Last week in a late Friday night email, tucked into the fourth paragraph (not even warranting a sentence of its own), Hardin-Simmons University President Eric Bruntmyer disclosed that trustees had voted to close Logsdon Seminary. As best I can tell, I may be the only graduate of Logsdon who is also a graduate of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, which closed its doors last year.
As I mentioned in my own late-night reply message to President Bruntmyer, I now have degrees from two Baptist seminaries that have both closed – and I’m still paying student loans in both cases.
Times are hard in the world of theological education. I get it. But for me, this in some ways is beginning to feel like the wholesale dismissal of theological education and ministerial preparation as an aspiration and commitment of our Baptist churches and institutions.
“I pray that HSU will be transparent in the weeks ahead, providing answers to the questions that linger.”
The Friday night email communication was troubling for me and many others, not only because of the sudden announcement of Logsdon’s closure, but also because there was not a word of the wonderful legacy of Logsdon, including the hundreds of women and men trained for ministry in churches and institutions around the world. Not a word of empathy, compassion or even acknowledgment that this decision will impact faculty and staff who have devoted their lives and careers to theological education at Logsdon. Not a word of assurance to students, some recently enrolled, and some about to graduate, who are losing their school.
This is extremely unfortunate, and gravely disappointing – even cold, I would say. Logsdon certainly taught me better than that.
I, along with other alums, have questions. I know how difficult seminary closures are for the entire seminary family, and I believe transparency is important for many of us to have a sense of closure. I have seven questions for the trustees and President Bruntmyer. I ask them sincerely and in good faith.
1. If the Hardin Simmons administration and trustees no longer desire to provide training for pastors, chaplains, campus ministers, pastoral counselors, missionaries, denominational leaders and para-church leaders, then why don’t you tell the Logsdon family in person? Be transparent, rather than hiding behind a late-night email or a press release; or behind doors in administrative offices and board rooms; or behind a slick video about “The Way Forward.”
Do not use Logsdon’s faculty or leadership as the unfortunate surrogates for your own messaging. Come, as a pastor or hospice chaplain would, and listen to family concerns, fears and frustrations in the face of a terminal diagnosis. Look us in the eyes and provide presence in the midst of great pain. Come prepared to listen, and to answer tough questions as best you can.
Come as Jesus did, publicly, and weep for the loss of a friend. This is, in fact, what Logsdon has trained ministers to do.
2. Will the university release the minutes of the trustee meeting where Logsdon’s closure was approved? Alums have heard from at least two trustees that the motion to close the seminary was a surprise to the board’s Logsdon subcommittee, and that the vote was by no means unanimous. I searched in vain for a complete list of trustees on the university’s website. Who are these people who voted to close the seminary? What are their names?
Logsdon taught me the importance of transparent and truthful leadership.
3. Was the San Antonio campus not showing sufficient promise in terms of long-term viability? Did you decide not to make it the main campus for Logsdon because you were intending to close it all along, and if so, did that decision not further impact viability?
Logsdon taught me bold experimentation is needed in the 21st-century Church.
4. What plans and efforts were undertaken to make Logsdon financially viable before closure was decided? That said, what is the current state of Logsdon’s endowment? What is the historic performance of endowment earnings in the past five years? Have distributions been made from the principal of any funds during this time?
Logsdon taught me that faithful stewardship matters.
5. Was there pressure from so-called stakeholders or key pastors in the region to close the school for theological reasons? Were financial straits just the presenting reason for the decision to close the seminary? In the last two years a few prominent Texas pastors have been untruthfully disparaging Logsdon. There are those, too, who would welcome the seminary’s closure for self-interested purposes.
Logsdon taught me that pastoral leadership means having a spine when bullies try to get their way.
6. Does a seminary need to be “profitable” (however that term is defined in higher education) in order to prove its worth, or is there a higher value to training the next generation of ministers? In the video linked in the email, President Bruntmyer asserts that Hardin Simmons is about “students, family and community.” It seems “The Way Forward” (the new financial plan for HSU), in its initial branding, is remarkably silent on HSU’s greater call to serve the Church for the sake of the world.
Logsdon taught me that mission is more than money.
7. What kind of training for ministers will fill the vacuum created by Logsdon’s closure? There is a fundamentalist university in Virginia that created an online ministerial diploma mill, turning out inadequately trained ministers by the hundreds – who by and large have not been taught how to think, but rather what to think. Logsdon’s closure will create a void for educated clergy, which ultimately, will inflict damage on congregations.
Logsdon taught me (as did BTSR) that a good education is critical to pastoral success and vitality.
These questions, and more, are palpable in the alumni community, and I am not the only one asking them. I am grateful to God for the impact Logsdon has had on my ministry and for the rich tapestry of friendships with professors and colleagues. I will carry these teachings and relationships with me for the rest of my days. I pray that HSU will be transparent in the weeks ahead, providing answers to the questions that linger for so many regarding the sudden and surprising announcement of Logsdon’s closure.
Logsdon may close, but her lessons remain a rich legacy.
– Davis is a 2019 doctor of ministry graduate of Logsdon Seminary. He was the 2017 recipient of the Bratton Family Ministry Award, in recognition of distinction among fellow doctoral students, and as one who demonstrated excellence in academic performance and pastoral ministry.