Baylor University and the Baptist General Convention of Texas, 1900-1920

by Elizabeth Leslie

At the turn of the 20th century, Baylor University maintained a close relationship to the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT).  Although relationship centered mostly on fundraising for Baylor University and the other Baptists schools, the BGCT also played a role in hearing and influencing recommendations surrounding Baylor’s ministerial education.   Baylor University faculty, trustees, and President played an active role in the BGCT, and in turn, the BGCT held a presence on campus, as evident by regular inclusion of convention news in the Baylor Lariat newspaper.  Sentiments of denominational loyalty appeared in Lariat articles, as well as in appeals made during annual sessions of the Convention.

While control over Baylor’s future and internal affairs never rested fully on the Baptist Convention, greater financial reliance on the Convention after the formation of the BGCT Education Commission around the turn of the century, pushed Baylor and the other correlated schools into making their cases for financial assistance by reporting the ways in which the works of their schools promoted the greater mission of the BGCT.  In this way, Baylor’s relationship as dependent on the BGCT became more pronounced.  Baylor now needed to be accepted by the constituents of the Baptist General Convention as a worthy denominational cause.  Annual sessions became the stage upon which Baylor would stake its claim and defend its brand of faith-based higher education.  Baylor’s relationship to the BGCT was beneficial to the overall success and prominence of Baylor University, not because the BGCT provided Baylor with an external fundraising Commission, but because arguing for Baylor’s cause forced the University to make public commitments to excellence in academics and faith-based higher education.

Internally, the state convention’s new relationship to Baylor University was visible within the Baylor community through the student newspaper. Externally, Baylor’s relationship to the BGCT was visible in two ways.  First, the involvement of the Education Commission in the funding and oversight of university financial business offered the convention more control as a means of keeping the university solvent.  Baylor University now depended on the Convention for funding that it had previously sought itself.  Second, Baptist leaders in the convention, most notably B.H. Carroll and President S.P. Brooks, played an increased role in shaping Baylor University from within.  The formation and separation of Baylor Theological Seminary shows one way in which annual sessions provided an arena for leaders in the BGCT and at Baylor University to discuss the purpose and importance of ministerial education within the Baptist faith.

Samuel Palmer Brooks served as Baylor University President from 1902-1931

The Baptist General Convention of Texas on Campus

Baylor University’s relationship to the Baptist General Convention was highly visible on campus.  The Lariat newspaper regularly reported on news and reports originating during convention sessions and in the Baptist Standard, a privately owned news publication that, in a few years would be given to the convention.  In a reprinted report from the Education Commission, Rev. Jeff D. Ray wrote on the primacy of the Baptist denomination in higher education:

Texas Baptists have from the beginning believed in Christian education, but it is safe to say there never was a time when Texas Baptists really loved our schools as they do now.

Not only do our schools appeal to the loyal affection of our people, but they are challenging the admiration and eliciting the patronage of those not Baptists…. Among really observing people it is coming to be pretty generally conceded that Texas Baptists are at the head of the procession in the matter of educational institutions. (1907, p. 3)

These news pieces reinforced the ideal of student and constituent loyalty to “our denomination”.  Reports on the progress of the fundraising efforts of the Education Commission suggest a general admiration for the convention efforts to support the University.  Headlines from a 1910 issue read, “Baptist Convention Responsive to Baylor’s Call—Denomination Enthusiastic about University’s Outlook—A Campaign to be Launched… (The Lariat, 1910, p. 1).”  The increased participation of the BGCT in Baylor’s external affairs was beneficial for both sides.  Ensuring the formation of Baylor’s reputation as a soundly academic, major university benefited both Baylor as the recipient of financial assistance and the convention’s legitimacy within the larger religious community.

Following the separation of Vanderbilt University from the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Lariat re-ran an extensive article from the Baptist Standard pressing the need for convention control in the appointing of trustees.  Vanderbilt’s board of trustees, in accordance with its charter, was allowed control over the selection of trustees apart from the convention.  This loose control eventually led to a separation of the two entities.  In recounting the issue, J.M. Roberson of the Baptist Standard implored his audience to ensure the protection of a strong relationship between a governing convention and their universities.

The possibilities ought to cause Baptists to look well to the charter of institutions to which they are invited to contribute their funds.  Let it not be overlooked here that the schools under the direction of the Board of Education of the Baptist General Convention of Texas are properly chartered and can never become other than Baptist schools as they are now.  Put your money into them.  (Robertson, 1910, p. 3)

Internally, Baylor actively supported denominational loyalty and the University’s commitment to remaining tied to their convention.  This campus-wide commitment was congruent with the public face of the University as evident from their role the Convention business.

The Education Commission

Prior to the formation of the Education Commission in 1897, the state convention had little oversight of Baylor or its other institutions across the state.  Started in part by B.H. Carroll and his brother J.M. Carroll, as well as C.C. Slaughter the Education Commission gave the BGCT new control and influence over Baylor University and the other schools within the correlation (McBeth, 1998).

