After Southwest Baptist University President Eric Turner resigned Tuesday (Oct. 20) amid a two-year controversy over theology and institutional control, Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Director John Yeats wrote a letter to faculty and staff at the school in Bolivar, Missouri. In the letter, Yeats said he’s not pushing for the firing of religion professors, and he criticized reporting by Word&Way.
Yeats, who is also recording secretary for the Southern Baptist Convention, started his Oct. 23 letter by saying he was “saddened by the announcement” of Turner’s resignation. And Yeats praised Turner for having “taken SBU in a positive direction during his time” and having “faithfully steered SBU through many challenges” during coronavirus.
However, Yeats also noted “key differences” with Turner over what Yeats called “governance and theological integrity.”
Although Yeats did not name Word&Way, he referred multiple times to reporting that came from Word&Way. But Yeats instead framed the reports as coming from “social media” and “a disgruntled blogger.”
“Adding to the anxiety, unfortunately, are rumors spread through social media that wholesale changes are coming to SBU, including the removal of tenured professors and the loss of accreditation for the university. Let us assure you that nothing could be further from the truth,” Yeats wrote.
Word&Way broke the news of an accreditation complaint filed against SBU because of MBC actions.
Yeats pledged in his letter that he and the MBC “desire to work with SBU’s board and staff to defend against misguided accusations related to accreditation and the Higher Learning Commission; we believe this inquiry will be closed as unfounded.”
Yeats also insisted that he and the MBC “have no desire for a ‘purge’ of Redford School faculty, or other faculty members.”
However, in March 2018, before Turner’s hiring, Yeats met with then-Redford professor Clint Bass about alleged theological problems with other religion professors at the school. Turner fired Bass in November 2018 for violating the faculty handbook in his quest against other religion professors. According to documents posted by defenders of Bass in December 2018, Yeats in the March 2018 meeting “was thankful for Bass’s faithfulness and prayed to God on behalf of Bass, asking God to drive errant teachers away from Southwest Baptist University.”
Since then, one of the targeted professors left to pastor a church in Arkansas. And another has been informed his position will be eliminated at the end of the academic year despite his tenured status.
“Redford School faculty are expected to be Baptistic, but there is no agenda for forcing non-Baptist faculty out of their jobs,” Yeats added in his letter to SBU faculty and staff. “A disgruntled blogger’s accusation that the MBC seeks to ‘drive out several liberal professors’ is patently false.”
The comment about “a disgruntled blogger” is apparently a reference to Word&Way Editor Brian Kaylor, an SBU alumnus. But Yeats altered the phrase he placed in quotation marks as coming from Kaylor. A Google search finds no use of the phrase “drive out several liberal professors.”
However, a recent Word&Way article on the accreditation complaint against SBU includes a line that is the same except it says “religion” rather than “liberal” by noting efforts to “drive out several religion professors.”
Yeats also insisted in his letter that “there is no agenda to make SBU a ‘fundamentalist/Calvinist’ Bible college.” He added the school must embrace the Baptist Faith & Message of 2000 but could do so “without being fundamentalist.”
The MBC annual meeting starts today (Oct. 26) in St. Charles. Before the start of the meeting, the MBC will hold a two-hour orientation for new trustees for SBU and other institutions. Then on Tuesday, messengers will be presented with the slates of nominees and vote to approve or reject them. 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).
A vote is also expected Tuesday on the proposed new governing documents for SBU, and SBU will give its institutional report on Tuesday.