In December 2018, news broke of a controversy at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, involving the Missouri Baptist Convention, theological debates, and efforts to gain institutional control. The controversy centers around actions by SBU religion professor Clint Bass seeking to remove other professors in SBU’s Redford College of Ministry and Theology — and then getting fired for that effort.
No one has covered this story more than Word&Way, as we worked to not just inform our readers about the latest events but also analyze what is happening and why. Our coverage throughout 2019 of the SBU-MBC controversy won six awards earlier this year from the Associated Church Press, Baptist Communicators Association, and Religion Communicators Council.
As the SBU-MBC controversy continues to evolve, Word&Way created this timeline of key moments. We will update this timeline as new events unfold.
June 14-15, 2016 — During the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis, Clint Bass meets with some pastors to discuss alleged theological problems in SBU’s Redford College. Spencer Plumlee, a member of the MBC’s Executive Board, had previously meet with Bass and helped arrange the gathering during the SBC’s annual meeting.
Oct. 23-24, 2017 — During the MBC annual meeting in Raytown, messengers approve plans to incorporate the MBC as a legal entity and call the MBC the sole corporate member of affiliated institutions like SBU.
During the meeting, messengers also elect new members of the MBC Nominating Committee nominated by President Ken Parker. Included on the list for a three-year term is Ted Bachman, pastor and elder at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Bolivar where Clint Bass serves as elder.
Jan. 26, 2018 — C. Pat Taylor, SBU’s longest-serving president, announces his plan to retire after nearly 22 years. He declared his last day as Aug. 31, 2018.
March 2018 — Clint Bass travels with Ted Bachman, MBC Nominating Committee member (and fellow elder at Southern Hills Baptist Church), to meet with MBC Executive Director John Yeats at the MBC’s headquarters in Jefferson City to discuss alleged theological problems in SBU’s Redford College.
July 24, 2018 — SBU announces its trustees on Jul. 20 unanimously elected Eric Turner to serve as SBU’s 25th president. At the end of the announcement event, Turner gives his first interview to Word&Way.
Sept. 1, 2018 — Eric Turner officially assumes the role as SBU’s president, after serving four years as president of Black River Technical College in Pocahontas, Arkansas, and 17 years in various administrative roles at Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas.
Oct. 12, 2018 — Clint Bass learns his application for promotion will be denied. Over the summer, SBU administrators learned of Bass’s meetings with the MBC and others.
Oct. 22-23, 2018 — During the MBC annual meeting in Springfield, the MBC’s Nominating Committee deviated from standard practice to replace some of SBU’s slate of trustees, though no one mentioned this publicly. Kyle Lee, an elder along with Clint Bass at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Bolivar, is elected to SBU’s Board, while another elder (Ted Bachman) serves on the Nominating Committee.
Additionally, messengers approve the new governing documents for the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home that name the MBC as sole member, adopt Baptist Faith & Message of 2000, and declare MBCH trustees have fiduciary responsibility to the MBC.
Nov. 28, 2018 — SBU President Eric Turner and Provost Lee Skinkle fire Clint Bass for violations of the faculty handbook, failure to observe the ethical and professional canons of the teaching profession, failure to adhere to the University Principles and Expectations, and failure to follow Matthew 18. Bass previously met with SBU’s president and/or provost during multiple sessions over the previous month and they interviewed him about his actions. Turner called Bass’s actions “extremely egregious and incongruent with Scripture and the University Principles and Expectations.”
Dec. 17, 2018 — Someone anonymously uploads documents from Clint Bass to a Change.org petition urging SBU to reinstate Bass. The documents outline his actions and make numerous theological allegations against his former colleagues in SBU’s Redford College.
Dec. 21, 2018 — The Educational Policies & Personnel Committee of the SBU’s Board of Trustees holds a five-hour hearing to consider Clint Bass’s appeal of his dismissal. Bass released a statement after the session complaining that he wasn’t allowed to bring in “witnesses.” These included three MBC leaders who waited outside the session: President Jeremy Muniz, pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Springfield; First Vice President Jon Nelson, pastor of Soma Community Church in Jefferson City; and Executive Board member Joe Costephens, pastor of First Baptist Church in Ferguson.
