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Supporting the Mission: The Obligations of Faculty and Administration Alike

Ralph C. Wood, University Professor of Theology and Literature

Ralph Wood's essay takes up the issue of Baylor's mission as a Christian university and the attendant obligations of both faculty members and the university administration. Wood contends that there is nothing to fear in the university's requirement that faculty members should belong to a local church because in the church, rightly understood as the Body of Christ, we find "Truth large enough to ground and inspire and direct our entire academic life, and Community large enough to include everyone except those who refuse to enter it." It must be remembered, Wood explains, that this notion of the "church catholic" finds its expression in the "church specific," the local congregation. Therefore, our capacity to be a Christian university and to be Christian scholars is directly related to vital church membership, where our corporate and individual work comes under the critique of the Word of God as enacted and proclaimed primarily in worship, but in other venues as well. We hear in the church a message of sin and redemption that plumbs the depths of human understanding and experience far beyond that of our academic disciplines.

What are the obligations of the administration? Wood argues that the university should seek to serve "the Kingdom of God in its largest ecumenical reach, not in any parochial sense." While maintaining our strengths as Baptists, we must at the same time embrace the larger Christian body and become "an ever-more ecumenically Christian university." This more ecumenical dimension should be reflected in those who are invited to teach in the Religion Department, in the sculpture exhibited on campus, and in a more liturgical form of worship in chapel. The latter, Wood contends, would be greatly enhanced with a new cathedral-like sanctuary located in the center of the campus.

Excerpt

... Far from being a crimp on our scholarly liberty, I believe that our unified religious and academic mission is what enlarges and ensures our academic freedom. Precisely as a church-related university do we have the chance to become at once academically excellent and academically free.

This claim may sound surpassingly strange, accustomed as we are to hearing that our church-connection is a threat to scholarly rigor and freedom. Let me say ever so clearly that there once was a serious and legitimate cause for this alarm. Those who served at Baylor during the 1980s can recall the dark days when professors in the Department of Religion were openly attacked by fundamentalists. My colleagues were accused of atheism and unbelief because they did not hold to the historical and scientific inerrancy of Scripture. They were subjected to witch-hunts by "know-nothings." This was not a threat lightly to be dismissed. Thanks, however, to the shrewdness and the courage displayed in 1990 by former President Herbert Reynolds and by his supporters on the Board of Regents, Baylor has secured its freedom from any fundamentalist take-over of our university.



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