KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Mark Coppenger offered an expression of repentance for “misappropriation of anger” in a meeting with the seminary’s trustee executive committee July 30. Trustees received his statement and reported that specific recommendations regarding steps to repentance and restoration had been embraced by the president.
In a prepared statement, trustee chairman Carl Weiser said, “The committee is prayerful that the exercise of the biblical process will serve as an example to the students, faculty and trustees of Midwestern and others.”
Weiser further stated in the unanimous report from the committee, “It is our sincere and prayerful desire that God will use these events to work revival in this place. The executive committee gratefully acknowledges the substantial progress achieved by the seminary under the leadership of Dr. Coppenger.”
Following up on a June conference in which the trustee executive committee privately discussed with Coppenger allegations that he had inappropriately expressed anger with other individuals, Weiser said a report would now be passed along to the full board in their regular Oct. 18-19 fall meeting. Weiser is pastor of Hyland Baptist Church, Lynchburg, Va.
In his remarks to the closed executive committee session, Coppenger read the following statement which was later issued publicly:
“At Midwestern, we pray that the Lord will show us any obstacles to revival in our own lives and on our campus. This summer, the Lord has graciously answered that prayer for me. We speak of the prairie fire of awakening and note that prairie fire serves to burn out the clutter in our lives. In my own life, I’ve come to understand that the misappropriation of anger has provided such an obstacle.”
Coppenger related an experience while pastoring in El Dorado, Ark., in preparing for revival when he offered to visit individuals whom he had offended, asking the congregation to supply such names. “I went to a number of homes to try to make things right, and I’m persuaded that it helped pave the way for what proved to be a wonderful revival,” he recounted in his statement.
“Similarly, I’m contacting folks who’ve been stung by my anger, and I’m seeking reconciliation. I think God will use this in his work of revival here and beyond.”
In his statement on behalf of the trustee executive committee, Weiser said the instances had been “brought to the president’s attention with the goal of seeking acknowledgement by the president of the problem, reconciliation with those wronged and full spiritual restoration.”
In answer to a reporter’s question as to specific steps to be taken by Coppenger, the trustee chairman said it would be inappropriate to comment on personnel matters.
Seminary attorney Tim Dollar clarified the answer by saying, “It’s evident from the statement that the committee has worked together with the president to come forward with specific steps that the president has embraced and cooperated with … . It’s been a cooperative effort to come up with an appropriate response, and that’s been done. The specifics of those steps are a personnel matter that shouldn’t be discussed.”
Coppenger told three media representatives after the trustee executive committee meeting that he had taken every opportunity to pray over the matter while on a recent mission trip to North Africa. “Anytime we have sin in our life — an error — it is a hindrance,” he said, and in such instances “you’re less than you could be.” He added, “But as uncomfortable as the summer has been as we’ve sorted through this, it’s also been a wonderful time of growth.
“I have to think that when God does a work of renewal and repentance in a person’s life, that has a domino effect in encouraging other people to do this. I think God could spark revival,” Coppenger said, speaking of “a faith of reclamation and repentance.” In answer to a further question, he said, “If you try to track the whole thing out, you’re playing God. With integrity, you take your step and let him be Lord.”
Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville, Tenn., said in regard to the meeting, “Midwestern Seminary under Dr. Coppenger’s leadership has developed wonderful new initiatives, such as that to the Muslims of North Africa and to Chicago’s inner city. He and the trustees are to be commended for their commitment to dream such great dreams, as well as the willingness to work together to prevent anything from hampering those dreams.
“We will continue to pray for Midwestern, as we do for all our institutions and agencies, their trustees, administrative leaders and faculty,” Chapman said. “Midwestern has greatly strengthened its academic program and made other significant advances in the recent past. It seems to me that with this newly solidified base, the greatest days in the seminary’s history lie ahead.”
Coppenger, 51, was unanimously elected as the third president of Midwestern in a June 1995 meeting of trustees. He assumed office on Aug. 1 of that year, succeeding Milton Ferguson upon his retirement after 23 years as seminary president.
Enrollment at Midwestern has risen from 494 students in 1995 to 705 students last fall, and trustees recently launched a capital campaign to fund new academic and faculty buildings.
Other members of the trustee executive committee who were present were first vice chairman Robert Collins of Blue Springs, Mo.; second vice chairman Anthony Mattia of Wamego, Kan.; secretary-treasurer Gwen Newman of Winder, Ga.; business affairs committee chairman Reagan Bradford of Edmond, Okla.; institutional advancement committee chairman Joe Bunce of Bloomfield, N.M.; and student development committee chairman Kent Cochran of Kansas City. Two executive committee members were unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.
Before assuming Midwestern’s helm, Coppenger had been vice president for convention relations for the SBC Executive Committee since early 1991. He served the previous two years as executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana; six years as a philosophy professor at Wheaton College near Chicago; and earlier was pastor of First Baptist Church, El Dorado, Ark.
He also served 30 years in the Army Reserve and National Guard, and had been a lieutenant colonel assigned to the Army’s Office of Public Affairs at the Pentagon.
Coppenger is a 1970 graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas who earned a doctor of philosophy degree from Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., in 1974 and a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, in 1983.
He was a trustee of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., 1987-88, and chairman of the SBC Resolutions Committee in 1989.
Art Toalston contributed to this article.