Former professor and seminary at odds over cause of dismissal

FORT WORTH—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary denied charges by a former humanities professor—who identifies as a previously gay abuse survivor—that he was fired because he refused to stop talking about homosexuality and sex abuse.

Instead, Provost Randy Stinson said the decision was based on “changing program needs” of Scarborough College, the seminary’s undergraduate program.

Lopez claimed seminary wanted to silence him

Robert Oscar Lopez, formerly a humanities professor in Scarborough College, issued a public statement Dec. 3 asserting his position was eliminated due to pressure from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and opposition from seminary administration.

According to the statement, Lopez claimed he was dismissed “for his position on same-sex relationships and his advocacy for victims of same-sex abuse.” He has spoken and written about his personal experience, growing up in the home of his lesbian mother and her same-sex partner. Consequently, he became involved in what he has called “a homosexual lifestyle” before he became a Christian.

Lopez insisted he was told in September “not to continue to discuss homosexuality or sex abuse in any capacity while employed at the seminary.” - shop now!

Allegations demand ‘public, unambiguous response’

Southwestern Seminary issued its own statement the following day. While noting the school normally does not comment on personnel matters, the seminary provost said the “public allegations” by Lopez demanded “a public, unambiguous response.” - shop now!

“Let me be absolutely clear: no faculty member, including Dr. Lopez, has been told, or would be told, they cannot discuss homosexuality,” Stinson said in the Dec. 4 statement.

The seminary “joyfully affirms” the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, “including each and every assertion about biblical sexuality,” he stated.

“As such, the administration faithfully requires all faculty members to teach in accordance with and not contrary to these truth claims. Our faculty—including our president—regularly teach on God’s design for the family and marriage and the biblical sexual ethic, which homosexuality is in rebellion against,” Stinson said.

Significant staff reductions

In a Nov. 16 article published on the conservative website American Greatness, Lopez stated: “By September 19, I was asked to resign by the provost. In early November, the spring 2020 schedule was published, indicating that I had no classes at all.”

Lopez wrote that Adam Greenway, who was elected president of Southwestern Seminary in February, “fired 26 professors in 24 hours, sending a clear signal to all of us that we were eminently replaceable.”

In April, the seminary’s board of trustees approved a reduced budget and voted to revamp undergraduate degrees offered by Scarborough College, reflecting what Greenway called a move to “recalibrate and to reposition” itself in “every way to strengthen the core of what we do.”

In an Oct. 10 interview with the Baptist Standard, Greenway noted the drastic reduction in Southwestern Seminary’s enrollment over the course of the last few decades. He stressed his desire to emphasize residential theological education and give greater attention to the master’s level degree programs that equip students for ministry in churches.

Baptist Press, information service of the SBC Executive Committee, quoted a seminary official as saying: “Currently, we have two full-time professors of humanities—one senior professor of humanities and one professor of philosophy and humanities. From last year to this year, the required humanities courses have been cut from eight to four. Michael Wilkinson, dean of the college, in consultation with Provost Stinson determined that we did not need a third full-time professor of humanities.”

Lopez said he was pressured to keep quiet

In his Dec. 3 statement, Lopez stated he received written notification Nov. 29 his position was eliminated from Southwestern’s undergraduate program. He asserted that followed three meetings with Stinson and four with Wilkinson, saying he was “pressured to cease from discussing sexuality and sex abuse.”

“I was preaching publicly that with the help of Jesus Christ people could overcome homosexuality, and I was discussing same-sex sex abuse,” Lopez stated, noting he had submitted resolutions on those subjects at Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings in 2018 and 2019, but neither resolution made it out of committee.

Lopez alleged he was ordered in September to stop discussing homosexuality or sex abuse while he was employed at the seminary.

“I stated that the demands from the seminary violated my conscience and would force me to disobey God. I was told that if that was the case, I had to resign. I refused to resign,” Lopez stated.

Claims seminary ‘in retreat’ on biblical sexuality

Furthermore, the public statement from Lopez alleged Southwestern Seminary joined unnamed churches, denominations, parachurch organizations and schools as being “in retreat” regarding “biblical truths about sexuality.”

“Any true believer in Jesus Christ expects pushback from unbelievers. What we don’t expect is pushback from people who claim to uphold and teach the very principles clearly presented in the Bible,” he said.

Lopez also was interviewed on American Family Radio’s “Focal Point” program in a segment titled “Southern Baptists getting ready to flip on homosexuality.”

‘Committed to a biblical view of marriage and sexual ethics’

In his Dec. 4 statement, Stinson insisted the seminary holds to its traditional understanding regarding biblical sexuality and the ability of individuals to be changed by Christ.

“Our faculty—including our president—regularly teach on God’s design for the family and marriage and the biblical sexual ethic, which homosexuality is in rebellion against. Our faculty also teach that all sinners can be changed by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Stinson said.

“Indeed, any contrary teaching at the seminary would not be tolerated. As Southern Baptists should expect of their seminaries, we are committed to a biblical view of marriage and sexual ethics. Any claim that Southwestern Seminary has wavered on these longstanding commitments is either misinformed or intentionally deceptive.”

‘Refuse to compromise’ on biblical principles

Stinson took personal exception to assertions he made any statements contrary to the traditional understanding of biblical teachings regarding sexuality.

“I have given my entire academic and ministry career of more than two decades to addressing these matters from a biblical worldview. In light of the growing cultural confusion on sexuality and growing pressure to force Christians to conform to prevailing opinions, my resolve on these matters is stronger today than ever,” he said.

“The biblical sexual ethic is God’s plan for human flourishing and the gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s plan for redeeming all sinners. On these matters, I and Southwestern Seminary refuse to compromise.”

‘Failure to comply with basic administrative policies’

Stinson emphasized Lopez’s position at Scarborough College was eliminated due to “changing program needs.” But he also noted the decision “was undergirded by his own actions, which included his failure to comply with basic administrative policies, his being the subject of regular complaints from students and faculty colleagues, and, in the end, his refusal even to attend meetings with his supervisors.”

“While it is unfortunate when any institutional position must be eliminated, I am confident this decision is in the best interests of the students we are educating for gospel ministry and this institution,” Stinson said.

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