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Secularization of the academy: a new challenge to Baptist historians.

By 1920, the North American Baptist community boasted over 130 colleges, universities, and theological schools in forty-five states and three Canadian provinces. (1)

As time and circumstances evolved, however, the list of Baptist-related colleges was pared down considerably. Several of the early schools floundered and closed within their first half century. Reasons included weak financial foundations and lack of an adequate constituency to maintain an exclusively denominational college. Later, a more serious set of factors led to the departure of important institutions from the roster of Baptist church-related schools. This process is referred to as "devolution." (2) The historian of the Baptist saga is confronted with a complex set of circumstances occurring across a long period of time and in varying circumstances. In some cases, Baptists mirrored the experience of other denominations; in other situations, it was a uniquely Free Church set of variables. Within and without denominational circles, a debate over the factors of devolution has emerged. (3)

Recent Analyses Fail To Explain Adequately the Baptist Paradigm

Several books over the past two decades have dealt with the development of higher education in the Christian religious heritage. Two of those books addressed what has been labeled the "secularization hypothesis" and are worthy of ongoing discussion: George Marsden's The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief (1994), and James Tunstead Burtchaell's Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches (1998). To date, no one has answered adequately these theses with respect to Baptist experience, and thus historians of the Baptist experience face a serious contemporary challenge. Baptist historians are up against "giants in the land," and we find ourselves in a situation not unlike Thomas Crosby who, in 1735, found the prevailing history of Puritans by Daniel Neal entirely lacking on the contribution of Baptists. Crosby's concern led to the first serious history of our denomination.

In The Soul of the American University, Notre Dame scholar George Marsden noted the transition from what he considered a "remarkably evangelical" majority of colleges in the United States to institutions that became "conspicuously inhospitable to the letter of evangelicalism." (4) Writing from a Reformed theological heritage, he critiqued the regime of early American colleges, and rather than lamenting their demise or "finding culprits," he found "unintended consequences" of administrative decisions. His main burden seemed to be that in a just society there should be more room for the free exercise of religion in relation to higher learning. (5)

As Baptists might read it, much of Marsden's work is historically commendable, particularly his treatment of the University of Chicago. Yet, one might wonder what was meant by a "low church idea of the university," since it seemed not to capture the inherent ambiguities in egalitarian Free Church models of institutional development. Marsden's analysis was most problematic in his critique of William Rainey Harper's "conflation" of Christianity and democracy, which Marsden likened more to John Dewey's secularism than to Harper's sincere biblicism. James Wind's analysis was more sympathetic to Harper's vision of "nationalized Bible study" than Marsden's halting applause for Harper's experiment. Perhaps Marsden's most significant omission, though, pertained to his following of George E. Coe's early work and Steven Schmidt's more recent analysis that fundamentalists and African Americans were excluded from Harper's Religious Education Association and by implication, from Harper's otherwise egalitarian ideals. (6) This point was somewhat misleading, given the longstanding attempts of Shailer Mathews to include dialogue with fundamentalists in the Chicago Baptist Association and the admission of a prominent group of students who would become leading intellectuals in the African American community. (7)

However much Marsden extolled some of the virtues of Harper, his coverage of other Baptist contributions to church-related higher education was dismissive. Whether it was due to his preoccupation with "pacesetring" institutions like Yale and Princeton, or his suffering from "sclerosis of the Reformities," Marsden neglected the important presence of Baptist institutions, and he missed the mark on two points regarding Baptist contributions. First, his swift inclusion of Rhode Island College's founding by "New Light" clergy is not entirely accurate. Only by a contextual stretch would the character of the Philadelphia Baptist Association and Morgan Edwards be considered peculiarly "New Light." The first president of the school, James Manning, could be considered "New Light" since he graduated from Princeton, but his ideals tended to emphasize religious liberty as much as an evangelical thrust, which was arguably the more dominant motif in the Rhode Island College. Marsden's second weakness was his assessment of Francis Wayland. Casting Wayland as a leader in the mid-century reform of higher education, he argued that Wayland's tendencies toward more practical studies and less emphasis upon classical curricula were "thwarted by the realities of the market." He apparently was unaware of the personal rancor between Wayland and his successor, Barnas Sears, that played a considerable role in the decade after Wayland left office. (8)

James T. Burtchaell, a member of the Order of the Holy Cross who formerly taught at Notre Dame, provided a provocative lengthy study that decried the "drastic defection" or "relentless drift" away from foundations of Christian higher education in the United States. Burtchaell's chapter on the Baptist experience, however, was highly problematic. Factually in error at many "Baptist" points, the author evidently gathered little general advice on Baptist educational or denominational heritage as he crafted his tale. (9) In many instances, his essay was based on an out-of-date, unpublished manuscript prepared a half century ago by a denominational administrator, and Burtchaell upended the chronological development of Baptist higher education by operating out of a bias toward Southern Baptist experience. (10)

To be specific, Burtchaell created an image of an anti-intellectual "denomination." He characterized Baptists as "irascible, down-from-the-mountains" folk, an image that surely would have offended New Englanders of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, those congregations in the Middle States and the urban South, not to speak of the Mid-West and Far West. He made a case for no universal theological boundaries among Baptists, surely neglecting a four-century-old Reformed confessional tradition that not only claimed the mainstream groups, but Primitive, African American, and fundamentalist categories of Baptists. Secondly, under an invented term, "soul sufficiency," (11) he suggested that Baptists at best engage in "covert communal discourse" (whatever that is!) that "escapes a fuller inspection and critique." He was critical of a religiously ambiguous "commonplace" that Baptists believe "all truth to be of God" and that their distancing themselves from interaction with culture produced moral positions without theological footings and secular models of the gospel, and worst of all "dull intellectuals." (12) He further claimed, "Baptists have not produced many outstanding biblical academicians," neglecting a three-century-old line of internationally acclaimed Bible scholars from William Carey to Norman Gottwald.

