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CONTROVERSY AT CENTRAL BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY IN 1971 Print E-mail
Written by Kevin L. Howard   
I recently came across some documents of a battle that took place at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kansas (now in Shawnee, KS).  I couldn't find anything of significance about it on the Internet, but thought it deserved its day in the sun because a good fight should never be forgotten.  Heroes are rare and we should record their efforts so future generations can remember them.  My heroes are always those who stand on the side of orthodoxy and fight the fangs of liberalism.

***

In February, 1971, discussions between students, faculty, and several board members brought out that some students felt their professors were promoting liberal views in the classroom.  As editor of the student newspaper, Ron Kerry asked for opinions from students concerning the discussions [B].

 

A polarization was already brewing within the seminary community.  Many people wrote letters to the editor of the student school paper.  One student stated in a letter to the student paper that some professors weren't teaching in the spirit of the school's statement of faith [A].

 

Student James Rozmus, in a letter dated March 25, called for professors to teach in accordance with the catalog's statement of faith.  (See letter below.)  He went so far as to say that professors should resign if they weren't in agreement with the school's statement of faith. 

 

On that same day, in response to Rozmus' letter, Alvin C. Porteous, professor of theology, M. Edward Clark, professor of religious education, and Warren Lane Molton, professor of pastoral theology, submitted their letters of resignations, asking the Board of Directors to take a stand that would either affirm what Rozmus had said or clarify that the school could be an environment of diverse thought.  (See letter below.)  After some consideration, an executive committee of six members accepted the professors' resignations.  The annual meeting by the Board of Directors on April 23 confirmed the executive committee decision.  Board secretary, Charles Pomeroy, told a newspaper the school's executive board's actions were approved after hearing from many students and the three professors [D]. 

 

Some students and faculty feared that this small school, affiliated with the American Baptist, with only 72 students would disintegrate from such a battle within its midst.  Rozmus stated, "The catalog states that all of the faculty affirm their accord with the New Hampshire Confession of faith and clearly these three [men] do not" [B].  John Andres, student body president, thought the school would lose up to two-thirds of its students.  He said the situation had been "...exploited by those out to get rid of these men and a lot of people have been hurt.  The institute is killing itself" [D].

 

The three professors felt Rozmus' letter challenged their integrity.  Professor Clark said, "We responded to that challenge in what we felt was asking for a decision as 'friend of the court' as to where the school stood.  Developments since then have not clarified the issue" [D].

 

Professor Porteous said, "We are regretful of the fact the issue relative to our resignations has been subject to a good deal of misunderstanding.  They did not represent in any sense on our part, a move to place the seminary in a different theological posture.  It is not an issue as to whether the seminary be defined as liberal or conservative, but whether it is prepared to affirm diversity of theological stance within its faculty..." [D].

 

Professor Molton said, "The request [from Rozmus for credibility] was the first real courageous statement from anyone about our posture in the seminary" [C].

 

Some press reports indicated that the accepting of the professors' resignations showed that these men were being punished for engaging in social actions.  Other articles said the three professors were active protestors against the war in Vietnam [E, F].  One newspaper article talked about the state of turmoil the campus had experienced and asked the question, "Should the campus be an area of open diversity with no particular statement of faith or should it be a fundamentalist, conservative institution" [B]?

 

In May, the school still had about 70 students.  Newly elected student body president, Gary Wagner, said, "Personally I believe it will be a strong school in many respects but I question how it can prepare me and others for the kind of ministry that is needed for the 70s" [C].  Fred Young, dean of the school, said, "The hearts of many Central seminary persons were very heavy in the recent discussions that led to the acceptance of three resignations of the faculty.  Diversity was not the issue, for it is desirable by all.  The questions of theological pluralism and models of ministry that were not in complete agreement with traditional, church-related vocations were raised and became the focal issues" [C].

 

President of the school, Paul T. Losh, said, "We regret very much that the pain of this parting obscures our deep and sincere appreciation for the lives and contribution of these three men among us these past years" [A].

