My friends on the Baylor University board of regents are urging patient understanding from our Texas Baptist family concerning the appointment of Kenneth Starr as president of the university.
The call to reason and patience – two clear scriptural virtues – is timely for those of us who are confused and dismayed by this appointment. Because we all, as St. Paul reminds us, “see through a glass darkly,” we must be open to perspectives different from our own and possibilities other than those we can imagine.
But given the consistent hijacking of Baptist soul freedom by the forces of conformity over the past 30 years, it seems to me that skepticism is the reasonable response to this decision.
The Baylor board of regents has been politicized and polarized. It has hired an individual who symbolizes that political polarization.
Starr was born into the Church of Christ. He presently holds membership at a nondenominational church in Virginia – sea to shining sea away from his present home in California. Reports are that he will join a Baptist church upon relocating to Waco.
Texas Baptists are unfailingly polite, but we must sacrifice a dab of decorum to get Judge Starr’s views candidly and publicly established now on the following questions:
1. Do you affirm for Baylor professors full freedom to pursue truth according to the leadership of God’s Spirit?
2. Do you endorse the complete equality of women under God to perform God’s work in the world?
3. Why should Texas Baptists continue collecting God’s tithes and offerings for Baylor University? (The current annual $3 million from the Baptist General Convention of Texas is a pittance for Baylor but would be pivotal for any number of other cooperative Texas Baptist missions and ministries.)
4. Do you believe in separation of church and state?
5. How will you appropriate your views on Christian citizenship in a way that honors both the republican and democratic (both lower case) visions for our national life and strenuously upholds the historic Baptist conviction for religious liberty?
President Starr needs to host an all-day meeting ASAP – as in next week, at the latest – of all Texas Baptist preachers to hash out these questions and get his views on the record. And I don’t mean one of those perfunctory “get to know the new president” coffees in a church fellowship hall somewhere.
It is widely reported that Starr is a decent, kind man; my own experience of sharing a table with him years ago confirms this. Precisely because of this decency, he needs to get before the Texas Baptist family – his new family – in honest disclosure of his heart. Christian accountability demands it.
Baylor isn’t “Christian” just because it says so. Even the demons give such verbal assent. Baylor is Christian because it does the very things Jesus did, those odd, wonderful, peculiar, distinctive things that build the new rule of God.
Charles Foster Johnson is pastor of Bread in Fort Worth, Texas, and founder and executive director of Pastors for Children, a nationwide network of faith leaders mobilized for public education ministry and advocacy.