Also that day, Redford Dean Rodney Reeves publicly responds to Bass’s allegations, calling them “lies” and “malicious attacks.” The next day, philosophy professor Zach Manis, another top target of Bass, also publicly responds, explaining inaccuracies in Bass’s claims and arguing Christian higher education shouldn’t be merely indoctrination.
Jan. 22, 2019 — The SBU Board of Trustees holds a special-called meeting. The previous week the Educational Policies & Personal Committee informs Clint Bass of their unanimous affirmation of his dismissal. At the full trustee meeting, the trustees vote to affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. The trustees also vote to censure and exclude one of its members for violating the Board’s conflict of interest policy. The censured trustee, Kyle Lee, serves as an elder along with Bass at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Bolivar. MBC Executive Director John Yeats quickly criticizes the censure vote.
Feb. 13, 2019 — SBU announces the members of a Peer Assessment Committee to lead “a University-wide dialogue regarding faith and learning.” Although planned before the controversy with Clint Bass, SBU first announces the Committee on Dec. 22, 2018, adding that it would be led by David Dockery, president of Trinity International University in Chicago, Illinois. The Feb. 13 news release names the five additional members: Ken Hemphill, director of North Greenville University’s Center for Church Planting and Revitalization in Tigersville, South Carolina, and past president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; Barbara McMillin, president and board chair of the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities and president of Blue Mountain College in Tupelo, Mississippi; Joe Crider, a former music professor at SBU and now professor of church music and worship and director of the Institute for Biblical Worship at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky; Tim Howe, an SBU graduate who serves as pastor of teaching and discipleship at Heritage Baptist Church, Lebanon, Missouri; and Camden Pulliam, an SBU graduate who serves as director of admissions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.
Feb. 27, 2019 — Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology and director of the Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, tweets praise of Clint Bass and a photo of the two at the annual Founders Midwest Conference in St. Louis. Nationally, the Founders Ministry promotes Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention. Strachan previously led the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which crafted both the 1988 Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the 2017 Nashville Statement on sexuality.
Feb. 28-Mar. 1, 2019 — The new Peer Assessment Committee visits SBU. During their visit, SBU trustee David Van Bebber, pastor at First Baptist Church in Buffalo, distributes to them an 89-page document alleging theological problems with SBU’s Redford College and criticizing SBU’s administrators for firing Clint Bass.
April 23, 2019 — A group of 14 SBU alumni post a letter on a national Southern Baptist blog defending Clint Bass, criticizing President Eric Turner, and alleging theological problems at SBU’s Redford College.
April 26, 2019 —SBU officially inaugurates Eric Turner as the 25th president of the school. Turner officially started as president on Sept. 1, 2018. Among those who speak at the program are MBC Executive Director John Yeats.
May 3, 2019 — Clint Bass speaks at an event on “religious liberty” sponsored by the MBC’s Christian Life Commission. Other speakers at the event in Osage Beach include Don Hinkle, who serves as the MBC’s public policy director and editor of its official publication.
June 3, 2019 — Oxford University Press publishes Sinners in the Presence of a Loving God: An Essay on the Problem of Hell, a book by Zach Manis, SBU’s philosophy professor who has been a top target of attacks by Clint Bass. Although Bass claimed Manis defended the theories of universalism and annihilationism, Manis actually offers a significant critique of those two theories in the book. Manis later explains some of his thoughts on hell in an interview for Word&Way’s podcast “Baptist Without An Adjective.”
July 15, 2019 — SBU releases a statement announcing findings of its Peer Assessment Committee. SBU notes the Committee argued “the University’s Statement of Faith has not been implemented effectively across the fabric of the University,” but SBU did not offer specifics. President Eric Turner praises the Committee having “accurately and effectively surmised the situation,” promises SBU will show a “thoughtful response to this evidence” in the near future, and says SBU will “strengthen our relationship with the Missouri Baptist Convention and its churches.” MBC Executive Director John Yeats responds to the report by saying he hopes it will “bring doctrinal and missional revival to SBU.”
