Meet Founding Dean Dr. Diana R. Garland

Twentieth Century Pioneers: Building a Foundation for Ethical Integration of Christianity & Social Work

T. Laine Scales and Helen Harris


Diana S. Richmond Garland (1950 to 2015)

             Diana Richmond Garland found her life’s work in bringing together professional social work and faith, particular within congregational or faith-based settings. She worked with a broad range of social workers, bringing together Christians in social work with a wider group of social work educators in the Council on Social Work Education. Starting her career in Louisville, Kentucky alongside Anne Davis, another of our pioneers, Diana became the second dean of the Carver School of Church Social Work and led the school through denominational controversy including to its closing in 1997.  After these traumatic events, Diana built a new place of leadership at Baylor University where she served as the founding dean of the School of Social Work until her death in 2015. Meanwhile, she served faithfully in volunteer leadership with North American Christians in Social Work (NACSW) leaving a legacy of published writings as she helped shaped the organization, serving multiple terms on the board and one term as President.  Married to David Garland at age 20, Diana applied her growing expertise in families and family ministry in her own home as she and David raised their children, Sarah and John.

Childhood, Youth and Congregational Life

Diana Richmond was born in Oklahoma City in 1950 and was the oldest of two daughters.  Her father worked for IBM and moved the family around to several cities in the Midwest until she returned to Oklahoma for high school. Similar to Anne Davis’s experience, Diana’s family anchored her to church life and both her parents were active laypersons in their Southern Baptist congregation. (Garland, 2002, p. 2).  The Southern Baptists’ Woman’s Missionary Union provided an inspiration and pathway for young women like Diana who were natural leaders. In a story much like the one told by Anne Davis, Diana recalled in later years the confusion of feeling called to ministry, but having very narrow choices in Southern Baptist life:

In fact, I felt a strong call to ministry, vocational ministry, at GA [Girls Auxiliary, a program of Woman’s Missionary Union] camp in Missouri. I remember that distinctly, and coming home and sharing that with my congregation and not knowing what that meant. I grew up in an age when that meant either go as a missionary single, or find somebody to get married and be a pastor’s wife. But I didn’t know of other ways of women into missions or ministry (Garland, 2002, p. 3).

As she considered next steps after high school, Diana visited Baylor University in Waco Texas with a view toward attending college. “But my father did not want me to go that far from home and wanted me to go to school in Oklahoma and marry an Oklahoma boy and stay close to home.” (Garland 2002, p. 1).  She got a scholarship to attend Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and within a few months she met David Garland, a senior from Maryland who grew up in India with his missionary parents.  Since his parents and both sets of grandparents had been Southern Baptist missionaries to India, Diana predicted as she was falling in love with David that they would also go to the mission field (Garland, 2002, p. 3).

Professional Social Work and Family Ministry

After marrying in 1970, the Garlands moved to Louisville Kentucky so that David could complete a degree in social work, a joint degree between the seminary and University of Louisville.  David quickly decided that social work was not the right area of study for him.  He switched his major to New Testament and continued at Southern Seminary while Diana finished her final two years of college at the University of Louisville, studying sociology (Garland, 2002, p. 1).

After graduating with her BA in Sociology, Diana worked as a caseworker on a welfare-to-work program while David pastored a small church. “I became all the traditional things that pastors’ wives do. I was the church pianist. I led a GA group. I was the WMU [Woman’s Missionary Union] president.”  (Garland, 2002, p. 2). Diana’s love for congregational social work began to take root in these years of church leadership.

While working as a caseworker at Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children in the early 70s, Diana decided to return for graduate work to the University of Louisville, earning a Masters of Social Work degree and starting her Ph.D. in 1973. “It was an interdisciplinary degree, and I was able to put together my own program with the help of faculty consultation,” Diana recalled. (Garland 2002, p. 5).   At the same time, she worked as administrative director of the Shepherdsville Community Mental Health Center and sharpened her counseling and administrative skills.  Family counseling and family ministry emerged as her special area of expertise in these years. Diana was earning the Ph.D. to do family therapy and never imagined a career in teaching (Garland 2002, p. 5).

During these years, Diana and David’s community was Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where David was continuing his doctoral studies. Through that community, Diana tapped into a group of pastoral counselors and religious educators as she wrote her dissertation on family counseling.  Anne Davis, who had begun exploring the feasibility of offering an MSW at Southern Seminary, learned about Diana from a University of Louisville colleague and asked her to teach a statistics course part time.  As David completed his PhD, he was hired on faculty and the Garlands settled into Louisville where they would raise their children, Sarah and John. For the next two decades, Diana would become a team member and then leader of what would become the Carver School of Church Social Work.

