My seminary and my convention

My seminary and my convention

The first few years of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention were pretty tumultuous in Texas. The Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence was pretty much completed in 1995 but in that day several state conventions thought the wave of theological reform would bypass them. It didn’t. This “second wave” resurgence put before state conventions the question of Cooperative Program and the support of the ministries funded by this means. The six SBC seminaries were the dividing line in this debate. For our state the firing of Southwestern President Russell Dilday in early 1994, by trustees representing churches all across the nation, was considered a personal affront by less conservative leaders in Texas. Baptist General Convention of Texas President Jerold McBride said that the SBC had “messed with Texas” in firing Dilday and used the firing to justify the state convention’s decision to redefine the Cooperative Program in a way detrimental to the SBC.

Support for the ministries of the SBC was a significant reason for the founding of the SBTC. Southwestern, though not “our” seminary so much as the seminary of the entire SBC, was of particular interest to Texans. Texas Southern Baptists founded the seminary and then later deeded it to the SBC. Of course the faculty and staff of the seminary attend churches in our convention (now conventions). Southwestern grads are all over the world but they are particularly present in small and large churches all over our state, as would be expected. The seminaries in every corner of our SBC have had a great influence, sometimes more positive than others, in the state conventions of their locations—their home conventions. I care about Southeastern Seminary in North Carolina because I want that part of the country to be seeded with God-called, missionary, conservative pastors. I care about Southwestern to a greater degree because it almost immediately impacts (through two student staff members) the church Tammi and I attend. In that sense, Southwestern is our seminary. If we lived in New Orleans or Kansas City, we’d say that about New Orleans or Midwestern.

But we are also Southwestern’s state convention. Since our founding we have praised and supported two presidents and now two interims at SWBTS. We have made Southwestern welcome, throughout the entire history of our convention, to display their materials at our meetings and advertise their programs in our paper. We have hosted alumni events during our annual meetings. We are the only state convention in Texas that has done these things consistently throughout the last 20 years. We have participated in at least one building project at the Fort Worth campus and supported efforts to start a seminary program in the Texas prison system through the seminary’s Houston campus. The SBTC has funded a scholarship at Southwestern in honor of Rudy and Lucy Hernandez—Rudy was the second president of the SBTC. There is also a scholarship in honor of June Richards housed at the seminary. While we also support the work of our other five seminaries as we have opportunity and invitation, no SBC entity has been more frequently on our hearts than Southwestern. And no state convention has more frequently had Southwestern on its heart than the SBTC.

That will not change with the next president. Those I know on the search committee and board will elect a new president who is different than all the others, but he will not be anti-missionary or liberal. He will be a Great Commission leader and a Baptist Faith and Message 2000 man—an SBTC sort of seminary president.

SBTC and SWBTS are made for each other in this era. Southwestern turned back toward biblical integrity when it hired Ken Hemphill in 1994. Nine years later, Paige Patterson began to more strategically solidify the gains of the Resurgence at Southwestern. These two transitions strengthened the churches of the SBTC and the convention in turn supported the seminary financially and morally when it came on the scene. We agreed with each other from day one, and we do now.

I’m happier now to be an alumnus of Southwestern than I was in 1981. I should have been more grateful then but I have been enthusiastic about my seminary for about 24 of the past 37 years. I’m thankful for trustees who made hard decisions at crucial moments, presidents who faithfully led, faculty members who became Texans and committed to train Texas pastors, and churches that enabled it all. One of the ways Texas Southern Baptist churches have added strength to the seminary born here was by forming a state convention that would consistently be its friend. That partnership has been fruitful.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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