Burtchaell was on the right track in claiming that Baptists suffered from "overfounding," the zeal of the policy makers being no match for the size of the membership. (13) This claim is certainly true, and the graveyard of defunct Baptist institutions is full. But he failed to re-create the missionary context for most Baptist schools that held high aspirations for the Christian conversion of a respective culture, only to lose out to ethnic groups or larger predominantly non-Baptist constituencies. The schools they created were evangelical in more than one sense: to convert persons to Christ, to educate them in a Christian understanding of civilization, and to support the lay needs of congregations, Baptists and others. That is a hard-to-achieve set of objectives. When a Baptist institution evolved into a public institution or closed in favor of stronger schools, I maintain that a large amount of credit ought to go to church-related higher education for kindling the light in the first place and passing the torch to others.

Finally, all Baptist historians should take exception to Burtchaell's claim that "Baptists would have been more animated and successful sponsors of higher education if they had developed and honored the exegetical, historical, philosophical, and theological proficiency which is part of the software that faith requires to engage publicly." (14) The catalogs of the various curricula and the publications from various eras of Baptist collegiate faculties reveal much more than this claim. There one would encounter Francis Wayland, Basil Manly, Sr., Augustus Strong, Ezekiel Robinson, William H. P. Faunce, Benjamin Mays, Helen Barrett Montgomery, and H. Wheeler Robinson, to mention only a small number. Not to recognize the contributions of the Chicago School in the social sciences or to characterize the social gospel as "more social than gospel" is inadequate.

Robert Benne, who directs the Center for Religion and Society at Roanoke College, offered yet another "take" on the secularization theory. Holding Burtchaell's work as "a massive documentation of the secularization of much of Christian higher education," and essentially "correct," Benne observed "Darkening trends," and he noted that "most colleges have gone the way of all flesh." (15) In his 2001 book, Quality with Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities Keep Faith with Their Religious Traditions, he argued that some of the surviving Christian schools have not completely secularized and can with proper leadership forge a more meaningful and genuine connection with their sponsoring institutions. Benne's book was an important contribution to the discussion of a "secularization process," but he did not have the details carefully in place about either the Baptist tradition or its premier example. His conclusions do not apply to very many continuing Baptist schools.

A fourth study that holds merit for the Baptist experience is Douglas Sloan's Faith and Knowledge: Mainline Protestantism and American Higher Education (1994). Sloan, professor of education at Teacher's College, Columbia University, only indirectly mentioned the Baptist experience, but his conclusions are probably fairly close to the former American Baptist Convention's history during the 1950s to 1970s. Sloan argued for a mid-century "theological renaissance" basically constructed upon key Neo-Orthodox theologians who provided a renewal of interest in "church-related higher education." Sloan believed this renewal was short-lived, however, due to the church's failure to demonstrate an essential connection between faith and knowledge that caused the church's large-scale engagement with American higher education to be "finished" by 1969. (16) While Sloan can be included on the secularization side of the debate, his work was important to all students of Christian higher education.

In the last five years, the secularization thesis has been substantially challenged, notably by Conrad Cherry, Betty DeBerg, and Amanda Porter-field. In case studies of several colleges in the United States, instead of a diminution of religiosity, these scholars found evidence that there is an ongoing commitment to religious diversity and freedom of choice, that teaching courses in religion remains vital and appealing, falling between "advocacy and objectivist extremes," that there is less "shame" at previously religiously affiliated schools than in earlier generations, and that diversity and pluralism have actually led to a revitalization of religion in general. They did find that church oversight of most schools has declined, but that interest in and practice of religious ideas and practices is "enthusiastically engaged." (17) While none of their four typological schools was Baptist, they noted the importance of Baptist student ministries on campuses and tended to lump Baptists in with mainline Protestants.

The secularization thesis is not without its critics among evangelicals. In Evangelicalism: The Next Generation (2002), James Penning and Corwin Smidt asserted that the secularization theory comported well with secular and antireligious biases of social scientists because it provided "a reassuring, deterministic mechanism for understanding social change." (18) They were critical of the thesis for conceptual, empirical, and analytical reasons, including that particular beliefs often define the supernatural, that the theory has not been adequately subjected to scrutiny, and that a lack of clarity characterizes individual versus organizational aspects. (19) Surprisingly, this study, produced by evangelicals and published by an evangelical press, concluded that the secularization thesis has serious inherent problems.

Finally, two other important scholars have responded to the secularization thesis: Peter Berger and Rodney Stark. Berger, in an interview with Christian Century in 1997, commented that his earlier connection of secularization with modernity was basically wrong because Western Europe and the United States "are very religious indeed." (20) Likewise, Stark argued that the secularization thesis was based upon myths of past piety, an "Age of Faith," and the perception of a religious decline. Even the presumed incompatibility of religion and science seems to be a myth, given the number of scientists who are practicing believers. Stark asserted that the secularization myth is as "useless as a hotel elevator that only goes down." (21) In general, the position taken with respect to secularization by Cherry, Berger, and Stark more accurately reflected the majority of Baptist experience than that of the Evangelical/Catholic scholarship. What follows are some reshaped questions and some conclusions based upon Baptist experience.

