A third-party review of religious teaching at a Missouri Baptist university found that a lack of doctrinal clarity has led to “an erosion of trust” between the institution and its denominational sponsor.
The study found that Southwest Baptist University’s statement of faith “has not been implemented effectively across the fabric of the university” and recommends that institution clarify its faith statement “to be a clear and compelling theological framework.”
The Missouri Baptist Convention-affiliated school announced in December the formation of a peer assessment committee led by David Dockery, chancellor of Trinity International University and former president of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, after firing a professor who accused colleagues of teaching false doctrine.
In November administrators fired Clint Bass, a tenured professor in the Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry, for unprofessional conduct in sharing his concerns about “doctrinal instability” with leaders of the 1,700-church statewide affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The university’s board of trustees upheld the firing in January, agreeing that going to outside individuals without talking to colleagues or administrators violates ethical and professional canons of the teaching profession.
The peer review found that “due to the lack of a clearly implemented Statement of Faith, the doctrinal position of SBU has been perceived as ambiguous.”
“This lack of clarity has led to an erosion of trust between the University and Missouri Baptists. SBU and the Missouri Baptist Convention must work together to restore that trust,” the committee found, according to a university press release. The news release said the executive committee of the board of trustees will make an executive summary of the study public after it has been shared internally.
Bass, a graduate of Southwest Baptist University and an elder at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Bolivar, Missouri, said shortly after he joined the faculty in 2009, he began noticing viewpoints that he believed to be “irregular, deviant, aberrant or errant.”
In April, 14 other SBU alumni issued an open letter voicing concern about professors’ views on biblical inerrancy, men’s and women’s roles in the home and church, a literal hell and other matters of doctrine.
An online petition earlier this year calling for Bass to be reinstated and supporting documents said religion professors at Southwest Baptist University “appear more aligned with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship” than with the views of Southern Baptists in Missouri.
The CBF is a moderate group claiming about 1,800 churches nationwide that started in the 1990s in a split from the Southern Baptist Convention over issues such as women’s ordination, inerrancy and academic freedom in theological education.
The news release said Southwest Baptist University and the leadership of the Missouri Baptist Convention “are actively working to strengthen their shared relationship.”
“We are currently working to clarify, boldly articulate and implement our Statement of Faith that will further align and strengthen our Baptist identity and Christian faith,” said Eric Turner, the former president of Black River Technical College in Pocahontas, Arkansas, elected last year as the 25th president of Southwest Baptist University.
“Since my arrival at SBU, I have recognized the need for SBU to strengthen our relationship with the Missouri Baptist Convention and its churches,” Turner said. “This assessment affirms that position. We must collectively work together to rebuild trust between SBU and Missouri Baptists.”
Note: This story was updated July 17 to correct an error in the next-to-final paragraph.