Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Baylor 'Pride'

Baylor Pride
(Image from Fall 2007 Issue)

For the past two days, I've been thinking about pride, and just after posting on the issue twice, I noticed that my current issue of the Baylor Line, the Alumni Association's magazine, features the words "A Tradition of Pride" emblazoned across its cover.


Baylor is a conservative Baptist school associated with the Southern Baptist denomination, which is the church in which I grew up and in which I learned to be suspicious of pride, so why is the Baylor Alumni Association (BAA), emphasizing pride?

What is the organization claiming to be proud of?

I only joined the BAA about three years ago, partly out of nostalgia but partly out of curiosity. I wanted to become familiar with the goings on of the university that I had graduated from about a quarter of a century before.

I discovered -- or, rather, confirmed -- that a religious fight was going on. I say confirmed because at Baylor, there's always a religious struggle going on. There was in my day, there was in the 80s and 90s, and there is today. I know this because even though I didn't maintain close connections to Baylor, I kept hearing news through old university friends and through the media about ongoing conflict over how 'Christian' the University should be.

My impression is that the current Baylor administration under Baylor President John M. Lilley would like nudge Baylor more in the direction of a Christian university, which might include moving towards adoption of a creedal statement that faculty would have to sign. I say "might" because I don't know for a fact but do know that this has often been one of the issues raised.

The BAA seems concerned about this as a possible issue, for the organization's Executive Vice President Jeff Kilgore asks in his "Connections" column ("The crux of the matter") if Baylor University needs a religious "correction" toward a more "intentional" form of Baylor's Christian commitment. He poses this question not because he thinks that it does but because he thinks that it does not.

Perhaps I should let Mr. Kilgore speak:
In the spring issue of the Baylor Line, Baylor Alumni Association president George Cowden III, president-elect Bill Nesbitt, and I ran a column in this space titled "A Thriving Faith." We wrote, in part:
Baylor is first and foremost a place of learning. It was not founded to be a church, a hospital, a children's home, or a mission-sending agency but rather a Baptist university of the first order, based upon the historic Baptist principles of the priesthood of the believer, the sufficiency of scripture, the autonomy of the local church, the separation of church and state, and religious liberty for every human being. The beloved and incomparable George W. Truett summed it up best when he said, "There should never be coercion in matters of religion; God wants free worshippers and no other kind."
Afterward, I heard from a regent who had just rotated off the Board of Regents who interpreted our column as being a call for Baylor to move in a less religious and more secular direction. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, during a recent breakfast with Harold Cunningham, chair of Baylor's Board of Regents, I told him that the alumni association would fight as vigorously against any effort to secularize Baylor as it would against any effort to weaken Baylor's adherence to traditional Baptist principles by implementing policies and engaging in practices that would create a more coercive and restrictive religious environment.

The Baylor Alumni Association stands with Baylor's founding fathers and leaders over the years in pointing to Jesus Christ as Lord and following Christ's teaching to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." The point of our column -- and a primary function of the alumni association -- is to speak out on behalf of Baylor's thousands of alumni who are resolute in protecting Baylor from extremism, whether it's secularism or religious demagoguery. We want to protect Baylor's historically maintained place in the "sensible center" of Baptist theology.

During a discussion of these large issues with Harold Cunningham over breakfast, he told me that he understood our position. But he then suggested -- as I remember the general themes of our conversation -- that perhaps the so-called "center" Baylor has occupied, religiously speaking, has been too far to the left. He said that all they were doing was trying to correct that situation, which I understood to be an allusion to the efforts by some Baylor regents and administrators to install a more "intentional" form of Baylor's Christian commitment on campus.
I am guessing that "intentional" is a code word for "institutional" in the sense of "creedal" -- for that's been the issue fought over among Southern Baptists ever since the late 60s. Traditionally, Baptists have been opposed to creeds, emphasizing the sufficiency of scripture for belief and the priesthood of the believer for interpretation. Such a position as that remains unchallenged so long as everybody believes more or less the same thing but becomes challenged if beliefs among believers begin to diverge, which is what happened in the 60s.

The Southern Baptist Convention has moved toward adopting a creed and some Baptists have felt that Baylor should move in the same direction.

In my hard copy issue of the Fall 2007 Baylor Line, the page with Kilgore's column includes a quote from the late former Baylor president Herbert H. Reynolds:
"It would be easier if Baylor were either a secular university of a Bible college, but it would not be Baylor. When a school claims to be 'morally better,' it abandons excellence for spiritual pride."
In quoting this statement, Kilgore would seem to be throwing down a gauntlet. To wit: those who wish to push Baylor in the direction of a more "intentional" expression of Christianity are in danger of commiting the sin of "spiritual pride."

Here, "spiritual pride" would mean "moralism." Kilgore is suggesting that a movement toward adopting a creed would result in hypocritical, outward conformity masking whatever the individual truly believes.

The "Tradition of Pride" emblazoned across the Baylor Line's front cover, by contrast, is intended to affirm a commitment to Baylor's more traditional conformity to "historic Baptist principles of the priesthood of the believer, the sufficiency of scripture, the autonomy of the local church, the separation of church and state, and religious liberty for every human being," as noted above.

Such a commitment implies free expression, however, and Kilgore invites a free response:
The central question I would ask you now is this: Based on your experience, do you believe Baylor's religious commitment has been properly balanced with our values of academic freedom and religious liberty, or has Baylor's religious commitment been too weakly applied to our life at Baylor and thus requires a more intentional implementation in the areas of faculty hiring and tenure decisions, student life, and the character of our academic programs?

In short, is a "correction" necessary? If not, are greater efforts required to preserve Baylor's heritage of a passion for Christ that stems from his liberating grace and an academic environment characterized by the principled pursuit of knowledge unfettered by narrowness and bigotry?
I expect that the Baylor Line will be hearing from various alumni and that the winter or spring issue will feature the answers to this question.

I suppose that we'll see precisely in what matter -- Baptist tradition or Christian creed -- people take the most pride.

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