How Is a Baptist School "Baptist"?

A foundational question needs consideration as one explores the matter of devolution in the Baptist tradition: How is a Baptist school "Baptist?" This question may be answered in two ways, formally and informally. From a formal, structural point of view, charters, officers, and support are relevant. In the case of the oldest institution, Rhode Island College, denominational status was determined by three factors: trusteeship, the presidency, and financial undergirding of capital and sustaining needs. Financial support came in the form of gifts to build buildings, mostly from prominent donor families like the Nicholas Browns. Actual control of the institution was vested in the trustees, twenty-two of thirty-six of whom were Baptist, while three other denominations, Quakers, Congregationalists, and Episcopalians, also were included in the makeup of the board. The Philadelphia Baptist Association lent its ecclesiastical endorsement to the project, but quickly faded as a factor of management. In the case of the literary and theological schools in Maine, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, state Baptist "societies" (22) of individuals and congregations provided Baptist identity. In these schools, prominent clergy served as presidents, faculty members, and leaders of the trustees.

A bit stronger type of Baptist control of an institution ensued in the startup of home mission society schools. These included the Indian manual labor institutions, like the one in Kansas, and over a dozen schools founded to educate the freed slave populations after the Civil War, including Richmond (Virginia), Storer (West Virginia), Benedict (South Carolina), Shaw (North Carolina), Florida Memorial, Spelman and More-house (Georgia), Jackson (Mississippi), and Leland (Louisiana) colleges. Typically, a handpicked clergyman was placed in charge of each school, and denominational officials and appointees made up boards of trustees. Support for these institutions came from local congregations and from grants made by the Home Mission Society.

Two schools represented a national style of Baptist leadership, Columbian University in Washington, D.C., and the University of Chicago. In the case of Columbian, the national body called the General Missionary Convention secured the charter from the United States Congress in 1819 for a school in the District of Columbia that they hoped would become a national university. "National" funding was provided, actually by canvassing the local congregations from Massachusetts to Georgia. In the case of the University of Chicago, leaders of the national denominational American Baptist Education Society coalesced with churches in the Chicago Baptist Association to restart the University at Chicago and provided both governance and funding through the society. The clear picture of formal Baptist leadership and control over almost thirty institutions of higher education by 1920 amounted to presidential appointments, trustees, and funding for both operating expenses and capital projects.

Informally, Baptist identity was nurtured on most campuses by religious services, nurture of theological ministerial students, and relations with local congregations in the community. In their first decades of operation, most Baptist colleges were closely affiliated with local congregations. In Providence, the historic first Baptist Church in America (1639) was the worship center for students at the Rhode Island College until a chapel was built in the nineteenth century. Commencement and convocation services were held in the meetinghouse until well into the twentieth century when seating capacity became an issue. Similar local congregations played key roles in Colby (First Baptist, Waterville), Colgate (First Baptist, Hamilton), McMaster (Jarvis Street), Richmond (First Baptist, Richmond), and Chicago (Hyde Park Union). Sometimes, as in the cases of Brown and Colgate, pastors of the congregations were also presidents of the colleges. (23) Religious services were held at least weekly, usually conducted by faculty members and local clergy. In the mid-nineteenth century, chapels were built usually through memorial gifts, and the chapels came to dominate campuses from Providence to Rochester, Richmond to Kalamazoo and Chicago. The third important factor that quietly reinforced Baptist identity was the presence of ministerial students. Many were in arts classes, some were in theological courses, but all intermingled with other students. Yearbooks, student organizations, and alumni lists all attest to the presence of the theological students on Baptist campuses like Colgate, Colby, Rochester, Richmond, Wake Forest, and Chicago.

These circumstances and factors evolved over time, but not necessarily according to any consistent "secularization" hypothesis. As student enrollments diversified, the nurturing of local Baptist congregations and pastors became less dominant as worship centered on Sundays. After World War II, the Northern (American) and Southern Baptist national educational bodies began campus ministries and student unions where Baptist life was fostered. Ironically, this development signaled among some schools a distancing from the local churches that had long nurtured the Baptist presence.

As many of the recent historical analyses have rightly pointed out, chapel services became voluntary and less frequent on many campuses. Among Baptists, these services were always mostly voluntary and less frequent from the later nineteenth century than in other denominations. In many instances, what was once a Baptist chapel service became an ecumenical service to serve the needs of a diverse community. Fewer and fewer faculty led in such services, as campus chaplains assumed these responsibilities on an ecumenically rotating basis.

Of all the informal identity factors previously noted, perhaps the most pronounced difference occurred with the diminishing of theological students in Baptist colleges and universities. More relevant in the northern schools than those in the South, (24) ministerial students beginning in the post-World-War-II era could not afford the rising costs of Baptist colleges and universities, and significant numbers of them entered public schools, knowing that their studies would likely lead to a Baptist theological seminary afterwards. As the Association of Theological Schools became more of a factor in pre-seminary curricular recommendations, a strong liberal arts curriculum seemed to be more relevant than attendance at a church-related institution. Further studies of each of these factors in the Baptist family need to be done to specify actual experience campus to campus.

For What Purposes Were Baptist Schools Founded?

