Preserving Christian Tradition: The Presidency of Samuel Palmer Brooks

By Kristin Abbott

President Samuel Palmer Brooks
(Courtesy of the Baylor University Archives)

Preserving Christian Tradition: The Presidency of Samuel Palmer Brooks

Baylor University is a Christian institution founded with the motto “Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana (For Church, For Texas)”.  Its Christian mission has persevered since the university’s formation, despite prominent secularization amongst other religious institutions.  The enduring nature of Baylor’s Christian tradition is due in large part to the influence of several strong Christian leaders.  One such leader is Samuel Palmer Brooks, who served as President at Baylor from 1902-1931.  Brooks was an educated man who left his graduate studies at Yale University to accept the presidency of Baylor University.  He was also a Christian man who believed that men and women should be educated through the lens of biblical truth.  During the 1920s, President Samuel Palmer Brooks played a meaningful role in preserving Baylor’s Christian tradition by establishing credibility as a Christian leader, advocating for Christian education, and utilizing both his structural and relational power to influence faculty and students.

Establishing Credibility

During his time as President, Brooks established himself as a man with clear vision and dedicated faith.  In 1925, a journalist with the Baylor University Press spoke with President Brooks about his hope for the future of Baylor and reported:

I found two things holding equally high places in his mind and soul: (1) Christian service to the world and (2) Absolute trust in God.  It was as clear as the noonday sun that the mind and soul of Baylor’s president were in harmony, the mind making practical the faith of the soul.  The eyes of Dr. Brooks seemed to look into the future with clear vision as he pointed out the principles upon which Baylor University would continue its development. (Baylor University, 1925)

During the interview, President Brooks listed the pillars of his vision for Baylor, which included statements related to finances, access of education to both men and women, educating ministers of the gospel, spreading service abroad, and pursuing knowledge through the guidance of Jesus Christ.  The pillars of Brooks’ vision demonstrated harmony between practical goals and biblical principles.  His financial goals were rooted in a desire “to give greater service” to the community by impacting more men and women with a Christian education.  This goal demonstrated harmony with the biblical notion of stewarding resources for the glory of God.  Additionally, Brooks’ goal for access of education to both men and women was consonant with the biblical notion of inherent value and equality of men and women.  Furthermore, Brooks’ goal to educate ministers and spread service abroad demonstrated obedience to the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, New International Version).  Finally, Brooks’ goal to pursue knowledge through the guidance of Jesus Christ showed consistency with biblical principles of submission and humility.  The vision of President Brooks included practical goals created for the context of a higher education institution, and these goals maintained harmony with Christian principles found in the Bible.

Letter to N. B. Quill  (Courtesy of Baylor University Archives).

In addition to reporters with the Baylor University Press, members from the Waco community also recognized President Brooks to be a man with sound faith.  Brooks often received letters from ministers asking questions relating to his faith or requesting explanations of theological issues.  Reverend N. B. Quill of First Lutheran Church in Waco wrote to President Brooks asking him why he attended church.  Brooks responded saying, “1st – It is my duty, 2nd – It is my pleasure, 3rd – I go to worship and to receive the inspiring impulses that come from my fellow Christians, 4th –  …the rightful influence in combating evil, and 5th – …organized comrades and … official leadership” (Brooks, 1930).  The community noticed that Brooks consistently attended church and thus perceived that he had an inspiring reason for doing so.

Letter to E. R. Roberts (Courtesy of the Baylor University Archives)

President Brooks’ faith and knowledge of the Bible also spread beyond the confines of the Waco community.  In 1930, Mr. E. W. Chadwick, General Secretary of the Young Men’s Christian Association in St. Joseph Missouri wrote to President Brooks asking a theological question that Brooks was unable to answer due to a busy season of travel.  However, President Brooks’ secretary wrote back to Mr. Chadwick expressing clarification that President Brooks “requests that I say to you he is not a minister” (Sanders, 1930 February). This was not the only instance when community members mistook Brooks for a minister, since his secretary sent several letters to other men such as Mr. Richard J. Fuller saying, “Allow me to also add that President Brooks is not a minister of the gospel” (Sanders, 1930 July).   Even when Brooks was available to answer theological inquiries, such as that submitted by Mr. E. R. Roberts, he made sure to include a statement saying, “I am not a theologian” even if he did go on to claim, “By faith I thoroughly believe in [the resurrection of Christ] and the wholesome doctrines of the Bible that surround it.  My hope in immortality is based on my hearty belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for lost men” (Brooks, 1927).  President Brooks built a powerful reputation for himself a man of vision and sound faith, which gave him credibility to propose and implement a model of Christian education that he believed would preserve the Christian tradition of Baylor University.