Aug. 4, 2019 —Rodney Reeves, dean of SBU’s Redford College and a top target for attacks by Clint Bass, announces he is leaving SBU to pastor a church in Arkansas. Reeves had previously criticized Bass’s allegations as “lies” and “malicious attacks.” Reeves, an alum of SBU, taught at the school for 19 years and served as dean for 15.
Oct. 22, 2019 — The SBU Board of Trustees votes to remove Kyle Lee as a member. Previously censured by the Board on Jan. 22, for violating the Board’s conflict of interest policy, Lee serves as an elder along with Clint Bass at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Bolivar. Linda Welch, chair of the MBC Executive Board’s Entity Relations Committee sent a letter to SBU trustees before the meeting criticizing Lee’s censure and demanding he be returned to full Board participation.
SBU’s Board also publicizes its complaint that the MBC had not yet notified them about who would be officially nominated as new trustees — even though the MBC annual meeting was less than a week away. The Board statement calls it “an unprecedented action on the part of the nominating committee,” adding that “the SBU board of trustees desires for this to change in the future.”
Oct. 23, 2019 — SBU finally hears from the MBC Nominating Committee and learns that the Nominating Committee has replaced all five of SBU’s nominees for the SBU Board of Trustees. This creation of a new slate of nominees deviated from historic practice and written MBC Nominating Committee rules and procedures. SBU works to create a compromise slate, which the Nominating Committee also rejects.
Oct. 24, 2019 — SBU sends an email to alumni urging them to “pray for unity and cooperation between SBU and Missouri Baptists.” The email also asked alumni attending the MBC annual meeting to “wear purple” and “be prepared to support SBU with your vote.”
Oct. 29, 2019 — During his SBU report at the MBC annual meeting, President Eric Turner laments the treatment of SBU by the MBC Nominating Committee. However, he announced he would not “fight this” by pushing a floor vote with an alternative slate of nominees. He admitted some might “say it’s foolish” to not challenge the nominees, but he added he wanted to chart a path “rooted in unity, collaboration, and love.”
At the end of Turner’s report, members from Southern Hills Baptist Church in Bolivar — where Clint Bass, Kyle Lee, and Ted Bachman serve as elders — question Turner to level charges against multiple professors in SBU’s Redford College. Additionally, supporters of Bass place anonymous fliers on car windshields and pass out booklets said to come from “concerned SBU alumni and friends.” The materials used, without permission, an official SBU logo and attacked Redford professors for alleged theological problems.
A few minutes after Turner’s report, the chair of the MBC Nominating Committee defends the decision to replace SBU’s nominees with a new slate. Ryan Kunce, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Bethany, claims the Committee — which includes Bachman as a member — followed the rules and chose nominees they “believe will best serve Missouri Baptists and will hold our entities accountable.” He also argues the Committee does not “rubber-stamp” names submitted by institutions. Word&Way later confirms Kunce’s comments are inaccurate as the Nominating Committee did, in fact, affirm the nominees from multiple other institutions. Additionally, Word&Way later learns some rejected SBU nominees were told it was because their church had not adopted the 2000 version of the Baptist Faith & Message even though the MBC’s rules only require personal affirmation not church adoption.
Also at the annual meeting, messengers approve new governing documents for Hannibal-LaGrange University, Missouri Baptist University, and The Baptist Home that all adopt the Baptist Faith & Message of 2000, name the MBC as sole corporate member, and declare the institutional trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to the MBC. Messengers also approve an extension for SBU to adopt similar governing document changes previously demanded by the MBC.
November 2019 — The Fall 2019 issue of SBUlife (the school’s magazine to alumni and supporters) features a letter from President Eric Turner on the front page titled “They will know we are Christians by our love, or will they?” In it, he discusses about the “denominational controversy” impacting SBU. He writes, “Make no mistake about it — the controversy in which SBU has been embroiled has little to do with theology; this has been a co-opted controversy used by others as an attempt to exert undue influence over the University. All of this affects our giving, our enrollment, and potentially our accreditation. The manipulation, underhandedness, and self-dealing threaten who SBU has always been, and I cannot help but think the Lord is displeased.”