B.H. Carroll served as Chairman of the Baylor University Board of Trustees, then as the Dean of Baylor Theological Seminary, and then as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

The Commission’s mission was to raise funds for all the schools in the correlation, most of which were in dire financial need and increasing debt (BGCT, 1987).  Despite Convention support of the Commission’s creation, the Commission’s initial start was slow and Convention devotion was minimal.  Following a minimal effort by the convention in 1989 to give the Commission a prominent place in the session agenda, B.H. Carroll, Corresponding Secretary of the Commission, urged the 1900 session to focus more closely on the efforts of the Education Commission and the needs of the Baptist schools.

If, with this very meager co-operation and under these exceptional difficulties, the Commission Secretaries raised and caused to be raised about as much cash for Christian Education as was obtained for all other general purposed in the State, whatever, how easy it would be to end this matter if all our forces could be united even one quarter for effective work? (BGCT, 1900)

The formation of the Education Commission signaled the entrance of the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ into University affairs.  The Education Commission pooled the fundraising efforts of all the schools associated with the BGCT, eliminating the need for schools to send their own fundraising agents to churches and pastors around the state (McBeth, 1998).  Though created with the intention of freeing the schools from debt and the overpopulation of fundraising agents within Texas, effectively placed Baylor in the position of having to provide justification for Convention support.

In the years that followed the creation of the Commission, annual reports from University Presidents and the board of trustees and as well as the Commission secretary increasingly highlighted the importance of Baptist schools for ministerial education.  1902 Education Commission Secretary B.H. Carroll’s entrance into Baylor University’s bible department faculty and Baylor’s increasing size allowed Baylor a prominent place in appropriation of Commission funds.  Convention reports detailing the need for an endowment to Baylor regularly included the same quote from a Baylor Board of Trustees report.  “Income considered, Baylor University is probably doing more and better work for the cause of Christian education than any other institution on the continent (BGCT, 1900, p. 39).”

B.H. Carroll appealed to the Convention by suggesting endowment would ensure theologically sound teachings.  While representing the Education Commission in 1902, Carroll argued passionately for furthering the Theological endowment at Baylor.  Referencing the first major donor of the endowment, Carroll explained:

He became deeply concerned at the treatment accorded the Bible by many schools and by many prominent scholars.  He saw and deplored the manifest effort to strip the Holy scriptures of authenticity, historical verity, inspiration, and to set up an ever varying human standard according to which this or that book, this or that chapter, this or that doctrine should be hawked at pierced, dislocated and torn from an authoritative position in the holy library, and finally to make uncertain or void the whole divine revelation (BGCT, 1902, p. 35).

Carroll would eventually lead the movement to form the Baylor Theological Seminary while arguing for theological training above literary training for Baptist ministers.  Carroll’s public endorsement of theological training for uneducated ministers would also lead to the eventual separation of the same theological seminary from Baylor University.

The Education Commission’s control over the Baptist schools grew with new resolutions passed in 1908.  These new resolutions gave the Commission full discretion over appropriation of funds to schools as they saw fit and required schools to seek the approval of the Commission before embarking on building or improvement projects using Commission funding.  The resolutions also made special mention of building an endowment for Baylor University (BGCT, 1908).  The Education Commission would continue to grow in power again during reorganization in 1914 (McBeth, 1998).

Baylor Theological Seminary

It appears from the proceedings of the BGCT that not every constituent of the Convention was convinced of the need for ministerial education of Baptist pastors, or at least for the presence of Baptist ministerial education outside of the Southern Baptist Convention’s own Southern Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.  One group of Baptists, headed by B.H. Carroll, fully supported the formation of a Theological Seminary out of Baylor’s bible department.  President Brooks and some dissenters however, questioned the need for a second Baptist theological seminary in the South and believed ministers needed a basic literary education more than advanced theological training.  The short history of the formation and separation of the Baptist Theological Seminary highlights the use of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and each leader’s place in the BGCT, to further their cause.

President Brooks and the Board of Trustees annually reported on Baylor’s important place as a growing institution of faith-based learning.  Brooks made it clear in his 1903 report that Baylor’s mission was to educate men headed to the ministry, but not to compete with the Southern Seminary.

Our object is to help train the men of the Southwest contiguous to us, whom the Seminary may never reach.…even the Seminary and Baylor can not possibly care for and teach all who would and ought to go.  So long as the Seminary can offer, as it clearly does now, more advanced Theological training than Baylor, we shall encourage our students to o there for the so-called completion of their studies. (BGCT, 1903, pp.43-44)

Brooks and the Baylor Trustees walked a fine line between celebrating Baylor’s Christian atmosphere as a way to invite funding and clarifying that Baylor’s intent was never to usurp the Southern Seminary.  Baylor’s mission had been to provide ministerial education through literary learning and bible classes, but not through advanced theological teaching.  Brooks suspected to that the formation of a theological seminary at Baylor would usurp the University and undermine the emphasis on literary teaching in Christian education (McBeth, 1998).

