By Bob Allen
Campbellsville University and the American Baptist Churches of Indiana/Kentucky formalized a partnership with a signing ceremony Oct. 20 on the university campus in Campbellsville, Ky.
Soozi Whitten Ford, executive minister of the 313-church regional affiliate of American Baptist Churches USA, and Campbellsville President Michael Carter signed a “partners in mission and ministry” agreement that Ford, an ordained minister and former pastor, referenced in an Oct. 21 sermon during the university’s weekly chapel service.
The agreement comes a little more than a year after the university opted out of its formal covenant agreement with the Kentucky Baptist Convention after a series of clashes about doctrine and academic freedom during the previous year.
“Through that warm and gracious relationship, Soozi began as executive minister and we got to know her,” Carter said.
Ford said Bickers had encouraged her to learn more about Campbellsville when she came into her position as executive minister in 2012.
“Since I came to campus last year and began this conversation, I’ve been thrilled and so excited,” she said.
The agreement, approved by the region’s board, is limited to cooperative ministry and contains no element of denominational control. American Baptist Churches of Indiana/Kentucky has a historic relationship with Franklin College in Indiana, but in recent years the school has backed away from a strong denominational identity.
Campbellsville enjoyed a long historic relationship with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, statewide affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention. The relationship grew strained in 2013, when convention leaders sought answers about rumors that a popular professor was released from his teaching position for being too conservative.
The investigation satisfied convention leaders temporarily, but tension returned when the university moved to a self-perpetuating board of trustees in 2014. The Kentucky Baptist Convention responded by holding money budgeted for the university in escrow.
University trustees voted in August 2014 to withdraw from the covenant agreement, while remaining open to discussions about a new partnership agreement to permit Kentucky Baptists to work with the university in shared ministry in the future.
After the university bypassed the convention to elect 11 trustees in October 2014, the state convention’s president told messengers at the annual meeting in November 2014 that Campbellsville had “chosen to remove itself” from the Kentucky Baptist Convention and was no longer an affiliated institution.
The new partnership with American Baptists didn’t set well with Kentucky Baptist leaders taking to social media.
“Rev. Soozi Whitten-Ford to preach in @CampbellsvilleU chapel & sign partnership between CU & American Baptists,” KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood tweeted Oct. 20. “That didn’t take long.”
Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, termed the move “shameful,” “after years of defrauding Kentucky Baptists in both dollars and branding.”
Kentucky Today, an online newsletter produced by the KBC communications department, reported the story as “Campbellsville University signs agreement with another denomination.”
“When Campbellsville broke covenant with KBC churches last year, we assumed they would be headed in a different direction, but we had no idea they would go this far and this fast,” KBC President Tom James told the website. “Given the tens of millions of dollars Kentucky Baptists have invested in the university, Dr. Carter’s disregard for the history, heritage and identity of CU is nothing short of tragic.”
— With reporting by Drew Tucker from Campbellsville University communications.