Some students cheered. Most alumni were infuriated. In condemning the power of “straight, white males like me” and citing the drawbacks of fossil fuel use, Dan Freemyer, Pastor of Missional Engagement at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, not only shocked the attendees of Baylor University’s graduation ceremony but also demonstrated the emergence of a growing schism in the Texas Baptist community.
Freemyer’s remarks quickly went viral, mostly because of their blatant political bent and the irony in his venue and audience. His most controversial remarks were as follows:
“God, give them the moral imagination to reject the old keys we are trying to give them to a planet that we are poisoning by running it on fossil fuels and misplaced priorities—a planet with too many straight, white men like me behind the steering wheel, while others have been expected to sit quietly in the back of the bus.”
Baylor University President Linda Livingstone issued an address a week after the ceremony, stating, “I was caught off-guard during the Benediction … The prayer was not scripted by anyone within the University, and I am disappointed that it has distracted from a special moment for our graduates and families attending Commencement.” Despite Livingstone’s attempt to distance the university from Freemyer’s remarks, heated commentary on the unorthodox benediction prayer began to spread to Baptist websites and larger outlets, with even Fox Nation host Todd Starnes issuing criticism of the university on his show, Starnes Country.
Livingstone further noted that the arrangement resulting in Freemyer giving the benediction was the result of the university’s graduation ceremony tradition in which a parent of a graduating student is offered the honor.
Freemyer’s full remarks can be viewed here:
Research into Freemyer’s history as a pastor shows his benediction remarks to be consistent with his religious track record. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) formally ended its association with Broadway Baptist in 2009, and in September 2010 the church willfully split from the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). Both splits were over the issue of participation of homosexual church members in church business.
Freemyer is not alone in splitting from Baptist leadership over the denomination’s continued rejection of left-wing political agendas. Even in the broader Waco community, Baylor University’s geographic home, signs of tension between progressive Baptists and church tradition are beginning to arise.
Waco’s Lake Shore Baptist Church was voted out of the BGCT in 2017, and University Baptist Church, in similar fashion to Freemyer’s church, willfully exited from the BGCT when it voted to allow the performance of same-sex marriages this past May.
In April, a student-organized event at Baylor featuring a popular Catholic and conservative commentator, media pundit and BlazeTV host Matt Walsh, prompted the creation of an LGBT student club-affirming petition that gained over 3,000 signatures from current students and alumni.
Baylor’s Board of Regents later declined to meet with the group that started the petition.
These events may seem to be minor disturbances in the context of the larger Baptist community in America, but as prominent, tenured Baptist leadership begins to grow older, how long will it be until precedent on issues such as same-sex marriage, “racial reconciliation,” and even abortion and religious liberty are openly questioned in large numbers? Will the growing community of young, progressive church members force the denomination’s hand on social justice and liberal political agendas, even if those issues blatantly contradict the teachings of God’s inerrant Word and Jesus Christ?
As America becomes more secularized, all Christian denominations—not just Baptists—will face increasing pressure to service social trends to avoid being ostracized by popular will. If Christian moral tradition is to be upheld, individuals in positions of power in church communities must not relent on their adherence to Biblical morality and virtue.
These developments should be worrisome to those who revere theological tradition and the influence of the church on society. If social progressives can so easily infiltrate supposedly “conservative” Christian communities, what will be left for them to conquer next?