This week, while I was away at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary attending our Fall Trustee Meeting, one of my church members received an important email from the seminary. Decades ago, when she was fresh out of college, she had served as a Journeyman to Brazil. She still remembers quite a bit of her Portuguese. She still advocates for missions in our church because of that experience. She drove all the way to Houston and stayed in a hotel at her own expense just to serve as a volunteer in the IMB booth at the SBC 2012 Annual Meeting (where our church had been invited because of our UUPG work).
The missions bug bit her, and she’s never gotten over it.
Nevertheless, although she had hoped that God would call her into career missions, the Lord had other plans for her. She married. She has almost finished raising three children. She teaches. She serves at our church. All of these things are noble, and God has clearly demonstrated how He wanted to make use of her in the role that He chose for her. We need, after all, people with a passion for the nations who will live here among us and lead us to engage those nations for the gospel.
A few months ago, inspired by the bold new online education programs at Southwestern, she approached me with a radical idea: “I want to go to seminary and study missions.” I encouraged her to do so, and she began the application process. Tuesday she received word that she had been accepted. In January she will begin online classes.
Over at Wade Burleson’s blog tonight a dozen or so of the millions of Southern Baptists are discussing yesterday’s press release from the SWBTS Board of Trustees. I am a trustee at SWBTS. Our press release speaks for the board. I have neither the desire, the need, nor the authorization to speak for the board beyond what we have already said on the subject with which Wade is preoccupied. I also am not going to interact with anything that Wade has written about the matter. I will, however, take a moment to respond to something someone said in the comments. Shawn C. Madden suggested that the seminaries should follow the direction of their charters to admit “only ‘men called by God.'” Mr. Madden is misquoting SWBTS’s Articles of Incorporation, and that’s a significant fact, but I’d like to juxtapose his very words against my personal beliefs regarding what our seminaries ought to be doing.
In particular, I’d like to point out that:
- The church member about whom I’m writing is not a man.
- The church member about whom I’m writing has not been called by God to vocational ministry.
- The church member about whom I’m writing nonetheless desires to enroll as a student at SWBTS.
I think she should be able to do so. I think my church will be the beneficiary if she does so. If any legal document written by men would preclude her from doing so, I think that document would be wrong. If it were within my power to change such a document to make it possible for her to pursue a degree in missiology, I would do all that I could to make that change (unless doing so would somehow jeopardize the overall mission of the seminary).
The Southern Baptists I know would stand right behind me applauding as I did so—that is, unless they were among that bitter few who are so committed to grinding their own axes that they have lost sight of the mission.
I would like to make explicit what ought to be obvious about what I have written here: I have not revealed any confidential information nor have I violated any of the stipulations that govern trustee conduct in the authorship of this post. Furthermore, I will not violate that trust in the comments, even if that should limit severely my ability to dialogue with you, my esteemed readers.