Once, Southwestern was the largest Protestant seminary in the world, and certainly the Big Dog among the SBC’s six Cooperative Program funded seminaries. But times have changed.
That’s the big question that this story never asks experts, on the SBC left and right, to answer: Where did all those Southwestern seminary students go? Let’s read on a bit:
Southwestern has historically been one of the two largest SBC seminaries. However, it’s now the fourth largest after recent declines in full-time student enrollment, according to most recent data from the Association of Theological Schools.
“We pledge that we are going to work hard to earn the trust of all our SBC churches going forward and give a proper accounting of Cooperative Program dollars entrusted to us,” O.S. Hawkins, Southwestern’s senior adviser and ambassador-at-large, said in a statement. …
The seminary will reduce its operational budget by at least 10%, or about $3.6 million, and has already listed for sale a 24-acre student housing village. Also, it appointed two new interim administrators: a provost and chief financial officer. In addition, trustees authorized administrators to negotiate a line of credit, and to reevaluate policies for hiring and firing senior officers, according to a news release.
The Tennessean story makes it clear that this conflict is not about Greenway, alone. There were big issues involved in the media storm surrounding the earlier fall of Patterson. Thus, readers are told:
Greenway stepped in after the board fired Patterson, who was Southwestern’s president from 2003-2018, when reports emerged that Patterson mishandled claims of sexual assault at Southwestern and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, where Patterson also served as president.
A trial in a federal lawsuit against Patterson and Southwestern related to one of those incidents was recently rescheduled for February.
Patterson is considered the architect of the Conservative Resurgence, a movement that started in the late 1970s that dramatically altered the SBC, and he was SBC president from 1998-2000.
Patterson’s dismissal from Southwestern in 2018 was in the early stages of the heightened awareness within the SBC about leaders’ response to reports of clergy sexual abuse and care for abuse survivors.
The other big player in the Conservative Resurgence was, of course, Judge Pressler. Let’s keep reading:
But it wasn’t just Southwestern’s reputation at stake when Patterson left. The seminary had also been losing students, or its key source of revenue, while spending went up.
Between the 2003-04 to 2017-18 school years, total full-time student enrollment dropped by 48%, according to Association of Theological Schools data. Meanwhile, the seminary’s operating budget increased by 34%, according to SBC records. …
In contrast, enrollment at similarly sized Southern Baptist seminaries went up along with their respective operating budgets.
What is going on in Fort Worth? I would argue that there is a small, but crucial, word (I added italics) in that earlier Hawkins quote: “We pledge that we are going to work hard to earn the trust of all our SBC churches going forward. …”
We are back to the diversity found among Texas Baptists. I would argue that Southwestern was controversial with one choir of Baptists during the Patterson years and then with a different choir of Baptists under Greenway.
So why not talk to leaders of the two competing state conventions and ask them what they think happened to draw so many students away from the once almost all powerful campus in Fort Worth? What churches distrusted Southwestern during the Patterson years and what churches pulled away from this seminary during the Greenway years?
Trust me, a few clicks at YouTube will offer plenty of clues.
For sure, the population of Texas isn’t shrinking (although lots of Baptists may have gone nondenominational). Where did all those students go?
That’s the question at the heart of a Texas-sized story.
FIRST IMAGE: A needlepoint Texas flag wallet for sale at the County Club Prep website.