I was teaching at the Hong Kong Baptist Seminary and Hal Wingo, Time-Life correspondent in Hong Kong at the time, rang me up and asked if I knew anything about a Bible School that granted advanced higher education degrees in Hong Kong. Life Magazine was doing a series on the diploma mills based in the United States, but located around the world.

We drove out to the address on the brochure and found one of the few vacant lots in Hong Kong’s New Territories. Nothing like what the Florida-based “church” organization promised.

That was many years ago and such fraudulent schools are still pulling in the money and disrespecting the ministry. The unfortunate fact is the largest Baptist denomination now is led by a man who purchased his degrees from a diploma mill. The Southern Baptist Convention at its June meeting elected as president, “Dr.” Johnny Hunt, a pastor with two dubious diplomas (one a doctorate) from a diploma mill called Covington Theological Seminary.

Having studied more than three years under men like Ray Summers, H.C. Brown, Jesse Northcutt, Robert Baker, Stewart Newman and Huber Drumright, I find it difficult to respect those who have not paid the price in real study to lead a church or convention.

A few Sundays ago the New York Times carried a news story about Dixie and Steven K. Randock Sr., who ran a diploma mill called St. Regis University. They were convicted for mail and wire fraud for the way they ran their operation. They had provided thousands of degree for people in over 130 countries, making in the progress over $7 million.

St. Regis Univer-sity turned out to be a network of web sites, some telephones and a huge bunch of bank accounts. The trial revealed they had created other phony institutions such as James Monroe University and Robertstown University. For one of their “schools” they used a picture of a castle that was the birthplace of Winston Churchill as if it were the campus.

It is unbelievable that an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 fake degrees are sold in this country a year. Some of these degrees were bought and used by federal employees. A Government Accountability Office re-ported more than half of the 463 federal employees holding these degrees worked for the Department of Defense.

When I am asked what kind of doctor I am, I tell them not the kind that helps sick folks — or anyone else. With all this talk of fake diplomas flying around I should confess my Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree “with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities thereunto appertaining…” came from the Howard Payne University.

I would be the first to tell you I do not deserve such an honor. That statement of fact would be seconded by a host of alumni, including a lot of colleagues and one particular deacon in a San Antonio church.

Less than a month later that university’s president was out of a job. I have given a lot of thought to the sequence of events and wonder if that ceremony of honoring me had anything to do with his leaving. If so, I am sure he would join that San Antonio deacon saying I deserve no such honor.

Some honorary degrees can have a healing effect. Back in 1999 I witnessed the honoring of two men by Sanford University in Birmingham, Ala., that helped heal wounds between Taiwan and China.

Faye Pearson, a former colleague, led the university to honor Wen-zao Han (Han Wenzao) and Chow Lien-Hua (Zhou Lianhua). Han of China and Chow of Taiwan knew of each other on Shanghai campuses before the Communist regime came to power in 1949. Both served their Lord in different ways in countries still at war with each other.

Dr. Chow was pastor to Taiwan’s President Chiang Kai-shek, seminary professor and world-renowned scholar. Dr. Han was the right-hand man of Bishop K. H. Ting through the difficult days in China and afterwards as head of the Amity Foundation that has published over 50 million Bibles in China.

The two “Chinas” as Taiwan and mainland China have been called, are growing closer together. Taiwanese businessmen were among the first to invest and open factories on the mainland in the 1980s. I did not expect to live to see daily flights between Taipei and Shanghai or Beijing in my lifetime. Those flights began July 1 and the plan is to have 36 flights a week in the near future.

Britt Towery is a former missionary, freelance writer and published author. His columns are published in the Bulletin on Fridays. He welcomes reader feedback at bet@suddenlink.net. Other columns are available on his Web site, www.britt-towery.blogspot.com.