The board of regents of Baylor University recently announced the formation of a 26-person Commission on Historic Campus Representations.
According to a July 6, 2020, press release, the commission “will provide guidance on presenting Baylor’s complete history as the University continues striving to foster an environment through which racial equality is inextricably linked to our mission.”
Baylor regents established the commission as part of a unanimously passed resolution by the board “acknowledging the University’s historical connection to slavery and the Confederacy.”
According to the press release, the commission will:
“1. Review the complete historical record and context of the University and its founders and early leaders, including historical connections to slavery and racial injustice.
“2. Propose a plan for documenting and communicating the complete history of Baylor and its founders and early leaders, including historical connections to slavery and racial injustice.
“3. Evaluate all statues, monuments, buildings and other aspects of campus within this complete historical context and in reference to the original intentions behind their physical location, placement and naming and provide observations for consideration.
“4. Prepare a final report to be provided to the Baylor Board of Regents and the President no later than December 20, 2020.”
I was struck by the following sentence in the release issued by the Chair of the Board of Regents Mark Rountree and University President Linda A. Livingstone: “We believe now is the time for Baylor, as a Christian university, to lead by listening and learning with humility about our past and from voices that have been unheard for years while also taking tangible steps forward.”
Baylor does not need a commission to know its racist history.
The board of regents and president know Baylor was established in 1845, the same year the Southern Baptist Convention was organized to allow white Baptists who owned slaves to be commissioned as missionaries about the gospel of Jesus around the world.
The board of regents and president know Baylor was established the year before the United States invaded Mexico, a nation opposed to slavery, and after white people determined to maintain slavery fought and won a war of insurrection against Mexico that resulted in establishment of the Republic of Texas.
The board of regents and president know Texas Baptists, including people associated with Baylor, eagerly joined the Confederacy and ousted Sam Houston from office because he refused to do so.
Baylor was not only organized by people who practiced and preached support for slavery, many donors to Baylor earned their wealth from the lives and labor of enslaved persons.
Deciding what to do about statues and monuments and buildings erected for and named after people who owned enslaved persons, while relevant, does not address the larger issue of reparations to the descendants of those or any other enslaved persons.
The unanimous resolution from Baylor’s board of regents and president does not contain a word about reparations for the theft of black lives and labor.
The four charges issued by the regents to the commission make no mention of reparations for that wickedness.
According to its website, the endowment at Baylor University reached an all-time high in 2018 of $1.31 billion.
Given that Baylor was organized and funded by people who owned enslaved persons, it is telling the board of regents has not signaled any willingness to follow the example of Zacchaeus, the wealthy revenue commissioner we read about at Luke 19:1-10 who pledged to repay four times the value of anything he obtained dishonestly.
It is inconceivable Baylor University does not know about Zacchaeus. But if the board of regents and president need help knowing about him, they do not need 26 people to engage in a five-month study.
They can simply find a Bible and read about him. They can find faculty members at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary on the Baylor campus who can give them a Zacchaeus primer.
Then they can publicly pledge to engage in repentance as Zacchaeus did.
Instead, the Baylor board of regents unanimously issued a resolution “acknowledging the University’s historical connection to slavery and the Confederacy” without mentioning reparations and restitution, let alone pledging to do it.
That action does not demonstrate “humility” about the past, nor is it leadership.
No matter how much Baylor promotes its Commission on Historic Campus Representations, the deliberate omission of reparations and restitution by the board of regents shows the commission is nothing more than tokenism.
For that, Baylor should be condemned for hypocrisy, not commended.
As Jesus declared in Matthew 23:23-24, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!”
Photo credit: A statue of Judge Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, a slaveowner and namesake of Baylor University, rests on the campus. Photo: Brentsalter / Wikipedia Commons (https://tinyurl.com/yavomwru). Cropped.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.