CLEVELAND, Ga. — Truett-McConnell College in northeast
Georgia plans to become the first Baptist college to require its faculty to
affirm the Baptist Faith and Message as revised by the Southern Baptist
Convention in 2000.
Trustees of the four-year school — named
after George W. Truett, the legendary pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas
for 47 years, and Fernando McConnell, Truett’s cousin and the longtime pastor
Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta — voted Dec. 4 to adopt the policy
intended to signal solidarity with the Georgia Baptist Convention.
“The Georgia Baptist Convention and our churches deserve
nothing less than a faculty that will abide by nothing less than the essentials
of the faith,” said Truett-McConnell President Emir Caner, according
to the Georgia Baptist Christian Index.
“Institutions that do not faithfully support the theology of
Southern Baptists do not deserve the faithful support of Southern Baptists,”
The policy runs counter to other historically Baptist
colleges and universities that in recent decades have loosened or severed ties
with sponsoring state conventions.
Most have done so to prevent pressure to
force their professors to move from moderate theology to the more conservative
ideology imposed upon SBC seminaries in the 1980s and 1990s.
Winds of theological and political change prompted Georgia
Baptists to part ways with their flagship Mercer University in 2007.
They also opened
the door for the 37-year-old Caner, founding dean of an undergraduate program
at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, to become the youngest
president in Truett-McConnell’s history in 2008.
“The 20th century saw the degradation of sound, biblical
theology,” Caner said. “But thankfully on a national level our seminaries, mission
agencies, the (SBC) Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and our other
agencies are now faithful to the Word of God, but we can’t say the same about
all our state Baptist colleges. I will stand on the Baptist Faith and Message.”
Southern Baptists originally adopted the Baptist Faith and
Message confessional statement in 1925, largely to respond to the debate over
evolution then dividing religious bodies. They updated the faith statement in
1963 to quell concerns about biblical authority.
After a conservative faction
solidified control of denominational entities in the 1990s, the convention
updated the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000, adding restrictions on the roles
of women and removing
a key phrase citing Jesus Christ as the lens through which Scripture should be
Sam Pelletier, chairman of the college’s Christian studies
department, said he supported the change and has been requiring new hires to
affirm not only the Baptist Faith and Message, but also a statement on biblical
inerrancy for eight years.
The Christian Index also quoted Truett-McConnell mathematics
professor Roy Hardy, who questioned the wisdom of the change. He said he agrees
with most — but not all — of the Baptist Faith and Message and does not believe
the statement is infallible.
“I feel it goes well beyond the ‘essentials’ of
the faith,” he said.
The Christian Index reported that Caner told current faculty
they would be given 18 months to decide whether or not to sign the document
because he wanted to be “pastoral” in his approach.
who was raised as a Sunni Muslim in Ohio before converting to Christianity as a
teenager, is well-known in Southern Baptist circles for lectures and writings
critical of Islam.
Unveiling Islam, a book he co-authored in 2002 with his
Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, was cited by
former SBC President Jerry Vines as source for his controversial quote that
year labeling the Prophet Muhammad a “demon-possessed pedophile.”
in 1946, Truett-McConnell College sits on 288 acres in the mountain community
of Cleveland, Ga., near the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. Enrollment
in the fall of 2008 totaled 451 students.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated