FORT WORTH, Texas — Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, has enrolled its first Muslim student and is defending its decision to accept the applicant despite concern and criticism.
According to reports, Ghassan Nagagren, a Palestinian Muslim, recently completed his first year of studies at the Christian seminary as he is pursuing a doctorate in archaeology. Nagagren has been volunteering with the seminary for the past six years at an archaeological site in Israel.
Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma, wrote about the matter on his personal website Friday, decrying the seminary for enrolling Nagagren and urging the Southern Baptist Convention to address the issue.
“Something very strange and bizarre is happening at Southwestern and Southern Baptists should intervene before we lose our seminary to evangelical irrelevancy,” he wrote. “The admission of a practicing Muslim who prays toward Mecca five times a day, who refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and who will leave the School of Theology and presumably work against the good news of Jesus Christ is something that should concern every Southern Baptist who funds theological education with Cooperative Program money.”
Burleson said that he is concerned that Southwestern accepted Nagagren contrary to the seminary’s own admission policies.
“Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s own policy forbids enrolling anyone who refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” he stated. “The campus is abuzz. Many faculty are upset. Yet, most are afraid to say anything because of ‘repercussions.’ I’ve been told by students, ‘I don’t want my transcripts blocked for speaking out’ and many of the faculty are concerned for their jobs.”
He noted, however, that Mormons have also been enrolled at the seminary in the past, which he also found to be disturbing.
Following Burleson’ post, Southwestern President Paige Patterson issued a statement about the matter, explaining that the seminary accepted Nagagren because he agreed to abide by Southwestern’s Code of Conduct.
“For several years, Southwestern Seminary has operated a dig at Tel Gezer in Israel,” he outlined. “During that time we have been joined in the effort by around 20 of our own students and about 60 students from secular schools and religious schools. We have had both Israelis and Muslims.”
“One of these young men from a Muslim background loved our people and asked to study with us. He accepted the necessity of abiding by our moral code of conduct,” Patterson continued. “He is a man of peace, and we agreed to admit him into the archaeology program.”
Patterson said that he does not see an issue with admitting the Muslim student and spoke of the benefits of forming a relationship with Nagagren.
“This man’s progress has been good, and we are especially grateful for the close relations that have been forged with peaceful Muslims and the opportunities that we have had to share biblical truths with them,” he stated. “In all of this, there is not even a hint of compromise of our historic position.”
But Burleson said that Patterson’s explanation was startling.
“Think about this. According to President Patterson, one no longer has to accept Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior to be a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but one must accept ‘our moral code of conduct,”” he wrote. “In other words, Paige Patterson deems it more important for prospective students of Southwestern to agree to avoid the ‘use and possession of alcohol and tobacco’ than to affirm their acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”
Burleston opined that while some state that the arrangement may be a prime evangelistic opportunity, he begs to differ.
“All of us want to see our Muslim and Mormon friends come to faith in Christ for their salvation and deliverance,” he said. “[However], the place for evangelism to take place is not the seminaries Southern Baptists have set aside to train gospel ministers and missionaries.”
“We are far more effective fulfilling the polices of the Southern Baptist Convention and the charters and policies of our seminaries by training Christians for gospel ministry and then sending them to places where Muslims are, than we are by violating policies and bringing Muslims and Mormons to where our gospel ministers and missionaries are being trained,” Burleson asserted.