Earlier today it occurred to me that on August 24 I begin my 18th year as a faculty member at Baylor University. While reflecting on my nearly two decades in Waco, I was reminded of a piece I published 8 years ago in The Catholic Thing the week before I was to begin my 10th year at Baylor. In it I explain how my arrival in Bear Country was instrumental in my return to the Catholic Church.
Here’s how it begins:
“That good old Baylor line!
That good old Baylor line!
We’ll march forever down the years,
As long as stars shall shine.
We’ll fling our green and gold afar
To light the ways of time,
And guide us as we onward go;
That good old Baylor line!”
(Eaid Eastland Markham ,“That Good Old Baylor Line,” 1931)
In one corner were the advocates of Vision 2012, a ten-year plan for the university proposed by then-President Robert Sloan. It was an ambitious vision with the goal of elevating Baylor to tier-one research university status while maintaining its Christian identity. It included a commitment to increased scholarship, better teaching, a truly residential campus, and outstanding athletic programs.
In the other corner were those who represented what is called “old Baylor.” Many of them were self-described “moderate Baptists.” Having survived the Southern Baptist wars of the 1980s and 1990s, they had valiantly fought the fundamentalist take-over of their most cherished and beloved institutions. So they were understandably suspicious of any transformative agenda that seemed to echo the fundamentalists, who had accused their moderate brethren of not taking their Christian faith seriously.
The Baptist moderates were certainly not opponents of excellence. I have come to know many of them over the years, some of whom strongly opposed my hiring. They are decent people for whom I have developed a great respect, even though we may part ways on certain theological and political questions.
I am proud to say that I now count a few of them as friends. What they feared was that Baylor University, the most impressive monument of their tradition and its accomplishments, would be appropriated to advance an understanding of the Christian life and its connection to the academy that is antithetical to authentic Baptist principles.
This feud is now, thankfully, ancient history. But unlike real Texas shoot outs, where the two sides eventually run out ammunition, the divisions in this gun battle eventually ran out of targets.