SBU prof's firing, university's theology discussed

BOLIVAR, Mo. (BP) -- As a former Southwest Baptist University professor appeals his termination for allegedly accusing faculty colleagues of deviating from theological orthodoxy, the university has commissioned an "external peer assessment" to include "evaluations regarding orthodoxy" on the Bolivar, Mo., campus.

A theology professor's termination by Southwest Baptist University has sparked discussion of theological views among faculty in SBU's Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry.
Photo from SBU
In the month since SBU's Nov. 28 termination of Clint Bass, associate professor of theology, online discussion has included a petition calling for the university's administration and trustees to "exonerate" Bass. As of midday today (Jan. 2), the petition had garnered more than 1,300 signatures and was accompanied by letters supporting Bass from professors at two Southern Baptist Convention seminaries.

Within the petition were links to documents claiming to provide evidence of deviations by SBU faculty from the biblical doctrines of Scripture, hell and justification by faith among other points of Baptist theology.

In defense of SBU, a Dec. 22 blog post by one of Bass's former SBU faculty colleagues, Zach Manis, claimed Bass was fired for "gross professional misconduct" and defended the theological orthodoxy of faculty in SBU's Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry. The post appeared as a guest article on the personal blog of Rodney Reeves, dean of Redford College. In a Dec. 21 Facebook post, Reeves said he affirmed the inerrancy of Scripture and had been "grieving for days over Clint's dismissal."

Bass was informed of his immediate termination in a letter from SBU President Eric Turner, which later was released online. The letter noted among "grounds for dismissal" "collecting evidence and ascribing views to [faculty colleagues] without personal interaction" and "use of non-credible information to formulate accusations against fellow faculty members."

On Oct. 30, Bass "made serious allegations" orally to Turner and SBU Provost Lee Skinkle regarding his "colleagues' personal and theological positions," Turner wrote. "The allegations made were determined as unfounded" following "a systematic inquiry" by Skinkle. Turner accused Bass of using "notes and accusations as leverage" after being denied a promotion.

Bass alleged in a Dec. 21 statement he was granted an appeal hearing by a trustee committee but that his meeting with the committee was not conducted according to university policy.

"I was ready to participate in the process promised to me," Bass wrote, adding the committee questioned him for hours with "a focus" on "my communications with other Missouri Baptists, and whether those communications were immoral."

The day after Bass released his statement, SBU issued a news release announcing it had "commissioned an external peer assessment committee that will lead a University-wide dialogue regarding faith and learning. Included within this assessment will be deeper conversations and evaluations regarding orthodoxy." The committee will be chaired, SBU stated, by David Dockery, president of Trinity International University.

SBU told Baptist Press in a Jan. 2 statement, "As the University has previously stated publicly, a faculty member at SBU was provided a Notice of Dismissal that outlined personal behavior concerning conduct violations of SBU's Faculty Handbook. Since the employee's dismissal, public discussions have mischaracterized the theological views and stances of the University.

"In an effort to ensure that the University's theology integrity is intact, we have commissioned the peer assessment committee chaired by Dr. David Dockery. As we have been working on developing a strategic plan for the future of SBU, it is abundantly clear that SBU is and always should remain a Christ-centered community. We believe that the result of this dialogue will be an SBU that is even more firmly grounded in the core values that have defined us since our inception," the university stated.

The online petition, posted at Change.org by Bass supporters, stated Bass "embraces with enthusiasm" the Baptist Faith and Message. Missouri Baptists "should be concerned not only about the theology being taught" in Redford College, but also "the way SBU's administration has handled their investigation into Dr. Bass's claims and his subsequent dismissal."

Manis, professor of theology and philosophy at SBU, said the notion Bass was fired for his conservative theology is "flatly false."

Social media defenses of Bass have included some by employees of SBC entities, including Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary theology professor Malcolm Yarnell and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission research director Andrew Walker, an SBU alumnus who also commended the university for launching its peer assessment.

SBU is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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