Building the Carver School Legacy

As a young faculty member, Diana developed expertise in family ministry early in her career.  A gifted and prolific writer, she began building a remarkable body of published work, starting with family ministry and expanding into other areas throughout her career.  Her early works were scholarly articles, books, church curricula, and lectures to assist congregations with family ministry.   Diana loved collaboration, and much of her writing involved a coauthor, such as her husband David, or a team of authors, which she accomplished by bringing together people for writing retreats and conferences. Diana was also a skilled editor and worked hard to encourage and highlight the written work of others, which she was able to do in her role as editor of the Journal of Family Ministry after 1993.

When Diana began working full time at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the early 1980s, the Carver School of Church Social Work was in its infancy, and Diana, along with the other faculty members, worked hard to create the curriculum, recruit students, and graduate the first class in 1986. With the leadership of another NACSW pioneer, Anne Davis, the vision was to offer a seminary education of three years that enfolded a two-year MSW. The focus was on church social work, a preparation for those called to work in congregations, denominational agencies, and mission organizations tied to the Southern Baptist Convention. Perhaps most remarkable, was that the school achieved accreditation by the Council of Social Work Education in 1987, and became the only accredited MSW program in the nation located within a seminary.

The story of the Carver School’s growth through the 1980s and controversial closing in 1997 is complex, many-sided, and has been told elsewhere by Diana and others (Garland, 1999; Hankins, 2002; Furness, 2009; Scales and Maxwell, 2019) After teaching and directing the Gheens Center for Family Ministry at Southern Seminary, Diana became the second dean of the Carver School in 1993. From her first year in office she was fighting a losing battle against a tide of conservative Southern Baptist Convention leadership: The conflict came to a head when Diana attempted to hire David Sherwood, a colleague she knew from NACSW circles, who believed that God could call women to lead congregations and worship. This belief was in conflict with the direction of the trustees, the Seminary president, and others in the denomination who also began questioning the Carver School and its mission. (Hankins, 2002, Furness, 2009).

A larger conflict was brewing at the seminary around the issue of women in ministry and leadership, and with Carver School employing the only woman dean, gender was bound to be a point of criticism. Yet a second concern was President Mohler’s perception that there was an incongruence between social work culture and seminary culture. (Scales and Maxwell, 2019). Central to this issue was the National Association of Social Workers’ code of ethics, which demonstrated the organization’s increasing commitment to inclusion in an era of changing sexual norms. President Mohler believed that the NASW Code of Ethics and accreditation by CSWE would put pressure on the seminary to compromise its conservative theological position on issues such as women’s leadership and homosexuality. 

Carver School students disagreed with the administration’s interpretation and began distributing the code on campus. They wanted the seminary community to judge for itself and for people to see the code asked social workers to serve all people without discrimination in providing services such as housing, food, daycare, and counseling.  Adherence to the NASW Code of Ethics, they believed, would not force a Christian social worker to violate his or her conscience and this fear among the seminary leaders was a misunderstanding of the nature of social work. A commitment to non-discrimination, as Diana and the Carver faculty understood it, meant providing equal services to all clients, as Christ would have done.  For her defense of justice, NASW awarded Diana with its Jack Otis Whistleblower Award (Scales and Maxwell, 2019).

In March of 1995, Diana was fired as dean (though keeping her tenured faculty role) and over the next two years the school was closed in a great storm of public conflict. As she reflected on the Carver School closing in later interviews, she described those days as the most difficult of her life. True to her spirit of resilience and optimism, she turned the experience into one of learning for others.  In her article published in the NACSW journal Social Work and Christianity, Diana analyzed ten practice principles from her traumatic experience, hoping that the case study would help other Christian social workers face unethical practices with courage and the support of other Christians (Garland, 1999).

Baylor University and Congregational Social Work

After a brief time working at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary in the area of family ministry, Diana and David Garland were hired at Baylor University in Waco Texas.  National media coverage of the closing of the Carver School at Southern Seminary led Baylor’s social work chair, Preston Dyer, to notice Diana’s story. One of the first universities to establish a BSW program in 1969, Baylor had just begun seeking leadership to establish a new MSW program (Dyer, 2013, p. 34).  The Garland family relocated to Waco, Texas, in 1997 and Diana was full of energy and optimism for building a social work program committed to the integration of faith and practice.  She relied on her Carver School mentor, Anne Davis, who also relocated to Waco, for consultation on strategies and curriculum planning (Garland, 2002). She served simultaneously as the founding director of Baylor’s Center for Family and Community Ministry, which provided an outlet for Diana to continue her contributions in the area of family ministry.

The work of building the Carver School curriculum had prepared Diana well for creating an MSW at Baylor, but with two important differences. First, the new program was in a university, rather than a seminary.  Since several social work students had attended, or wanted to attend, Baylor’s George. W. Truett Theological Seminary, Diana to initiated a dual degree program in partnership with the seminary in 2001. This connection allowed her to continue teaching her family ministry courses as well.  The second difference between the Carver School and the Baylor program was how they related to Baptists. The Carver School had been strictly Baptist, with all students called to ministry in the denomination.  At Baylor, however, Diana led the faculty to establish broad partnerships with ecumenical Christian groups, as well as secular and governmental affiliations. Over the next two decades Diana and her faculty transformed the small department into a thriving independent school within Baylor University.

Leadership in NACSW, CSWE, and NADD

From her first days at Baylor, Garland worked beyond the Baptist denominations and into broader collaborations. She brought with her a grant from the Lilly Foundation to establish the Center for Family and Community Ministries (CFCM). The grant ensured denominational support, not from Baptists, but from Presbyterians who had employed Garland as a family ministry consultant at their Louisville headquarters after her departure from Southern Seminary.[1] This, along with the fact that the school was located in a university rather than a seminary, allowed Diana to become a leader in social work education and its primary gatekeeper, the Council on Social Work Education. At the same time, since she was no longer in a denominational seminary, Diana broadened her networks to include social workers of all faiths and no faith affiliation.

North American Association of Christians in Social Work became an important place of connection for Diana from the beginning of her career, and she was a prolific contributor to NACSW’s journal, Social Work and Christianity.  Former editor David Sherwood recalls receiving many manuscripts from Diana:

…” some as single author, some as co-author with colleagues and students. All of them dealing one way or another with the ethical integration of Christian faith and competent professional social work practice, usually in the context of congregations specifically and the church at large. This was groundbreaking work in social work and family and community ministry” (Sherwood, p. 409).

After moving to Baylor, Diana served an important leadership role within NACSW providing several keynote addresses, multiple presentations and workshops, and being elected to the Board of Directors for several terms, including one term as President (NACSW, 2016).  In April 2015, NACSW recognized her service commitment by presenting Diana with the award Distinguished Service to NACSW. Because the Carver School experience made such an impact on Diana, she began gathering Carver School alumni and NACSW annual conventions became the venue for these reunions.  Her final publication with NACSW, Why I am a Social Worker: 25 Christians Tell Their Stories (2015), explored one of Diana’s lifelong research interests: calling, faith, and social work practice.

Meanwhile, the new millennium brought changes to the culture of professional social work. After gradually distancing itself from religion for its first 100 years, with peak tensions in the 1970s and 1980s, the profession reconnected with its religious roots. As critics from inside the social work profession examined professional priorities, they began to ask how social work had lost its calling. Garland described how social work leaders…

….Were concerned that the profession was losing its commitment to social justice, public welfare, and to serving persons in situations of poverty, or otherwise disadvantaged and oppressed. In the late decades of the Twentieth Century, increasing numbers of social workers were less interested in care for populations historically of concern to the profession, and more interested in providing clinical services in private practice settings with paying clients. Leaders feared that social work was losing its calling (Garland, 2015, p. 12).

As the social work profession was opening to conversations about religion and spirituality, Diana gathered a group of social work scholars in 2000 who were publishing in the area of spirituality and Christianity. The group spent two days in conversation and strategic planning. The outcome was a research agenda for Christian faith and social work practice for the new millennium. Many of these researchers were connected with NACSW and participants met several new collaborators and co-authors to work with for years to come. This represented one example of Diana’s practice of gathering a variety of people for collaborative projects.

Along with her move to Baylor, Diana found a new purpose for her own teaching and scholarship. Years later she said:

At Southern [Seminary] our mission was to prepare persons for missions and ministry and congregations and mission organizations, That’s not the mission at Baylor. It is to integrate faith ethically with practice. And what I came to see was that that was just as profoundly important for the social worker working in the public setting as it was for congregational leadership settings, and that we needed to help our profession recognize whenever you’re working with clients, you have to work with the spiritual and religious dimensions, the faith dimensions, of their life, or you’ve done them a disservice (Garland 2013, pp. 30-31).