Again, it is important to begin with Rhode Island College. As one of its distinguished historians has pointed out, the Rhode Island institution had broad purposes and ideals, not unlike the existing schools of the colonial period. The founders had in mind a "succession of Men duly qualified for discharging the Offices of Life with usefulness and reputation." Specifically mentioned among the desired qualities were the vernacular languages, liberal arts and sciences, and "that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously in all the offices, both public and private, of peace and war." (25) The religious factor was treated in a "liberal and Catholic manner" providing for no religious tests for the students and encouragement for prospective students from several denominations. Moreover, the faculty were expected to be generally "orthodox," a term never completely defined. Rhode Island College was so liberal in its scope that one modern analyst has ventured to call it a "public" institution. But, nothing was further from the reality of colonial Baptists who ensured that no provision was made in their charter for ex officio representatives of the civil government to serve on the board. (26) Rather than characterizing Baptists as "contemptible, humble folk, mostly ignorant and illiterate," it is more accurate to see them as an emerging denomination in the Protestant mainstream that was seeking greater social and religious recognition. (27)

As a second example of the purposes of early Baptist colleges, one might also refer to Waterville College. Originally Maine Literary and Theological Institution, it evolved into Colby University and later Colby College. This school was the first of the "literary and theological institutions," a mixture of liberal arts and divinity objectives. Maine District was a frontier area for Baptists, and what the churches needed most was a supply of evangelical preachers and church-planting pastors. The first leaders were more concerned about the evangelical purpose, and the first two faculty members appointed were Baptist clergy. While the theological program started the school, it was abandoned in 1825 in favor of a purely literary program, with graduates headed for ministry encouraged to attend Newton Theological Institution, newly chartered in Massachusetts.

Representative of a third type of Baptist collegiate institutions, mission schools founded by the American Baptist Home Mission Society in 1865-75, is Shaw University. Shaw has a continuous history as a single institution from its beginning. Shaw was founded to serve the needs of the freed slave population in North Carolina. It originally encompassed an arts program, a divinity faculty, and the first medical school for African Americans. In conjunction with the formation of African American Baptist organizations in North Carolina, American Baptists hoped to accelerate the assimilation of slaves into southern society through Shaw and a dozen other similar schools across the Reconstruction South. In the course of a century and a half, Shaw has managed to maintain strong ties to its North Carolina African American Baptist constituency and more tenuous connections to the predominantly Caucasian American Baptist Churches USA.

Much has been written about the founding of the University of Chicago as a Baptist example of a church-related university. Chicago was the resurrection of a regional school that failed to fulfill its objectives as a Baptist college and seminary in post-Civil War Chicago. Under the plans laid by William Rainey Harper, John D. Rockefeller, and Frederick Gates, Chicago was destined to be an "educational evangel in the West." Harper's design was to fashion a graduate university in light of a religious understanding of democracy; it included a divinity school, which was the first of its kind among Baptists to use that terminology. While Harper himself and his deans were Baptists, he disclaimed any desire to create a narrowly denominational school in outlook or curriculum. His appointments in areas such as political science, psychology, and sociology reflected great denominational diversity. Most 1890s Baptists embraced Chicago as their university, though they had little understanding its inaugural diversity. (28) In every sense of the word, Chicago was a true university whose peers were Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Yale.

Baptists Face Institutional Devolution

Various reasons account for devolution of schools from denominational relationship in the Baptist story. Four institutions typify the process: Brown University, Colby College, University of Chicago, and University of Richmond.

At Brown University, a unique situation developed. In 1904, a concern arose over the establishment of a pension plan for the faculty at Brown and led to a question of resources. In 1909, a committee was asked to review possible changes in the charter, presumably to broaden the base of Brown's slim resources to include other denominations and financial interests in its governance. (29) Inevitably, the preponderance of Baptist members of the trustees and the requirement to have a Baptist president came into focus. No change was forthcoming, in large part because legal opinion held it to be likely defeated in the courts. (30) Yet, in 1925, a new committee of the corporation was set to work on changes, and it argued successfully to increase the number of trustees by one-sixth. These new trustees were to be elected without regard for denominational affiliation. Largely persuaded by President W. H. P. Faunce, the clause defining the president as a Baptist was also dropped "to allow the very best man possible, regardless of his denominational affiliation." (31) The two-year-old example of "necessary changes" to the charter of the University of Chicago was used to support the action of the corporation.

After 1920, sweeping changes lay ahead for Brown University as a Baptist institution. The first president who was not a Baptist was a Methodist, Henry M. Wriston, who was elected unanimously by the trustees and served Brown in 1937-55. (32) Far-reaching modifications were proposed and approved by the Rhode Island Legislature in 1945: the original requirement concerning the composition of denominational representatives was deleted; the requirement for the president to be Baptist was eliminated; and the Protestant clause for faculty was removed to have no further mention of religious persuasion. (33) These changes effectively brought an end to Brown's Baptist affiliation; beginning in 1942, the Northern (American) Baptist Board of Education and Publication no longer listed Brown University on its roster. Finally, to the issue of religious expression in an increasingly diverse university community, and as historic Manning Chapel was undergoing renovation, chapel policy at Brown was modified in 1959 to provide for voluntary religious services of recognized faiths and secular convocations. (34)

Colby College and its sister institution in Maine, Bates College, illustrate a second and unique type of devolution of denominationality. Contrary to a recent account that categorically argues that "every formal separation of a college from Baptist sponsorship came at the college's initiative," the separation of Colby from its Baptist ties reflects just the opposite. (35) Founded in the early nineteenth century by Maine Baptists, Colby evolved from a combined literary and theological program to a liberal arts college. Like other colleges in New England, it became increasingly diverse in faculty and students.

