Ken Starr, the new president of Baylor University, recently joined a Baptist church without even being present for the service.
Starr, whose background is in the Church of Christ, promised to join a Baptist church once he became president of the large Baptist university. Although Starr joined Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, on May 30, he was not at the church that day.
Columbus Avenue Pastor Brian Dunks announced Starr’s intention to join the church in Starr’s absence, Dunks told EthicsDaily.com.
“Judge Ken Starr joined our church family on Sunday, May 30, 2010,” Dunks wrote in an e-mail. “He was not in attendance that day because of a prior engagement calendared by Baylor University. I announced his desire to unite with Columbus ‘by statement’ knowing he had professed his faith in Jesus Christ and had been baptized by immersion. The church family supported his desire to join by acclamation.”
Starr’s office did not return requests by EthicsDaily.com for comment.
Questions previously arose about Starr’s selection as Baylor’s president when the board of trustees selected him in February. At the time, Starr served as dean of the law school at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.
Starr held the position since 2004. However, his church membership remained at McLean Bible Church nearly 2,700 miles away in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.
In addition to concerns about Starr’s church membership being on the opposite side of the nation from where he lived and worked, questions also emerged regarding Starr’s Church of Christ background and then membership in a nondenominational church. Starr’s promise to join a Baptist church once in Waco led some to question his theological convictions.
Now that Starr has joined a Baptist church, questions about his baptism and beliefs continue to arise. Churches of Christ practice believer’s baptism by immersion, but they differ from Baptists by viewing baptism as a necessary part of salvation and conversion.
According to Columbus Avenue’s website, there are five ways one can join the church: 1) making a salvation decision and being baptized; 2) transferring from “a non-Baptist church” and being baptized; 3) transferring from a Baptist church; 4) joining by statement of faith if “a former Baptist or were baptized by immersion;” or 5) having an associate membership if a college student.
Starr apparently joined the church through the fourth option that allows for someone to offer a statement of faith. Starr was baptized by immersion, but the beliefs surrounding the baptism differ from the historic Baptist beliefs.
When asked about the issue of baptism, Columbus Avenue’s pastor explained that his church held the traditional Baptist view.
“Columbus Avenue Baptist Church holds that baptism is symbolic and not necessary for salvation,” Dunks wrote. “It is highly encouraged after one’s profession of faith. We expect members to regularly attend worship, belong to a small group, and commit to a ministry, but they do not lose their membership or fall out of good standing if they do not.”
Dunks, however, did not address questions concerning differences between how the Churches of Christ and Baptists view baptism.
Baylor’s new president kept one of his first promises: to join a local Baptist church. But now it seems likely questions will continue regarding his joining a Baptist church without walking the aisle or even being present.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.