Pastor's resignation sparks discussion of accreditation

Discussion in 'Baptist Colleges / Seminaries' started by gb93433, Oct 24, 2006.

  1. gb93433

    gb93433
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    http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=24242

    Pastor's resignation sparks discussion of accreditation
    By David Roach
    Oct 24, 2006

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The resignation of a prominent Florida church’s pastor over falsified education credentials is raising questions for many Southern Baptists about the importance of ministers receiving accredited theological degrees.

    Steven Flockhart was pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., less than two months before he resigned in August over a controversy involving fabricated education credentials.

    Flockhart submitted a one-line resignation to church leaders after admitting he did not hold bachelor's and master's degrees from the respected institutions as he had claimed, according to reports from the Palm Beach Post.

    A copy of Flockhart's resume obtained by Baptist Press made it appear that he held a bachelor's degree from Columbia International University in Columbia, S.C., and a master's degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. But an investigation by the Palm Beach Post revealed that Flockhart actually obtained bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees through correspondence courses at Covington Theological Seminary, a Georgia school not accredited by any recognized accrediting agency.

    Covington, based in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., claims its accreditation through an agency that is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and is an outgrowth of a company that was once charged with fraud.

    As of mid-October, Covington's website said the school is accredited by Accrediting Commission International (ACI) of Beebe, Ark. ACI once was known as the International Accrediting Commission based in Missouri but changed its name and moved to Arkansas after it was charged with fraud and barred from doing business in Missouri, according to the Post.

    Jimmy Dukes, associate provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press obtaining a theological degree from an institution accredited by a recognized accreditation agency is important for ministers because it validates the quality of a minister's training.

    "Accreditation is the mark of quality control. I'm not sure what mark [of quality control] you would use apart from accreditation," Dukes said.

    "I certainly would never say there is no value to a non-accredited institution. That simply would not be true,” he said. “But it would seem to me that what we have agreed to do in our institutions, accredited institutions, is to abide by common standards, and I think there's a great deal of value in that.”

    Obtaining accredited theological degrees is particularly important for ministers who want to obtain advanced degrees at other institutions because most schools require an accredited master's degree in order for a student to qualify for doctoral work, Dukes said.

    Seeking accreditation does not compromise a school's theological fidelity, he said, because the accreditation process allows a school to set its own mission statement and purpose.

    Dukes urged churches to check the accreditation of a prospective pastor's alma mater by contacting accrediting agencies. "They can check the websites of either the regional accrediting agencies or the Association of Theological Schools and find out that kind of information," he said.

    But Waylan Owens, a former vice president at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary who was in charge of guiding accreditation-related matters, cautioned that accreditation might not be the best mark of a seminary's quality.

    Though the accreditation process allows schools to set their own educational goals, a postmodern mindset among accrediting agencies compromises the value of accreditation, Owens told Baptist Press.

    "Parents and churches assume [accreditation] means one thing, and it doesn't," said Owens, who still teaches at Southeastern and serves as pastor of Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, N.C. "Accreditation does not guarantee that your son or daughter will walk across that stage with a quality education."

    Accrediting agencies do not dictate what a school must believe theologically, but many accrediting agencies hold liberal values and have an educational philosophy that is different from the educational philosophy of most Southern Baptists, Owens said.

    "There is not direct pressure on your doctrinal statement. There is indirect pressure,” he said. “I don't know how the accreditors really can help it. The whole educational establishment is liberal in its thinking.... The way a conservative does education and the way a liberal does education are really in some places very different.

    “Liberals approach education as being a matter of just exploring -- there is no right, there is no wrong, let's just look at all sides of things and try to create a tolerant open-minded person,” Owens explained. “A conservative says no. We want to teach everything that's out there. But we are going to advocate what we believe to be true.”

    Within the educational world, there is some pressure to put the federal government in charge of all accreditation in higher education, Owens said. If that happens, liberal influence in accrediting agencies likely will increase, he said.

    Accreditation is important for pastors who are considering an additional degree if they want to teach in higher education, Owens said. Otherwise, pastors should talk to people who attended the school they are considering and find out if the education is helpful, he said.

    If a pastor search committee wants to know whether a school attended by a ministerial candidate is reputable, a better way than checking accreditation is to call one of the six Southern Baptist seminaries and ask for its evaluation of the school under consideration, Owens advised.

    “In Southern Baptist life a tremendous resource that the churches just don't know about is their seminaries,” he said.

    An option for ministers considering accredited theological education at either the master's or the doctoral level is one of the six SBC seminaries -- Southeastern Seminary; New Orleans Seminary; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.; and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif. In addition to classes at their main campuses, the seminaries offer classes at extension centers across the country.

    For ministers considering accredited undergraduate education, Southeastern, Southern, Southwestern and Midwestern all have undergraduate colleges.

    Seminary Extension, based in Nashville, Tenn., offers accredited undergraduate-level education in the form of correspondence courses, Internet courses, courses taught through interactive computer software and courses taught in classrooms around the country.
     
  2. El_Guero

    El_Guero
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    It is such a shame that we have lowered our standards.
     
  3. EdSutton

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    Yet many have thus far diligently avoided getting hit between the eyes with a blinding flash of the obvious. The issue was really not that the degrees may or may not have been substandard; the issue was that He did not attend where he claimed, much less graduate with a claimed degree. The single issue was integrity.