Model of Christian Education

President Brooks advocated that Christian education occurs when a devout Christian faculty infuses biblical truth into every classroom of instruction, regardless of the subject field.  In 1922, President Brooks gave a speech to the faculty explaining his view of Christian education.  He started out by acknowledging the faculty members’ confessions of faith, which “have not only stressed the truth of God’s word, but also the individual responsibility thereto of each of us.  This is our creed, and to it we have dedicated our lives” (Brooks, 1922 October).  In this statement, President Brooks placed importance on the personal faith of faculty as a foundation to their teaching role.  He went on to say, “We are Christian teachers…None of us ought to be in our positions if we cannot heartily and joyfully subscribe to the fundamentals of this body of doctrine” (Brooks, 1922 October).

President Brooks’ handwritten notes on Christian education (Courtesy of the Baylor University Archives)

Brooks emphasized the importance of each faculty member’s personal faith because he believed that “Christian education is the full and harmonious development of the whole man – body, mind, and soul” (Brooks, n.d.).  He asserted that students do not just learn information when they come to college, but they also undergo a harmonious development of the whole person, which includes a spiritual dimension.  In his speech to the faculty, Brooks clarified “the life of the teacher will be read and known by every student… the life of a sincere Christian teacher will help to mold the minds of the new, crass and untutored students who come to college” (Brooks, 1922 October).  President Brooks believed that Christian principles are not just taught through speech, but are best communicated to students through the lives of faculty who model the principles in daily life.  Therefore, according to Brooks, the foundation of Christian education is a devout Christian faculty who exude the Truth they proclaim.

President Brooks argued that Christian education should infuse material knowledge with the truth that comes from the Bible.  He advocated that “the Bible is a Book of Faith and the laboratories of science a book of fact.  Both are true.  Neither contradicts the other when rightly taught…God is the author of both, the Bible and the facts of all nature” (Brooks, 1922 October).  He believed that there is no contradiction between fields of knowledge (including science) and that the Bible should have nothing to fear from science.  Brooks encouraged faculty to experiment in the laboratory and to test theories with science, as would secular scientists.  However, he clarified that the discoveries of science would not contradict the Bible since God is the creator of both material and living things.  With a posture of experimentation in mind, Brooks challenged faculty to test the minds of students so that they may be “experimentally Christian”.  He said, “They must learn to acquire new knowledge without discounting the truth of old.  Yet they must learn to discard the old that is found to be false, without discarding the old that is known to be true” (Brooks, 1922 October).  President Brooks did not fear scientific research; he encouraged it.  Additionally, he saw a place for religion in every field of study because he believed God was the creator of all matter and truth.  Brooks ended his speech on Christian education by stating, “no matter what subject you teach, your life and your subject will be as naught unless you objectify the Christ…when you do objectify the life of the Christ, you will make your subject shine as a thing of beauty in the hearts of all who come under your influence” (Brooks, 1922 October).

Influence on Faculty

Samuel Palmer Brooks recognized faculty as the primary vehicle for achieving his model of Christian education.  He ensured the implementation of this model through his direct influence on faculty members, from both a relational and a structural approach.  The previously mentioned speech on Christian education serves as an example of Brooks’ relational influence on faculty because it appealed to their feelings and emotions by motivating them toward a specific mission.  President Brooks inspired faculty by affirming how their Christian faith could meaningfully impact students’ lives.  C.D. Johnson noted during a visit to campus, “all [the students] affectionately called [Brooks] ‘Prexy’.  That I found was common also among the members of the faculty” (Johnson, 1930).  Brooks developed a connection with the faculty and engendered affection in their hearts toward him.  The faculty respected Brooks, which gave him the relational influence he needed to implement his vision for Christian education.