The most serious breach in Colby's Baptist relationships occurred in 1923-33. Rumblings in the Baptist community in Maine, beginning in 1923, led to a debate about whether Colby and its sister liberal arts school, Bates College, were faithful to their heritage. In 1933, the Commission on Education of the United Baptist Convention of Maine voted to sever all ties with Colby and Bates colleges. The reason given was the generally held suspicion among Maine Baptists that Colby was teaching Bible courses from a "higher critical" perspective and was in sympathy with the theory of evolution. The fundamentalist faction in the state convention thus won an important victory over perceived "liberalism;" while not being allowed a full investigation of Colby, Maine Baptists lost the college for state denominational interests. What ensued until the 1960s was a superficial listing of Colby College in the national American Baptist roster, against strong resentment at the state level. With the move from the historic Baptist downtown Waterville site to a new campus on Mayflower Hill, the Baptist connection became largely nostalgic.

The University of Chicago represents a unique situation because it was the first Baptist institution to react negatively to the real possibility of external interference and/or domination from a church or ecclesiastical body. Three times in its history, the University of Chicago was the target of denominational disaffection: in 1906-13, when perceived liberalism in the divinity school led to the founding of Northern Baptist Seminary (and ultimately Northern's undergraduate division); (36) in the mid-1920s, when the fundamentalist faction in the convention had Chicago in its scope to investigate its curriculum; and again in the 1940s, when many of the university's graduates supported the "inclusive policy" in making foreign mission appointments. (37) These developments led to a deep-seated suspicion within the university toward elements in its founding denomination, the NBC.

As time went on in the new century, the university grew beyond its church mandate and pursued a course as a national institution in search of "untrammeled truth." By the 1920s, the university asked permission of the NBC to drop the qualification that the president be Baptist, and the request was approved. (38) The percentage of Baptist trustees was reduced as well. (39) Prominent Baptist donors, including the original surviving donors, were asked to sign off on the gradual devolution from Baptist auspices, and they did so unanimously. (40)

In 1944, university president Robert M. Hutchins (1899-1977) called upon the board to take up again the question of the university's complete freedom from denominational control, and with the support of the trustees, he promptly declared the university to have a non-sectarian basis. In response, delegates at the 1944 annual meeting of the NBC agreed without debate, and the University of Chicago was set free of Baptist control. (41)

In the Southern Baptist family, the University of Richmond's devolution from denominational auspices reflects both economic factors and institutional independence. Richmond was the first among Southern Baptist universities to begin the process of movement toward nonsectarian status. Funding for the university was often at counterpoint with denominational interests. President Frederic W. Boatwright observed in the 1920s that whenever the university pursued new possibilities of funds from the Virginia Baptist community, criticism of the school increased. Conflict occurred with regard to the process used to select trustees, the addition of courses like biology to the curriculum, and faculty appointments and biblical authority.

By the mid-twentieth century, to no one's surprise, Richmond's operating needs and religious affiliation came under close scrutiny. During the 1960s, with campus expansion and greater endowment in the picture, the Baptist General Association of Virginia requested that all schools formulate a policy with respect to accepting funds from government sources. With the passage of the National Defense Education Act, the university expressed interest in federal funds for student assistance. In 1969, in a bold move, the university approved application for federal student aid programs and curricular needs other than religious instruction and also considered possible affiliation with state schools. Because of the historic Virginia Baptist position on the separation of church and state, these initiatives ultimately led to the diminution of funding from the Baptist community and a popular lack of enthusiasm among Baptists for funding the university. (42)

An important step toward devolution of denominational status was taken in 1968-69 when the university learned that a prominent donor was prepared to make a substantial gift to Richmond if the institution was released altogether from denominational control. The gift of $50 million was received, and the charter was modified to limit the nomination of denominational trustees to a list of persons from which only one fifth of the board would be selected. (43) Further, in 1970, the Board of the Baptist General Association, reflecting the desire of many of its congregations with respect to liberalized social policies on the campus, voted to exclude the university from a share in the distribution of general gifts to the state body. (44) The trustee ratio was twice modified in 1993 and in 1999, ultimately to no trustees nominated by the association. (45) In place of the former governance relationships, in 1999, the Baptist General Association, the university, and the Virginia Baptist Historical Society created a Center for Baptist Studies on the campus to continue scholarly and interpretive work on the Baptists in the university community. (46) Thus, the University of Richmond retains a modicum of relationship with its denominational heritage, while now being essentially free of its control. (47)

Some Overall General Comments on the Larger Picture

Baptist educators have often possessed different ideas about higher education. In the first place, Baptist theology stems primarily from Christian experience rather than from a confessional tradition or a single intellectual heritage. Second, Baptist educators have emerged from a variety of educational experiences themselves. For example, James Manning, first professor of Rhode Island College, was a Princeton graduate, while self-taught preachers founded or mentored many of the state Baptist colleges. For a time, Brown was a clearinghouse for Baptist educators; but as the need for linguists, scientists, humanists, and social scientists with advanced degrees emerged in the later nineteenth century, Baptist faculties were drawn from diverse sources. Almost none came from the earliest Baptist educational institutions, namely those in England.

