 1958, when the school became over-extended, the Georgia Baptists were more than happy to re-affiliate with Shorter. There was no need to have professors sign Personal Lifestyle statements or pledge to integrate the Christian faith into their classrooms. They lived a Christian life every day.
For many years, prospective employees have been asked to give a personal accounting of their faith. Surely, in all this time, administrators must have turned away the prospects who did not clearly hold Christian values. The difference, however, was that what previous presidents were looking for were Christian, not necessarily Georgia Baptist, employees.
Those administrators were wise enough to realize that to be a Christian was enough. Whether an individual chose to practice their faith as a Catholic, as a Methodist, as a Presbyterian, as an Episcopalian or any other Christian denomination was not the focus of the hire. The focus was simply on upholding Christian values.
When, in 1958, Dr Minor chose to re-affiliate the school with the Georgia Baptists, there was no murmur in the community. The Georgia Baptists of 1958 were far different than the Fundamentalist power running the GBC today. They lived peaceably with their fellow Christians. They respected the values of others. They realized that we are called to practice our faith in our own way.
Ostensibly, that is what the Baptists practice today. The Baptist Faith and Message states in part:
1) That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us. They are not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
(2) That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.
(3) That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.
(4) That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.
(5) That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.
Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God.
These are the principles under which Shorter faculty and staff have always lived and worked. They have never added more than repentance to God and faith in Jesus Christ. They have never assumed that the statements of faith were final or infallible. As academics, they believed in the idea that religious convictions were not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation into other realms of life. And they believed that each person was not to be responsible to anyone other than his or her God.
Shorter has never changed. It is the Georgia Baptist Convention, channeled through Nelson Price, Don Dowless and the Shorter Board of Trustees that has changed.
Shorter doesn’t need to be led back to its Christian roots. It has never left them.
Meanwhile, the faculty continues to leave in droves.