Letter to Mr. Ivar Skougaard (Courtesy of the Baylor University Archives)

In addition to his relational approach, President Brooks also took a structural approach for implementing of his model of Christian education by using his authority as president to determine which faculty got hired at Baylor.  In an interview conducted by the Baylor University Press, the journalist reported, “When Dr. S. P. Brooks, president of the University, selects a member of the faculty he does so after being satisfied that the Christian character of the man or woman is genuine” (Baylor University, 1925 May).  Various letters of correspondence with potential new faculty members confirmed President Brooks’ methods of testing Christian character.  In a letter to a potential voice instructor, Mr. Ivar Skougaard, Brooks wrote, “I wish you would write me whether or not you are an active Christian, and if so, what church you are an active member of” (Brooks, 1919).  In a similar letter to Mr. C. C. Smith, Brooks wrote, “Are you a Christian, of what church?” (Brooks, 1922, March).  President Brooks acknowledged in his speech to the faculty that the foundation of Christian education is a devout Christian faculty.  He was serious about this view and ensured that all faculty members who entered Baylor University made firm confessions of faith according to Brooks’ own standards.

During his presidency, Brooks also encountered controversies regarding the faith of faculty members.  One instance was with a Spanish professor, Andrés Rodríguez Sendón, who was accused of being Catholic and therefore misleading his students.  Since Brooks had interviewed Sendón about his faith before hiring him, Brooks strongly believed that the accusations from the Baptist Convention must be nonsense.  Sendón recounted in an interview that Brooks “called a special chapel session giving me a vote of confidence.  He then raised my salary… That was quite interesting.  He raised my salary” (Interview of Andrés Rodríguez Sendón, 1971).  Brooks did not take the Convention’s accusation into consideration.  Rather, he encouraged Sendón to continue with his job, and raised his salary as a symbol of approval.  Brooks took the judgment of faith into his own hands and affirmed faculty members based on his own perception of genuine faith.

During the evolution controversy in the 1920s the faculty at Baylor supported Brooks’ model of Christian education by making a collective statement of faith before the Board of Trustees proclaiming:

We further recognize the extraordinary duty of Christian teachers in this age of unrest to prove all things and hold fast that which is good, to test to the uttermost all theories and to conserve the precious, established facts of our holy religion…We would reiterate the commanding ideal which we set before us when we dedicated ourselves to our responsible office, to live devout lives in the expression of our Christian experience, to keep open, reverent, obedient minds toward all truth, to maintain a considerate and constructive attitude toward all inquirers after truth, and to be faithful as interpreters and exponents in all our duties as Christian teachers. (Merone, n.d.)

The faculty showed collective support for Brooks by affirming to the Board of Trustees that their faith was in fact genuine.  The faculty declared that there is not “one single convincing proof that man is not the direct creation of God as recorded in Genesis” (Merone, n.d.).   President Brooks used his structural influence to hire Christian faculty, and used his relational influence to further shape their views on Christian education.  These efforts proved effective when controversy arose, because the faculty spoke up and affirmed their commitment to Christian principles.

Interaction with Students

Even though President Brooks was not a full-time faculty member, he still contributed to the Christian education of students through purposeful interactions.  On a personal level, Brooks frequently made efforts to mold young men and women into upright Christian citizens.  The students took kindly to his gestures, and “all of them affectionately called [Brooks] ‘Prexy’” (Johnson, 1930).  During the same visit to campus, C.D. Johnson recounted an interaction between President Brooks and a young fellow on campus.  Johnson commented to Brooks saying, “That man is unusually polite”, to which Brooks responded:

Well, most of our men are average or above in courtesy, but I am especially glad to see that man acting the gentlemen for this reason… It was necessary for me to call him into my office last week for a reprimand. After I had completely flayed him for a certain error as a University student, I took his hand as he left the office and said, “My boy, I am far more interested in your making a man than in picking flaws in your conduct. When you see me on the street, speak to your friend who would fight for you if necessary. (Johnson, 1930)

Letter to J. E. Hill (Courtesy of the Baylor University Archives)

Brooks related to the students not only as an authority figure, but also as a Christian brother.  He cared deeply about the development of the whole person and demonstrated his care through his purposeful interactions with students.  Parents often wrote to President Brooks asking him to check on their sons or daughters.  Brooks would often call these students into his office to see how they were doing and would provide assistance for them in the midst of challenges.  He would then report back to the parents about his meeting with their child (Brooks, 1929).

