When I came to Cedarville in October 2016, I saw Dr. Thomas White speak for the first time. At the time, I was a member at my parent’s church, a small Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)-loyal community in Southern Maryland. When he spoke, I couldn’t help but feel that he so perfectly embodied so much of what I knew from growing up a Southern Baptist.
Well, I was right. But not in the way I expected.
Dr. White does embody the Southern Baptist Convention—the same SBC who was recently exposed for covering up hundreds of sexual abuse allegations, protecting attackers, and silencing victims. Most sickening of all, this horrible injustice both within the SBC and at Cedarville was perpetrated under the guise of Christianity—which, by the way, in its purest form is belief in God’s forgiveness of sin through his Son and not a collection of traditions created from out of context Bible verses.
This article reviews the life and ministry of Dr. White and explains why during my time at Cedarville and as I grew to know more about him, I lost all respect for him as a leader of the university.
Thomas White grew out of a long line of Baptist preachers. Both his grandfather and father were ministers, so it logically followed that he was then “called” to ministry. We see this all the time: generations of preachers who all happen to be called to ministry (definitely not them having an interest because of or feeling pressure from their fathers). Many people who should not lead ministry hear and heed this calling because it is expected of them. I would posit this is the case for Dr. White.
Little is known about White’s childhood, teen years, or even college years. You see, that doesn’t matter because it’s not related to ministry, except his illustrious Cobra Kai-esque karate career which Cedarville references in his official biography. That’s important stuff because he claims to have used his karate dojos as a form of ministry. After selling his dojos, he headed off to seminary at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the top Baptist seminaries in the country and a source of frequent controversy. He was quickly ordained at the beginning of his time there—a rare occurrence—jointly by two churches. One was Chiquola Baptist Church in Honea Path, South Carolina where his father pastored from 1984 to 1998. During his time, Dr. Jerry White focused on the physical growth of his church. Chiquola purchased plots of land and renovated old retail buildings to create a new worship center for the church. White is praised on the church’s websites as a capable leader and a visionary for the church. His son, Thomas, would follow in his footsteps years later.
When Thomas White headed to SEBTS, he met his future wife, Joy. But Joy was not the only connection at the seminary that would define his future. He met some very familiar faces in the SBC world including Paige Patterson, the disgraced former president of the seminary and former board member at Cedarville University. Paige took Thomas under his wing and was a huge influence in the type of leader he became. He eventually served as the Director of Student Life at SEBTS.
But White was offered a position after his MDiv graduation as the Director of Leadership Development at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS). The types of leaders he developed include Dr. Mindy May and Dr. Anthony Moore, both of whom have been intrenched in scandal during their ministries. Dr. White was also called out for helping Paige Patterson cover up sexual abuse and protect an attacker during his time at SWBTS. In 2013, he became the Vice President for Student Services and Communications where he oversaw most aspects of the student experience. From a line of ministers with leadership experience from two seminaries under his belt, he seemed like a perfect fit as the President of Cedarville University, a role he also began in 2013.
Cedarville & the Purge
He saw himself as a reformer at SWBTS, revamping the school’s evangelism program and creating online graduate programs. When he came to Cedarville, he was ready to reform as well. He came on the tail of so-called “creeping liberalism” of Dr. Brown and Dr. Carl Ruby who had the audacity to be anything close to affirmation of the LGBT community. Thus began what many call the “Purge” at Cedarville, a reference to the sweeping reforms, dismissals, and corrections Dr. White and his cabinet made over the next few years.
This Purge was an iteration of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC conducted by disgraced leaders Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler, both of whom have extensive histories of disgusting behavior when it comes to sexual assault and financial leadership. In Spring 2014, Cedarville enacted a policy stating that men could not be taught by women. In August, the school physically shut down dissenters from “The Ventriloquist.” Dozens of professors, staff members, etc were fired for any belief that did not fall strictly within a fundamentalist perspective.
In 2017, Cedarville enacted its atrocious “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy,” a blatant attack on free speech and a notably Biblically inconsistent policy that limited student learning to this day and brought Purity Culture to the forefront of Cedarville’s beliefs and teachings by banning books containing any sexual content. It also limited the teaching of secular theories and sciences.
In the same year, White hired Dr. Anthony Moore, a known sexual predator and voyeur who had filmed one of his male youth pastors in the shower on multiple occasions. He eventually served as an assistant coach for the basketball team with access to the locker rooms and showers and even as a Bible professor. After his past became public in 2020, White tried to quietly fire Moore. But it was not quiet as thousands signed a petition to fire Dr. White for his horrible judgement. But he had developed a reputation: a strong, forward-focused Baptist leader with karate skills and charisma. Students would cheer him on at sports games and celebrate when he walked on stage. Surely this “one mistake” could not define him. So he was reinstated.
What followed was dozens of news articles calling him out for his unforgivable failure as a leader. He had worked with Cedarville staff for years to cover up scandals to protect the schools reputation and inflict horribly damaging policies on faculty and students all in the name of conservatism.
Dr. White’s Christianity is a strict focus on self. It is works-based despite his many argument to the contrary. It is about protecting the reputation of Christianity more than it is about living in a Biblically consistent way and sharing the gospel with others. He has certainly done some good during his ministry, but he should not be a Biblical leader. He should not be leading Cedarville’s students. He has cause irreparable harm to the University covered up by nice words, building projects, fundraising, and creating an echo chamber of opinion sparked by the fear of speaking out against university policies.
Cedarville has so much potential as a university. But horrendous policies promoted by corrupt leadership hold it back.
White even uses his adoption and ministries to pad his reputation. In his official bio, the adoption of his daughter is mentioned to reference White’s theological fortitude as a representation of God’s adoption of his creation. For a long time, his profile picture was a photo of him surrounded by African children, which seems harmless until you see his desperate attempts at diversity meant to prove that Cedarville is not still in the Stone Age. He has directly promoted purity culture, political polarization, pressurized dating culture, and legalism and through his policies indirectly promoted sexual abuse, fear, and mental health crises on the campus. He speaks out against vulnerable groups without regard to their humanity. He protects his friends and promotes them against the outcries of students. He is not a Biblically consistent leader. He is not even a morally strong leader by secular standards.
He has lost my respect.