The dismissal of a Bible professor at Southwest Baptist University has sent apparent shock waves through the school and the local community, with the ripples reaching across the nation.
Clint Bass, tenured professor with the Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry, received a notice of dismissal letter from SBU President Eric Turner on Nov. 28 after working with the university for 10 years.
He is currently following an appeals process, meeting before a committee from the university’s board of trustees Friday, Dec. 21, according to people close to Bass.
SBU communications director Charlotte Marsch told the BH-FP last week the proceedings are taking place this month. However, she declined to confirm the exact date of the appeal meeting.
The BH-FP reached out to Bass for comment but has not received a response as of press time Thursday.
In a message published on Dec. 3 on Infuse SBU, the university’s student-led online media organization found at sbuinfuse.org, Turner said Bass’ dismissal notice “outlined personal behavior concerning conduct violations of SBU’s Faculty Handbook.”
“The handbook provides and directs that the faculty member has an appropriate venue and right to address the conduct within the notice by an appeal,” Turner’s statement says. “Unfortunately, in response to the notice, it has come to our attention that information has been circulated that is inaccurate, false and which places what has occurred in a false light.”
Because personnel matters are confidential and the behavior of a faculty member “should not be discussed in open forum at this juncture,” Turner’s statement says “SBU cannot, at this time, respond to the misinformation.”
“We will continue to equip students with God’s word for servant leadership in their families, careers, churches and communities,” the statement says. “We will continue our longstanding commitment to Missouri Baptists. We will continue our mission of being a Christ-centered, caring academic community preparing students to be servant leaders in a global society.”
In a response to a letter to the editor found in today’s edition, SBU said it would not comment on personnel issues.
Also on Dec. 3, Infuse SBU posted a letter from Southern Hills Baptist Church, where Bass currently serves as an elder.
The letter was originally penned to address questions within the church’s congregation, many of whom are part of SBU’s student body, Pastor Ted Bachman told the BH-FP. It was signed by Bachman and church elders Duncan Meadows and Kyle Lee.
Confirming Bass’s dismissal, the letter says, “It may seem odd to announce such a matter in this format but because of the nature of his firing and because Clint serves as one of the elders here at Southern Hills, we thought it was important to give some details surrounding this incident.”
“This is deeply concerning as we know the character of Clint Bass and strongly rebuke any attack on his character with no legitimate evidence offered,” the letter says.
The letter says Bass has not been accused of “any moral failing, illegal action or other sinful behavior that would lead to his dismissal,” but says “he has been singled out for his strong convictions regarding the inerrancy of Scripture and as a Biblical view of matters, such as eternal punishment and justification.”
The issues at hand “deal with foundational truth from God's word which Baptists have gathered around, such as the Baptist Faith and Message 2000,” the letter says.
“There has been a growing concern within Missouri Baptists about the doctrinal instability of the Redford School of Theology,” the letter adds.
Turner’s statement says “a strong spirit of cooperation and support with Missouri Baptists” is ingrained within SBU’s history.
The Missouri Baptist Convention responded to requests for comment via email on Dec. 10.
“Missouri Baptists value the Christian higher education provided at SBU, and it concerns us anytime a conflict disrupts the university’s ongoing ministries, especially when it also affects the community,” the statement says.
The statement confirmed the issue involving Bass is a personnel matter that features an appeals process.
“We are confident that SBU trustees, who are elected by Missouri Baptists, will work through this process with President Turner to resolve the issue in a manner that is respectful to all parties and honoring to the Lord Jesus,” the statement says.
With news of and questions about Bass’s dismissal circulating around the SBU campus, the Bolivar community and the Southern Baptist world, a Change.org petition calling for Bass to be reinstated at the university was created and has spread on social media.
Entitled “A Call for Action: We Want Bass Back,” the petition had around 1,200 signatures as of press time Thursday.
“When Dr. Bass informed SBU’s administration of his concerns about the doctrinal instability of the college of theology and ministry, they demanded, under threat of dismissal, that he surrender his personal diary of notes supporting his concerns,” the petition says. “Upon providing such documentation, those accused either denied or repositioned, and as a result, administration fired Dr. Bass.”
The petition calls for Turner and SBU’s trustees to reinstate Bass and “employ a third-party to investigate the theological beliefs and teaching of faculty” in order to “bring SBU into doctrinal alignment with the Missouri Baptist Convention.”
The petition contains multiple documents, including letters of support from several theological professors.
One professor who submitted a letter — Malcolm Yarnell, research professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas — told the BH-FP he is “still shocked at how such a peaceful and irenic scholar has found himself at the center of such a storm.”
Yarnell’s letter says he met Bass at Oxford University in the U.K. when he delivered a guest lectureship to faculty and students.
“He was writing his dissertation at the time,” Yarnell says. “He left a deep impression, on the one hand for the pristine quality of his scholarship in the midst of world-class professors, and on the other hand for his personal humility and convictional Christianity.”
Calling Bass “a quiet and productive scholar who garners the utmost respect from his colleagues in the guild of historical theology,” Yarnell’s letter says his interactions with Bass over the years have only verified his initial impressions.
In his letter, Yarnell says he is also disappointed to hear the educational experiences SBU students have shared, calling their testimonies “singularly disheartening.”
Yarnell says he hopes “that Missouri Baptists will not allow this problematic situation to continue.”
SBU’s attorney, Jay Kirksey, told the BH-FP Thursday he hopes the community will wait to make conclusions on the situation until more information has been released.
“I have every expectation that those in the public will have the wisdom to understand this is a personnel issue,” Kirksey said. “And as a personnel issue, I trust they will not prejudge, knowing they don’t have all the facts and information.”