Moral Contradictions

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Seminary presidents and websites

Inspired by a comment by Dr. Bruce Prescott over at Mainstream Baptist, I decided to visit Southern Baptist Seminary's website and look at the gender ratio of the faculty. I couldn't help but notice the link "President Mohler" on the front page.

I then got sidetracked and looked at Southwestern Baptist Seminary's website, and in an even more prominent spot was "President Patterson". Both links contain self-serving links, but no welcome to the website or to their respective seminary.

Mohler's page links to his full bio, personal website, radio show, commentary, writings, sermons and speeches, and even "Media Photos". Media photos?

Patterson's page links to a long bio, then an article from his inauguration, his academic bio, and then an article "SBC Leaders on Patterson". Disappointed that I didn't get to see Dr. Richard Land standing on his back, I realized this is an attempt to compliment onesself via a respected proxy. Nice touch.

Why do I gag at this self-serving patting on the back? Because it's not about us.

Do you understand what I'm saying? It's not about us. It's about Jesus Christ. Don't they get it?

Growing up, I first realized that some Christians just didn't get it when a new church was built on the road we took to church. The pastor was run out of another nearby church for cheating on his wife. He was caught and they got a divorce. He then married his mistress and bought her a new mustang and house just one block away from where I grew up. His actions ripped that church asunder and he took a sizeable chunk with him and started this new church.

In the steeple column, above the front door and just below the steeple, a huge dark window was placed. The church was deeper than wide, and this was the only visible window from the road. Both me and my music minister often wondered what it was, as we both drove by it to church. It took a few months to realize that this was the pastor's study. Once my minister told me, we both looked at each dumbfounded and shook our head. The pastor didn't get it.

Think about that. One thing I've learned through my wife's education is that everything you do in church has a theological background. Everything - from where the pulpit is placed to when and how communion is served, and beyond. This includes where the pastor's study is. What am I supposed to think when I pull up and walk under the pastor's study that sits below the steeple to get inside? Does this mean that he's between me and God?

I also will never forget seeing an old beatup car - and when I say "old" and "beatup", we're talking it's one rock away from a trip to Car Heaven. I saw it three times in Fredericksburg, Va, and the part I won't forget is the message scrawled in spraypaint on the back: "I am humble". Kinda defeats the whole purpose, doesn't it?

Thus I launched a quick survey of how various Baptist seminary websites introduced their President or Dean, and how easy it was to find the Faculty & Staff (F/S) page. Note the word "quick", as if I was a potential seminary student looking for information about the faculty. I'll save the gender disparity for another time.

First, Southern Baptist Convention schools:

Southern - "President Mohler" clickable on homepage, see above for more. Strictly biographical. No welcome letter. Difficult to locate F/S page, and even then it's just email addresses.

Southwestern - "President Patterson" clickable on homepage, see above for more. Strictly biographical. No welcome letter. F/S farther down.

Southeastern - Under Who We Are after clicking Prospective Students, there's a link to President Akin's welcome (although I'm not sure who he's welcoming). F/S harder to find, which was finally found under Quick Links.

Golden Gate - F/S easy to find under Academics. President found under there, plus President's Letter under "Welcome".

Midwestern - Faculty & Staff a small link midway down. Under "About" there is a Welcome from the President and an about the President page.

New Orleans - "From the President" on the homepage, which I expected to be a welcome 'from the president', but is actually about the president. Faculty listing right off the home page with "Faculty".

Non-SBC schools:

BTSR - F/S on home page, with bios and pics. President not found until you look at his bio in F/S. No Welcome letter.

McAfee - "Faculty" on homepage, and the Dean has a welcome letter.

M. Christopher White - Welcome from the Dean, "Faculty" with bio links.

Campbell - Greetings from the dean, "Faculty" under Academics

Truett - Under Academics, Words from the Dean and Faculty link.

Logsdon - Future Students --> Greetings from the Dean, F/S under About Logsdon

Wake Forest - "Meet the Faculty" - Dean listed there, much like BTSR. Dean's message under History.

