An open letter to Baylor University President Linda A. Livingstone:
I am writing as a Baptist pastor to join the many students, faculty, staff and alumni of Baylor University in urging you to take the small yet significant step of granting LGBTQ student groups official status on campus.
The step is small, because the school would not be taking an affirming stance on a matter that continues to be contested among Christians of goodwill. It would be significant, because it would signal Baylor's commitment to welcome and serve all students equally by providing safe space for LGBTQ students to support one another as they pursue their education and discover more about themselves.
Baylor strives to take its place among America's great research universities. Free inquiry is crucial to the pursuit of truth. This requires an environment where differences of opinion are respected, claims to truth are tested and conformity is not expected.
Christian tradition must also be respected at a church-related institution, but questioning tradition is part of any genuine educational process. What's more, honoring dissent is characteristic of true Baptists. New understandings often grow out of minority views that begin at the margins and only later become widely accepted. This is true in the social sciences as well as the hard sciences.
Some will view this decision as a betrayal of Baylor's core religious values, and the short-term consequences may be daunting. Donors could withhold money. Some families may choose not to send their young people to the school. And the Texas Baptist establishment may attempt to align against you.
I know of what I speak. When the congregation I serve in Dallas, Wilshire Baptist Church, voted in November 2016 to treat all members equally, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, we lost nearly 300 members, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual giving. Our decision also put us out of "friendly cooperation" with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Painful as these consequences were, I can gladly report that other joyful consequences followed. More new members have joined our church than the number of those who left. Our financial giving rebounded quickly. And we have discovered surprising new friendships and associations with those who share an inclusive moral vision of LGBTQ sisters and brothers.
I remember the 1991 Texas Baptist Convention in Waco when one of your predecessors, Herbert H. Reynolds, led the successful effort to change the school's charter, freeing it from the threat of political takeover by those of a fundamentalist mindset. I was the first speaker at the microphone that day, supporting that courageous move to protect the integrity of Baylor's mission.
Since that time, I have been disappointed by less courageous stances that have served to mollify a particular strand of conservative supporters and perhaps prove in the eyes of some the school's continued Baptist bona fides. The Baptist community is, however, increasingly diverse. It has always been a Christian tradition of debate and difference. Many are now hungry for Baylor to become known not only for its fidelity to an orthodoxy of faith, but also for its broad hospitality in campus culture.
Dr. Livingstone, we do not know one another personally, but I know and respect the two women who are your current and former pastors and who both think highly of you. I have watched your leadership with appreciation. I am not a Baylor alumnus, but I cheer you on from my seat in the stands.
Mostly, I am a devoted ally of my LGBTQ friends, and I will speak up for them and stand with them whenever and wherever possible. They are our sisters and brothers, our children and grandchildren. They have increasingly found protection in the law and acceptance in the wider culture. They should expect a Christian institution to do more on their behalf, not less, given our foundational faith that all human beings are created in the image of God and deserve our respect for their dignity.
You have my prayers as you consider this request. While the decision to recognize LGBTQ student groups on campus will not soon beget all the changes some of us continue to work and pray for, it will hearten many of us who long for a day of true equity and full equality.
I leave you with the words of God to Joshua as he prepared to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land: Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you.
George A. Mason is the senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.