President Brooks also interacted with students in a large group setting through frequent speeches during the required chapel sessions.  He often spoke on topics relevant to Christian character and how to be an upstanding citizen.  The Daily Lariat provided several recaps of speeches relating to social issues such as slavery (Daniel, 1929 October), as well as statements on proper conduct.  Brooks reminded students, “I believe that no one has ever been dismissed for smoking on the campus, but just as nickels, dimes and quarters make a dollar so smoking on the campus, together with other misbehavior might constitute a dismissal” (Daniel, 1929 September).  On other topics, President Brooks utilized a sense of humor in order to communicate a message to the student body.  He once told a story in Chapel about picking up two hoboes on the side of the road because he mistook them for college boys.  The Lariat reports that the “entire student body was kept in uproar as Prexy told [the story]” (Roberts, 1927).  Brooks used humor to engage the students, but his chief aim was to encourage proper behavior in his students.  His message communicated the likeness between some college fellows and hoboes on the side of the road, encouraging the young college men and women to distinguish themselves as well-mannered college students.  In other cases, Brooks spoke more directly, telling students to “Care for yourselves physically and at the same time develop the mental nature in an equal proportion” (Daniel, 1929 October).  Brooks advocated the development of the whole person, and he encouraged students toward this end.

Conclusion

It was clear to the community both near and far that Samuel Palmer Brooks spoke and behaved in accordance with the Baptist tradition.  His faith informed much of what he did as President of Baylor University, including his efforts to uphold the Christian tradition created by Baylor’s founding fathers.  Brooks established his reputation as a leader with clear vision and faith.  He sought to create goals for the university that would propel it forward as an academic institution without compromising harmony with biblical principles.  Brooks’ faith in God was evident in his description of Christian education.  He used his structural power to maintain the integrity of a devout Christian faculty, and used his relational power to impress his views upon both faculty and students.  President Samuel Palmer Brooks helped preserve Baylor’s Christian tradition throughout the 1920s by utilizing his power as President to promote a model of Christian education that was consistent with the principles on which Baylor was founded.

References

Baylor University. (1925). Baylor University Press Release. Waco, TX: Baylor University

Baylor University (1925 May). Baylor University Press Release. Waco, TX: Baylor University

Brooks, S. P. (1919 May 5). [Letter to Ivar Skougaard]. Samuel Palmer Brooks papers (Box #2C82, Folder #357). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S. P. (1922 March 2). [Letter to C. C. Smith]. Samuel Palmer Brooks papers (Box #2C82, Folder #357). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S. P. (1922 October 5). [President’s Address to the Faculty of Baylor University]. Samuel Palmer Brooks papers (Box #2C82, Folder #360). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S. P. (1927 October 19). [Letter to E. R Roberts]. Samuel Palmer Brooks papers (Box #2C64, Folder #138). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S. P. (1929 September 25). [Letter to J. E. Hill]. Samuel Palmer Brooks papers (Box #2C84, Folder #383). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S. P. (1930 March 11). [Letter to N. B. Quill]. Samuel Palmer Brooks papers (Box #2C64, Folder #138). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brooks, S. P. (No date). Notes on Christian Education. Samuel Palmer Brooks papers (Box #2C57, Folder #54). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Daniel, P. (Ed.) (1929 September 24). “Dr. Brooks Scores Smoking on Campus”. The Daily Lariat. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/lariat/id/10879/rec/1. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Daniel, P. (Ed.) (1929 October 17). “President Brooks Speaks to B.R.H. on Slave Problem”. The Daily Lariat. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/lariat/id/10894/rec/2. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Daniel, P. (Ed.) (1929 October 17). “Wants and Desires of Man is Subject to Frosh Yesterday”. The Daily Lariat. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/lariat/id/10894/rec/2. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Interview of Andrés Rodríguez Sendón by Thomas F. Walker. Oral Memories of Andrés Rodríguez Sendón,1971. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/buioh/id/2733/rec/1. Baylor University Institute for Oral Hisory, Waco, TX.

Johnson, C. D. (1930). [Memories of Samuel Palmer Brooks by C. D. Johnson]. Baylor University Archives. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/bu-archive/id/468. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Merone. (No date). [Christian Education: Faculty Statement]. Samuel Palmer Brooks papers (Box #2C82,    Folder #360). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Sanders, J. R. (1930 February 14). [Letter to E. W. Chadwick]. Samuel Palmer Brooks papers (Folder #138). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Sanders, J. R. (1930 July 29). [Letter to R. J. Fuller]. Samuel Palmer Brooks papers (Folder #138). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Roberts, M. (Ed.) (1927 October 9). “College Boy or Bum? Prexy Tells of Hoboes”. The Daily Lariat. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/lariat/id/9878/rec/1. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

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