DALLAS, Texas — Jerry Johnson, president of Criswell College in Dallas, resigned Aug. 5 after a controversy went public about the direction of the College and its relationship with the First Baptist Church of Dallas, which founded the school and maintains active ties through trustee selection.
The discord was publicized Aug. 1 when the Dallas Morning News published an accusation by Criswell trustee Steve Washburn, pastor of First Baptist Church in Pflugerville, Texas, that Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, was planning to liquidate Criswell’s assets to benefit the church, which established the college in 1970 under the leadership of their late pastor, W.A. Criswell.
The paper also reported Johnson’s affirmation of Washburn’s accusation. Jeffress, who as pastor of FBC Dallas is automatically chancellor of Criswell College, denied the accusation, saying it was the product of an “overactive imagination.” Among the college’s assets is an FM radio station, KCBI.
“Neither the deacons nor I have any plan to sell KCBI or the campus of Criswell College, period,” Jeffress told the Dallas Morning News.
Johnson resigned during a called meeting of the college’s trustee executive committee Tuesday evening.
“The resignation was due to philosophical differences the president had with the chancellor and trustee leadership about the future of Criswell College,” board chairman Michael Deahl told the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Deahl said Johnson will continue to serve as president until Aug. 15, at which time an interim president appointed by the trustee executive committee will take over.
“On a personal level and on behalf of the entire board of trustees, I want to express gratitude for the leadership Dr. Johnson has provided at Criswell College during the four years of his presidency and for all of the accomplishments that have been achieved at the College and KCBI under Dr. Johnson’s leadership, which are too numerous to mention,” Deahl said. “I firmly believe that, due in no small part to Dr. Johnson’s contributions, the greatest days at Criswell College are yet to come.”
The school is incorporated separately from the church and holds the license to the radio station, which one observer estimates is worth $20 million, according to the Dallas newspaper. All the school’s trustees, however, must be approved by the congregation and 12 of the 21 trustees must be members of the church.
Washburn’s letter asserted that church leaders and college trustees had agreed that the school should move toward separating from the church. The letter also said that recent “financial success of the college is too great a temptation for church leadership.” Although the college has “struggled financially throughout most if its history … for the last three years the school has been especially blessed, ending fiscal year 2007/2008 more than $7 million in the black.”
Washburn indicated that leaders of the Dallas church and college trustees have been at odds over a plan to give the college to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and liquidate Criswell’s assets, including its radio station. The school’s trustees voted in April 2008 not to become part of Southwestern Seminary’s undergraduate program.
Criswell trustees passed two significant resolutions in May of this year related to the school. One resolution, as reported by the Dallas Morning News, stated that the college “has no intention of selling 90.9 KCBI, and will not revisit this issue for a period of five years.” The trustees also passed a resolution saying that the college would “not to take any action to separate the College and KCBI from the church at this time.”