Thursday, July 24, 2008

Baylor's "palace coup" shows moderates act increasingly like their stereotype of fundamentalists


When during the late 1980s and early 1990s the so-called fundmentalists (also known as the conservatives) opted to clean the Southern Baptist Convention's top bureaucracy of outspoken moderates, hardcore moderates at Baylor University screamed their heads off about the ruthless, vicious way they believed the conservatives were going about their task. Because of those firings, even when good reasons existed for some of them, Baylor's moderates painted the conservatives as people lacking in decency, honor, and just plain good manners. 

So why now—more than a decade later—are Baylor's moderates acting as boorish and ruthless as those they accused back in the 1990s? Somebody needs to pin them to the floor and get them to explain their contradictory actions today.

I say this because on Thursday, July 24, for the second time in recent memory, Baylor's regents fired the university's president.  Of course, they didn't use the word "fired", but that's what they did. Their public-relations staff issued a press release that danced all around the facts.  You had to read deep inside the whitewash to garner the information: President John Lilley refused to go quietly into the night, so he was uncerimoniously dumped, with a regent named immediately as acting president.

I was not a supporter of Lilley's presidency--nothing personal against President Lilley, but simply because he was replacement for Robert Sloan, his predecessor. I've never met the man. I did think, however, that he brought at least a sense of respectable calm and dignity after the storm Baylor's moderates stirred up against former President Sloan.

According to the press release, Lilley was fired to help unite Baylor's warring factions. I'm trying to figure out that one; I thought that was the same reason the regents hired Lilley in the first place. He was supposed to be a peacekeeper and quiet interim, not a lightning rod for moderate anger like Sloan became. 

So who is at war at Baylor right now anyway? Those of us who supported Robert Sloan have mostly sat on the sidelines for the past three years and watched Lilley's benign style with less-than-enthusiastic interest. He seemed to mean no harm, though issues that plagued Sloan also seemed to dog him, too. 

The way Baylor's hardcore moderates treated Robert Sloan was a disgrace, but Sloan has gone to Houston now. I trust he is continuing to do well and has a happy, good life as president of Houston Baptist University. Many of us who supported him are still exhausted from watching in horror as the children of Sloan's predecessors, Dr. Herb Reynolds and Dr. Abner V. McCall, and their moderate buddies bludgeoned Sloan unmercifully, including slanders calling him a "fundmentalist" (which he was not). Apparently the Reynolds-McCall mob couldn't cope with all the good things Sloan accomplished for the school! 

If Sloan's supporters were not fighting against poor Lilley, then who was? As Sesame Street's Big Bird would say, "Today's program was brought to you by the letter M." The "M", of course, stands for the word "moderates". 

The situation right now gives every appearance that the hardcore Baylor moderates saw their chance to strike down Lilley quickly to set the stage to put one of their own on the throne at Baylor.

For several months now I have heard the rumors that Lilley was "on the way out". Since he was hired so late in his life, I've always figured his tenure as president would be short. Since I've been hearing about this for two months now, I presume what happened today was not a big surprise to a lot of Baylor insiders. My hunch is behind the scenes some political scheming and deal-making have been going on.

But firing the poor fellow? In such a cruel manner? And at an age where he is unlikely to ever get another job in a university administration? Did the regents also lock this Baylor alum's office door and refuse to let him re-enter it to claim his personal possessions? Is this and the scene beforehand with BU graduate Sloan the way an alma mater treats distinguished alumni?

And the moderate-dominated Baylor Alumni Association's response?  Its lack of indignation over the regents' ugly behavior is puzzling. Its less-than-convincing statement about the upheaval makes one wonder what role the alumni organization actually played behind the scenes in this latest palace coup. Sloan supporters also couldn't help but notice that during the past three years the BAA has been rewarding Sloan's critics, especially the Reynolds family and its friends, with seats on its own board. So, I'm not surprised at the BAA's actions at the moment.

What did Lilley do wrong?  Fail to grant tenure to a handful of professors? Did the moderates' beloved Herb Reynolds not do that also? Or was that OK because he only shunned conservatives and truth-telling journalists—banishing even liberals who questioned him?

Baylor students and alumni deserve better than the sorry politics that have engulfed the university during the past decade, thanks to Reynolds and his ilk.  Robert Sloan deserved better. John Lilley deserved better, too.

Next time Baylor's moderates point fingers at the SBC's conservative leadership, somebody needs to tell them to first go look in the mirror. After protesting so loudly for years about the SBC's so-called fundamentalists, apparently Baylor's moderates have now morphed into what they hated so much!

1 comment:

debbiekaufman said...

You ask a good question here. I am Southern Baptist and consider myself conservative.

I was critical of the way CR handled the firing of Daniel Dilday, and while I'm having a hard time finding out the details concerning Dr. Lilley, think this kind of behind the doors, attacking from the rear, politics has got to end. We are Christians, yet we end up acting more and more like the world, especially in the world of politics. This is what comes when power and not Christ is the center.