Associate dean raps about past leader at Founders’ Day chapel

Dr. James Patterson, associate dean of the Schoool of Theology and Missions, speaks about several of the university’s founders at Founders’ Day chapel. | Photo by Beth Spain

By Felicia Taraczkozy

Hundreds of students and faculty intently listened as Dr. James Patterson humorously rapped the “rhythmic summary” to his Founders’ Day chapel lecture about a late 19th century Southwestern Baptist College trustee.

James R. Graves, the trustee, moved to Tennessee in 1845 and built a publishing empire as a journalist and editor.

He wrote The Tennessee Baptist, also known as The Baptist, and used this outlet as an avenue for his controversial writing on Baptist identity. Graves had thoughts on everything from beards to the rapture, and held nothing back.

Later on, Graves served on the board of trustees for Union’s predecessor, Southwestern Bible College, from 1874–1892, and as the chair of the board from 1885–1892.

Graves is best known for his legalistic ideals on the Baptist identity, otherwise called the Landmark movement.

Patterson, associate dean of the School of Theology and Missions, said that in order for small groups to function and serve their purposes well, they must set healthy boundaries.

“Without boundaries, we have no identity,” he said.

Patterson said he disagrees with Graves about separating Baptists from other denominations.

“Graves’s goal was to stake boundaries about Baptist belief and practice against Methodists, Presbyterians and others,” Patterson said. “I don’t believe he staked the right ones.”

Students like Erika Sitton, sophomore music major, said they felt grateful that Union does not adopt Graves’s views on strict Baptist identity today.

“(Thankfully,) the past does not define us,” said Sitton.

Founders’ Day is a tradition to recognize Union’s history and God’s provision since its commencement in 1823.

Students and faculty alike take pride in celebrating the day with one another.

Union University would not be what it is today without its past. Through dozens of leaders who have made history here throughout the years, God has molded this institution to be a vehicle for the education and equipment of students on the community, state, national and international level.

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