Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Who deserves the namesake?

I just finished my class at Tomlinson Memorial before heading to the Payne Center for some lunch. Then I'll be at the Platt Building for a group meeting before going back to Jernigan Hall.

Doesn't sound familiar?

Perhaps you don't recognize the names because they're the only Lee University presidents not to have anything on campus named after them.

A.J. Tomlinson, T.S. Payne, John C. Jernigan and R. L. Platt put a combined total of 14 years in to serving the Lee community and today they're mostly forgotten remnants of history.

In fact, F.J. Lee, the institution's second president, only served as president for one year. So why does Flavius Josephus get the honor of having the entire school named after him?

Well, Lee was an early pastor at the North Cleveland Church of God, second general overseer of the denomination and authored ten books.

So second general overseer and second university president.

Who was the first and why isn't Lee named after him?

The first general overseer of the Church of God, the founding pastor of North Cleveland Church of God, and Lee's first president was Ambrose Jessup Tomlinson. He served the college for four years.

So why skip over the founding father of the whole shebang?

Perhaps because he was impeached from his position due to financial mismanagement and went on to form the Church of God of Prophecy.

Here's the history:

Through his work with Cashwell, Tomlinson became the general moderator of a new ministry known as the Church of God. Tomlinson's success in the Church of God was unparalleled. By 1914, Tomlinson had been granted the power to appoint pastors. Further, the church conferred upon him the position of general overseer for life. Unfortunately, Tomlinson was stripped of this position in 1923, when allegations of financial mismanagement surfaced. After being impeached from the church, Tomlinson moved on to form another group, known as the Church of the God of Prophecy.

The impeachment was the result of lax financial bookkeeping on Tomlinson's part. One explanation often cited for financial discrepancies was that Tomlinson may have used church funds to support struggling pastors and churches and had, on many occasions, reappropriated money from otherwise-designated funds, causing shortfalls. Although there was no indication that Tomlinson used church funds for himself, there were many within the organization who felt that this type of imprudence was an indicator of serious flaws within the organizational structure of the church.

So if Tomlinson gets the boot because he couldn't hire a financial adviser, who's next in line?

Oh yeah, Lee.

But let's think for a moment. Is there anyone else who might have deserved the namesake of the institution?

What about the first teacher of the school? Nora Chambers. She was perhaps also the second woman licensed by the Church of God to preach.

But then again, why would they name a flagship school after a woman, especially when to this day there has not been a female general overseer or president?

I know the suggestion comes a little late in the game, but why not name Lee after Dr. Charles Paul Conn?

Yes, everyone makes the jokes about Conn U. ("con you"), but seriously why not?

President Conn is Lee University's longest serving president with over two decades of service. If you add in his father's term, the Conn family has presided over Lee for 35 years, more than a third of the length of the school's existence.

Sure, Conn U. may get confused for being in Connecticut, but the real reason it won't change is because everyone likes the sound of "Lee."

It's short. It's easy to say and spell and type. It sounds modern and hip.

But in true perspective, let's look at who's done more for Lee.

Conn authored or co-authored 20 books, double the number of Lee's. Oh, and did Lee make it to the New York Times bestseller list?

Conn's also tripled Lee's population from 1,214 to over 4,000 today. And nearly 20 buildings have been constructed or renewed during his presidency.

Twenty-three years of service. One year of service.

Who deserves the credit?

Note: Historical information from Associated Content and LeeU.edu.


Anonymous said...

The all-important benefactors are factors (sorry) at other universities. Perhaps the subjects of some of those books would need to lend their names. DeVos would save a lot of money when it comes to replacing signage...

Pastor Milton Gordon said...

You may or may not know that Tomlinson Center/College has been started again and works with/under Lee U. for accreditation in Biblical programs only. Perhaps the name Church of God University would be a possibility. There are churches that use their name for their seminaries. I know there is a Church of God Theological Seminary, so it may be difficult to do that (BTW, I graduated at COGTS in 1996).