Feb. 22, 2020 — SBU announces a special-called Board of Trustees meeting for Feb. 24 to discuss claims made about new trustee Mike Roy. SBU’s statement explained the school learned the previous day that Roy was accused of mishandling child sexual abuse allegations against one of his staff members in 2005. President Eric Turner notes Roy “was part of the slate of trustees the MBC unilaterally imposed upon SBU without SBU input or approval” at the 2019 MBC annual meeting.
Feb. 24, 2020 — Don Hinkle, editor of the MBC’s official publication responds to SBU’s decision to investigate allegations against Mike Roy about not appropriately handling a case of sexual misconduct by a staff member in 2005. Hinkle claims the allegations are “untrue” and “false,” and criticizes President Eric Turner for supposedly being against the MBC.
Feb. 26, 2020 — Advocates for survivors of clergy sexual abuse hold a press conference in front of the MBC’s headquarters in Jefferson City to call on the Missouri Attorney General to investigate MBC clergy for sexual abuse or misconduct — much as the Attorney General had just done with the Catholic Church. The advocates also urge that Mike Roy be removed from SBU’s Board of Trustees and that the school submit to an independent investigation of the allegations.
May 19, 2020 — The SBU Board of Trustees meets for a regular meeting and, according to an SBU news release, “took no action against Dr. Mike Roy” so he “remains a member of the SBU Board of Trustees in good standing.” SBU does not explain if it found the allegations untrue or if they decided not to remove a trustee because the MBC argues SBU cannot unilaterally take such action. In fact, at some point in early 2020, Kyle Lee, who serves as an elder with Clint Bass at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Bolivar, is returned to the Board after the Board removed him on Oct. 22, 2019 for violating the Board’s conflict of interest policy. SBU does not announce why Lee is returned, though the MBC had argued SBU’s actions were improper.
June 2, 2020 — SBU announces a reorganization of the school and the elimination of several faculty and staff positions due to financial concerns caused by coronavirus and other issues. Though not articulated by SBU at the time, this plan includes the elimination of the philosophy program and the only philosophy faculty member (despite his tenured status). The impacted faculty member, Zach Manis, had been one of the top targets of Clint Bass. SBU’s Faculty Senate later passes a resolution arguing the moves did not follow the contractual procedures in the school’s handbook and thus urges the administration to reverse the decisions involving the philosophy program and its professorial position.
July 29, 2020 —The SBU Board of Trustees passes a resolution affirming its relationship with the MBC and “its intention to maintain this relationship in perpetuity.” The resolution also notes SBU adopted a Statement of Faith that “wholeheartedly affirms the Baptist Faith and Message 2000” and will submit new governing documents as demanded by the MBC.
Aug. 21, 2020 — Russell Jackson, a 1987 SBU graduate now an attorney in St. Louis, files a complaint with the Higher Learning Commission, which is the accreditation body for SBU. His complaint raises concerns about MBC’s actions to remove religion professors and change the school’s governing documents. On Aug. 24, the HLC responds that “Upon initial review of your complaint, HLC determined that the matter regarding Southwest Baptist University raises potential concerns regarding the institution’s compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation or other HLC requirements.” Thus, the HLC opened an official inquiry and requested explanation from SBU.
Aug. 25, 2020 — The MBC Executive Committee approves new rules and procedures for its Nominating Committee to limit the role affiliated institutions play in the process. The new rules codify the treatment of SBU at the 2019 annual meeting, but applies this new process to all MBC institutions.
Sept. 4, 2020 — SBU faculty learn that the SBU Board of Trustees voted to add a new creedal requirement on religion professors in addition to the requirement they affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. Included in SBU’s proposed new governing documents is the requirement that religion and philosophy professors (along with the president and provost) annually affirm the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the 1988 Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and the 2017 Nashville Statement on sexuality.
