Remembering Our Hope

By Dr. L. Gregory Jones


What do you do when an institution you love fails you? How do you make sense of the fact that an institution that could be so intellectually stimulating, so formative, so memorable, could also have been a place for horrific behavior and ineffective responses to that behavior? What do you do with your feelings of sadness, grief, anger--even shame? Can you still love that institution, knowing what you now know?

Questions such as these have been haunting the Baylor community, near and far, since the findings of the Pepper Hamilton investigation were released. The findings were forthright in identifying failures by Baylor in dealing with sexual assaults on campus. These failures revealed a huge gap between our identity as a Christian university and the manner in which we actually responded to these horrendous acts of violence. To our critics, we seem to be hypocrites. People have begun to wonder, "Was my love, my loyalty, to Baylor misplaced?" For many, the pain has felt so intense because their love for Baylor is so deep.

What do we do now? We repent, and we reach out in solidarity to those who have suffered and continue to suffer--especially effects of sexual violence, and wrongdoing more generally. We correspondingly need to acknowledge the need for corrective action: in our own lives, at Baylor, and in our broader communities and the wider world. What happened at Baylor is symptomatic of broader issues that must be addressed beyond Baylor as well.

We likewise remember "the hope to which we have been called" (Eph. 1:18). Remembering our hope calls us as people, and Baylor as an institution, to focus all that we are and all that we do on the reconciling and redemptive presence of Jesus Christ. By remembering our hope, we rededicate ourselves to Christ. As Ephesians puts it two chapters later, we are called to be "rooted and grounded in love," such that we might have the power "to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge," so that we “may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19).

Our hope is rooted not in who we are, but in who God is. The good news of the Gospel is that God forgives us; the challenge of the Gospel is that God calls us to new life. We repent not because we must, but because we may. When we experience God’s extraordinary love, we turn away from sin and toward God. Remembering our hope calls us to rededicate ourselves to pursuing faithfulness in everything, including our beloved Baylor.

We are not, however, called to be optimistic; that places too much confidence in human abilities. We are called to be hopeful. The virtue of hope enables us to face the brutal facts of our lives, of the world, and of brokenness and failures, which harm those entrusted to our care as well as ourselves. And yet we don't give into despair as pessimists or cynics, because our faith in God points us to the future that God has called us, and the whole Creation, to live towards. We remember our hope when we center our lives in Christ, animated by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are also called to remember our hope for Baylor, and how our mission seeks to give witness to the hope we have in Christ. We have a 171-year history of educating and forming women and men for faithful service and leadership in diverse vocations. Baylor has been marked by hope from its humble beginnings, through triumphs and tragedies, to its current strengths and weaknesses. This hope leads us to delve deeper into the rich traditions that have made Baylor what we are at our best, will correct us when we are at our worst, and will guide us into God’s new future with thanksgiving and hope.

We need to continue to love Baylor as an institution. Our love will be most faithful and effective if we see institutions as living organisms. Too often we think of institutions using metaphors of machines and impersonal bureaucracies, rather than metaphors that convey life. Institutions are organisms that have aspects that grow, and others that decay and die--especially as a result of sin. Pruning, as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of John (see 15:2), is an essential activity for people as well as communities and organizations.

Whether in good times or our present struggles, we at Baylor need to engage in ongoing pruning as we repent of that which is dying, preserve what is best about our identity and mission, and cultivate innovation for the sake of an even more faithful and effective witness in the future. We can continue to love our institution even when it fails, offering and receiving forgiveness while committing ourselves to repentance and new life. Difficult decisions will need to be made, and yet our love abides, even as God loves us despite our sin and calls us as people to repentance and a new, more faithful and holy life.

We, the Baylor community near and far, need to accept accountability for our failures and renew our commitment to our Christ-centered mission. Doing one without the other would be to settle either for pessimism or optimism; focusing on both accountability and renewal marks us as people who remember the hope to which we have been called.

Remembering our hope will involve The Sexual Assault Task Force focused on implementing the 105 recommendations we received from Pepper Hamilton, recommendations that President Garland now rightly describes as "mandates."

Furthermore, it involves a task force focused on spiritual life and character formation across the Baylor campus. Our shared Christian faith ought to animate everything we do. Fulfilling our mission requires us to be prepared and willing to act in accord with who we say we are. Our way forward must be led by God's wisdom.

The Spiritual Life and Formation of Character Task Force will make recommendations to foster an even more Christ-centered culture on campus. The group will seek ways to strengthen ongoing efforts of spiritual formation, including worship and prayer, across the entire University. We will also seek new ways to encourage the cultivation of moral character in our students, instilling in them virtues like honesty, justice, forgiveness, and wisdom, and central practices like hospitality and friendship. The deeper our commitment to Christ-shaped friendships (see John 15:12-17), the more likely we will be to honor one another in our teaching and learning, our research, and the formation of character to which all of us across the Baylor community are called.

Throughout our work, this task force will seek to promote greater collaboration and coordination among all university units so that we may more consistently encourage and practice the highest ideals of the Christian life and in ways that uplift the entire University community.

My wife Susan and I are honored to become a part of the Baylor family. We were drawn here by Baylor's remarkable history, its current strengths, and by its tremendous prospects for the future. Even though the last few months have been challenging and painful for the entire Baylor community, we believe that the call to remember our hope offers an incredible opportunity for the future.

The final verses of the prayer in Ephesians 3 point us to the promise of renewed dedication to our Christ-centered mission: "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we could ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 3:20-21).

It would be one thing if we were promised that God, working through us, could accomplish all we could ask or imagine. But the words go well beyond "all." More than all...far more than all...abundantly far more than all we could ask or imagine!

Such a commitment abides in Baylor's deepest traditions. President Samuel Palmer Brooks, in his famous "The Immortal Message" of 1931, delivered these words: "Because of what Baylor has meant to you in the past, because of what she will mean to you in the future, oh my students, have a care for her. Build upon the foundations, here, a great school of which I have dreamed so that she may touch and mold the lives of future generations and help to fit them for life here and hereafter. To you seniors of the past, of the present, and of the future, I entrust the care of Baylor University. To you I hand the torch."

Even as we work fervently to implement the mandates of Pepper Hamilton's recommendations, we need to be bearers of the torch. We are called to remember our hope and to focus on the "abundantly far more than all" that God has in store for Baylor as we serve our mission as a Christian research university. God deserves nothing less, Baylor desires nothing less, and 21st century higher education needs nothing less.