Ky. Baptists probe professor’s dismissal

Reports that professors at Campbellsville University teach evolution and reject biblical inerrancy have drawn scrutiny from Kentucky Baptist leaders.

By Bob Allen

Kentucky Baptist Convention leaders are seeking answers to rumors swirling that a popular professor at Campbellsville University is being released from his teaching position for being too conservative.

KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood blogged April 20 that “a group of judicious and respected Kentucky Baptist leaders” will engage representatives of the university in coming weeks for dialogue about claims that Jarvis Williams, assistant professor of New Testament and Greek since 2008, is being denied tenure and told his teaching contract will not be renewed because of his beliefs.

Chitwood said normally a personnel matter at one of the nine KBC agencies or institutions should be handled privately by the administration without outside interference.

“Claims, however, that CU retains other professors in the school of theology who reject biblical authority and professors in other disciplines who affirm evolution, are difficult for many Kentucky Baptists to swallow,” Chitwood wrote. “This is especially true when well over $1 million of their missions offerings are helping pay the salaries of those professors every year.”

Jarvis WilliamsChitwood referenced e-mails he has received calling on Kentucky Baptists to defund the university and threatening to stop supporting the state convention’s Cooperative Program missions budget if they do not.

Blogger Patrick Schreiner reported April 14 that Williams, “a Christian conservative who is committed to biblical authority and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000,” has been told privately the problem is his theology. 

“We have heard from a reliable source that they retain several faculty members who are not part of Baptist traditions, professors in the school of theology who reject biblical authority and biblical inerrancy,” Schreiner wrote. “They also maintain professors who affirm and teach evolution.”

Collin Garbarino, an assistant professor of history at Houston Baptist University, chimed in April 16 in First Things, a magazine founded by the late Catholic priest and author Richard John Neuhaus.

“It seems odd that young bright scholars trained in Southern Baptist seminaries are no longer welcome in Southern Baptist denominational colleges and universities,” Garbarino wrote.

“Thoughtful conservative professors are under attack from both the 'freethinking' academics, who only value a certain type of academic freedom, and the anti-intellectual fundamentalists, who seem to distrust all thinking,” he said. “It is a hard thing when a Southern Baptist cannot find a home in his own convention.”

Denny Burk, a professor at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., described Williams as “one of the good guys.”

“He believes in the inerrancy of Scripture,” Burk blogged April 15. “He also adheres to the Southern Baptist confessional standard known as The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Nevertheless, he is being released from his faculty position at a Southern Baptist college in Kentucky because of his beliefs. Other faculty at the school reject inerrancy and teach evolution. There appears to be room for them, but not room for a publishing scholar who is orthodox and firmly ensconced in the Southern Baptist tradition.”

Williams, reportedly the only African-American male teaching full time in the School of Theology, received his bachelor’s degree at Boyce College in 2000 before going on to earn the M.Div., Th.M. and Ph.D. from Southern Seminary.

Campbellsville President Michael Carter released a statement April 22 responding to the flap.

"Needless to say, we are perplexed by the unfounded charges that have been thrown at Campbellsville University,” Carter said. “We are saddened by the level of rhetoric, political labeling, and name-calling that has appeared in the blogs and Internet-based venues.”

Carter said the university does not comment on personnel decisions, but no one has been fired and that decisions not to renew a contract are never taken lightly.

Carter said Campbellsville University appreciates the support it has received from Kentucky Baptists through the years and has not changed or wavered in its strong and historic support of the Kentucky Baptist family.

“We have never worked harder to connect with the churches and leaders of our convention,” he said. “We have never worked harder to prepare Christian servant leaders who will become world changers for Christ -- even with the ongoing reduction of Cooperative Program funding -- and we strongly disagree with those who choose to engage in political rhetoric and use of labels.”

Founded by Baptists in 1906, Campbellsville today has more than 3,600 students. It offers 63 programs of study at the undergraduate level, 17 master’s degrees, five postgraduate areas and eight pre-professional programs. One of them is the Carver School of Social Work, acquired from Southern Seminary in 1997.

Recently the university presented a leadership award to Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Chitwood said the purpose of the meeting is not to delve into the university’s private personnel matters but to “determine the compatibility of CU’s mission with the mission of the churches of the KBC.”