FORT WORTH, Texas — A Texas theological seminary, which trains Christian men for ministry, has announced that it will adjust its bylaws to allow for greater “flexibility” in the admittance of non-Christian students following controversy surrounding the enrollment of a Muslim man.
As previously reported, the controversy erupted in June of this year when it was discovered that Ghassan Nagagren, a Palestinian Muslim, had completed his first year of studies at the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary in his pursuit of a doctorate in archaeology.
“For several years, Southwestern Seminary has operated a dig at Tel Gezer in Israel,” President Paige Patterson outlined in response to those who decried the decision to admit Nagagren. “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,” he continued. “He is a man of peace, and we agreed to admit him into the archaeology program.”
Patterson said that he did 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.”
However, the seminary president later issued an apology before a group of delegates from the Southern Baptist Convention.
“I made an exception to a rule that I assumed, probably wrongly, the president has the right to make if he feels that it is that important,” Patterson said. “I believe when I stand before the Lord God, I’m going to say, ‘Dear God, I violated a policy, but I didn’t want to stand before you with blood on my hands. Dear God, I did the best I knew how.’”
The seminary’s board of trustees then launched a formal review of Patterson’s decision, and this week, it concluded that while the president should have requested an exception to the bylaws to allow Nagagren’s admittance, they believed that his actions were out of his desire to evangelize and not commit any wrongdoing.
“We join with our fellow Southern Baptists in appreciation for and admiration of the evangelistic heart of our president,” the board wrote in a statement on Wednesday. “Any violations of the seminary bylaws were done in a good-faith enthusiasm to pursue the seminary’s purpose…”
It noted that in light of the matter, as well as concerns over its prison ministry program, which allows atheists and others to study with the school, changes would be forthcoming to allow non-Christians to be admitted at the seminary.
“While not compromising the missional purpose of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, we are taking steps to amend the seminary’s bylaws to improve accountability that will allow for flexibility in pursuing ministry opportunities, such as the one at the Darrington Unit,” the trustees outlined.
However, some state that allowing Muslims and those of other faiths—or no faith—into the school’s programs cannot be considered a proper or biblical way to evangelize.
“I know some people will … [say] … ‘It’s about evangelism! Don’t you believe that our seminaries should be in the prisons leading people to Christ by offering Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, neo-Nazi’s, and all other people of faith (or non-faith) the opportunity to enroll in theological educational courses provided by our seminaries?” Wade Burleson of Istoria Ministries wrote. “Answer: ‘No.’ Let me make that ‘A resounding no.'”
“Our seminaries should be training Christian men and women how to go into the prisons and lead people to Christ,” he said.
“All of us want to see our Muslim and Mormon friends come to faith in Christ for their salvation and deliverance,” Burleson also commented in June when the controversy first erupted. “[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,” he said.
Nagagren has since discontinued his time at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, stating that he did not wish to be a distraction in the school.