Waco: Yesterday I had one of the biggest surprises of my life. As president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas I was invited to a small reception for Baptist leaders to meet the new president of Baylor University. When I was invited to the meeting the only information I received was that the new president was not a Texan, so I was mentally preparing to welcome a new Baptist leader to Texas. Knowing first hand that Texas Baptists are a breed of their own, I was planning on speaking to the nuisances of being a leader in Texas. (To be frank, it is much like trying to herd cats!)
Anyway, when I arrived on campus I heard the rumor that Judge Kenneth Starr, Dean of the Pepperdine School of Law, was going to be named Baylor’s president. I must admit my first reaction was shock, confusion and disbelief. Immediately my mind raced to those dark days in Washington when Starr and President Bill Clinton faced off in a struggle that has shaped the face of the presidency to this day. Consequently my mind was racing when I entered the meeting as I was trying to make sense of what all of this meant for Baylor and for Texas Baptists.
When my wife Robyn and I met President Starr we were introduced to a gracious, humble Christian gentleman, who welcomed us warmly, and greeted us with a genuine smile. He seemed very much at ease with himself in the middle of a whirlwind day of meeting all the key players in the Baylor drama. He spoke of his faith with clarity, and articulated a bold vision for Baylor to continue its heritage of producing Christian leaders ready for the challenges of future.
I was particularly impressed by his grasp of the principles of Baptist life. Even though Starr was raised in the Church of Christ, he championed the historic Baptist values of separation of church and state and soul competency. I walked way from my brief encounter with President Starr impressed by the ease in which he spoke of his faith, his professional commitment to live out his faith in the public arena, and his passion for higher Christian education.
If you would have asked me at the beginning of the day if I would be supportive of a non-Baptist leading the largest Baptist University in the world, I would have probably said no, but if you ask me now if I feel confident about the future of Baylor with President Kenneth Starr at the helm I would say “yes.” I say “yes” because I have confidence in the men and women who wrestled with this historic decision. I say “yes” because I believe President Starr brings to his Kingdom assignment a unique blend of personal strengths and profession skills. Finally, I say “yes” because I am confident the LORD has sent us a new comrade in arms who has demonstrated a unique blend of character and courage in one of the most charged political struggles in American history.
As those of us who are close to the Baylor story know Baylor is at a historic crossroads. We need a leader who can bring the Baylor family back together with one heart, and one vision of the future. I am thankful President Starr has accepted this challenge, and I would encourage each and every one of us as Texas Baptists to welcome him to his new post, and to put him high on our prayer list. This week our Baptist family has grown, and I am thankful the LORD sent Kenneth Starr our way.