BGCT wants to ‘review and consider changes’ in its relationship to Baylor (2023)

Thirty-two years after the Baptist General Convention of Texas fought to retain a say in the governance of Baylor University, Texas Baptists may willingly change that agreement.

The BGCT now hopes to “review and consider changes” to its 1990 agreement with Baylor University, according to Executive Director David Hardage, speaking to the Baptist Standard.

Hardage responded to a direct question from the Standard about the future relationship of the state convention and the university.

Like the Standard, Baptist News Global had received a news tip in late July that the special relationship between the BGCT and Baylor might be changing. Contacted by BNG at the time, an official spokesperson for Baylor deflected the question.

BGCT wants to ‘review and consider changes’ in its relationship to Baylor (1)

David Hardage

Then on Aug. 16, Hardage responded to a request for comment from the Standard by saying: “The BGCT has entered into initial conversations with Baylor University to review and consider changes to the special agreement between our two institutions. Conversations are kind, gracious and cooperative, but will take some time to complete. We will share additional information as it comes available.”

Baylor then released a response: “For more than 175 years, Baylor University and Texas Baptists have served side by side to extend the kingdom of God in Texas and beyond. We remain firmly rooted in our shared history, andthe university is committed to continuing to maintain its historic relationship with the BGCT and with Texas Baptists.Such a commitment is at the heart of Baylor’s motto —Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana, or ‘for the church’ and ‘for Texas.’”

It now appears that the request for reconsideration originated with the BGCT, not with Baylor. And there is informed speculation that this is a precursor to a push to require all entities that partner with the BGCT to adhere to its anti-LGBTQ stance — which Baylor appears unlikely to do.

History of the two groups

Baylor University dates to 1845, when the school received a charter from the Republic of Texas at the request of the Texas Baptist Education Society, a predecessor organization to the state convention. One of the leaders of that early effort was R.E.B. Baylor, who would become the namesake of the Baptist college.

From 1886 until 1990, the convention elected all of Baylor’s governing board.

The state convention was organized in 1848, and from 1886 until 1990, the convention elected all of Baylor’s governing board. That suddenly changed on Sept. 21, 1990, when Baylor trustees unilaterally amended the school’s charter to create a self-perpetuating board. This was done to prevent a “fundamentalist takeover” of the university as a “conservative resurgence” swept across the Southern Baptist Convention and threatened to spill over into state conventions.

That threat eventually was realized, as most all state Baptist conventions fell in line with the new conservative direction of the SBC. The two most notable holdouts at the time were the BGCT and the Baptist General Association of Virginia.

This was the context in which Baylor trustees — all appointed by the BGCT — became Baylor regents appointed by themselves. And it was the context in which Baylor regents eventually agreed to a second charter amendment that allowed the BGCT to elect 25% of the board of regents, with an important escape clause.

The university’s bylaws as dated May 14, 2021, state: “In the election of the Regents elected by the Board of Regents, the University will be receptive to suggestions from Texas Baptists and will give due and careful consideration to the suggestions of The Baptist General Convention of Texas (the “Convention”) of persons to be nominated for election to the Board of Regents.”

“The University will be receptive to suggestions from Texas Baptists and will give due and careful consideration to the suggestions.”

The bylaws then add: “The Convention may elect up to 25% of the BGCT Regents in office, the specific number of which shall be determined and allocated by the Baylor Board of Regents. The authorization to elect is a delegation of authority from the Baylor University Board of Regents and can be changed unilaterally by the University as it has full legal right, power and authority to amend or rescind its certificate of formation, bylaws and other governing documents without approval or consent of the Convention or any other party notwithstanding the terms and conditions of any relationship agreement.”

Why a change might be coming

As the nation’s largest university still loosely affiliated with a state Baptist convention, Baylor is not dependent upon the BGCT for its success or survival. The state convention provides only a fraction of the university’s annual income, and most of that is designated for scholarships and campus ministries. Nor is Baylor dependent on the state convention for student recruitment, as being part of Baylor’s religiously diverse student body is a top draw for high-performing students across the nation.

BGCT wants to ‘review and consider changes’ in its relationship to Baylor (2)

Baylor President Linda Livingstone announces in 2021 that the university had surpassed $1 billion in giving to its current fundraising campaign.

If anyone should want to change the current pattern of seating members of the board of regents, it would most naturally be Baylor, which has ceded minority control on its board to a state convention that has increasingly shifted to the right politically and theologically and has little financial skin in the game.

But that does not appear to be the present impetus for change. Instead, the BGCT appears to have instigated the conversation.

Why, though?

Although leaders of neither body have explained what’s happening, the Baptist Standard article points to Texas Baptists’ concerns about LGBTQ issues as a possible cause.

“Some Texas Baptists have made known their opposition to Baylor’s decision to grant a charter toPrism, an LGBTQ student organization, on April 19,” the Standard said. “On May 3, the BGCT posted astatementon its website from Hardage: ‘We are aware of the recent chartering of the Prism at Baylor student organization by Baylor University. We have heard concern expressed by many in the Texas Baptists family and are in the process of communicating those concerns to university leadership. There has been some confusion regarding the group’s chartering, and we are seeking clarification to determine the best course of action moving forward. TheBGCT’s positionon Human Sexuality and Biblical Marriage has not and will not change.’”

In short, that position is that Texas Baptists oppose any tolerance of same-sex relations, same-sex marriage and transgender identity.

Texas Baptists oppose any tolerance of same-sex relations, same-sex marriage and transgender identity.

Baylor, meanwhile, has walked a public tightrope on LGBTQ issues, with its board of regents reportedly divided on the issue. Yet seeking and maintaining its status as a top-tier research university with a diverse faculty and student body requires more demonstrations of inclusion than Baylor previously has given.