Sept. 15, 2020 — The SBU Board of Trustees approves the final version of its new governing documents, which adopt the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, name the MBC as sole corporate member, and declare SBU trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to the MBC. Also approved by the MBC’s Executive Committee, the documents await approval by messengers at the MBC’s annual meeting on Oct. 27.
Sept. 21 & 28, 2020 — Two SBU trustees, David Van Bebber and Tim Carter, attack Word&Way Editor Brian Kaylor on a podcast cohosted by Van Bebber. The two expressed frustration that Word&Way reported on Sept. 9 about the new creedal document requirement. They also attacked Kaylor for his editorial “Reading the Bible Like an Enslaver.” Said Carter: “I read this and I’m like, ‘You [Kaylor] don’t even believe the Bible.”
Oct. 20, 2020 — Eric Turner resigns as SBU president during the executive session of an SBU Board of Trustee meeting. His resignation is announced publicly the next day. During the Board meeting, trustees heard a report on low faculty morale due to MBC actions, and the Board moved several agenda items to executive session (including the election of new Board officers, which was then delayed to a later meeting).
Oct. 23, 2020 — MBC Executive Director John Yeats writes a letter to SBU faculty and staff. He writes that the MBC is not trying to remove professors. And he attacks reporting by Word&Way, referring to Editor Brian Kaylor as “a disgruntled blogger” (though Yeats alters a quotation he included from Kaylor).
Oct. 26-27, 2020 — The MBC annual meeting is held in St. Charles. On Monday before the start of the meeting, the MBC will held a two-hour orientation for new trustees for SBU and other institutions. The messengers were not presented with the slates of nominees for a vote until the next day. According to the MBC’s bylaws, new trustees of institutions are required to “complete the MBC new Trustee orientation after election or appointment” (emphasis added).
At the annual meeting, SBU Trustee Robert Ingold distributes an eight-page document criticizing the MBC for its trustee process and criticizing some of his fellow SBU trustees. He also makes five motions to transform the MBC’s nominating process, but MBC’s Order of Business Committee refers those motions to the MBC Executive Committee for consideration instead of allowing a vote by messengers.
The next day, Ingold pushes an alternative slate of nominees, but messengers instead approved the MBC’s nominees. Then the conflict between SBU trustees disrupts the school’s official report at the annual meeting. In November, Ingold apologizes for some of his claims critical of SBU trustees and MBC leaders.
Messengers also approve the proposed new governing documents for SBU that grant the MBC greater legal control over the school.
Nov. 23, 2020 — Two SBU trustees, David Van Bebber and Tim Carter, again attack Word&Way Editor Brian Kaylor on a podcast cohosted by Van Bebber. They previously attacked Word&Way reporting in September. In the newest attack, they criticize Word&Way for not revealing sources, even though journalism codes of ethics teach otherwise.
Dec. 14-15, 2020 — The Higher Learning Commission’s Institutional Actions Council approves an HLC staff recommendation for a focused visit to further investigate a complaint filed against SBU on Aug. 21. The HLC schedules that visit for May 3-4, 2021. The decision to schedule a focused visit also automatically changes SBU’s accreditation path.
Feb. 4, 2021 — Word&Way breaks the news that the SBU Board of Trustees recently denied tenure (and terminated) three professors in the Division of Behavioral Sciences, and denied promotion to two other professors in other areas of the university. In response, an online student petition launches to support the targeted professors launches.
Feb. 13, 2021 — The SBU Faculty Senate passes a resolution affirming the five professors denied tenure or promotion by the SBU Board of Trustees. The resolution requests the trustees send a delegation to meet with representatives from the faculty, and that the trustees provide a written explanation about the denials before the end of February.
Feb. 16, 2021 — In a special-called meeting, the SBU Board of Trustees reverse one of their own tenure denials and one of their own promotion denials. However, the trustees still deny tenure to two professors and deny promotion to another professor.