 

Sources

 

A. "The Central Baptist Theological Seminary Voice." May, 1971, Vol. XV, No. 5.

B. Newspaper clipping, "Conservatism Is Issue: Seminary Policy Decision Awaited." No author, name of paper, or date given.  (Most likely from The Kansas City Star.)

C. Newspaper clipping, "Baptist Seminary: Calmness Follows 3 Resignations." May 15, 1971.  By Helen Huyck. The Kansas City Star.

D. Newspaper clipping, "Seminary Directors Affirm Resignations." No name of paper or date given.  By Paul Boe and Helen Huyck. (Most likely from The Kansas City Star.)

E. Newspaper clipping, "Resignation of Profs Affirmed." No author, name of paper, or date given. (Most likely from The Kansas City Star.)

F. Newspaper clipping, "Resignations Stir Baptist Seminary." No name of paper or date given. By Helen Huyck. (Most likely from The Kansas City Star.)

 

 

[Copies of original documents were mailed to the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library

and CBTS library.]

 

 

[See SITE MAP for more articles.]

***

 

JAMES ROZMUS' LETTER

 

In a special issue of the student paper, "The Newspaper" (March 25, 1971, Vol. II, No. 4 ½), several letters appeared from students and faculty.  One of those letters was written by James Rozmus, a key factor in the resignations.  Here is a reprint of his letter:

 

"A member of our faculty [Porteous], who has just recently published a book [The Search for Christian Credibility], has called for Christian credibility.  I, too, would like to call for Christian credibility.  I call for credibility on the part of the board, the faculty, and the student body.  Here we stand as a "conservative" school, theologically-so our PR material implies strongly.  The catalog says that the faculty members affirm their accord with New Hampshire Confession of Faith.  While many of our faculty do accept this confession as their own, clearly several do not.  There is a lack of credibility.  The board must deal with this lack of credibility.  I further call for the faculty to deal with this lack of credibility.  Those faculty who do not agree with the New Hampshire confession as stated in the catalog should resign.  Their theology is their business.  They have the right to hold whatever beliefs they want-but not at Central Baptist Seminary.  The people who support Central have the right to demand credibility.  Let those who do not agree with their right to demand credibility take their pay checks from someone else who does agree with their theology.  I also call for our school to be purged of those who do not honor God's word, and do not accept Christ as Supreme Lord.  I call for credibility from the student body.  Let's reaffirm that Christ is Supreme Lord of our lives and put Him back on the thrones of our lives.  We are not a school of radical revolutionary social activism.  Our seminary has gone too far away from preparing men and women for service to Christ in the pastorate.  We as a seminary have lost our dedication to Christ and some have made a god out of social activism.  It is time to support the President of our seminary as he through example and action directs us back to the worship of the God who loves us and gave His Son to save us from our sins.  Students who are not serious about genuine service to Christ should go elsewhere."

 

 

STATEMENT BY CONCILIATE OF THE STUDENT BODY OF CBTS

 

A dateless document, with an American Baptist Convention letterhead says,

 

"Statement

 

"We, the Conciliate of the Student Body of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, commend the stand of Professors Clark [sic] Molton and Porteous in calling for a dialogue in the faculty, the student body and the board and for a decision to be reached by the board.  We support the personal risk these men have taken and their commitment to the goal of a viable and meaningful educational process at Central and of a relevant ministry.

 

"Furthermore, we embrace the diversity which is present on campus.  We believe that it reflects the diversity which exists in the world and even within our own constituency who support this institution.  We believe this diversity is positive and a necessary part of our educational process.  We believe that it represents our freedom as persons to develop our own personal theology and model for doing ministry.  We gratefully acknowledge that we are a part of an institution in which diversity does exist.

 

"However, we recognize that a credibility gap is present in that the existing diversity and freedom is not revealed many times in our public image.  Neither is it affirmed within our own community.

 

"Realizing the importance and immediacy of clarifying the issue in our own community, we call for a moratorium on business as usual and for an all-day dialogue between all students, faculty, and administration to be held on Tuesday, April 6, beginning at 9 A.M.