Diana Garland was respected and even revered among the professional gatekeepers of the National Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work (NADD), which elected her to serve on its board from 2009–2014. She also served on several commissions and advisory boards of the Council of Social Work Education (Fogelman, 2015).

 Final season

In the final decade of her life, Diana and David became known around campus as a “power couple” while they both served as Baylor deans:  she in social work and he at Baylor’s Truett Seminary.  At the pinnacle of their careers, both Diana and David were honored when donors contributed endowed chair positions in their names.  From 2008-2010, Diana served as the university’s first lady when David was interim president of Baylor University. (Good Shepherds) Diana had reached the height of her career, her influence, and her contribution to the integration of faith with social work practice.

In Spring of 2015, Diana received the devastating diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  News of her diagnosis stunned the Baylor family as well as social workers and Baptists across the nation. Carver alumni from the 1980s and 90s descended upon Waco for the School of Social Work’s annual “Family Dinner,” a fundraiser and awards ceremony. The event would be a final occasion for friends and colleagues outside Waco to visit with Diana. The evening was a collection of stories of gratitude for her work and at the end of the evening it was announced that the Baylor school would be known henceforth as the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.

Under Diana’s leadership the school had grown its BSW program to 125 students, established MSW and Ph.D. programs, and created three joint-degree options with other Baylor degree programs (MSW/Master of Business Administration, MSW/Master of Divinity and MSW/Master of Theological Studies). Diana had published 21 books and over 100 articles on themes of family ministry, church social work, and congregational health. She had grown the school’s endowment to $14. 5 million and shepherded $7.4 million in grants (Fogelman, 2015).

Diana began tying up her final writing projects as she and David traveled to their vacation home in Colorado where Diana died September 21, 2015 at age 65. As her accomplishments were detailed in the media near the end of her life, Garland continually insisted that she had not achieved these things alone, but that they had been a team effort. In an interview she expressed it this way:

All this School has accomplished has been because God has bound us together, magnifying our strengths and shining through our weaknesses. We have achieved far more than any group of people could have humanly done alone, and most certainly not due to any one person’s leadership. I hope that everyone who associates my name with this School will laugh, as I do, that God has once again chosen a flawed but willing character through whom to work.” (Eckert, 2015)

A Lasting Legacy

Diana Garland believed that the roots of social work were in the faith community and that the profession would always legitimately include services to the whole person and whole community.  She operationalized that vision and extended it to the importance of faith in all practice contexts.  Her legacy lives on in the vocational lives of social workers across the country and in the testimonies of social work students who commit themselves to their clients’ well-being including spiritually.

Christianity and Social Work: Readings on the Integration of Faith and Social Work Practice
North American Association of Christians in Social Work, New York


Dyer, P. ( 2013, Aug 27). Interviewed by K. Cook, Baylor School of Social Work Collection, Baylor University Institute of Oral History. Waco, TX.

Eric Eckert, E. (2015, April 26)  “Baylor regents vote to name School of Social Work for Diana Garland,” Baptist Standard, accessed online, June 15, 2019, social-work-for-diana-garland/.

Fogelman, L. (2015), “Baylor Mourns Passing of Diana Garland, Founding Dean of the School    of Social Work,” Sept. 22, 2015, Media Communications, Baylor University, accessed online June 16, 2019,

Furness: J. E. (2009), Education for the social work profession: Innovation in three evangelical institutions between 1960 and 1985, dissertation, University of Rochester, Rochester NY, pp. 334-402

Garland, D. R. (1999) When professional ethics and religious politics conflict: A case study. Social Work and Christianity, 26, 60-76

Garland, D. R. (2002). Interview by T. L. Scales recording), Carver School Project, Baylor University Oral History Institute, Waco, TX.

Garland, D.R.  (2013), Interview by Stephen Sloan (recording), Baylor School of Social Work Project, Baylor University Oral History Institute, Waco, TX.

Garland, D. R. (2015). Why I am a social worker: 25 Christians tell their life stories.  Botsford, CT: NACSW

Hankins, B. (2002) Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and Southern Culture Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press

North American Association of Christians in Social Work (January 2016). In Memoriam: Diana Garland, The Catalyst 59 (1). Author. p.4.

Scales, T.L. and Maxwell, M. (2019). “Doing the Word’: Southern Baptists’ Carver School of Church Social Work and its Predecessors, 1907-1997. Knoxville, TN, University of Tennessee Press