Feb. 22, 2021 — Baptist layman Donald Jump, an SBU alum, donor, and former SBU trustee, files a motion with the Circuit Court of Polk County to block the acceptance of SBU’s new governing documents that name the MBC as sole legal member and declare that SBU trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to the MBC. SBU responds with a filing on March 2 to urge the court to reject Jump’s attempt to intervene, arguing the law does not allow such intervention.
Feb. 26, 2021 — About 75 people gather outside the SBU administration building for a rally in support of the professors targeted by the SBU Board of Trustees. At the same time, representatives from the Board of Trustees and the faculty meet, as requested by a Feb. 16 SBU Faculty Senate resolution.
March 5, 2021 — An SBU professor and an SBU student file a joint petition with the Circuit Court of Polk County to block the acceptance of SBU’s new governing documents that name the MBC as sole legal member and declare that SBU trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to the MBC. Their motion joins a Feb. 22 effort by an SBU alum, donor, and former trustee. Also on March 5, Judge Michael Hendrickson hears oral arguments on the various motions but does not immediately rule. SBU responds March 9 to the new intervention petition by claiming a religious exemption to legal review of the school’s legal documents — an argument those seeking to intervene criticize in filings on March 15 and 16.
March 11, 2021 — SBU Board of Trustees Chair Eddie Bumpers and Interim President Brad Johnson issue a joint statement saying the school will not eliminate or change the Division of Behavior Sciences, apparently in response to Word&Way reporting about the targeting of professors in the behaviorial sciences. Also in an interview published that day with the MBC’s publication, Bumper claims the new governing documents do not change SBU’s relationship with the MBC, and the MBC-elected trustee insists that SBU is “proud” of its relationship with the MBC.
March 12, 2021 — SBU’s faculty pass a vote of “no confidence” in the SBU Board of Trustees, with about 60% backing the “no confidence” decision. The vote comes in response to the trustees denying tenure or promotion to multiple professors. The next day, however, the Faculty Senate president says the vote would need to be redone due to a procedural concern.
March 22, 2021 — SBU announces the members of its presidential search committee to find the replacement to Eric Turner, who resigned on Oct. 20, 2020. The committee is comprised of 10 trustees and the MBC’s president and executive director. The previous presidential search committee in 2018 that unanimously selected Turner was only half trustees, with the other six members representing faculty, administrator, staff, student and alumni communities.
March 25, 2021 — The Higher Learning Commission, which is the accreditation body for SBU, opens a second inquiry into SBU. Dwayne Walker, the director of SBU’s Bachelor of Social Work program, filed a complaint after being denied tenure by SBU’s trustees. The HLC responds to him: “Upon initial review of your complaint, HLC determined that the matter regarding Southwest Baptist University raises potential concerns regarding the institution’s compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation or other HLC requirements.” Thus, the HLC opened an official inquiry and requested explanation from SBU. This inquiry joins an ongoing one that started on Aug. 24, 2020.
March 26, 2021 — SBU’s Faculty Senate passes a resolution saying it “remains gravely concerned” about the tenure and promotion denials and that the presidential search committee does not include faculty, administrators, staff, or students.
April 2, 2021 — Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, a group that advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse, criticizes SBU for placing a trustee on the school’s presidential search committee who had been accused of mishandling allegations against a staff member.
During 2019, Word&Way ran an award-winning series called “Beyond Redford” in our monthly magazine to consider various issues in the SBU-MBC controversy that actually impact Baptists more broadly. Each piece considered a different topic to both help better explain the SBU-MBC controversy and to help Baptists in other contexts. Most of the pieces have also since been published online. While these pieces do not necessarily add to the timeline, they do aid in understanding the controversy.
The Importance of Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy (February 2019)
They Shall Know We are Christians by … Our Blogs? (March 2019)
Gnashing of Teeth About Hell (April 2019)
Excommunicating Excommunication (May 2019)
SBC’s Rightward Shift Hits 40 Amid Turmoil (May 2019)
Calvinism Adds to Southern Baptist Internal Debates (August 2019)
Why Do Baptists Struggle with Higher Education? (September 2019)
When Does a Confession Become a Creed? (December 2019)