SBU Prof Fired, Documents Reveal Plot to Remove Other Profs - Word&Way

SBU Prof Fired, Documents Reveal Plot to Remove Other Profs

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On Nov. 28, officials at Southwest Baptist University fired a tenured associate professor after that professor met with Missouri Baptist Convention leaders over the past three years in an effort to drive out other professors in the school’s Redford College of Theology and Ministry.

Clint Bass, an SBU alumnus who taught at the school since 2008, has appealed his firing and has released many documents criticizing the theology of his former colleagues. In addition to leveling allegations against several Redford professors, the documents also attack multiple Baptist churches and Word&Way.

An anonymous user created a petition in early December at urging SBU’s trustees and President Eric Turner, who just started in that position in September, “to reinstate Dr. Bass and to employ a third-party to investigate the theological beliefs and teaching of Redford faculty as a way to bring SBU into doctrinal alignment with the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention.”

On Dec. 17, that user uploaded several documents from Bass, including an overview of his accusations against other professors, a copy of the dismissal letters, an email chain with messages sent from several of his former colleagues and an audio recording of a presentation by two of his former colleagues. Purporting to defend Bass’s claim of “doctrinal deficiencies in the Redford College,” as the overview document puts it, the documents could also support the reasoning for his dismissal by clearly outlining his meetings with MBC leaders in hopes of pushing out other professors.

In 2015, according to the overview document, Spencer Plumlee, who was a member of the MBC’s executive board and now serves as senior pastor at First Baptist church in Mansfield, Texas, met with Bass to express concerns about some of the Redford professors. After Plumlee, with Bass’s consent, shared some of Bass’s response with others, Bass met with a group of pastors and alumni in 2016.

“The hope and prayer was that action would be taken to begin to nominate trustees at SBU who would be both willing and able to engage in the doctrinal issues at SBU,” the overview document adds.

In March of 2018, Bass met with MBC Executive Director John Yeats to discuss doctrinal concerns about SBU as MBC leaders worked to nominate trustees for the school. The overview document adds that Yeats expressed thanks for “Bass’s faithfulness” and prayed for “God to drive errant teachers away from” SBU.

According to the overview document, Rodney Reeves, dean of Redford, informed Bass in June that SBU officials knew of contacts about Redford faculty. Then, the document adds, Reeves told other Redford professors at a meeting that a faculty member had communicated concerns to the MBC about some professors.

In October, Bass learned his application for promotion had been denied because, the document claims, he had “compromised the integrity of the Redford College.” Later that month, Bass met with Turner and Provost Lee Skinkle to question his promotion denial and raise concerns about the doctrinal beliefs of other Redford professors. When asked for his notes on the issue, he refused to turn them over. The overview document claims that on Nov. 7, Skinkle demanded the notes by the next day. After meeting with Skinkle on that day to describe “the theological positions of some faculty in the Redford College who were out of step with the Southern Baptists of Missouri,” Bass eventually relented two days later and turned over his alleged evidence.

The next week, on Nov. 15, Bass and Skinkle met for three hours. Two weeks later, Bass received his dismissal letters from Skinkle and Turner. Both letters note the five grounds for immediate dismissal:

“1. Deliberate and serious violations of the rights and freedoms of fellow faculty members by collecting evidence and ascribing views to them often without person interaction.

“2. Failure to observe the ethical and professional canons of the teaching profession by use of non-credible information to formulate accusations against fellow faculty members.

“3. Failure to observe the ethical and professional cannons of the teaching profession by not conversing with colleagues about asserted concerns.

“4. Failure to abide by the University Principles and Expectations, which speak to ‘understanding of Scripture and a commitment to its authority regarding all areas of Christian faith, learning and living.’

“5. Failure to follow Matthew 18 in addressing your concerns with your colleagues directly.”

The “supporting information” cited in the letters to support the dismissal grounds include Bass’s “own documentation and personal testimony,” some of which is included in the documents released on the petition site. Turner added in his letter that Bass’s allegations “were serious” and therefore led to “a systematic inquiry” that concluded the allegations were “unfounded.”

