Several months after creating a peer assessment committee to explore its issues of faith, learning, and doctrine, Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., announced the committee’s key finding that the school had not clearly implemented its Statement of Faith across campus. However, SBU did not specify where or how this implementation had not occurred, nor will it release a summary of the committee’s report for weeks.
Although already planned by SBU President Eric Turner, who assumed that role September, the announcement of the committee came in December amid controversy after Turner fired a tenured associate professor in the school’s Redford College of Theology and Ministry. The Nov. 28 firing of Clint Bass — which a trustee committee later unanimously upheld after Bass appealed — occurred after Bass allegedly met with Missouri Baptist Convention leaders and others in an effort to force out other Redford professors he felt taught errant doctrines in conflict with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith & Message 2000. The professors deny his charges.
A joint July 15 press release by SBU and the MBC did not note if the peer assessment committee’s concerns dealt with Redford or if it affirmed any of Bass’s claims or the claims against him. SBU adopted its Statement of Faith in 1921, though it was reaffirmed most recently by the MBC in 2012.
“The key finding of the committee is the University’s Statement of Faith has not been implemented effectively across the fabric of the University,” read the statement sent to Word&Way. “In addition, the committee determined, due to the lack of a clearly implemented Statement of Faith, the doctrinal position of SBU has been perceived as ambiguous.”
Turner praised the committee for having “accurately and effectively surmised the situation” and promised that SBU will show evidence of “thoughtful response to this evidence” in the near future. Part of that, he added, will include “working to clarify, boldly articulate, and implement” the school’s Statement of Faith and working to “strengthen our relationship with the Missouri Baptist Convention and its churches.”
Before the press release, Word&Way obtained on July 11 a mass email Turner sent to unnamed pastors. Addressed to “Missouri Baptist Pastor,” it noted that the peer assessment committee had turned in its report. The email largely included the same text as the official statement the next week. In the email, Turner also wrote that as president, “I commit to serve our shared mission with all I have to offer: faith, integrity, and love.”
John Yeats, MBC executive director and one of those Bass met with before his dismissal, said in the July 15 statement that the report could “bring doctrinal and missional revival to SBU.”
The MBC had previously requested SBU and other MBC-affiliated institutions to change governing documents to identify the MBC as a “corporate member” and affirm the SBC’s Baptist Faith & Message 2000. SBU has not taken such actions. The new trustees for Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis — who assumed control of that school in April after 17 years of litigation — took the actions requested by the MBC during a meeting in May.