The more things change...
In an article published at Ethics Daily titled "A Baptist Parochial School System?", E. Glenn Hinson explains the reasoning behind the abandonment of our common Baptist heritage in the latest controversy regarding Southern Baptists and public schools:
It is not hard to understand why Southern Baptists would follow the lead of the Roman Catholic Church here. The Southern Baptist Convention is numerically so dominant in the southern region of the United States that Southern Baptists no longer think like Baptists.
In our beginnings the Baptist consciousness was a minority consciousness. In education that meant strong support for public schools which would prepare all citizens without discrimination for life in their context.
Baptists had experienced a lot of discrimination when the only schools were church-operated, and when they established their own, they tried to eliminate every trace of sectarianism. The charter of the first Baptist college, Rhode Island College, stipulated that neither trustees nor faculty nor students had to be Baptists.
How different the situation of Baptists in the American southland today! If it can get a hand into the public purse in support of its schools, the Southern Baptist Convention could succeed in establishing a parochial school system parallel to the Roman Catholic.
Compare that to what's happening at Belmont University in Tennessee, where the school and Baptist state convention are fighting for control of the Board of Trustees. At stake is the direction of the school and the future of academic freedom.
Another example is Stanley G. Lott's article in the March 2006 edition of the Baptist Studies Bulletin (if you're Baptist and you don't read this, you need to!) where he analyizes the decline of Baptist universities and compare those strained relationships with the respectful and successful agreements enjoyed by Methodist and Presbyterian school. He concludes:
Baptist institutions that otherwise are comparable to those listed above generally are not doing as well. Either they are being smothered by the fundamentalist movement, or they have conceded control to the fundamentalists. Because they do not understand and fear academic freedom, fundamentalists oppose and try to suppress it. Since academic freedom is the bedrock of academic excellence, the outcome of the fundamentalist effort is institutional mediocrity. Even though these schools receive only a fraction of their budgets from Baptists, fundamentalists demand complete control. Consequently, only a few of these institutions will escape these pressures and build a reputation for excellence.
The Southern Baptist Convention reminds me of what has happened to MTV. Work with me on this: How did MTV get its start? Just look at it's name: Music Television. All music all the time. Do you see music videos anymore? Maybe if you suffer from insomnia and happen to be awake between 3:35 am and 3:42 am you can gag at the latest noise from Christina Aguilera. You might catch 1/3 of a video in the credits of the Real World, if you're lucky.
MTV and the SBC are risking future success by forsaking their roots. For those who appreciate the heritage of Baptists, they have been continually disappointed. The fundamentalists made it sound like the moderates were holding the denomination back from success. Now that they're gone and with the SBC reporting not so hot numbers, maybe they need to re-evaluate where they want to go with where they've been.
Or not. But does anyone but me find it ironic that after struggling with the Catholic/Anglican church for religious freedom and then decrying the existence of Catholic parochial schools - all of a sudden Southern Baptists are looking to them as a model for church polity?
I guess Dr. Sherman's right again.