“By your own testimony, you based your allegations on the hearsay of students and conclusions reached by you as to the beliefs of your colleagues — colleagues you work with and interact with on an almost daily basis,” Turner added. “By your own testimony, however, you did not approach your colleagues and brothers in Christ to discern whether the hearsay of a student or your conclusions were credible or were valid.”

Turner called Bass’s actions and assertions “extremely egregious and incongruent with Scripture and the University Principles and Expectations.” He also noted that Bass did not approach the dean, provost or other administrators with concerns while he “surreptitiously maintained notes” on colleagues, but instead only raised allegations “as leverage” after a promotion denial.

Following the release of the documents, SBU issued a statement after a Word&Way request for comment.

“As an employer, the University has a responsibility to keep the contents of personnel files confidential, and it is policy of SBU not to comment publicly on personnel issues,” the statement noted. “We thank those with the wisdom not to make judgments without a full understanding of the facts surrounding this issue, and to understand a personnel matter is confidential and should not be discussed in open forum at this juncture.”

An appeal hearing with Bass requesting trustees to overturn his dismissal was held on Dec. 21, but information was not available as of press time. Officials at the MBC had not responded to request for comment by press time.

Allegations of ‘Doctrinal Instability

The “evidence” in Bass’s documents to critique the doctrinal beliefs of several of his colleagues also includes attacks on several other Baptist churches and institutions. Among those criticized in the overview document:

  • University Heights Baptist Church. One professor is attacked for membership at University Heights, a congregation in Springfield dually-aligned with American Baptist Church USA and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The document argues a professor should not be at a CBF church. Redford is also criticized for employing Danny Chisholm, senior pastor at University Heights, as an adjunct professor.
  • Memorial Baptist Church, Columbia. This church, pastored by SBU alumnus Joey Pyle, is criticized as a CBF congregation. Reeves is attacked for having preached a guest sermon there.
  • First Baptist Church, Bolivar. Although not named in the document, the biggest Baptist church in SBU’s city is implicitly attacked. Six of the eight professors are criticized for membership in churches that do not “affirm” the SBC’s Baptist Faith & Message of 2000. Almost all of those attend FBC, which is pastored by Billy Russell, an SBU alumnus and member of SBU’s board of trustees elected by the MBC. In addition to more than half of the Redford professors, many other SBU professors and administrators are members at FBC. The church has adopted the Baptist Faith & Message of 1963.
  • Truett Seminary. Redford professors are criticized for having “consistently recommended” Baylor University’s George W. Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. The school is dismissed as “a CBF endorsed institution,” although the school is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which is a state convention solely affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • Word&Way. Redford is attacked for a supposed “longstanding practice” that places copies of Word&Way in the Redford offices but no copies of the MBC’s publication. Word&Way is critiqued for being “under moderate influence.” In another document, Word&Way is listed to claim Redford is acting like “a Cooperative Baptist affiliate,” even though Word&Way is an independent press that covers all Baptists.

Other attacks lobbed at Redford professors include comments, according to Bass, by professors:

  • On the importance of the work of theologian Karl Barth (often considered among the most influential theologians of the 20th century)
  • On how people do not understand the concept of inerrancy or how to define it
  • Questioning the concept of “everlasting punishment” in hell
  • Affirming women in ministry
  • Espousing a different view of church governance than Bass holds
  • Rejecting the use of confessions as a creedal litmus test

With sweeping generalities, the documents critique all of the other Redford professors and paint Bass, as one document put it, as the one “known doctrinal conservative within the faculty.”

“The conservative resurgence is not finished,” one of Bass’s documents contends. “The conservative resurgence is still ongoing.”

Lawyers for Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis, Mo., which the MBC sued in 2002 along with Word&Way and three other institutions for electing self-perpetuating boards, have consistently argued in court that the school needed separation to protect the school from the MBC trying to, as one MBU court filing put it, “intervene in the educational programs.” Such actions by MBC trustees, MBU added, could “put at risk the accreditation of the University, which would be catastrophic to the University.” The fate of the MBC’s case against MBU and The Baptist Home currently sits in the hands of three appellate judges who heard arguments in September but have not yet ruled.

UPDATE: The university  confirmed on Dec. 21 that the Trustees’ Educational Policies & Personnel Committee held a five hour appeals hearing on but no decision would be announced until January.