    Ed
     
  4. Joseph M. Smith

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    Waylan Owens' argument in the original post seems to me to be self-defeating. He complains that accrediting associations are "liberal" and therefore allow any point of view. But that is the very basis by which evangelical and conservative institutions are permitted to achieve accrediation. If the accrediting association were policing theological positions from a liberal perspective, they would exclude conservative institutions. It is only because they are not confessional that they can and do include those who "advocate" as well as inform.

    I assume Owens is talking about the Assocation of Theological Schools. He would find that some other accrediting bodies, like TRACS, are quite confessional and do insist on a credal affirmation. They are therefore much less open than ATS.

    And further, ATS is an association, governed by its own membership, which includes the conservative schools. They have a voice in its policies, and are not excluded.

    Owens' argument reminds me of the comment a university professor wrote on a classmate's paper years ago: "Logically argued to a wrong conclusion."

    All that having been said, I agree with my old (well, I am older!) student Ed Sutton that integrity -- truth-telling -- is the overriding issue here.
     
  5. paidagogos

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    From one who knows

    Some have touted accreditation as the deciding criterion hands down. It's not quite that simple. Owens raises some very good and valid points whereas Dukes spouts the conventional, establishmentarian pabulum. It is acceptable to earn degrees at reputable unaccredited schools. I can show you accredited seminaries with well-known professors who hold unaccredited BJU degrees. On the other hand, this is not a defense of Flockhart or Covington, a virtual degree mill. My point is simply that accreditation is only one factor to consider among many. The answer is to be vigilant, to be knowledgeable and to thoroughly check out credentials and references. This requires work and effort. IMHO, it is negligent to just accept the rubber stamp of accreditation as the criterion for quality.
     
  6. paidagogos

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    Disagree

    I disagree. I do not think Owens is talking about ATS accreditation but he is speaking of secular, regional accreditation. Even so, the ATS cannot be characterized as strongly conservative--it is more moderate or liberal in Fundamentalist eyes. Do you think the conservative schools have a controlling interest? I think not. However, the point is moot because Owens' concerns apply equally.

    Do you remember the Semix case some years ago when a seminary's accreditation was in jeopardy because they refused tenure or dismissed professors on doctrinal issues? This is the watershed of the accreditation vs. non-accreditation argument for religious schools. If a religious school cannot discriminate for hiring, retention and tenure on doctrinals matters, then it cannot control and maintain its orthodoxy. The secular (and yes, liberal and postmodern) mindset of regional accreditations do not see beliefs as a legitimate basis for hiring and firing. All beliefs are equal to them. They would view it as an academic freedom issue, which has historically brought accreditation into question. Owens is right on when he states that accreditation does produce an indirect pressure on doctrinal matters and history has proven him right. More recently, the pressure has been greatly reduced but there are indicators that the pendulum is swinging back to the other side.

    In sum, Owens' facts, argument and conclusion are accurate, logical and cogent. I suspect the different between you and Owens lie more in where your views are on the conservative theological spectrum than the logic of the argument. In other words, a person with more inclusive views is not as much concerned about hiring/firing matters in relation to maintaining a conservative viewpoint. Conversely, the strongly conservative viewpoint is more narrow and interested in maintaining an exclusively conservative environment. It's a difference of values, not logic.
     
    #6 paidagogos, Oct 25, 2006
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 25, 2006
  7. paidagogos

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    Issues raise other issues

    Ed, you are entirely correct that the original cause for dismissal was integrity. However, there were other contributing factors including the degree mill nature of the degrees that Flockhart possessed and the pressure for degrees as ministerial qualifications. In subsequent discussions, these have become important issues too. The thrust of the posted article was more about accreditation and acceptance of degrees than the lying and deception. It is the article that is the topic of this thread, not the cause(s) for Flockhart's termination.
     
    #7 paidagogos, Oct 25, 2006
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 25, 2006
  8. Sly Fox

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    He faked his credentials. Whether thos alleged dgrees were from accredited institutions is of little consequence. Just as George O'Leary or Lena Guerrero.

    Its interesting how just about anything can be turned into an excuse to justify schools not meeting a third party's minimum standards.
     
  9. mcdirector

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    paidagogos,
    I'm a huge supporter of accreditation -- so much so that I've served on several accreditition committees. And while I understand why some would chose to go to an unaccredited school, that's not a choice I'd make. I do think that a giant leap has been made in the article from Flockhart's dishonesty to the need for accreditation, which is why I made my comments below (or above depending on how you've got the new posts coming atcha). I'll back out of the conversation now because I can't get past that leap in this particular case.
     
  10. Brian30755

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    I thought I recognized that name.....this guy was a pastor at a church in my hometown in Georgia.

    From an article at: http://www.abpnews.com/www/1328.article


    "The Post and Associated Baptist Press previously reported that Flockhart left a Georgia church eight years ago with unauthorized debts from personal credit card use and personal checks totaling more than $162,500. Macedonia Baptist Church in Dawnville, Ga., filed a lawsuit after Flockhart left in 1989 for Crosspointe Baptist Church near Memphis, Tenn."
     
  11. El_Guero

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    I wonder if he tithed?

    :saint:
     
  12. paidagogos

    paidagogos
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    What's your point?

    So, what's your point? You're too obscure for me. :rolleyes:
     

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