Baylor University’s vision statement, Pro Futuris, explains clearly why Baylor alumni, faculty, and students find themselves naturally in D.C. "Our Christian faith, in conjunction with our expertise and resources, inspires a desire to address systemic problems facing our community." Of course, Baylor has long had a presence in D.C. But in light of Pro Futuris we are currently expanding that presence through student internships, semester-long study opportunities, monthly events featuring research by Baylor faculty, and an active collaboration with Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Research Project.
Everything we do in D.C. aims at promoting a certain view of human flourishing. Baylor’s 1845 charter captures part of this: Human flourishing demands "a sense of civic virtue," "responsibility," and a "commitment to moral action." But beyond this, we understand flourishing to require the cultivation of a virtuous character informed by the Christian faith, as well as the maintenance of a socio-political environment in which virtues can be put in practice.
Today, the social infrastructures that support human flourishing seem to be crumbling. An example is the decline of what some writers call "social capital" -- the "connections among individuals -- social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them." Because civic virtue is best cultivated in a dense network of reciprocal social relations, the decline of social capital raises serious concerns. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals does not support human flourishing.
At the same time, we are witnessing an unprecedented fracturing of our political community. For instance, James Davison Hunter, a Distinguished Visiting Scholar in the Sociology Department at Baylor University, has measured the coarsening of public discourse; the rise of new religious, racial, ethnic, and class divisions; and the consequent loss of legitimacy for key public institutions. This too poses a threat to human flourishing.
Yet another worrisome trend is the rapid erosion of fundamental freedoms not only in America, but worldwide. According to the 2015 annual report of the United States Commission on Religious Freedom, the number of countries where religious persecution is "especially severe" nearly doubled in 2015 alone (from 9 to 17). While here in the United States, we are witnessing unprecedented levels of anti-religious sentiment, accompanied by instances of legislative over-reach that prevent Christian businesses owners, charities, schools, and universities from contributing to human flourishing in a distinctly Christian way.
In order to better understand and respond to the unique problems of our age, Baylor University hosts monthly events in the nation’s capitol. Recent events have centered on law and cyber-security, hunger, poverty, homelessness, and the tragic loss of life among immigrants along the Texas border. We have also featured the work of Baylor faculty in preservation and cultivation of cultural memory: the Black Gospel Music collection in the new Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture; Seamus Heaney and the Northern Irish Conflict; and the preservation and publication of ancient Jewish and Christian theological manuscripts.
As part of our ongoing collaboration with the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University -- a collaboration that brings together the nation’s largest Baptist University with the nation’s oldest Catholic University -- we host regular events in D.C. and produce high level research on issues of religious freedom in the U.S., Europe, China, Africa, India, and the Middle East. On account of the generosity of Jerry and Susie Wilson, Baylor now has an endowed chair in religious liberty. The inaugural holder of the chair was former Congressman Frank Wolf, formerly the leading voice on international religious liberty issues in the U.S. Congress, while the current occupant is the distinguished scholar Paul Marshall. Working closely with Frank Wolf, Baylor was instrumental in the passage of H.Con.Res. 75, identifying the atrocities committed by ISIL as "genocide," and in the passage and content of H.R. 1150: The Frank R. Wolf International Freedom Act. Baylor is currently supporting H.R. 390: The Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017. The bill provides for emergency relief to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Iraq and Syria, and for accountability for perpetrators of these crimes.
In all these dimensions of Baylor in D.C., our alumni, faculty and students are aware not only of the opportunities we have, but also the responsibilities. The preservation of age-old structures of human flourishing depends upon people’s willingness to defend them. In many cases, old structures need to be adapted to changing circumstances, and this requires citizens with a robust enough vision of human flourishing to ensure that our adaptations conduce to that end. For Christians, such work seems more than just urgent. It is in fact our duty to be the salt of the earth and not to lose, amid myriad forces of decline, that distinct flavor which contributes to the flourishing of all.