Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Dismantles Church Music Studies

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Dismantles Church Music Studies June 23, 2019

In response to yesterday’s post about the dismantling of the music program at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, there were a few comments expressing hope that, at least, the once-prominent School of Church Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary was still offering legitimate church music studies.

That is apparently not the case, according to multiple sources close to the situation

Full-time faculty positions have been reduced from 11 to 5. (Update: Most music specialists are gone. This includes Distinguished Professor of Music Theory and Campus Organist Jerry Aultman, who was nearing retirement age. A Go Fund Me has been established to help Professor Aultman and his wife with major expenses.)

Personnel who oversaw the destruction of the Southern Seminary music program, Joe Crider and Chuck Lewis, are being brought to Fort Worth to help them overhaul the Southwestern School of Church Music.

According to reports, the new president of SWBTS has eliminated all performance degrees and applied concentrations, organ, piano, conducting, voice, and instrumental studies. Students with degrees in progress will be allowed to finish, but no new students will be accepted into these programs. Going forward, all degrees will reportedly have an emphasis in “worship,” with degree plans heavy in Southern Baptist theological studies, the history of Baptist worship, and practicums in ministry administration and small ensemble leadership.

The School of Church Music, established in 1921 as the School of Gospel Music, is being rebranded, for now, as the School of Church Music and Worship.

This one hits home a bit. I have friends and mentors who attended the SWBTS School of Music in its heyday, when sacred music studies were strong. Southwestern was especially known for churning out terrific organists and strong choral leaders.

Again, as with SBTS, this news probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. Enrollment at the seminary has been declining since it was hijacked by the so-called “conservative resurgence” in the 90s (Google “Russell Dilday southwestern seminary” if you’re interested [trigger warning: Baptist trauma]). Most prominent Southern Baptist churches have abandoned their serious sacred music ministries over the past two decades in favor of commercial pop worship.

And just days ago, we learned of a new suit filed against disgraced former SWBTS president and SBC hijacking architect Paige Patterson for his handling of a sex abuse claim. Seminary trustees fired Patterson last year for similar infractions, as well as his long documented history of sexist and objectifying remarks against women. Attendance and contributions have suffered in the wake of the Patterson scandal.

There is another ominous effect of these sorts of cuts. Baptist pastors are now being trained by institutions that obviously don’t care about the rich history of church music. These will be the men (remember: Southern Baptists still prohibit women from doing much of anything pastoral…) dictating the direction of Baptist church music in the future.

Apparently, we can all look forward to more trashing of beautiful instruments and resonant sanctuaries as pop worship does its thing.

At this point, if you are one of the serious sacred music holdouts in the Southern Baptist Convention, it might be time to get that resume ready. Or start working on that real estate license.


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