It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about my alma mater. Geography, theology, and Baptist politics have created something of a chasm between us. But the death of Dr. Landrum Leavell brought back some reminders of life on the seminary campus.
I didn’t know Dr. Leavell very well, but knew something about the political climate on campus during the years I attended (1988-96). As president, Dr. Leavell didn’t want the professors talking about denominational politics on campus at all. I came to understand that some of the faculty didn’t like this gag order, but looking back on it now I can see that NOBTS was spared a lot of the turmoil experienced on other SBC campuses due to Leavell’s leadership and conservative credentials. Trustees of other seminaries were going after “liberals” on faculty, but Dr. Leavell held a firm grip on things at NOBTS. If a trustee had a problem with a professor at NOBTS, he would have to go through Dr. Leavell first. My professor friends said they may have had theological and personality differences with Dr. Leavell, but appreciated greatly the fact that he would stand up for them and protect them. It seemed to me that teaching at NOBTS was preferred to the other five SBC seminaries during the height of the Controversy.
I’m glad I came through NOBTS when I did, and credit Dr. Leavell for maintaining a relatively peaceful oasis of learning during denominational storm. There’s a lot I don’t know about behind the scenes, of course, but this is one student who looks back on his seminary training with gratitude for the quality of education received during that time. I don’t know what it was like to work for him, but appreciate Dr. Leavell and his contributions to Southern Baptist life.