During the 1920s, Baylor University fought to preserve its identity as a Baptist university despite various forces that challenged its denominationalism. During an era when many schools were moving away from their denominational ties, Baylor’s many constituents sought to remain faithful to their perception of Baylor’s mission. The forces challenging Baylor’s religious identity warranted a response from various constituents, including the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), the president, and the students.
The theory of evolution brought controversy to Baylor’s campus during the 1920s, which caused administrators to question the denominational integrity of classroom curriculum. As a result, the BGCT issued various directives to President Samuel Palmer Brooks to prevent dissenting ideas from entering the walls of their Baptist university. One of these directives was the formation of a textbook committee, of which President Brooks was appointed chairman. President Brooks sought to honor the orders from the BGCT, while simultaneously addressing secularizing forces according to his own agenda. Brooks believed that the foundation of Christian higher education was a devout Christian faculty. He therefore required all faculty members to be believers in order to model the Christian life for students.
In addition to academic forces, a nation-wide push for interdenominational religious student organizations also threatened Baylor’s denominational identity. A group of Baylor students reacted by digging further into their niche and creating the Baptist Student Union. Despite a religiously diverse student body, the Baptist Student Union monopolized all religious organizations on campus. Although these Baylor students took an active role in preserving the Baptist identity of Baylor’s religious organizations, they excluded other non-Baptist students in the process.
During a time of wavering denominationalism within higher education, Baylor University preserved its Baptist roots through the combined efforts of students, President Samuel Palmer Brooks, and the Baptist General Convention of Texas. At times, the effort to maintain strong religious ties meant that the president was forced to juggle his agenda against the pressing influence of the BGCT. Furthermore, the decision to remain rooted in the institution’s Baptist tradition came at the expense of non-Baptist students. However, the university’s perseverance through adversity demonstrated its desire to respect the denominational mission on which it was founded.
To read the Religion at Baylor papers, follow the links below:
Preserving Christian Tradition: The Presidency of Samuel Palmer Brooks (by Kristin Abbott)
Baylor University and the Baptist General Convention of Texas (by Anika Strand)