Baylor, Scandal, and Christian Cowardice

The scandal at Baylor University is all the buzz right now. (Read here for a good recap or here)

This week news broke that the University was “firing” President Ken Starr for his failure to investigate allegations of sexual assault by Baylor football players. Many see tremendous irony in this since Starr made his reputation by doggedly pursuing President Clinton for his inappropriate (but not illegal) sexual activities with Monica Lewinsky. To then have Starr in trouble for allegedly not investigating actual criminal sexual assault is alarming.

The above isn’t really what has caught my attention in this story, though. The political irony is huge. But, there is also the issue that there have been sexual scandals at quite a few Christian colleges over the past few years. Several of them have been at more conservative schools like Pensacola, Bob Jones, and Patrick Henry. There have also been scandals like the sexual scandal at the Southern Baptist Louisiana College that never got much attention beyond a few concerned alumni. But, that isn’t primarily what interests me either.

Another angle is the corrupted system of college athletics in this nation, especially in Division 1. I’ve never taught at a Division 1 school, but I’ve seen how much athletics can influence things even at a Division 3 school. The pressure it puts on everyone when athletics is so much a part of a school’s reputation and fundraising is huge. But, that isn’t what caught my interest.

What caught my eye is this issue of Christian cowardice.

What do I mean by that? In my experience it is very common for Christians to be “courageous” under certain circumstances. Ken Starr is a perfect example. He was seen as a hero by many conservatives and Christians for the work he did investigating President Clinton. Likewise, I have seen preachers and theologians and Christians in general be “courageous” for causes that line up with the ideological commitments of the groups from which they come such as combating same-sex marriage.

At the same time, I have seen a complete lack of courageousness when it comes to fighting the evils that are accepted within, or which are generated from within, Christian circles. I’ve seen pastors turn a blind eye to sexual immorality and corruption. I’ve seen theologians afraid to stand for truth. I’ve seen Christians shun people who are standing for truth and who have come to odds with their churches political systems through that act of standing up.

The reality is that when we are fighting for the things that those in our tribe want we aren’t really being that brave. Sure the broader culture may attack us but those whose opinions we really care about are telling us how wonderful we are.

Courage comes in when we are fighting for what is right even when those in our tribe are trying to get us to stop.

Let’s look at the Ken Starr situation. It really didn’t take any bravery for a conservative Christian Republican to go after Clinton in a very aggressive way. There were many who thought what he was doing was horrible but he was a hero to his tribe. On the other hand, at Baylor, football has become hugely important. Starr had gained credit for the notoriety that football was bringing. Lots of money is tied to football. To be courageous would have been to properly investigate the alleged assaults even if it wasn’t popular among the donors or constituency. We don’t know all the inside details. But, we do know that the president “paying the price” for the lack of investigation is unprecedented so it is likely that he had some sort of direct involvement. You’ll notice that in the previous sentence I put quotes around “paying the price” just as I did around “fired” at the top of the article. That is because while Starr was removed from the Presidency he is still Chancellor (a position that will keep his involvement in fundraising) and he is still a tenured law school faculty member. Plus, he retains his full salary of over $600,000. All of this really isn’t that much of a price to pay. It demonstrates that the school believes his failure to investigate sexual assault will in no way hamper his ability to raise money.

The moral seems to be that if you are a Christian college administrator it is okay to overlook illegal and abusive activities in the name of football and raising money. If you get caught the price won’t really be that bad. Is that because Starr was really doing what his tribe wanted?

Christian courage requires that we stand against this sort of evil not just when the world is committing it but when it is coming from within our Christian communities. Standing for Christ isn’t just something we do against the world. It is something we do against the Church when the Church is not actually standing for Christ. That is where the courage comes in.

So many of the stories of abuse that we find out about within the Church or within Christian Colleges have been enabled for years because of Christians who sought the approval of their Christian tribe rather than from God. Christian courage requires that we speak truth and act on it even if our fellow church members, pastors, theologians, and Christian leaders don’t.


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