Joe Aguillard, the controversial and outspoken President of Louisiana College, may have finally bitten off more than he can chew. And no, this has nothing to do with eating worms.
Recently, Aguillard revealed that he would not be renewing the contracts of three divinity professors, Dr. Jason Hiles, Dr. Kevin McFadden, and Dr. Ryan Lister, effectively firing them from the school. According to Joshua Breland, a Louisiana College graduate and a current student at Louisiana College’s Caskey School of Divinity, these three professors are being “targeted and persecuted” by LC President Joe Aguillard not for anything they have taught or espoused in the classroom but for personally believing in Calvinism (or perhaps more accurately, “New Calvinism”).
Without getting too thick into the hermeneutical weeds, suffice it to say, there is a legitimate, ongoing debate among Baptist (indeed, even Southern Baptist) theologians over Calvinism, a debate that has, in various forms and among various denominations, persisted for hundreds of years.
After the news of his decision to terminate these professors became public, Aguillard posted an absurdly sanctimonious article on Louisiana College’s website, unwittingly reinforcing his own, singular dictatorial control over the ideas allowed to be taught at LC. Aguillard writes, “My love for all Baptists including Calvinists, does not constitute our approval of its being advocated at Louisiana College.” “My love” doesn’t constitute “our approval”? That doesn’t even make sense.
Notably, neither the Louisiana College Board of Trustees nor the Southern Baptist Convention have ever taken a position on Calvinism. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention has been deliberate:
What is the SBC’s official view of the doctrine commonly known as “Calvinism?”
The Southern Baptist Convention has not taken an official stance on either Calvinism or Arminianism. If you surveyed Southern Baptists across the nation you would likely find adherents at both ends of the spectrum with plenty at each point in between.
Joe Aguillard does not speak for the entire institution; he speaks for himself.
Quoting Joshua Breland:
Throughout my three years at the undergraduate level I have not personally experienced a professor insist upon a Calvinistic understanding of Scripture, nor mention the word Calvinism, in class. I have also not heard of any complaints from students regarding an insistence upon belief in a Calvinistic understanding of Scripture. I have earned 48 hours of course credit inside the Christian Studies department over three years and have never experienced a professor nor student engage in any debate or discussion of Calvinism.
It is my experience that professors would not discuss matters of doctrine related to Calvinism. On more than one occasion, a professor refused to discuss certain doctrines associated with Calvinism. I suspect this aversion to speaking openly about certain Calvinistic doctrines was due to the climate of fear that has come over Louisiana College in the past two years. This climate of fear is hurting Louisiana College, academically, as students are not being taught a rounded curriculum of Christian doctrine which should include an understanding of historic Southern Baptist Calvinism. Without being exposed to this doctrine, students are not prepared for graduate level work. It is my hope that tolerance and unity can prevail at Louisiana College under the framework of the Baptist Faith Message 2000.
No doubt, Mr. Breland is being earnest, but if he’s never even heard a professor “mention the word Calvinism,” then he’s getting a shitty education, and he should probably demand a refund.
Regardless, those of us who care about Louisiana College and Central Louisiana should be thankful to Mr. Breland for speaking truth to power and for standing up to Joe Aguillard. As a graduate student at LC, Mr. Breland likely knows that, in speaking up, he is exposing himself to recrimination and retribution. So kudos to him for being brave and for demanding action.
But on a final note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say: If the Board of Trustees at Louisiana College ever asked me to list the reasons they should, once and for all, fire Joe Aguillard, this whole debate about Calvinism would probably be at the bottom of my list.
To recap, under Joe Aguillard’s tenure:
1) Louisiana College has been in constant peril of losing its accreditation from SACS.
2) The main campus now requires more than $30 million in repairs.
3) He’s either fired or scared away half of its faculty.
4) The law school is a joke that hasn’t happened and won’t ever happen under his leadership.
5) The medical school is a joke that hasn’t happened and won’t ever happen under his leadership.
6) The film school is a joke that hasn’t happened and won’t ever happen under his leadership.
7) The divinity school is a joke that HAS happened under his leadership.
8) He’s eaten a live worm in front of a live audience. It sounds silly until you watch the video and realize how creepy it is.
9) He prefers to be called “Dr. Aguillard,” but he doesn’t want you to know where and how he earned his ph.D.
10) He’s divisive and vindictive.
11) He has turned Louisiana College into a political institution with a radical political agenda.
12) He loves Calvinists so much that he is willing to fire them for being Calvinists, an act that, in almost any other institution in the country, would be grounds for series of lawsuits.
This about the reference in JA’s bio that he was, at one point, selected as faculty member of the year is highly misleading. Most people who around at the recognized that the votes were “stacked” by athletes, under the direction of people in the athletic department. It is not usual for JA to engage in this kind of manuever.
Theological wars are a distraction from incompetence & corruption. The fundamentalists teamed with the athletic community to get Aguillard in place. It remains to be seen if, and when, these two groups turn on him and look for a replacement. If the board focus stays narrowly focused on theology(and uses athletics to keep enrollment up), sustainability may be ok for the short-term, but not the long term. This scenario has been played out before in similar institutions in other states.
I would only like to contest the divinity school being a joke. I can’t speak for all of the programs, but the M.A. in Christian Studies program has excellent students and is quite rigorous. It’s far beyond what most Baptist students were previously getting at denominational seminiaries. Chuck Quarles and (the recently dismissed) Jason Hiles deserve a lot of praise for that.