Nevertheless, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution in 1905 enlarging the Baylor bible department into a “…a first-class Theological Seminary, with full corps of teachers, teaching all the courses and conferring all the degrees common to such institutions…(BGCT, 1906, p. 42).  B.H. Carroll led the movement as chairman of the Board.  His brother, J.M. Carroll, acting Corresponding Secretary of the Education Commission, reported to the convention that the move was, “…one of the quickest and most effective ways of helping the University was to relieve the Literary Department from having to support the Theological Department (BGCT, 1905, p. 46).

With the full backing of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Educaiton Commision, Baylor Theological Seminary enjoyed a full year of impressive enrollment before separating with Baylor University in 1907.  Citing administrative differences between the Literary Department and dean of the Theological Seminary, the report to the convention by the Baylor University Board of Trustees requested that the Convention immediately incorporate the Seminary (BGCT, 1907).  Baylor Theological Seminary became Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary shortly thereafter and moved to Fort Worth in 1910 (BGCT, 1907; BGCT, 1910).

The 1907 Convention featured many reports pertaining to the formation of a new Seminary that supported or opposed President Brooks’ emphasis on literary teaching.  A 1907 report on ministerial education read to the Convention stated:

Everyone must see that if a choice has to be made between a college education on the one hand and a theological education on the other, the choice should be made in favor of the college training.  Let us have the best theological education, but by no means let us neglect the foundation, which is academic training.  The age demands men of wide learning and through training. (BGCT, 1907, p. 47)

Though the report specifically emphasized literary education, it also made the case for strong bible departments within each Baptist school.

Later during the same annual session, B.H. Carroll read his report citing the importance of Texas Baptists establishing their own seminary.  Carroll’s report was read directly following the Ministerial Education report and directly contrasted with its message:

Hear this deliberate pronouncement; It is infinitely more important to give theological training to the thousands of our preachers who are not college graduates than to give theological education to the tens who are college graduates.  The latter course, by itself, gives the denomination a tad-pole development—all head and no body, –destroys its constituency, strips it of capacity to be a spiritual world power, squarely antagonizes both Bible teaching and example, repudiates nearly two thousand years of glorious Baptist history, makes our name Ichabod. (BGCT, 1907, pp 53-54)

Brooks and Carroll used the Baptist General Convention as an arena to argue for their cause.  Brooks’ position as Baylor’s President allowed him an audience with the Convention to make a case for ministerial education that provided a balanced literary and bible education.  B.H. Carroll’s equal influence within the Convention gave him the opportunity and support needed to start a new seminary.

Conclusion

 Baptist denominationalism was a present force on Baylor’s campus during the early 1900s.  The active participation of Baylor administration and faculty in Convention business gave Baylor some prominence in the Convention, but also gave individual parties greater control over the charted course of the University.  The Baptist General Convention of Texas’ goal was always to support and promote the work of Baptist education, but it positioned Baylor for success in a number of unintended ways.  First, the Convention’s formation of an Education Commission created a need for Baylor to market itself to Convention members.  Baylor developed an image that conveyed to the public a mission centered on strong foundational education in a strongly Christian setting.  And second, the involvement of Baylor leadership with Education Commission business gave players like S.P. Brooks and B.H. Carroll the support they needed to make changes to Baylor, even those that were unintentional.  The creation and subsequent separation of today’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from Baylor University helped President Brooks to establish Baylor’s identity as a university devoted to both academics and faith.

 

 

 

Works Cited

McBeth, L. (1998). Texas Baptists: A Sesquicentennial History. Baptistway Press.

Baptist General Convention of Texas (1897). Proceedings of the Forty-Ninth Annual Baptist General Convention of Texas. Dallas, Texas: Texas Baptist Publishing House.

Baptist General Convention of Texas (1900). Proceedings of the Fifty-Second Annual Baptist General Convention of Texas. Dallas, Texas: Texas Baptist Publishing House.

Baptist General Convention of Texas (1902). Proceedings of the Fifty-Fourth Annual Baptist General Convention of Texas. Dallas, Texas: Texas Baptist Publishing House.

Baptist General Convention of Texas (1903). Proceedings of the Fifty-Fifth Annual Baptist General Convention of Texas. Dallas, Texas: Texas Baptist Publishing House.

Baptist General Convention of Texas (1905). Proceedings of the Fifty-Seventh Annual Baptist General Convention of Texas. Dallas, Texas: Texas Baptist Publishing House.

Baptist General Convention of Texas (1906). Proceedings of the Fifty-Eighth Annual Baptist General Convention of Texas. Dallas, Texas: Texas Baptist Publishing House.

Baptist General Convention of Texas (1907). Proceedings of the Fifty-Ninth Annual Baptist General Convention of Texas. Dallas, Texas: Texas Baptist Publishing House.

Baptist General Convention of Texas (1908). Proceedings of the Sixtieth Annual Baptist General Convention of Texas. Dallas, Texas: Texas Baptist Publishing House.

The Lariat (1907, January 19). Work of the commission, p. 2.

Robertson, J.M. (1910, June 23). The lesson of the Vanderbilt incident. The Lariat, p. 2.

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