As news began to surface that Baylor University was naming Kenneth Starr as the university’s 14th president, I found myself at a loss for words. And let’s face it: For a Baptist preacher, that’s saying something.
Starr is currently dean of Pepperdine University’s Law School, but he rose to fame during the independent investigation into President Bill Clinton’s administration. The school’s Web site confirmed that Starr was elected unanimously by the board of regents on Feb. 12.
Raised in the Church of Christ and currently a member of McLean Bible Church in Virginia, Starr has suggested that he will join a Baptist church as soon as he assumes his duties at Baylor. Really? I wonder if Starr’s denominational metamorphosis occurred after careful theological reflection and prayer or after a contract was placed before him?
In my humble opinion, the hiring of such a political figure associated with one particular party (yes, I would think the same thing if the hire was from the left, because Baylor University is not the place for a politically polarizing individual) demonstrates the arrogance of those currently leading our Baptist institutions. Current regents, trustees, presidents, executives and other leading voices across the Baptist landscape are putting their political and ideological vendettas up against the future of the Baptist witness.
This hiring gives clear evidence to the reality that absolute power corrupts absolutely – and that the future of collaborative Baptist work has been sold out for the specific purpose of building earthly kingdoms. From my perspective, the fractures of Baptist life run so deep and wide that those of us inheriting Baptist work will not have a solid foundation to stand on.
I have already been told not to jump to conclusions. I have already been instructed by some of my Baptist elders that President Starr will uphold traditional Baptist principles. Well, forgive me for my skepticism, but I was told this before when the Southern Baptist Convention was taken over by fundamentalists.
More personally, I was told the same thing when Dr. Russell Dilday was fired from Southwestern Seminary while I was a student and replaced by a fundamentalist watchdog. So please forgive me, but I no longer believe those of you who have gone before me. Trust in many of you has faded.
Last week, the Associated Baptist Press ran a column on why younger Baptists are leaving the Baptist church. Must they wonder any longer? Today, we see with our own eyes that our current Baptist leaders are more interested in their current prestige than any future Baptist work for those coming behind them.
After the Southern Baptist wars, it was a very sad day for me when I could no longer call myself a Southern Baptist. Now it appears the time is quickly approaching when I will consider the idea of leaving the Baptist landscape altogether.
It will pain me more than I ever want to imagine, but my life is too short and my calling too important to follow self-centered prophets any longer.
Mitch Randall is pastor of NorthHaven Church in Norman, Okla. He is featured in EthicsDaily.com’s new documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims.”