 

"We also call for the resolving of the lack of clarity on the nature of education at Central Seminary by the Board of Directors at their April 23, 1971, meeting."

 

 

RESIGNATION LETTER BY THREE PROFESSORS

 

Here's the letter, dated March 25, 1971, from the three professors:

 

"Dr. Paul T. Losh, President

Central Baptist Theological Seminary

Kansas City, Kansas 66102

 

"Dear Paul:

 

"The recent discussion with the Board of Directors which included both students, faculty, and administration raised a number of issues for discussion and presumably some action.  Those discussions have now been followed up by a series of comments in the student newspaper.  It is in direct response to one of those articles, that of Jim Rozmus, that this letter is addressed to you.  Since Jim has challenged the integrity of the faculty and especially a number of its members whom he does not choose to name, we, the undersigned, feel that a critical issue has been joined that can no longer be ignored.

"It seems obvious to us, and surely it is obvious to all the students and faculty alike that the reference in the article included the three of us and possibly others.  We write this letter not in anger at Jim or at anyone, but rather in order to present the opportunity for a clarification of the issue by the responsible authority which we assume to be the Board of Directors.  If Jim's assumptions are correct, then his challenge has merit.  If a literal acceptance of the New Hampshire Confession of Faith is the foundation upon which the existence of this school is postulated and if this is to continue to be the case in the foreseeable future, then it is true that at least three members of the present faculty are guilty as Jim has charged.  We all three feel that this point must be clarified if we are to remain as members of the faculty.  We feel, therefore, that this issue must become an occasion for dialogue (and decision by the appropriate bodies) in the Board of Directors, the Faculty, and the Student Body.

 

"This is not the first time that it has been implied that if certain faculty members could not subscribe to the 'traditions' of Central, they should then resign.  You, yourself, have hinted broadly at this on occasion as has Professor Johnson and Jack Higgins.

 

"It should be clear that this initiative in asking for a dialogue and a decision of the Board is not being taken in anger at you or Jim Rozmus or anyone.  It is being taken in what might be called 'a friend of the court' procedure.

 

[beginning of page 2]

 

"The three of us have, we feel made a significant investment in Central Seminary.  Cumulatively we have spent twenty-three years in its service.  This investment has not been without risk on our part, but we have been willing to make the investment and take the risk because we believed and continue to believe in an educated ministry that can deal creatively with the contemporary scene.  If we have been wrong and continue to be wrong, then we would like to have this made known to us by a decision of the Board of Directors.

 

"In order that there may be a specific issue to bring the matter before the Board in an official way, we are herewith tendering our resignations.  If the Board concurs with the Rozmus assumption, then it will logically accept our resignations.  If it does not concur, then presumably it will vote to reject our resignations.  If the latter action is taken, then we would presume that the Board would instruct the administration to clarify the statement in the catalogue so that it would make perfectly clear that not all those who serve on the faculty are presumed to be in 'general agreement' with the New Hampshire Confession.

 

"The New Hampshire Confession is not, however, the only issue which needs clarification through dialogue and ultimately a decision by the Board.  Of equal importance is the question of the presentation of the 'public image' of the seminary.  If we are diverse in our theological stance, and if we are to continue to be so, then it seems only fair that we project a diverse and pluralistic image to our constituency.  We believe that we can capitalize on our diversity and that it is the only viable stance for any seminary in the day in which we live.  Our printed material and personal contacts, of necessity, should reflect as honestly as possible the pluralism that is here.

 

"You can understand, we feel sure, that this is not an easy matter to bring before you.  In all probability it will increase your burden, and this we regret.  We feel, however, that in the long run it will be to the best interests of the seminary if the issue is clarified.  We also feel that since the most recent challenge of our integrity has come from a member of the student body, the student body must also know of our response.  For this reason, we are sending a copy of this letter to the current president of the student body.

 

"Sincerely,

 

/s/ M. Edward Clark

/s/ Warren L. Molton

/s/ Alvin C. Porteous

 

cc: Edward Moody

Fred E. Young

John L. Andres"

 
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