As I have stressed in the past, it has been hard for me to write about the wars at Baylor University because of my close connections with the campus. I've known Dr. Robert Sloan for many years and consider him a friend and colleague in the wider ecumenical world of Christian higher education. I must admit I am surprised to hear that he is poised to become the new president of Houston Baptist University, although I can certainly see potential there that would attract his attention. It is a growing school with a quite diverse student body, which you would expect in a city like Houston. Along with Dallas Baptist University, it is part of the growing marketplace of Christian higher education in Texas.
And there is the catch, of course. Baylor is a growing power on the national level, but the wars that have shaped the campus in recent decades have all centered on whether my alma mater is a Christian campus or a Baptist campus. It will be hard for Baylor to become a major player in Christian higher education at the national level until that issue is settled. Again, let me stress that this analysis is my own (click here for a recent post on a related topic).
So Baylor is a major, major Baptist school -- one of the remaining strongholds of true "moderate" Southern Baptist life. Baylor tends to be a kingdom unto itself, and many Baylor people like it that way.
I have been surprised, as I read the usual suspects this morning (here at the Dotcom Cafe in the beautiful and relatively cool Burnsville, N.C.), that no one has noticed that Houston Baptist has already jumped into the global Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. (I will note, again, that I lead the CCCU's journalism program.)
The moderate Baptists at Associated Baptist Press picked up, as expected, another political element of this story:
If elected, Sloan will succeed Doug Hodo, who served as HBU's second president from 1987 until his retirement in July. During Hodo's tenure, HBU's endowment grew from $30 million to more than $75 million, and the school's total unrestricted revenue increased from about $13.3 million a year to $33.3 million.
Also during his time as HBU president, the university took steps to loosen its ties to the Baptist General Convention of Texas. HBU trustees voted in May 2000 to create a self-perpetuating majority on their board, rather than continuing to allow the BGCT to elect all its trustees. And three years later, HBU entered into a fraternal relationship with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, a fundamentalist group that broke away from the BGCT.
BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade praised the HBU search committee for its recommendation and said his "great hope" and expectation is that Sloan's election as president would strengthen the relationship between HBU, the BGCT, its churches and its other institutions.
So this article notes that Houston Baptist weakened, but did not cut, its ties to the Baptist left and built a non-binding bridge to the Baptist right. The word "fundamentalist" is used several times in this story as part of that internal warfare, since Associated Baptist Press is the voice of the "moderates."
What the article fails to note is the university's decision to align itself with a global network that is openly "Christian," but not narrowly "Baptist." The CCCU is broadly ecumenical, ranging from Mennonites to, yes, Southern Baptists. In other words, the "Christian" issue is settled, yet Houston Baptist is not tied to either army in the Southern Baptist war. This is an option that quite a few Southern Baptist schools have chosen in recent years. It is not a narrow, "fundamentalist" option, as as one glance at the CCCU's membership list will tell you.
It will be interesting, of course, to see how this move by Sloan affects Baylor and other schools in Texas. It wll be interesting to see if this affects the long-pending decision about the location of George W. Bush's presidential library. It will be interesting to see if any mainstream newspaper in Texas bothers to note that Sloan has graduate degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary and the University of Basel in Switzerland, as well as experience in Baptist pulpits.
It will be interesting to see what Sloan does next, on the national stage of Christian higher education.