Why Educational Institutions Naturally Drift Left

The conservative resurgence (CR) of the Southern Baptist Convention was a movement to reclaim institutions for a conservative theology and mission. Preeminent among those institutions marked for reclamation were our six seminaries, which had, to varying degrees, come under the influence of a left-leaning theology in the decades preceding the CR, which began in 1979. As a result of the CR, the seminaries have now been under the leadership of conservatives for a few decades, but state Baptist colleges and universities continue to represent a much wider theological spectrum that includes left, right, and middle. The reason for this discrepancy between seminaries and colleges is, of course, because the CR operated at the level of the national convention, to which only the seminaries are directly accountable. The CR was not an organized movement at the level of state conventions, to which state Baptist colleges and universities are directly accountable.

We can draw the following conclusion from this theological discrepancy among Baptist institutions: apart from intentional effort to hold a higher learning institution to a conservative theological vision, the natural drift of almost any such institution will be toward the left over time. History overwhelmingly verifies this thesis, and a moment’s reflection will demonstrate why it is so: institutions of higher learning are populated overwhelmingly by a demographic that is younger and more cosmopolitan than the “real” world that exists off campus. The farther removed from ordinary life an institution is, the more open it will be to a leftward drift. This is because ordinary life is the soil that nourishes the life of conservatism. Single twenty-somethings with no children to raise, no full-time job to show up for day in and day out, no deep roots in the community where they reside, and a general disdain for the wisdom of their parents’ generation are the most susceptible demographic to the naive idealism that the left produces. As such, they are more apt to gravitate toward professors who push against their inherited wisdom and traditions. Is it any wonder that leftism has always thrived on college campuses?

The lessons of this observation seem to be twofold: (1) Baptist educational institutions must be held accountable to theological standards, and those who lead them must be committed, not only to a conservative theology, but to a spirit of conservatism. (2) While Baptists should be thankful for the rich value of our educational institutions, we must not put them up on a pedestal, as though they are the arbiters of truth for our churches. History bears witness to countless times theological compromise was born in the academy. The conditions that give rise to such compromise are prevalent in such a setting, requiring an above average theological vigilance to guard the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Published by Aaron O'Kelley

Aaron O'Kelley (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a pastor and theological educator who lives in Jackson, Tennessee, with his wife and their three children.

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