North American - nothing on front page, found after clicking Academics, then "Our Faculty", President listed first. No welcome letter.

Central - About Central --> President's message. Links from that page to Dr. Marshall's work.

The unofficial results: Three out of six SBC schools replaced a welcome letter with a "our President is great and awesome!". The other three had welcome letters, although Dr. Akin's at Southeastern doesn't seem to target prospective studeints.

Three out of nine non-SBC schools did not have a welcome letter, nor highlighted the dean or president in any special way, choosing to list them among the faculty. Central's president had 'self-serving' links off her page, but unlike Southern, Southwestern, and New Orleans, it is framed in a "message/letter" format. The rest had welcome letters, and more information about the president or dean could be learned from their faculty listing.

You have every right to disagree with me, but for at least Dr. Mohler and Dr. Patterson, the President's office seems merely as a feather in the cap - a "yay for me, yay for the school for having me" deal. New Orleans president's page reads the same way.

I was just recently a prospective student, and with that view in mind, the differences are stark. A welcome letter says "thank you for taking a look at the school, we hope and pray you like it, we'd love to work with you in your calling" etc. What good does media photos do for a prospective student? I'm not interested in the accolades of the president - that won't draw me to a school. Maybe I'm different and there are folks who go to a particular school because of the president. I'm more interested in what the school has to offer and the overall purpose and strength of the seminary. The very least these presidents could do is offer a welcome to prospective students and give a word of support for their institution. Do they exist for the school, or does the school exist for them? I'm not sure after seeing those sites.

Again, you may not agree with my characterizations, but as someone who just recently scoured websites in preparation to go to seminary, something struck me as odd about those three particular schools.

Arrogance. Self-promoting. President X on the front page. Pastor's office below the steeple and above the front door. Everything you do makes a theological statement.

We are here to humbly give glory to God - seminaries exist to train up Godly men and women to lead others to Him through churches and other ministries. We are not here to promote one another, or check off a box on the resume, or boast about how many countries they've visited or their hobbies. We're not here to distract others away from God or His will. We are here to serve God.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. - James 4:10

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. - Psalms 25:9

I struggle daily with this trying to act in a humble way, and that's part of why I rail against those who are entrusted with Christian leadership yet put themselves ahead of their calling. It's not about us - it's about Him.

4 Comments:

  • Interesting. Curious about how widespread this pattern was, I went to the website of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and started checking seminaries at random, regardless of denomination, location, etc. It's mixed, but, in general, it seems that the more famous a theological seminary is, the more they downplay the president or dean and play up the faculty. After all, a major reason that students decide to go to seminary x rather than y is the faculty. Whoever went to a seminary because of who the president or dean is?

    By Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White, at Thursday, July 20, 2006 9:05:00 AM  

  • That is interesting, although to me, that's how it should work. I don't know if this is an appropriate topic, but I wonder if anyone's studied the nature of seminary websites and how they affect potential students.

    By Blogger Nathan, at Thursday, July 20, 2006 9:24:00 AM  

  • As a former student at SWBTS (Southwestern) I still get some of their junk mail. Right after Patterson became President I got this relly slick, glossy, large magazine supposedly to promote the Seminary. It had Patterson and the cronies he brought in on the Trustee board on the cover in Cowboy dress, on horses. On the inside there was a full two pages of pictures and article of Patterson and then full page articles on all his cronies taking up half of the magazine. The last half then showed the campus and newest buildings. I nearly threw up before I threw it away. This isn't the Seminary I attended. It's a personality cult.

    By Blogger Greek Shadow, at Thursday, July 20, 2006 4:37:00 PM  

  • I hear you, Greek Shadow. I was so upset when Mohler took over my alma mater (SBTS), I removed my name from the alumni list and, for a donation, "became" an honorary alumnus of Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond! Roy Honeycutt got to sign my Ph.D. sheepskin, but Mohler was in the receiving line so as I walked up I said to him (sotto voce), "Ichabod." He turned beet red, so at least I know he reads the Bible even if he doesn't understand it very well.

    By Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White, at Thursday, July 20, 2006 4:43:00 PM  

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