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Baylor Prayer: Enough Of Straight White Men!

Progressive prayer at Baptist university's graduation service signals sharp turn left

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcVpUO3gjj4?start=90]

That’s the prayer delivered at Baylor University’s 2019 spring graduation by Dan Freemyer of Fort Worth’s progressive Broadway Baptist Church. I’ve cued it up to a startling point. This prayer was uttered at graduation at the Baptist Notre Dame, deep in the heart of Texas.

The Baylor alumnus who sent it to me comments:

[Broadway] is an open and affirming church that cut ties with the Baptist General Convention of Texas long ago over homosexuality.

Baylor is affiliated with the BGCT. Inviting this heretic was a slap in the face by Baylor’s administration.

Baylor is done, stick a fork in it. [New Baylor president] Linda Livingstone has taken it into clear rebellion.

This is appalling. Whoever would have imagined that “straight white men” would be denounced in prayer at a Baylor University graduation ceremony? I wonder how many straight white men are Baylor donors? I wonder how many straight white male and female parents of high school students will understand the meaning of this signal, and look elsewhere for their children’s Christian college education?

UPDATE: A reader writes:

Rod, I greatly appreciate all of your work, and I want to thank you for taking the time to highlight the prayer by Dan Freemyer at Baylor’s graduation last weekend. I went to Baylor, both for undergrad and law school, and I love the school with all of my heart. My wife also went to Baylor, and we have chosen to build our lives here in Waco because of our love for the university and the community that surrounds it.

I was disappointed in the administration’s choice of Mr. Freemyer for the benediction, and even more disappointed in him for taking that opportunity to make divisive statements on a day that should be a happy day for the graduates and their families. Doubtless some of the graduates enjoyed his words (the statements on fossil fuels and “straight white men” both elicited cheers) but many surely did not, and it was petty and unfair of him to use that platform to make such statements. I’m glad your article brought this to light.

This isn’t the first time you’ve written about Baylor, and I’ve always appreciated both your praise and criticism of our university.  I disagree with the alumnus quoted in your article about the graduation prayer – don’t stick a fork in us, we’re not done yet. Certainly there are developments pushed by the faculty and administration that I don’t agree with, and that grieve my wife, myself, and our fellow alumni who don’t want to see Baylor lose its efficacy as an outpost of Christian education, but my prayer is for our strength and hope to continue to fight for the university that has given us so much. There are many real-deal, small-o orthodox Christians holding strong in the faculty and administration at Baylor, and from your previous writings I know that you count more than a few of them as friends. I worry about a malaise growing among those who are troubled by the slide of the university away from biblical fidelity and Christian cultural distinctiveness. Maybe it’s me who is overly-optimistic and who can’t see the futility of the fight, but I find myself often encouraging folks to choose to not see Baylor as a lost cause.

There are so many things to be hopeful for, despite the particular failings of the administration and faculty, and in particular the religion department and Baylor Spiritual Life. Our church is filled with college students seeking the truth of the scriptures, I serve as Board President of a local para-church ministry that runs almost entirely on Baylor student volunteers committed to discipling young people in our city, there was an incredible three-day revival event on Baylor’s campus earlier this spring that far surpassed the expectations of all those involved in its organization, there are dozens of incredibly faithful professors who are committed to ministering to their students through their classes. Doubtless there are just as many troubling developments: a sex, drugs, and alcohol subculture that has been seriously exposed due to the Title IX scandal, performative and shallow culturally “Christian” Baylor students, progressive religion and seminary professors who have no regard for and who even actively oppose biblical inerrancy and orthodox biblical interpretations, a Spiritual Life department that puts on unbelievably underwhelming bi-weekly chapel services and which fails to make a serious spiritual impact on most of the students at the university, and a hundred other issues that lead many alumni to adopt the same stance as the alumnus quoted in your article.

I understand the “stick a fork in it” mentality, but it is my hope and conviction that we are not done, that we haven’t lost Baylor. From where I sit in Waco, everything is not as hopeless as it may seem to alumni who are farther away, and I know dozens of folks, both inside and outside the university, who are working every day to disciple and minister to the students at Baylor, to strengthen their faith and, as a result, to strengthen Baylor’s Christian identity. I just wanted to write to you to offer some hope, and to allow you to share that hope with other Baylor alumni, students, or faculty you may encounter. As long as I’ve been around Baylor, I’ve felt a tension, a university often at war with itself to try and determine where faith, education, academic freedom, student conduct, sex, race, gender, and football fit together. That tension exists more now than ever, and there are ugly fights ahead, but those who care for this place need to push further into the fray, rather than to step back from it.

UPDATE.2: In the comments, Baylor professor David White:

Rod, as a Baylor faculty member who was at that commencement ceremony, let me offer some context.

First, the person offering the prayer was the father of one of the graduates. It is customary at Baylor commencements (and there were three that weekend; Baylor graduates cross the stage to receive their actual diploma, which requires multiple graduation ceremonies both to keep them within a reasonable time and because of the limited seating capacity of the arena) to have the opening and closing prayers offered by people who have children graduating at that ceremony. Sometimes these people are pastors/ministers, sometimes they are Baylor faculty or staff members. I’m not sure how closely these prayers are vetted; I suspect they are asked to offer a prayer and otherwise given a fairly free hand. So, even though the prayer was offered at commencement, an argument can be made that he was speaking for himself, not necessarily speaking officially for Baylor.

Second, in case you missed it, the Baylor Board of Regents at their meeting last week declined to meet with representatives of an LGBT student group. This prayer could be understood as a protest at that decision, especially since there were several Regents present at the commencement ceremony.

I will note that the sentiments expressed in the prayer were not explicitly endorsed or picked up in any way by anyone else who spoke at that commencement ceremony or the others (I was present at all three).

Pushing an agenda other than, “Well done, graduates, go out and make Baylor proud of you! (And, as alumni, send money!)” seems generally frowned upon at Baylor commencements. The only “official” commencement speaker is the university president, whose comments generally range from congratulatory to inspirational to anodyne. I suspect that for all that the reverend received some applause from students and others, he probably didn’t make too many friends in the presidential party on stage by using his moment at the microphone to push a political/social agenda.



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