Baylor University regents and advisory committee members cheapened Baptist church membership with their introduction of Ken Starr as the institution's next president. One member of the group completely misrepresented the nature of Starr's current church. All told, those who spoke watered down the definition of authentic church membership.
The need for the regents and advisory council to spin Ken Starr's churchmanship is a deeply troubling signal about how they value church involvement, Parham writes. (Starr photo: Baylor; church photo: Justin A. Wilcox)
Introducing Starr, Dary Stone, chairman of the regents, said that the Baylor community needed to understand "what an outstanding life that he has lived as a Christian leader."
"He has been an outspoken Christian leader. He's a man of faith. He's a family man, a church leader," claimed Stone. "Kenneth Starr embodies all that characterizes Baylor University."
Stone said that Starr had "a servant leader's heart."
Joe Armes, the search committee chair, said, "Starr is a mature and thoughtful Christian with a vibrant faith that truly defines who he is."
Ken Hall, chair of the presidential search advisory committee and president of Buckner International, said, "He represents the very best of what it means to be an active churchman, who ... puts his belief into action through his local congregation of faith."
Hall added that Starr is "the epitome of what it means to be a Christian servant leader."
While Stone, Armes and Hall strung together spiritual accolades without evidence to back up their assertions, Tom Phillips, a retired judge and advisory committee member, misstated the nature of the church where Starr has his membership. He claimed it as a Baptist church.
According to media reports, Starr belongs to McLean Bible Church, located in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Starr doesn't belong to University Church of Christ in Malibu, Calif., as some have wrongly claimed. EthicsDaily.com has confirmed with the church that Starr is not a member there, although he does attend.
Judge Phillips said that Starr belonged to an "independent Bible church, which if it had to be in a slot would be called Baptist, at least we would claim it, with perhaps a better right than any other denomination."
Now, would Baylor and other goodwill Texas Baptists really claim McLean as a Baptist church?
The church Web site says, "We are unashamed to say that we understand the Bible literally, believe that it is inerrant and infallible."
On another Web page is the declarative statement: "The Bible is inerrant and infallible."
On another page, the church identifies itself as being governed by elders, one of whom has a degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. All nine elders are men, per proof texts.
McLean Bible Church is not a Baptist church.
What do we know about McLean Bible Church's pastor, Lon Solomon?
Solomon received a doctorate of divinity degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in 2005. He has been on the board of Jews for Jesus since 1987 and is now the board's chairman.
No wonder Paige Patterson, one of the architects of the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, spoke with enthusiasm about Starr's election. Starr belongs to a church that affiliates with the same crowd that SBC fundamentalists do. Starr's church uses the same words to define the Bible that SBC fundamentalists use.
It was those words and fundamentalism's truncated understanding of faith that led former Baylor president Herb Reynolds, John Baugh and others to fight for Baylor's autonomy and security from the Baptist General Convention of Texas when it was under threat of fundamentalist control.
Phillips either is confused or doesn't see a problem with fundamentalism.
If ignorance of the law is no excuse, then untruthfulness is inexcusable. Phillips flatly misrepresented the nature of Starr's church.
Another individual appears to have overstated Starr's churchmanship.
Hall said that Starr "represents the very best of what it means to be an active churchman."
Starr's membership is in a church in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. He works at a law school in Malibu, Calif. He belongs to a church on the East Coast and works at a school on the West Coast, an arrangement that has been in place since 2004.
What kind of "active churchman" can't find a church where he lives and works – for six years?
How active can one be in his local church if he lives almost 2,700 miles away?
Why would a "church leader" not have a local church home where he lives?
If Starr represents "the very best" of what it means to be an "active churchman," then Baylor's leaders have redefined churchmanship for Texas Baptists. Call it minimalism or absenteeism. But for honesty's sake, don't call it active church leadership.
The Baylor leaders – who introduced Starr – have watered down authentic church membership and replaced it with the lowest common denominator from cultural Christianity. Conservative cultural Christianity would say that Starr is a conservative, which means he's a faithful Christian, according to some. Political ideology is more important than theology. Party membership is more important than church membership.
The need for the regents and advisory council to spin Starr's churchmanship is a deeply troubling signal about how they value church involvement.
Texas Baptists once believed in the centrality of the local church and expected faithful church members to be genuinely active. The tectonic plates of Texas Baptist theology have shifted.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.