At the same time, Baylor is cited in a federal lawsuit brought against the U.S Department of Education by a coalition of LGBTQ students and alumni of two dozen faith-based schools. The students and alumni claim these faith-based schools should not be able to receive millions of dollars in federal grants and scholarships while violating federal mandates against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender.

After years denying a charter for an on-campus student group for LGBTQ persons, the university last year relented and offered a small concession that would allow a limited expression of such a group to exist.

A university news release said of the May 2021 action: “The board charged the president and university administration to determine the appropriate pathways to provide additional care, connections and community for Baylor’s LGBTQ students, including the possibility of establishing a new, chartered student group that is consistent with Baylor’s core commitments and the university’s policies and statements.”

That mere “possibility” set off a firestorm of protest from the right, including from BGCT leaders.

Then on April 22 this year, the Baylor Lariat, the student newspaper, reported a charter had been granted to a new student group called Prism. The group describes its purpose thus: “The mission of Prism serves Baylor University and its students through creating a respectful space that embraces diverse sexual identities (community) focused on continuous learning for the Baylor community, giving voice for LGBTQ+ students to the administration (care), and creating opportunities for all students to access resources through connection, belonging, and education.”

To LGBTQ advocates and allies, this single action is too little and too late. But to conservative pastors who control the leadership of the BGCT, it is a step too far.

To LGBTQ advocates and allies, this single action is too little and too late. But to conservative pastors who control the leadership of the BGCT, it is a step too far.

BGCT’s rightward shift

If the BGCT amends its relationship with Baylor University, it will happen as one further mark of the once-moderate convention’s rightward shift over the past decade.

In 1998, the BGCT was so resistant to fall in line with the new direction of the SBC that hundreds of conservative churches left the BGCT and formed their own state convention, called the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. In more recent years, BGCT leaders have drawn closer to the SBC and have distanced themselves from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, one of the breakaway groups born of the SBC schism.

For several years, the BGCT allowed churches to send contributions to CBF through the state convention, but that no longer is allowed. Texas churches may send contributions through the BGCT to the SBC, but not to CBF.

The historic relationship between the BGCT and Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty also has been strained in recent years, with BGCT less involved and less visible. Likewise, the BGCT’s own Christian Life Commission — once a public advocate for traditional views on church-state separation — has been hidden away in a Center for Cultural Engagement with four other unrelated ministries.

The most visible shift occurred in 2016 when the BGCT declared churches that welcome and affirm LGBTQ Christians “out of harmonious cooperation.”

The most visible shift occurred in 2016 when the BGCT declared churches that welcome and affirm LGBTQ Christians “out of harmonious cooperation,” effectively expelling two high-profile congregations. That created national headlines. Three years later, the Dallas pastor who made the motion to expel the churches was hired as associate executive director of the convention.

Last year, the BGCT adopted a resolution that “affirmed” women as leaders in the church, although the convention does not publicly support women in ministry as it once did. And BGCT leadership rolled out a new faith statement that draws a line in the sand against transgender persons, stating: “Gender is a gift from God who creates humankind male and female in the divine image and likeness.”

One of the most complicated relations the BGCT has is to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, an SBC school in Fort Worth, Texas. From the early 20th century until 1994, the BGCT and Southwestern Seminary enjoyed a close relationship, even though the seminary was managed by the SBC, not the BGCT. The vast majority of Texas Baptist pastors were educated at Southwestern.

But when the newly empowered conservative majority on Southwestern’s trustee board fired popular president Russell Dilday in March 1994, BGCT leaders were offended and distressed.

Just one year earlier, Baylor regents had approved creation of a new Texas seminary at Baylor to be named for legendary Dallas pastor George W. Truett. The new seminary, based in Waco, opened its doors in the fall of 1994, six months after Dilday was fired at Southwestern.

The hope of many in BGCT leadership at the time was that Truett Seminary would become the primary training ground for Texas Baptist pastors.

The hope of many in BGCT leadership at the time was that Truett Seminary would become the primary training ground for Texas Baptist pastors, replacing Southwestern, which had taken a sharp turn to the right theologically. While Truett has graduated more than 1,000 students in 28 years, it has not supplanted Southwestern’s influence in the state.

David Hardage, who was elected BGCT executive director 10 years ago, came to the role from the staff of Truett Seminary. However, in recent years he has developed a closer relationship with Southwestern than at any time in 30 years. And now Hardage is retiring, and a search committee is seeking his successor.

For now, there are more questions than answers about what’s happening between the BGCT and Baylor, and both groups are being circumspect in their comments. But if the BGCT amends its governance relationship with Baylor, the biggest question may be what happens to its relationship with Truett Seminary.

A small group of conservative Texas pastors already forced the closure of Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons University, another school affiliated with the BGCT. While administrators and trustees said the seminary was closed for financial reasons, faculty, students and alumni have not bought that answer. In their view, the West Texas seminary was closed because it was perceived as too liberal on the inclusion of women and LGBTQ Christians.

Making similar charges stick against Truett Seminary would be more difficult, because the Baylor-affiliated seminary has attempted to ride the fence in the same way the university has. What could be happening right now is that the BGCT is calling their hand.

Related articles:

What should it cost a denomination to control governance of a university?

Class action lawsuit on LGBTQ discrimination at faith-based schools continues to gain momentum

Baylor walks the line on LGBTQ student group as critics pounce from the right| Analysis by Mark Wingfield

A new scholarship for students who advocate care and justice for LGBTQ persons garnered the most support on Baylor Giving Day

At Baylor University, the debate about LGBTQ students also is shaped by a network of churches embracing conversion therapy

What happened to Texas Baptists? Moderate churches shaken by perceived shift to the right

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