You must not be called Teacher, because you are all equal and have only one Teacher.9 And you must not call anyone here on earth Father, because you have only the one Father in heaven.10 Nor should you be called Leader, because your one and only leader is the Messiah. Matthew 23: 8-10
For the past seven months, a raging battle has ensued over the documents issued by the current Shorter administration. Chief among them has been the Personal Lifestyle Statement found elsewhere on this site. It is not the intention of Save Our Shorter to wage a theological battle on these pages. We believe, as did Martin Luther and our Protestant forefathers before us, in the priesthood of the believer – that is, that every believing Christian has the God-given right to a direct relationship with God, without interference from the edicts of man.
We wish simply to point out that from 1926, with the first Baptist Faith and Message until a 1998 amendment to the 1963 version, the issues of lifestyle, as regards the family and the definition of marriage were not, historically, a part of Baptist doctrine. Not until the 2002 Fundamentalist revision of the Baptist Faith and Message was there a mention of homosexuality, the denial of women as pastors, the loosening of restraints from worldly amusements and secular employment on Sunday, pornography and the right of the unborn. Nowhere in the Baptist Faith and Message is there any edict as to the refraining of the use of alcohol in public. That edict belongs solely to the Personal Lifestyle Statement.
The media has made much over the Personal Lifestyle Statement and has zeroed in on the issue of homosexuality. We believe that this is true, in part, because of the current controversy in America regarding the issues of “gay marriage”. While we welcome the media’s attention over the controversies surrounding Shorter, this sole issue is far from the heart of the conflict. Of equal and perhaps greater importance is the issue of control of the university and the threat to academic freedom through the interpretation and demands of the Biblical Principles on the Integration of Faith and Learning statement.
We believe in academic freedom. It is from this perspective that much of our disagreement with the Shorter administration and Board of Trustees arises.
Academic freedom has been defined by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the American Association of University Professors as follows:
“Academic freedom to explore significant and controversial questions is an essential precondition to fulfill the academy’s mission of educating students and advancing knowledge. Academic responsibility requires professors to submit their knowledge and claims to rigorous and public review by peers who are experts in the subject matter under consideration; to ground their arguments in the best available evidence; and to work together to foster the education of students.”
Consider for a moment, the comparison of the three branches of government – executive, legislative and judicial – with the proper structure in an academic environment.
The administration and board of trustees (executive) holds primary responsibility for fundraising for the university, the proper administration of funds, the maintenance of the buildings and grounds and the provision of adequate resources for the faculty and students as they seek to explore the body of knowledge available in each discipline in higher education.
The faculty, with the Provost as head academician, holds primary responsibility for determining the credentials of its professors, deciding the curriculum, determining the degrees that are to be conferred and advancing knowledge through responsible instruction of its students.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), through its Commission on Colleges, acts as the judicial branch, reviewing the actions, funding and policies of their member institutions and awarding accreditation to those institutions who meet its standards of excellence.
Each of these bodies have a distinct and clear purpose. The board and administration has no authority over the faculty with the exception of ensuring that faculty guidelines and policies are adhered to and to give their approval and support to such items as tenure, policy change submitted by the faculty and addition or change in degree programs. The board and administration are there, in fact, to support the work of the faculty, not to dictate and demand their own version of higher education. With Shorter, we have a case, if you will, of the tail wagging the dog.
As we will make clear in the coming days and weeks, the SACS accrediting body has expressed clear concern regarding the interference of the Georgia Baptist Convention with the Shorter Board of Trustees and their influence over the duties and responsibilities directly accorded to the faculty. Those concerns are legitimate and are far deeper than the policies contained in the Personal Lifestyle Statement.
We ask those of you who are Georgia Baptists to hold your judgement until we have set forth our case. We ask all readers to respond, to question, to inquire through the true nature of critical thinking.