Perhaps Baptist dreams were too lofty. Typically, Baptists proposed to offer liberal arts curricula and later university education that would benefit the youth of society as a whole, reflective first of the optimism and millennialism of the Early National period, followed by the Jacksonian/Victorian Era of educational egalitarianism, and still later in the century, a social gospel ideal. Often, the state Baptist communities were boldly attempting to do what the states could not or would not do: create colleges to improve education in frontier communities. Exemplifying these schools were Franklin College (Indiana), Shurtleff College (Illinois), and Baylor University (Texas).

Later in the nineteenth century, Baptists founded Temple University on an egalitarian ideal as an urban church-related university with professional schools. When the opportunity came in the 1960s for Temple (a privately chartered institution) to join with the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University to form a "Commonwealth System of Higher Education" in Pennsylvania, Russell H. Conwell's original design seemed admirably fulfilled. Little wonder, then, that some Baptists think of their institutions' evolution to non-sectarian status as "gifts" to their societies that were quite appropriate tasks for the religious communities in their historical contexts, rather than a "dying of a light."

The issue of institutional freedom played a limited role in the devolution of Baptist colleges and universities to non-sectarian status. The pressure placed upon Colgate in the nineteenth century to respond to issues of relocation and theological emphases proved problematic for a university with a progressive vision. In Chicago's heritage, there was constant suspicion after 1900 of its fidelity to the historic Christian faith and Baptist understanding of the Bible. The fear of interference was certainly a factor, albeit unfounded, in the cases of Bucknell, Rochester, Denison, and Alfred universities. In a later period, colleges and universities in the Southern Baptist family, notably the University of Richmond, Furman University, Wake Forest University, and Baylor University, experienced attempts to interfere in their governance, and this interference was a significant element in their redrawing of relationships or the severing of denominational ties.

Baptists have historically had educational dreams larger than their resources. Because of the peculiar polity of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Baptist life in America (pre-1845), which was organized on a state convention basis, each state family of churches and individuals sought to raise up an educational institution to serve its needs. The end result of all this flurry of institutional establishment was often the death of many institutions in the Baptist family. Among these were Des Moines University (Iowa), Maclaren College (Canada), Colorado Women's College (Colorado), Roger Williams University (Tennessee), and more recently, the University of Corpus Christi (Texas), Maryland Baptist College (Maryland), and Luther Rice College (Virginia). Some institutions were able to move outside the Baptist family and survive, like Temple University, Vassar College, and many of the former Home Mission Society schools in the South and Southwest. As the twentieth century evolved, older Baptist foundations in Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas had to compete with others in the same state family (including the separate development of theological schools). The older schools quite naturally looked beyond the denominational boundaries, having already established a history of non-Baptist faculty and students. Colgate, Richmond, Bucknell, Stetson, and Wake Forest illustrate this pattern.

Baptist polity has not provided a clear pattern for institutional management. Being non-creedal, non-episcopal, and non-connectional, Baptists have no innate theoretical heritage for understanding Christian education. Baptist educators have imitated a vast array of educational theory. In terms of polity, what it has meant to be a "Baptist" institution has varied widely. In some cases, it has been a matter of direct financial support from a Baptist organization, like a state convention or a voluntary association of Baptist individuals. In still other instances, being "Baptist" means that a majority of trustees in a self-perpetuating board are Baptists, as is the chief executive officer. In this instance, a burden of decision-making style and general religious outlook rests upon clergy and laity who are expected to make decisions in the interests of what they think being "Baptist" is. As far as the presidency of a Baptist institution has evolved, that person and office have become symbolically Baptist--whatever the character of the person holding the office, that office became quintessentially "Baptist," as in the case of Francis Wayland, B. H. Carroll, William Rainey Harper, or William L. Poteat (to mention some classic examples).

Finally, some twentieth-century Baptists hold that specific governance issues of a Baptist institution should be accountable to an ecclesiastical body, such as one of the Baptist fundamentalist organizations. Beyond the scope of this essay, colleges that are related to the General Association of Regular Baptists, the Baptist Bible Fellowship, or the Freewill Baptists exemplify this kind of "Baptist" accountability. (48)

Theological education has become a higher priority for Baptists than liberal arts or graduate studies. Among Baptists in the northern states, theological schools grew up first by region (Newton in Massachusetts and Crozer in Philadelphia) and later by confessional tradition (Northern in Chicago and Eastern in Philadelphia), which derived funds and support from the same constituencies the colleges and universities drew upon. Inevitably, the colleges and universities lost ground because Baptists placed a higher priority upon ministerial training, and seminaries seemed to have a greater application to the life of congregations than universities. In the South, the theological schools were originally the mandate of the Southern Baptist Convention and thus drew upon "national" resources, allowing the states to focus their loyalty upon colleges and universities.

Too few Baptists have appropriated their educational opportunities. Two demographic realities may be derived from the vast majority of Baptist higher education experience. First, following the earliest years of a typical institution's history, few instances exist where the percentage of Baptist students enrolled constitutes a majority or even a significant minority. Further, there is little correlation between professional Baptist leaders (those in ministry or denominational work) and those who graduate from Baptist schools after World War II. (49)

While scholarships and public relations are offered to induce undergraduate students to attend Baptist schools, the reality is that of the limited pool of Baptists in higher education, many potential students attend non-Baptist private schools and/or state universities. Baptists from other regions seem not to choose a school out of their region simply for denominational reasons, and the cost of a Baptist education seems to have exceeded many Baptist pocketbooks. The advent of "Christian higher education" following the pattern set in the 1950s by Wheaton College and other institutions in the Christian College Consortium (50) and the Christian College Coalition has often attracted a significant number of Baptist students from the "church-related" institutions in the Baptist tradition. (51)

The Challenge to Baptist Historians

Baptists, like other denominations of the Free Church heritage, defy easy explanations. The secularization thesis, while it has excited a new dialogue about church-related higher education, has not served the Baptist story well. Baptist regard for individualism and autonomy has produced an array of variegated colleges and universities. Each one must be taken seriously and separately in its pilgrimage. The matter of devolution of denominational status and relationships is exceedingly complex. Baptist historians and educational historians interested in Baptist institutions should return to the original sources in light of new questions of secularization and post-denominationalism. Much work lies ahead in both collecting and making available the resources for study. (52) We owe it to the history of religion in North America as well as to our denomination's contribution to higher education.

