I see by the papersas Will Rogers used to saythat Virginia
Baptists have been wrestling with Virginia Academics. As both a retired
Academic and a retired Baptist, I take notice of such squabbles.
I took early retirement from my Baptist career back when I was 12
years old and listened to Satan whisper in my ear that it might be fun to
jump out the window of the First Baptist Church in our little town. On
that Sunday morning, Satan took the form of Duane Sparks, a bad boy who was
a year older than me, and sitting next to me in the back pew. He double-dog
dared me to jump. It was a hot day and the window was openan apparent
invitation. But my innate sense of decorum told me I should wait until
the preacher gave his end-of-the sermon benediction.
"Amen," he finally said, and I jumped.
He had delivered his benediction from the back of the church so he
could shake hands with everyone as we left. And since he was behind us
giving his benediction, we couldn't see that he didn't close his eyes when
he prayed back there.
So he saw me climb up on the sill and jump out the window.
And through the intervention of the Almighty he was miraculously
on the ground under the window waiting for me to land. He grabbed me by
the ear and marched me back inside the church. People watched.
"Now," he told me, "you walk out of this church the way God intended
I didn't rememberstill don'tany divine instruction on the
preferred method of egress from the church. So that's when I decided to
take early retirement from my Baptist heritage.
I lasted much longer as an Academic. I retired after 40 years of
teaching English. When my last class ended I considered jumping out the
window, but it was considerably higher off the ground than the church
window had been, and I was not as brave as I was when I was 12. So my second
retirement lacked the panache of the first one.
I tell you all this so you can see why the spat between the
Baptists and the Academics back in Virginia piques my interest.
The Baptists involved are members of the Virginia Baptist Mission
The Academics involved are members of the faculty and
administration at Averett University in Danville, Va.
Averett has been a Baptist-related university since its founding
in 1859. That means the Academics have been getting financial support
from the Baptistsin recent times about $350,000 a year.
You might assume $350,000 would buy the Baptists lots of say-so on
how the Averett Academics behaved themselves.
Ha. Check this out:
In the fall of 2003, the chairman of the Averett religion
department wrote a piece for the local newspaper praising the
Episcopalians for ordaining an openly gay bishop.
The Truth, Mainly
At about the same time Averett invited John Shelby Sponga
retired Episcopal bishopto give a couple of lectures on campus. He
accepted, and said right loud and in public that the God who appears in a
literal reading of the Bible is "immoral" and "unbelievable."
But the final straw came this past February when a student
organization called the "Gay/Straight Alliance" sponsored a "Gay Pride
Week" at Averett.
When the Baptists complained about what Averett might be spending
their gift money on, the school's president, Richard Pfau, said "There was
no official university endorsement" of Gay Pride Week. "I learned about
it on the first day by reading it in the student newspaper."
Is he implying that student organizations are pretty much free to do
what their consciences tell them to do?
The Baptists voted last month to end their financial support of
the college. President Pfau responded with this:
The Baptists have "a set of core values and there's no reason why
they should compromise those. Likewise, Averett has a set of core
and unfortunately at this point in time, they're not compatible."
Sounds like he might be telling the Baptists to put their money
where the sun don't shine because the school's not into indoctrinating
So my first biased impulse is to score it Academics 1, Baptists 0.
But my reconsidered evaluation is that everyone wins, that the
Academics get out from under the Baptist influence they don't welcome, and
the Baptists disassociate themselves from the Academic notion that
people of all sexual orientation deserve equal respect.
A final observation: At the Averett commencement last week, six
protesters from Fred Phelps Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka showed up to
picket. Two of them were children, ages 7 and 12, holding signs saying
"God hates fags."
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail