The Case of Dean Diana Garland: Taking a Stand at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Katie Lauve-Moon

Abstract


Isaac Newton’s third law of physics states that, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” History shows that this law often applies to social movements as well. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, was historically comprised of a diverse collection of leaders and individuals. However, in the years following the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s, a group of conservative SBC leaders devised a plan to purge the denomination of moderate and liberal minded leaders within SBC administrative units, churches, and seminaries. By the 1990s, most SBC leaders who did not support the conservative agenda, which banned the leadership of women, had resigned, retired, or been fired, and replaced with conservative leaders. In 1994, Seminary President Roy Honeycutt named Dr. Diana Garland Dean of the Carver School of Church Social Work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Shortly after, Honeycutt retired and was replaced by conservative President Al Mohler, who began enforcing unofficial hiring criteria that required faculty to oppose the leadership of women in the church. Garland thought it would be impossible to find any qualified candidates who could meet Mohler’s criteria; few licensed social workers would support discrimination against anyone based on gender. As a result, Garland was unable to recruit the minimum requirement of faculty and faced losing accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education. Garland considered two possible alternatives for action: resignation, or a public statement. Most likely, both options would result in negative consequences for the Carver School of Church Social Work and its faculty, including Garland.

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