(1.) This number would be much higher if the schools and academies were included, as well as those institutions founded after 1900. See The Baptist Almanac (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1900) for a complete listing of institutions.

(2.) This term can have pejorative value in that the process can be viewed as degenerative or retrograde as in the biological sense. I use the term "devolution" to indicate the process of transference from one state (denominationally related) to another (non-sectarian).

(3.) For a discussion of the secularization motif within Baptist ranks, see Larry Lyon and Michael Beaty, "Integration, Secularization, and the Two-Spheres View at Religious Colleges: Comparing Baylor University with the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown College" Christian Scholar's Review 29, no. 1 (Fall 1999): 73-113, and Michael Beaty, "Identity and Relationships: Baptist Models-Past, Present, and Future," in The Future of Religious Colleges: The Proceedings of the Harvard Conference on the Future of Religious Colleges, October 6-7, 2000, ed. Paul Dovre (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002).

(4.) George M. Marsden, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994), 4.

(5.) Ibid., 8.

(6.) See George E. Coe, The Religion of the Mature Mind (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1902), and Stephen A. Schmidt, A History of the Religious Education Association (Birmingham: Religious Education Press, 1983), 45.

(7.) For instance, Benjamin E. Mays became president at Morehouse College, and Mordecai Johnson presided over Howard University for generations.

(8.) Sears, a theological educator, favored European models and wanted to reduce the undergraduate school to a classical, literary foundation for those moving on to professional schools. His tenure as president at Brown is considered a low point in the school's development.

(9.) One is immediately aware of the author's biases through the colorful prejudicial language he uses. Terms like "seismic history," "bedeviled," "befouled," "contrarities," "handicapped," and "defection" abound.

(10.) James Tunstead Burtchaell's Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998). See p. 358 where he treats Southern Baptists first, though the older schools were in the northern states.

(11.) The Baptist terms are "soul freedom," "soul liberty," "liberty of conscience," "religious liberty," and "soul competency."

(12.) Burtchaell, Dying of the Light, 436-39.

(13.) Ibid., 397. This is, by the way, a thesis of Sanford Fleming's work.

(14.) Ibid., 439.

(15.) Robert Benne, Quality with Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities Keep Faith with Their Religious Traditions (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001), 3, 5.

(16.) Douglas Sloan, Faith and Knowledge: Mainline Protestantism and American Higher Education (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), vii.

(17.) Conrad Cherry, Betty Deberg, and Amanda Porterfield, Religion on Campus (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 287, 295.

(18.) One could also note that it provides a useful theoretical/philosophical foundation for institutional conservation and/or transformation among many evangelicals.

(19.) James M. Penning and Corwin E. Smidt, Evangelicalism: The Next Generation (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 29-41.

(20.) "Epistemological Modesty: An Interview with Peter Berger," Christian Century 114, no. 30 (1997): 974.

(21.) Rodney Stark, "Secularization, R.I.P" Sociology of Religion 60, no. 3 (1999): 253, 269.

(22.) Actually, these state Baptist "societies" were voluntary associations of clergy, donors, and educators who supported the projects.

(23.) In its very earliest stages, Rhode Island College was located in Warren, Rhode Island, ostensibly to connect with the pastorate of first president James Manning at First Baptist, Warren.

(24.) Most Southern Baptist schools established "Ministry Guidance" programs among undergraduate students. Typically housed in the Departments of Religion, these programs recruited persons for Christian vocations, supported them with scholarships, and advised them as to what theological schools were appropriate following baccalaureate studies.

(25.) Quoted in Walter C. Bronson, History of Brown University: Seventeen Sixty-Four to Nineteen Fourteen, American Education Series, no. 2 (Manchester, NH: Ayer Company Publishing, 1972), 28.

(26.) This unsubstantiated claim is made in Glenn T. Miller, Piety and Intellect: The Aims and Purposes of Ante-Bellum Theological Education (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), 317.

(27.) Numerous examples could be adduced from First Baptist, Boston to the Philadelphia Association of the socio-economic status of Baptists. The idea that Baptists were uniformly illiterate is not based on evidence but is a myth propagated among frontier types in the nineteenth century.

(28.) In addition to the many oft-quoted histories of Chicago, a fresh look is found in Conrad Cherry, Hurrying Toward Zion: Universities, Divinity Schools, and American Protestantism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 4-13.

(29.) Douglas Sloan includes Brown in those schools that were influenced by the Carnegie Foundation's Retirement Plan that required that participating institutions had to be free of denominational control. See Sloan, Faith and Knowledge, 20.

(30.) Final Report of the Committee Appointed to Consider Possible Changes in the Charter of Brown University Presented to the Corporation at its Annual Meeting June 16, 1910 (Providence: Brown University, 1910), 35. For this and other documents mentioned below pertaining to Brown University, I am grateful to Martha Mitchell at John Hay Library, Brown University.

