Posted on Sat, Nov. 20, 2004 Ex-seminary leader recounts events surrounding dismissal By Jim Jones Special to the Star-Telegram It was more than 10 years ago that conservatives fired Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Russell Dilday, sparking storms of protest across the Southern Baptist Convention. To me, it seems more like yesterday. And a new book by Dilday, Columns: Glimpses of a Seminary Under Assault (Smythe & Helwys, $18), makes it seem even closer. It is Dilday's version -- likely to be disputed by conservatives -- of the "holy war" in the denomination. One chapter, titled "Fired," details how he was dismissed on March 9, 1994, despite assurances to him and others -- including myself -- that it wasn't going to happen. "During the last 10 years of my presidency I witnessed up close and personal the systematic undermining of what was then the world's largest seminary and the crown jewel of Baptist theological education," Dilday told me this week. "Most of it was done behind closed doors. I wanted to open those doors and give people an eyewitness account." Dilday's 346-page book isn't just about controversy. It includes many of his columns from Southwestern News and highlights achievements of his presidency from 1978 to 1994. The heart of the book, though, is Dilday's take on the conservative-moderate conflict in the denomination. Dilday estimates that when he was fired there were 32 "hard-core fundamentalists" and eight "traditional mainstream Baptists" on the board. There had been efforts to fire Dilday, who was critical of the conservative political machine, but all seemed peaceful at the Wednesday morning trustees session, which I was covering as a reporter for the Star-Telegram. During a mid-morning break, trustees Ralph Pulley, the Rev. Damon Shook, Lee Weaver and T. Bob Davis asked to meet with Dilday in his office, Dilday reveals in his book. "We've come to ask for your immediate resignation," Dilday quotes Pulley as saying. "We have here an offer for early retirement with generous financial provisions." Dilday, then 63, didn't even look at the plan. He said he didn't feel it was God's plan for him to retire. He alluded to previous discussions when he said he planned to retire in four or five years. Pulley told him to either accept or be fired with no benefits, Dilday writes. I remember a slightly glassy-eyed Dilday as he walked through the hall on his way to the trustees meeting. "They're going to fire me," he told me and others he passed in the hallway. Trustees, meeting in a closed session, voted 27-7 to dismiss Dilday. After protests from other trustees, they restored a more generous severance package. Dilday calls those who voted against his firing "the magnificent seven." Minutes after he was fired, workmen changed locks on Dilday's office doors. Today, the seminary is under conservative control, and the Rev. Paige Patterson, one of Dilday's political adversaries who spearheaded the conservative rise to power, is president. "The Southwestern we knew no longer exists," Dilday said this week. "What Jerry Falwell says is right. All six Southern Baptist seminaries have become fundamentalist." Patterson deplores the fundamentalist label, saying it is pejorative and denotes an angry, narrow philosophy. He says he and others are merely taking the 16-million-member denomination back to its biblically conservative roots. "My opposition was never against conservative theology," Dilday said. "I'm a conservative. I don't like the term 'moderate.' What I objected to was the blatant political strategy used to do the Lord's work. The Bible says not to use the weapons of the world but to use spiritual weapons of persuasion." Although conservatives strongly disagree, Dilday says the controversy that split the nation's largest Protestant denomination was more about political power than theology. "It was winner take all. If you were on the wrong side, you were out," he said. "It was kind of like denominational ethnic cleansing."