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Seminary president’s open letter responds to former student’s views

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The following letter was issued by Thomas H. Graves, president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond after a former student’s journal about his experience at the seminary was published by The Baptist Banner, a monthly periodical by Southern Baptist layman T.C. Pinckney of Virginia.

May 1, 2001

An Open Letter to Virginia Baptists:

The Baptist Banner published by T.C. Pinckney recently printed a 24-page article written by John Ippolito entitled “Seminary in Apostasy.” The article is an aggressive attack on Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond that is misleading, false and bordering on libel. The author was a full-time student for only one semester at the seminary before choosing to transfer to another school.

In talking to others about a possible response to this widely circulated article, I have received many suggestions. Several have argued that no response is needed because to do so would dignify these unfounded charges. But there are some who would assume that the attack must have some degree of truth if no response is made.

Others have urged a vigorous legal defense based on possible charges of libel. But the picture of Christians suing one another in the name of God is clearly not scriptural and would cause harm to the broader Christian witness.

Some have said that a detailed point-by-point refutation would be the best response. That is certainly possible, but there just are not many folks willing to wade through an argumentative analysis of a 24-page document.

What I have chosen to do is to respond to the two major concerns that are mentioned throughout the article: homosexuality and the place of scripture. Before turning to each of these issues, it is important to make two general comments.

First, in Matthew 18 scripture provides very clear guidelines for dealing with grievances within the Christian community. Scripture counsels private conversation and then dialogue with a larger Christian fellowship. I am very open to the possibility of discussion with the author and publisher of this article. I invite them to have conversation, but have received nothing from them suggesting they desire to talk. To broadcast one’s disagreement publicly before ever talking with the other, to go public with vicious charges of unfaith and immorality, to publicize a rift within the Christian family is certainly contrary to the simple teachings of Christ. How is it that those persons who proclaim so loudly the inerrant truth of God’s Holy Word, do not take time to read the Bible and follow its teaching?

Second, in keeping with this style of inviting dialogue and discussion, let me be quick to say that there are many ways in which we can improve our efforts to train future ministers for the church. We are not a perfect institution and we covet your prayers and thank God for your interest in our school. If we have offended any student with ridicule, we were wrong. If we have made some feel less than a full member of our seminary community, we have been wrong. We need to grow in many ways and appreciate the help and guidance others may offer. Rather than launch an angry attack that demonizes our fellow Christians, a desire to learn from one another and to help one another is a much more Christian approach to those who disagree with us. For too long in Baptist life we have modeled prideful misbehavior rather than Christ like humility.

Now, let me comment on the two issues that seem to be foremost in the mind of the author. The seminary’s policy regarding homosexuality is plain: promiscuity, whether homosexual or heterosexual is not an allowable lifestyle for a member of the seminary community. We have acted on this policy in terms of admission, discipline and expulsion. We will continue to do so. Homosexual practice is not affirmed. A promiscuous lifestyle is not condoned. We are committed to a discussion of the issue of the church’s ministry to the homosexual community as a necessary ingredient in our preparation of ministers. Our students must be prepared to deal with this and other troublesome issues. One need not condone a homosexual lifestyle to prepare oneself for servant ministry to the homosexual persons of our society.

Regarding scripture, the seminary faculty affirms a covenant that guides our life together. That Faculty Covenant understands the authority of scripture as central to the Christian life when it states: “We pledge to study and teach the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments with diligence and firm commitment, knowing the Bible as sure and certain authority for understanding the nature of God, God’s work in the world, and our role as servants in the Kingdom of God; affirming the Bible as standing over all theories, interpretations, creeds, and confessions; and presenting the Bible’s primary function as witness to the revelation of God in Christ, who is the center of our work and worship.” Others may disagree with particular Biblical interpretations and applications, but it is simply not possible to say the faculty of this school does not believe in the “sure and certain” truth of scripture.

For too long in Baptist life we have treated others who don’t think exactly like us as enemies and infidels. The tasks of the Kingdom of God are too pressing to waste our time in shooting at one another. The mission of the church will be best served when we join hands together in ministry, service, and witness. The cause of Christ deserves nothing less.

Thomas H. Graves
Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond

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