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SBC president said ‘overwhelmed’ by misinformation in SBTS firing

DEL CITY, Okla. (BP)–The president of the Southern Baptist Convention said he is “overwhelmed by the massive amount of misinformation being disseminated regarding Southern Seminary’s termination” of a reference librarian.
The remarks by Tom Elliff, SBC president and pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., concerned the Sept. 26 firing of Paul Debusman, a librarian at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.
An article about the termination, written by Mark Wingfield, Kentucky state paper editor, appeared in the moderate-backed news service, Associated Baptist Press, Oct. 2, and, subsequently, in a number of state Baptist papers.
“The termination of an employee is clearly a matter regarding the personnel policies of an institution as they relate to the individual in question. Confidentiality and discretion on the part of the administration is required in such instances. As SBC president I have neither the authority nor the inclination to meddle in their affairs. To suggest otherwise is patently in error,” Elliff said.
Elliff said as a matter of presidential protocol, and unless otherwise requested, copies of all correspondence are forwarded to the boards, institutions or agencies to which they relate.
“Dr. Debusman’s letter, sent on Southern Seminary letterhead, contained no such request and was routinely sent, without comment, to that institution,” Elliff told Baptist Press.
“Southern Seminary’s refusal to comment is both appropriate and necessary. For my part I have steadfastly refused to register any criticism, complaint or offense regarding Dr. Debusman, to any entity, either publicly or privately, in verbal or written form.
“It is unfortunate that some have been left to extensive journalistic speculation regarding this situation. I have discovered evolutionary theorists are not alone in producing prodigious speculation from scant and falsely interpreted facts. Be that as it may, I have consistently refused to publicly add fuel to this issue by making repeated statements regarding it. I hold no malice or grievance toward anyone in this matter, but am aware that only God can show others the sincerity of my heart,” Elliff said.
Seminary officials declined to comment, noting personnel records are confidential information.
Baptist Press confirmed Debusman wrote his “personal” letter on official Southern Seminary stationery.
In the ABP story, Debusman was said to be 10 months away from retirement and as a result of the “involuntary retirement” will lose some “retirement benefits he otherwise would have received.”
Debusman, in a recent letter to Baptist Press, said “the loss of any benefits is a minor point and to stress that factor implies that my concern is for material gain/loss. My disappointment centers around the loss of this ministry.” Debusman was a 35-year employee of the seminary and was given one month’s severance pay. He will receive his normal earned retirement benefits which the seminary did not attempt to withhold or challenge.
“I do not want to be portrayed as recommending to anyone a vindictive response to Southern Seminary,” Debusman said.
The ABP article said Debusman, 64, was fired “apparently because he wrote a personal letter questioning statements made in a chapel address by SBC President Tom Elliff” regarding the seminary’s progress under President R. Albert Mohler, Jr., and the conservative resurgence.
Debusman said he was told his firing was the result of actions “harmful” to the seminary.
One of those actions may have been a story in the July 4 edition of the homosexual magazine, “Gay People’s Chronicle.” Debusman was quoted in the article as attributing smaller numbers at recent SBC annual meetings “to a growing sense among Southern Baptists that the important decisions of the convention are out of their hands. While many Baptists attended meetings in previous years in order to nominate and elect the convention president, the nominee is now determined ahead of time by a small group of people. Since 1979, a small group of conservatives began an effort to exert its influence over the convention. Over the course of ten years, the group gradually filled all the convention’s top positions.”
“All the agencies are very clearly and securely in control of one group,” Debusman was quoted, “Why go?”
And, contrary to the ABP report, Debusman told Baptist Press he was familiar with the gay magazine and knew the reporter who interviewed him.
Elliff applauded the progress of Southern Seminary, calling it a “bright beacon for truth among Southern Baptists. The recent enrollment increase, expanded faculty and campus additions testify to its remarkable spiritual vitality. it is aggressively participating in the preparation of a new generation of preachers, pastors, ministers, missionaries and theologians. Every Southern Baptists should thank God for Southern Seminary and for our other equally important institutions. They play an absolutely essential role in providing leadership for the most daring exploits yet in our Southern Baptist history. Pray for them as they stand steadfast for the truth. Additionally, I would encourage each of us to seek the truth in matters such as this. We would de well to heed the Apostle’s admonition to ‘shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness’ (2 Tim. 2:16).”

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  • Herb Hollinger