(31.) "The Majority Report," Brown University, June 18, 1926 (Providence: The Corporation of Brown University, 1926), 17-18.

(32.) Henry M. Wriston (1889-1978) was a specialist in foreign affairs and was known to his contemporaries as a "humanist." Consult Martha Mitchell, ed., Encyclopedia Brunoniana (Providence: Brown University Press, 1993), 591-95ff., and Harold Edson Van Horn, "Humanist as Educator: The Public Life of Henry Merritt Wriston" (Ph.D. diss., University of Denver, 1968).

(33.) The Charter of Brown University (Providence: Brown University, 1945), 9, 10, 15.

(34.) When the office of university chaplain was instituted in the 1960s, the first chaplain was Arthur Washburn, an Episcopalian. See Encyclopedia Brunoniana, 130-34.

(35.) Burtchaell, Dying of the Light, 405.

(36.) The major issue at this time was the work of divinity school professor of theology and philosophy of religion, George Burman Foster, who in 1906 published his book, The Finality of the Christian Religion. This book caused a stir and ultimate split in the Illinois and Chicago Baptist communities, which coalesced at Second Baptist Church in Chicago and led to the founding of Northern Baptist Seminary. See Warren C. Young, Commit What You Have Heard: A History of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary 1913-1988 (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1988), 10-15.

(37.) On the "inclusive policy" that allowed the appointment of missionaries of varying theological beliefs, see Robert G. Torbet, Venture of Faith: The Story of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society and the Woman's American Baptist Foreign Mission Society 1814-1954 (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1955), 411, 419, 431.

(38.) In a pamphlet circulated at the May 1923 annual meeting of the delegates to the NBC, the university indicated its requirement that its president be a person of "the highest educational qualifications and largest administrative ability." Further, while Baptists had produced their share of such leadership, "they had no monopoly on them": Thomas W. Goodspeed, "The University of Chicago and the Board of Education of the Northern Baptist Convention," in The University Record, 9, no. 3 (July 1923): 209.

(39.) The trustees argued that there were not sufficient Baptists in the greater Chicago area of "wise counsel, devoted service, and highest character and ability" to meet its continuous demands for the trusteeship. Goodspeed, 208.

(40.) An aged John D. Rockefeller wrote from his Florida home that the changes would enjoy his "hearty concurrence" since the university had matured from the original concept of a "college." "Letter of Mr. John D. Rockefeller of March 7, 1923" in The University Record, 9, no. 3 (July 1923): 226.

(41.) One of the curious legal strategies developed to deal with the phraseology in the Act of Incorporation that the phrases requiring Baptist trustees and a Baptist president were "forever unalterable" is that such phrases were not binding in the State of Illinois. For its part, the ABC stubbornly continued to list the University of Chicago as an "affiliated" institution until 1960, when it finally disappeared from denominational rosters.

(42.) For material in this section, I received assistance from Reginald McDonough, now retired executive secretary of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, and Fred Anderson, director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society.

(43.) Reuben E. Alley, History of the University of Richmond, 1830-1971 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1977), 257-59. The gift was made by E. Claiborne Robbins, a Baptist alumnus, who wanted the university to develop as a first quality institution on an "ivy league" model.

(44.) "Negative Designation-University of Richmond, 1970" in Organizational Policy Manual-Baptist General Association of Virginia (Richmond: Baptist General Association of Virginia, 1989), 10-11.

(45.) "UR to Reduce Number of Virginia Baptist Trustees," The Religious Herald, 8 April 1993, 2.

(46.) "Statements of Agreements," 1999 Book of Reports (Richmond: Baptist General Association of Virginia, 1999), 26-29.

(47.) The Virginia Baptist situation is unique in that under commonwealth law, no non-profit organization has subsidiary corporations and thus all Baptist institutions in Virginia have always had self-perpetuating boards of trustees. Until the 1990s, the Baptist General Association of Virginia nominated trustees for several schools; gradually this was replaced by "program" connections where the General Association provided funds for ministries on specified campuses.

(48.) Mainstream Baptists would argue that these institutions are defined more by fundamentalist confessions than historic Baptist principles. A contemporary institution of this accountability type is Liberty University.

(49.) Hugh Hartshorne and Milton C. Froyd, Theological Education in the Northern Baptist Convention: A Survey i944-1948 (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1945), and Edith C. Magruder, A Historical study of the Educational Agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention 1845-1945 (New York: Columbia University, 1951).

(50.) Wheaton College in Illinois led a small group of evangelical institutions to organize their interests in the 1970s. The original group included Wheaton, Houghton College, Gordon College, Messiah College, George Fox College, Westmont College, and Taylor University. One of the leading thinkers in this "Christian College Movement" was Wheaton philosophy professor, Arthur Frank Holmes, author of The Idea of a Christian College (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975).

(51.) Typically, these schools have a confessional statement, are administered on the basis of a defined ethical norm, and hire faculty who are screened according to their Christian experience and/or doctrinal beliefs. Many reflect the "come-outer" understanding of the older confessional bodies, e.g., Gordon College, Cedarville College, Taylor University, and Bethel College.

(52.) I would like to express appreciation to my graduate assistants and students for their assistance and insights in this paper, especially Roy Millhouse, Lori Bateman, and Joyce Chart.

William H. Brackney is professor of religion and director of the Program in Baptist Studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
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Author:Brackney, William H.
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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